American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Christian Counseling and Essential Biblical Principles

Ian F. Jones, Tim Clinton, & George Ohlschlager

[ED Note: This is a slightly shortened version of chapter three from our book on Caring for People God's Way (Thomas Nelson, 2006). Again, we thank our friend and colleague Ian Jones, for joining us and contributing centrally to this important chapter.]

True Christian counseling is “built upon a biblical understanding of people (Creation), problems (Fall), and solutions (Redemption). It focuses upon the process of sanctification—growing to reflect increasingly the relational, rational, volitional, and emotional image of Christ. Its goal is clear: the inner life of your spiritual friend is to look more and more like the inner life of Christ.”
Robert Kelleman, in Spiritual Friends

In his delightful book, The Gift of Therapy, psychiatrist and Stanford professor Irvin Yalom tells the story of two master healers, Joseph and Dion, ancient desert characters from Hermann Hesse’s classic novel, Magister Ludi. It is a story that, reframed once again by us beyond both Hesse and Yalom, encapsulates our hopes and dreams for the future of Christian counseling.
Joseph was the classic Christian psychologist, integrating the best Christian truth with the data of the psycho-social sciences. He was the empathic master, whose inspired listening and thoughtful responsiveness brought insight and healing to all who came to his tent. As Yalom tells it, “Pilgrims trusted Joseph. Suffering and anxiety [that] entered his ears vanished like water on the desert, and penitents left his presence emptied and calmed.” (p.8)
Dion was just as effective as Joseph in his healing work, but he worked from the directive orientation of the biblical counselor. His healing power was based on his ability to “divine their unconfessed sins,” and guide the pathway to righteousness by his “active intervention.” Dion treated his “penitents as children, he gave advice, , assign[ed] penance, ordered pilgrimages, , and compelled enemies to make up.” (p.8)
Though they had never met, Joseph and Dion knew of each other’s stellar reputations, and secretly competed with each other for many years. Then came a time when Joseph fell ill in mind and spirit. He became filled with despair and thoughts of suicide that he could not shake. Unable to heal himself, he set out on a journey to find Dion and seek his help. While resting at an oasis, he recounted his search to a fellow traveler, who immediately offered his help to find Dion. After many days of continued journey together, the traveler revealed to Joseph that he was, in fact, Dion.
Joseph went home with Dion and found healing under his tutelage and care. He continued to live in Dion’s home for many years, eventually becoming his most trusted and valued healing colleague. For years they worked collaboratively and found great success, far beyond that that either knew on his own.
Then one day Dion fell ill and, bereft of any recovery, called Joseph to his side to make to him a deathbed confession. He told Joseph that he too, isolated and living alone, had become sick of heart and was on his way to find Joseph when they had met years before. As Joseph’s eyes flared in question and surprise, Dion confessed how empty and despairing his life had become, and what a miracle it had been to meet Joseph and become partners in the way it had all come about.
Dion told Joseph how he had been healed of his own sickness by his care for Joseph. He admitted how proud he had been—a pride that God had healed by Dion making Joseph his healing colleague. Before he died, he thanked Joseph for his love and friendship, who expressed the same to Dion. At the end, they had become fully honest, fully transparent, fully friends.
True metaphor? Are we at an end, and at a new beginning, in Christian counseling? Although the rift between the two main rival camps in Christian counseling remains, we are heartened by the way the diverse development of our increasingly complex discipline is already resolving this dispute. It is a dispute being resolved not so much by the assertion of bridge-building models—which we do present in this chapter—but by the good will and mutual commitments of bridge-building people. A new generation of leaders is arising on both sides of this increasingly fading divide, and is coming together because of our common bond in Christ and mutual recognition that our real war is “out there,” and not within the fences of our own camp.

Necessary but Deficient Roots
Christian counseling has far too long suffered the conflict between biblical counseling and the integrationist movement. And in denying the influence of 12-step, lay counseling models and the charismatic, inner healing ministries—other prominent lines in our history—this dichotomy was not even an accurate picture of Christian counseling at the height of the debate.
Furthermore, in Competent Christian Counseling, we challenged this false dichotomy by indicating at least ten distinctive counseling theories or identities across the nearly 50,000 members of the American Association of Christian Counselors. We now torpedo this false dichotomy one last time in this volume by presenting a theoretical perspective, a unitary model of Christian counseling that we believe both fair-minded biblical counselors and integration therapists can embrace.
Nouthetic roots and biblical counseling. Jay Adams brought a biblical revolution to Christian and pastoral counseling in the 1970s, challenging a field that was racing toward rancor, even dissolution by its fascination with all manner of anti-Christian psycho-babble. The clarion call to maintain theological orthodoxy, the centrality of Scripture in counseling and pastoral care, and the necessity of holy living by dealing with sin and overcoming evil were its prophetic markers in a larger counseling movement that too easily forgot such truths.
However, its reliance on noutheteo—confrontational warning about sin and wrongdoing—as the near-exclusive means to godliness was a fatal flaw that denied it wider acceptance among even evangelical counselors. That and the fact that its leaders maintained an adversarial, inflammatory style and ongoing animus toward integration over the years sealed its fate in becoming a limited intervention model.
We believe that parakeleo—coming alongside someone to offer encouragement and succor as well as godly challenge—is a more normative New Testament value, and a better basis for Christian counseling ministry. Parakaleo not only includes the role of admonishment and confrontation about sin that noutheteo exclusively promotes, but also includes the roles of comfort, consolation, and encouragement for the broken-hearted souls in your care
A recent article on treating sexual abuse victims reveals the challenge of an exclusive use of a sin-confrontation approach in all of one’s care-giving. Many in the biblical counseling field today are moving beyond mere proclamation to living lives of caring demonstration—one that is inherently challenging of the truth—and attractive in the way that love is shown to be true.

Sarah is five. Her parents drop her off at Sunday school every week. She learned to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.” Sarah’s daddy rapes her several times a week. Sometimes she gets a break because he rapes her sister instead. The song says Jesus loves her. It says He is strong. So Sarah asks Jesus to stop her daddy from hurting her and her sister. Nothing happens. Maybe Jesus is not so strong after all. Or at least, He is not as strong as her daddy. Nothing, not even Jesus can stop her daddy. The people who wrote the Bible must not have known about her daddy.

, You do not have to know very much about learning theory to grasp the profound impact of such experiences on a life. The abuse, due to the intensity of the traumatic experience, shapes the control beliefs by which all other information is processed.
What response can a counselor or pastor give that will be powerful enough to overcome such obstacles? If simply speaking or teaching the truth is not sufficient, then what else is required? I believe that those members of the Body of Christ who have been called to walk with survivors become the representative of God to them. The reputation of God is at stake in our lives. We are called to live out in the seen, in flesh and blood, what is true about who God is, .
In other words, we are to demonstrate in the flesh the character of God over time so that who we are reveals the truth about God to the survivor. This is not in any way to deny or underestimate the power of the Word of God. However, often that Word needs to be fleshed out and not just spoken for us to truly grasp what it means.

Christian cognitive-behavior therapy. Much Christian counseling is now done as a variant of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This seems to certainly be the common preference of those who have identified with the integration movement. It is also the most preferred model of practice among members of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
At the core of Christian cognitive therapy is the process of assessing, identifying, and renouncing faulty thinking, adopting instead the truths and insights of Scripture and right thinking. Exposing the ‘lies’ we still live by after regeneration and exchanging them with the truths of Scripture is a central method of numerous models of Christian therapy now being practiced. The best Christian cognitive therapists have incorporated Christ and the centrality of Christian maturity in the counseling goal and process. And whether they recognize it or not, many nouthetic counselors are essentially practicing a form of cognitive-behavior therapy in the name of biblical counseling.
Yet we would also assert that the best cognitive therapies are not enough. In the classic language of Carl Rogers, cognitive-behavioral models are necessary but insufficient for a full Christian counseling. Changed thinking is not enough—a changed heart is also required. In fact, it can be cogently argued that changed thinking flows primarily from a transformed heart in the process of Christian maturity. From a theological perspective, a purely cognitive therapy would be like counseling without the Holy Spirit, or lacking the Spirit’s fullness and power. Systemically, however, the order of influence is not as important as recognizing the cyclical, mutually reinforcing influence that both a change of heart and a transformed mind have on each other.
Clinical and pastoral experience, moreover, reveals this insufficiency. For example, most pastors and clinicians have encountered Christians who, after years of Bible study and growth in Truth by the Scriptures, are still stuck, still oppressed. And this has nothing to do with the limits of salvation or the “need for” something more than the Bible—the Scriptures are complete in themselves, revealing all the truth that we need.
From proposition to encounter. Transformative change becomes a matter of translating the Truth from a proposition to an encounter—oftentimes a series of life-changing encounters—with the living God. There are many people who will not be freed—including freed enough to grow into maturity—without a supernatural healing encounter with the Holy Spirit. Russ Willingham states this truth well in the context of sexual addiction treatment:

, no one is transformed by a purely cognitive approach, even if that approach is biblical. Healing of the self requires a spiritual-emotional attachment to a nurturing parenting figure, Identity formation, comes about as the sexually broken person learns to attach to Christ subsequent to conversion.
Contrary to popular evangelical belief, this doesn’t happen solely through the accumulation of biblical facts or by religiously following the propositions and instructions of Scripture. This happens by interpersonal interaction with Christ, similar to the interaction between parent and child in a healthy family, The processes are identical, yet obviously different, in that Christ will not literally take a person up in his lap and speak audibly into his ears, But a similar work must be accomplished by the indwelling Spirit, which is no less real.
In addition, since attempts to form a Christian identity are often based on the learning and memorization of biblical truths—largely an impersonal acquisition of facts—this also will not suffice. Please don’t misunderstand me here, as I am dedicated to the study and learning of the Bible—God’s revelation of Himself to us. What I am opposed to is the mere learning of facts about God, and substituting that for a relationship, the intimate knowing of God. Far too many Christians, and most addicts, make this basic mistake, (emphases ours)

So then, do we forsake both biblical counseling and cognitive-behavior therapy and turn wholesale to inner healing strategies, a 12-step program, or ministry? Not at all. Sole reliance on charismatic interventions (eventually) tend to rigidly program the uncontainable movement of the Holy Spirit, and often fail to attend to the aftercare dimensions of growth and maturity. Whether the fault of the practitioner or recipient, there is often the false expectation that the dramatic healing encounter is all that is needed—that healing and maturing growth are included in the same touch. The hard work of discipleship or the ongoing challenge of spiritual formation and godly maturity revealed in the Bible is too often forsaken by a quick and easy approach that mirrors the “you can have it all and have it now” lie of the culture.
However, we must incorporate inner healing—facilitating true and life-changing encounters with the risen Christ—into our Christian counseling regimen. Such ministry not only is necessary for some who need a profound healing touch, but it is the growing currency for reaching a post-modern generation that are no longer moved by modernist approaches to the Truth—empirical evidence and rational persuasion. Those opposed to this because ‘an unbelieving generation always seeks a miraculous sign’ ends up denying the fact that while Jesus rightly challenged such unbelief, he then went ahead and performed many miracles.
In fact, we now believe that critical aspects of all three approaches are necessary for a complete and comprehensive Christian counseling. In this book biblical counseling, Christian cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches, and inner healing therapies are all incorporated into the construction of a new-century model for Christian counseling.

A Comprehensive Orientation
Christian counseling has perpetually searched for a comprehensive theory—a meta-perspective that can help integrate biblical wisdom, personality theory, developmental constructs, psychopathology, and spiritual formation. Such a theoretical perspective would help us better understand how people grow, not only emotionally and psychologically, but spiritually. A meta-perspective would also offer us more powerful insights into how normal development can go awry, leading to psychopathology and a wide array of spiritual maladies (i.e., psycho-spiritual pathology) such as spiritual apathy, turning-away from God, and chronic doubt.
Most important, this theory would guide counseling practice in a dynamic way, becoming wedded to practice so that each realm helps shape the other as both theory and practice grow to maturity. A useful meta-perspective would be an empirical one—using clinical science to help Christian counselors devise and deliver more effective intervention programs. A Christian perspective on empirically-supported treatments (EST’s) could be known as the BEST interventions—biblically-based, empirically-supported treatments. Such a model will never be slavish to empiricism or a naturalistic world-view, but will be open to supernatural intervention, with methodologies constructed to allow for and observe those interventions in practice.
In addition, we hope this meta-perspective will encourage churches to focus more attention on prevention and wellness, incorporating the best of the bio-psycho-social sciences and the positive psychology movement. Understanding how to promote healthy relationships and God-honoring psycho-spiritual behavior, and how to prevent the development of unhealthy and potentially detrimental outcomes would seem to us to have a profound future in the church.

Biblical Principles in Counseling Theory and Practice
How do you evaluate the biblical authenticity of the variety of counseling theories and practices that lay claim to a biblical or Christian foundation? The field of Christian counseling has come a long way from a time when its theoretical development reflected either secular models baptized in a biblical framework or narrow exegetical models of biblical terms and phrases, lacking rigorous hermeneutical examination or empirical validation. The robust nature of the field has yielded numerous approaches to caregiving, with an assortment of techniques and interventions.

Scripture as Foundation
As we indicated earlier, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Hence, the foundation for Truth by which everything else is evaluated is the Bible, and the scriptures in themselves provide us with a plethora of information in instructing one on how to life a proper life.
For example, Jones (2001) writes a Christian counseling vignette where a man comes to his pastor with a confession of adultery, and who is consumed in guilt and depression over his err. Jones outlines that the best and most proper way to help the client in such a case is the traditional biblical design that includes “the classic interventions of compassionate and humble listening; confrontation over sin; consolation, comfort and companionship in despair; receiving of confession, assurance of pardon, and reconstruction of that man’s life in accord with proper virtues of self-control, fidelity, respect for life and so forth 
The Bible provides the singular authoritative standard for both generating and evaluating a care-giving ministry. The essential qualities of a complete Christian counseling theory and practice should incorporate our creation in the image of God, the model of Jesus Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The components necessary for an adequate model of personality and counseling include an explanation of (1) our origin, (2) our essential nature or the things that we all share in common, (3) our current condition or a diagnosis of what is basically wrong with mankind, and (4) a prescription for remedying our problems based on an adequate understanding of human motivation, development, and the processes of change.
Christian counselors help people to find their location in relationship to God, self, and others. They accept the authority of Scripture, recognize the uniqueness of human creation in the image of God and the effects of sin, acknowledge the redemptive initiative of God, and help people to find and follow a godly plan for healing. The Greatest Commandment guides them in their communication and service to others, as they seek to discover the provision and goodness of God in every situation. Such counselors try to model the example of Christ, the Messiah and Master Counselor, in wisdom and understanding, planning and power, and the knowledge and fear of the Lord, as they engage in the theory and practice of care giving.
Christian counselors allow the Holy Spirit to do His work through the ministry of counseling. They nurture the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, biblical traits, and spiritual disciplines. In the process, they draw others to God and build up the church, the body of Christ.

Creator and Creation: The Bedrock
There is a temptation to align ourselves with the familiar. Our ethnocentric predisposition draws us towards counseling models that reflect our own needs and interests. Indeed, modern secular counseling theories often mirror the culture, historical context, and biographical character of their creators. Christian approaches to counseling generally mirror preferred theological orientations along with supporting verses from Scripture, usually from the New Testament and, in particular, from the Pauline epistles. The challenge for all Christian counselors who desire to be truly biblical is to develop counseling approaches that embrace foundational principles of caregiving articulated and supported throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

Our Design and Purpose
An understanding of our divine origin is essential to the development of a fully biblical counseling theory and practice. The opening chapters of the Book of Genesis reveal that all creation owes its existence to God. Humans are unique among creation in that they bear a special imprint of their Creator. They were originally designed for the purpose of having communion with Him and being caretakers over His world. We bear the image (Hebrew: tselem) and likeness (Hebrew: demuth) of our Creator (Genesis 1:26-27), but our relationship with God has been broken due to sin.
Created for relationship. We are designed by God for fellowship with Him and with other people. The desire for relationship is a basic component of our human nature, and this quality is found in the nature of our triune God. We do not exist as a result of chance or arbitrary genetic mutation. Each person is part of a Divine design and plan. Knowing our Creator and having relationship with Him is the primary task of all people, including biblical counselors.
Our fallen nature. Adam and Eve’s decision to listen to an authority other than God’s and reject His will has resulted in a fallen world, filled with deception and disobedience. Our original purpose of relationship with God and with others has been shattered. Sin has led to disobedience to the word of God, destruction of the unique relationship with our Creator, and to conflict in our relationships with others. Only through the initiative, grace, and power of God will we find the ultimate solution to our dilemma. We are incapable of resolving these problems ourselves.
All secular counseling theories present an incomplete picture of human nature. They are unable to account adequately for both our attraction to the eternal, the spiritual, and the altruistic, and our pull toward the temporal, evil, and the selfish. These theories will emphasize either a basic goodness (e.g., Carl Rogers) or a basic depravity (e.g., Freud) in the soul. These counseling models place the individual self, social forces or biological drives at the center of all change.
Such theories may rest upon a belief in free will or biological or social determinism; cognitive, affective, or behavioral reprogramming; a problem-solving or solution-focused orientation; depth analysis or minimalist intervention. Ultimately, they all seek resolution of human dilemmas in some expression of personal or social power. Mankind is central, while God is relegated to a peripheral function. He is created in the image and for the needs of humanity or He is entirely ignored. The result is a form of idolatry or a cult of self worship. Christian counselors understand that all biblical care giving and assistance falls within the larger plans and purposes of God, and that Christian counseling should begin with God and model His actions.

The Genesis Model of Intervention
The first question asked by God in human history occurred in the context of a crisis counseling situation. Adam and Eve had listened to a different voice of authority and their disobedience led to a breakdown in fellowship with God, as well as their relationship with each other (Genesis 3:1-19). They were in a state of spiritual and relational crisis, with their very souls at stake. Adam blamed both God and Eve (“The woman whom You gave to me” [Genesis 3:12]), while Eve accused the serpent of causing the problem. The communion between the couple and their Creator was broken and a dissonance had entered the relationship between the man and the woman.
The initiative of God. The response of God to the fall serves as a model for the church and its ministry, particularly in the fields of evangelism, discipleship, service and counseling. God took the initiative in reestablishing contact with Adam and Eve.
“Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9 NASB). This passage is one of the most interesting, and perhaps one of the most significant in all of Scripture. Humans had just freely chosen to turn their backs on their Creator and reject His Word and authority. They were in a state of sin. We would expect God to react to their behavior with righteous judgment, condemning them for their sin, demanding repentance, and dictating their punishment. Although the consequences of their sin was revealed, God did not open His conversation with words of condemnation. Instead, we see Him beginning His intervention with a question: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).
The importance of location. The question of location is basic to a biblical model of Christian counseling. If you have ever been lost, then you will understand the importance of knowing your location. Your very survival may depend upon such knowledge. There are three things that you need to know to reach safety when you are lost: your current position, the place of safety or your goal, and the path(s) that will lead you safely to your destination. Effective biblical counseling addresses these three areas.
The temptation for Christian counselors is to step into a counseling situation and direct people toward answers based upon a particular theory or selective verses from the Bible without taking the time to get to know the people in need and to allow them to define their situation. Often, we expect people to conform to our interpretation of the problem and to act on our terms. God shows us a different approach. His question gave Adam an opportunity to define his current condition and accept responsibility. Jesus followed this approach on a number of occasions.
The application of location and relationship in counseling. Biblical Christian counseling seeks to discover a person, family, or group’s position in relationship to God, self, and others. Locating clients becomes difficult when they are overwhelmed by their problems, being deceptive or deceived, hiding from or unwilling to accept the truth of their condition, or confused by their situation. Effective counseling focuses on the three dimensions of relationship (God, self, and others) and the client answering the following basic questions concerning location.
• Where do you say that you are located? What do you believe is the problem?
• Where do others say that you are located? What do they say is your problem?
• Where does God say that you are located? What is the biblical view of your situation?
Goal, Destination, or Solution
• Where do you believe that you want to be? What is the solution to your problem and what changes do you want? Where do you have control? What changes are you willing and able to make?
• Where does your counselor and others say that you need to be? What do they suggest?
• Where does God say that you need to be? What does Scripture say is the solution to your problem and what changes does God expect?
Plan for Change
• How do you propose to get to your goal? What resources do you have?
• What suggestions do your counselor and others have for reaching your goal?
• What is God’s plan for your life in this situation? What spiritual resources has God provided for you?
In the ideal counseling situation, there is complete agreement between a counselee, the counselor, and the Word of God on the answers to these questions. Of course, not every case works an ideal result.

The Greatest Commandment: Guiding Principle for Treatment and Healing
Christian counseling follows the biblical model of care giving by seeking to achieve healing in the relationship with an individual, family, or group and God, the self, or others. The guiding principle that provides the spiritual and ethical standard of practice in this task of healing is the Greatest Commandment. Jesus identified the greatest commandment as the call upon us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love other people as much as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). The commandment summarizes the message of the Ten Commandments into two distinct dimensions, our relationship to God and our relationship to others.
The Three Dimensions of Healing
Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. He revealed the healing and redemptive activity of God in the world and in the process addressed the essential issue of Eden: our location and lostness in relationship to God, to self, and to other people. Biblically-based therapy needs to address a client’s current spiritual, cognitive, social, behavioral, and affective condition in relationship to these three dimensions. We find this subject clearly presented in the theme of the Greatest Commandment.
Our priority must be to seek and love God, placing Him first in our lives (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, 30:6). We show our devotion to God by accepting His love for us. The godly love of self is not an egoistic selfishness; rather, it is the recognition of our creation in the image of God. We show a true love of self by seeking the best for ourselves by answering His call and being obedient to His will. We express our love toward God by joining with Him in loving others (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).
Adjusting interventions to individual location and needs. Jesus gives us an example of finding the location of people in need and adjusting His intervention when, on two occasions, He is asked a question related to the Greatest Commandment. Both the rich young ruler and a scribe or lawyer approached Jesus with the same question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18-21, Luke 10:25-28), but He gave different responses to each of His inquirers. The two situations provide insight into the biblical counseling principles of location and intervention.
1. Address the questions raised by the clients and begin with their understanding of the problem. Jesus responded to the questions raised by the young ruler and the scribe. Since they were interested in a theological issue, Jesus focused on this area. If they had asked a question on some other matter, then we can assume that Jesus would have shifted His response to meet their needs as they defined them.
2. Look for ways to connect or join with clients. Jesus responded to the youthful zeal of the young ruler with warmth and affection (Mark 10:21). With the scribe, He deferred to the status of the scholar by asking him to answer the question. When the scribe correctly cited the Greatest Commandment, Jesus affirmed the man’s knowledge of the Law.
3. Do not assume that people who ask the same question have the same problem. Jesus understood that while these two men were asking the same question, they, nevertheless, were wrestling with different fundamental issues in their relationship with God and with others. We see these issues revealed as Jesus adjusted His intervention according to the theological and spiritual position or location of each of the men.
4. Begin interventions, if possible, at the points of agreement. If our relationship to God is more important than our love of neighbor, then why did Jesus begin His response to the young ruler by referring to the second table of the Ten Commandments? Surely a pious and godly biblical counselor must start every counseling session by focusing on God and insisting that the client start there also! Yet, Jesus did not begin by identifying the first commandments. Instead, He listed commandments that dealt with adultery, murder, stealing, false witness, and honoring parents.
The young ruler’s claim that he had kept all these commandments gives us a clue to the strategy of Christ. He connected with His inquirer by focusing first upon the person’s spiritual and relational strengths. Beginning with areas of agreement lessens the likelihood of rancor, defensiveness, and debate. Instead, it increases the chances that a client will be open and receptive to the truth. The young ruler’s problem lay elsewhere, with the first commandment and his relationship to God. In contrast, the scribe did not have a problem with the first commandment and the importance of placing God first in his life. Jesus seemed to agree with the scribe on this point, but His response elicited a question from the man that went to the heart of his real problem: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
5. Encourage clients to wrestle with the truth using techniques that illuminate biblical principles as clearly as possible for them. The young ruler’s problem was a common idolatry for many of us today. He was placing his material wealth before God. Jesus used a direct approach to test the man and prove the point. He told him to sell his possessions and give all he had to the poor. In the case of the scribe, Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan and concluded with a question (Luke 10:30-36) designed to reveal the scribe’s inadequate understanding of the biblical view of neighbor.
6. Allow clients to take personal responsibility and apply biblical truths to their lives. The young ruler was faced with a choice, and he went away sad, because he was very wealthy and he was unwilling to express his total commitment to God (Luke 18:22-24). The scribe revealed his struggle with biblical truth by identifying the true neighbor only as “the one who showed mercy” toward the victim of the attack (Luke 10:37). He still could not bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” Jesus challenged him to show the same mercy towards all people.
Not all clients will make the right decision, or even arrive at one. Counselors cannot decide or act for their clients, but they look for the most effective means of joining with clients and revealing the paths to truth in ways that make the most sense to them. If a counselor can facilitate a client encounter with God, wrestling with His way, then much is accomplished, and a holy seed has been planted that God will water and nurture.

The Messianic Example
If Jesus Christ is the perfect and only answer to the problem of sin, then He is also the supreme model for counseling. While it is beneficial to study the examples of caregiving found in the ministry of Jesus, we find the foundation for His ministry in the Old Testament, and, in particular, in the Messianic passages. Isaiah 9:6 gives us an overall description of the Messiah:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, NASB)

The Authority of Jesus
“I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This Great Commission of Christ, his last words recorded in Matthew’s gospel (24:18-20), are much more than a charge to evangelize the world. He reveals that God the Father has given him all authority over all the powers of heaven and earth. from this power the disciple-making challenge is possible—the very same power to lead the church into maturity in Christ. Christ is the source of this power and he promises to be always available to accomplish this task—he is the source of all authority and He will never leave us!
The Messiah will come as a gift from God (cf., John 3:16), as a child who will be given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). We will find His authority and his character revealed in His names.
Wonderful Counselor. The Hebrew word for counselor (yaats) should not be confused with the formal concept of modern psychotherapy; rather, it conveys the incomprehensible vastness of the wisdom and knowledge of the Messiah. He will be able to discern the truth in all situations and determine the appropriate way to proceed. The term “wonderful” (Heb: pali) is a descriptive adjective, and accentuates the supernatural nature of the Messiah, indicating that His counsel will lie beyond our comprehension and ability. It will be so exceptional that human wisdom would appear as foolishness by comparison (1 Corinthians 1:25, 3:19).
Mighty God. The Messiah will express the creative and miraculous power of God. His authority will extend over heaven and earth, body and spirit, and the temporal and eternal.
Eternal Father. The Messiah will express the nature of our heavenly Father, our Creator and Redeemer. He will come as an everlasting presence with whom we may share a personal relationship as adopted children (Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).
Prince of Peace. The Messiah will bring eternal peace and salvation (Luke 2:14). He will be the One who brings reconciliation between God and fallen mankind (Ephesians 2:14-19). His peace will be beyond any peace that the world can offer. It will be capable of calming all fears and bringing the grace of God and His redeeming presence into all situations (John 14:27).
The Messiah will come as Savior. He will locate us in our sin and provide us with the only path to salvation. In so doing, He will serve as the standard or model for counseling intervention.

The ‘Spirit of the Lord’ in Christian Counseling
The nature of the Messiah is revealed in the form of three spirits, each spirit having two characteristics.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-2 NASB)

The three spirits (wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, and knowledge and fear of the Lord) are all expressions of the one Spirit of Jehovah. The three groupings and the pairing of characteristics indicate distinct dimensions with overlapping meanings. The six terms give us insight into the personal nature of the Messiah. They provide us with an ideal picture not only of God, but also of the perfect Man, unblemished by sin. The six characteristics are expressed in the life of Christ, and, through His example, they provide us with a framework for developing a model of care and counseling.
Wisdom (Hebrew: hokmah; LXX: sophias). The Messiah will not make judgments based on external appearances and circumstances (Isaiah 11:3-5). Instead, he will possess a divine awareness of the broader context of a situation as well as supernatural insight into the true nature of a person. Godly wisdom is the ability to see into the heart of a matter, beyond the visible and superficial, and correctly discern the most appropriate response.
In the context of a counseling ministry, this godly wisdom indicates the need for a comprehensive theoretical basis for care giving that encompasses a full awareness of human nature, including the social, cognitive, behavioral, affective, and spiritual dimensions. Such complete wisdom is not accessible outside of the guidance of God (Job 28:12-28). Proverbs 8:1-36 connects this wisdom to four other expressions in Isaiah 11:2: knowledge (da’ath), sound advice (etzah), understanding (binah) and strength (geburah).
Jesus kept increasing in wisdom (Luke 2:52). His wise counsel is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the many occasions when He looked beyond external appearance and circumstances to see the broader spiritual, social, and psychological factors in a situation.
Understanding (Hebrew: binah; LXX: suneseos). The Messiah will possess a deep and practical understanding of individuals and events. Understanding is the ability to discern and discriminate between the various parts of a situation; to know how the different components relate to one another. In counseling, we need such understanding to look beyond the external and the superficial and to identify the motivations and complex social forces that influence human interaction and individual behavior.
We find an example of such understanding in King Solomon’s order to divide a child in two when two mothers both had claimed the same baby (1 Kings 3:16-28). Solomon knew the true mother would relinquish her claim rather than see her child harmed. He understood the motivating forces and emotions at work in both the biological mother and the false claimant, and he used this knowledge to reveal the truth.
Jesus understood human motivation and what lay in the heart of a person (John 2:25). He used this understanding with his disciples, people in need, and others who opposed Him. In the case of the woman caught in adultery, his awareness of the motives, needs, and attitudes of the Pharisees and the woman enabled Jesus to join relationally with both the accusers and the accused, deescalate a dangerous situation, biblically confront the religious authorities, save a woman from physical harm and minister to her spiritual needs (John 8:3-11).
The brilliance of his counseling intervention was revealed in His ability to address the issues in a way that revealed the therapeutic path for both parties. Both the Pharisees and the woman were confronted with a choice. How they responded was their personal responsibility.
Counsel or Knowledge (Hebrew: etzah; LXX: boules). The Messiah will have a spirit of knowledge that will enable Him to evaluate a situation correctly in order to determine the appropriate response and develop the best plan. The Hebrew word etzah conveys the idea of giving counsel or advice based upon wise planning and an accurate assessment of a situation.
Both appropriate and inappropriate counsel is found in the story of Rehoboam, who chose to ignore the recommendation of his older counselors for reform and lightening the burden upon the people. Their advice (etzah) was based upon their knowledge of the hearts of the people and insight into the political climate. Instead, Rehoboam listened to his young and immature peers who argued for further oppression. Their counsel did not reflect a careful examination of the situation nor wise planning. The king’s decision had disastrous consequences (1 Kings 12:13-14).
Wise Christian counselors gather and examine all the data in a situation. They carefully identify the important information and they assist people in designing a course of action that accounts for the circumstances, possible dangers, and abilities of the person or people in need. Such counsel, however, wisely acknowledges that behind every situation God is still in control. Consequently, it is imperative that a godly path be chosen. “Many plans (plots, thoughts, schemes) are in a man’s heart, But the counsel (etzah) of the Lord will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
Jesus clearly articulated His mission plan in Luke 4:18 where He quoted from Isaiah 58:6 and Isaiah 11:3-4. “The Spirit of the Lord has come to me because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, and to proclaim that this is the year the Lord has chosen.” His Great Commission outlined His plan for all Christians (Matt. 28:18-20).
Christians have the promise of Christ’s power, presence, and authority. As we obey Christ’s call, the Holy Spirit, our Divine comforter and counselor, will guide and help us. An important role of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the true nature of things, teaching us, reminding us, and helping us to witness for Christ (John 14:15-17, 26; 15:26-27). All Christian counselors possess at least one of God’s many gifts to be used in service to others and for His glory (1 Peter 4:10-11). In addition, God has given us a Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind to care for others (2 Timothy 1:7).
Christian counselors assist their fellow believers to grow and mature in Christ and in their relationship with other people. Such counseling also provides Christians with an opportunity to represent Christ in a therapeutic encounter with non-believers. The process of revealing Christ is an essential component of competent Christian counseling; however, it must be done in a way that honors client choice and follows accepted ethical practice.
Christian counselors must seek the Spirit of Knowledge, but wise planning is not enough to ensure that changes will take place in a person’s live. There must be a source of power strong enough to execute the plan and produce change.
Power (Hebrew: geburah; LXX: ischuos). Power is the strength or might to produce change; the ability to execute a plan; and the capacity to remain firm and constant in a situation, despite opposition. The Bible calls upon us to recognize and sing praises to the power and strength of God (Psalm 21:13). Job acknowledged his complete dependence upon God, who possessed wisdom (hokmah), strength (geburah), counsel (etzah), and understanding (binah) (Job 12:13). God knew human nature. He understood the strengths and limitations of Job and the dilemma that he faced. God’s message to Job was that He also had the power to deal with any problem or situation and to determine the future.
This power is found in Christ, who worked in the power of the Holy Spirit (John 4:14), and who was given all power and authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). His power is revealed clearly in John 10: 17-18, where He proclaimed that He not only had the power to lay down His life for others, but He also had the power to take it up again. Jesus had power over death. He had the plan for salvation and the power to execute the plan. Christian counselors have access to the supernatural power of Christ, who has the strength to overcome all the forces, authorities, and rulers in the world (Ephesians 1:17-23).
Many plans fail because people lack the strength to implement them. Wise counselors consider the skills and abilities of their clients in the process of developing treatment plans. Attempts to impose changes and place unrealistic expectations upon clients can leave people feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Repeated failures due to poor planning and inadequate power resources can lead people to experience habitual or learned helplessness. They just give up. Consequently, it is essential that each client’s location in relationship to God, self, and others is determined and that an assessment is made of the resources available to the one in need.
The Knowledge of God (Hebrew: da’ath; LXX: gnoseos). The Messiah will possess a perfect understanding of the will of God. The knowledge of God is the ability to see a situation through the eyes of God who is all knowing, and to possess the information necessary to determine God’s intention or direction. Proverbs 2 tells us that we will understand the fear (yir’ath) of Jehovah and the knowledge (da’ath) of God if we bow our ears to wisdom (hokmah), extend our hearts to understanding (binah), cry out and seek discernment (binah), and lift up our voices for understanding (binah).
The Messiah possessed this knowledge of God (cf., Isaiah 53:11) and Christ embodied this knowledge as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Christians have access to the knowledge of God through their relationship to Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Spirit enables Christian counselors to commune with God and access the knowledge of God revealed in Scripture.
The Fear of God (Hebrew: yir’ath; LXX: eusebeias). The fear of God is a holy reverence of and respect or honor toward God. It is the loyalty and duty that we owe God by placing Him first above everything else. The fear of God in its fullness represents a perfect relationship with the Creator. “The fear (yir’ath) of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (da’ath); fools despise wisdom (hokmah) and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Wisdom and knowledge begin when God is placed first in our lives and we seek to live our lives in accordance with His will.
Fear of God and obedience to His Word allows us to make sense of this world (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). True fear is based upon an awareness of who God is and a desire to find Him in every situation in life. The true believer continually seeks the will of God and fears the possibility of ever losing sight of God. False fear is rooted in a doubt of God’s existence (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1) and the subsequent dread of death and a future judgment. Such people live their lives in rebellion to the will of God.
Godly people express their fear of the Lord by refusing to engage in sinful attitudes and actions. Jesus perfectly manifested the fear of God, as He lived a perfect and sinless life. He was in the Father and the Father was in Him (John 14:10). He was in his very nature God (Philippians 2:6-11). “I and the Father are one,” He said (John 10:30). His life exemplified a person who never took is eyes off the Father, one who reflected the absolute holiness of God and the rejection of evil.
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverted mouth, I hate.
Counsel is mine and sound wisdom;
I am understanding, power is mine (Proverbs 8:13-14 NASB).

Counselors need to help people distinguish between true and godly fear and the false fears that mislead and debilitate. An important role of biblical counselors is to represent Christ and to look for the hand of God working in every counseling situation.

The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in Counseling
Jesus said that He would ask the Father to give His followers another Counselor or Helper (Greek: parakletos), the Spirit of Truth, to abide with them and teach them (John 14:26). As the Divine Advocate or representative of Christ (John 15:26) in the life of Christian counselors, the Holy Spirit strengthens and directs them. The traits attributed to the Messiah in Isaiah 11:2 (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, power, the knowledge of God, and the fear of God) are now expressed through the Holy Spirit.
Christian counselors are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), bear the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:16, Galatians 5:22), and receive the gifts of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control) are necessary components of mature Christian counseling (Galatians 5:22-23). They are more accurate measures of our identity in Christ than the possession of gifts, which can be misused.
The spiritual gifts reveal God and the eternal presence of His Spirit, as well as minister to and edify the believer and others. Paul identified nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, special faith, healing gifts, the working of miracles, prophecy, discernment between spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Paul clearly stated that the gifts were not distributed equally and that certain Christians were blessed with particular gifts of the Spirit.
Additional gifts include service to others and helping, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, mercy, apostleship, missionary evangelism, and pastoring (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). We are expected to speak the words of God accurately and to work in the power of the Spirit as we minister to others with our gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11).

The Spiritual Disciplines in Counseling
Christian counselors need to develop the biblical traits and spiritual disciplines associated with care giving. One survey identified nearly fifty biblical traits and twenty spiritual disciplines that are related to counseling, including the traits of patience, gentleness, self-control, compassion, truthfulness, approachableness, ability to teach, discernment, empathy, giving comfort and encouragement, confrontation, integrity, thoughts obedient to Christ, hope, ability to relate well to others, a longing for God, and an example to those served. Spiritual disciplines included prayer, service, maintaining purity, compassion, accountability, forgiveness, obedience, confession and repentance, wisdom, agape love, listening and guidance. Such encounters with the living God changes everything for both counselor and client.

Conclusion
We are honored that our friend and colleague, Professor Ian Jones of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary joined us in this chapter and consented to contribute the essence of his soon-to-be-published manuscript as the core content here. His careful exegesis of the “whole counsel of God” on the counseling endeavor has yielded a rich treasure of revelation that will guide our field in our research, practice, and theory-building for the rest of this century.

Robert W. Kellemen, Spiritual Friends: A Methodology of Soul Care And Spiritual Direction (Taneytown MD, RPM Books, 2004, p.77).
2 Irvin D. Yalom, The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients (NY: HarperCollins, 2002).
3 Timothy Clinton, Ohlschlager, G., Competent Christian Counseling, Volume One: Foundations and Practice of Compassionate Soul Care (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2002, Chapter 3).
4 Timothy Clinton, Ohlschlager, G., Competent Christian Counseling, Volume One: Foundations and Practice of Compassionate Soul Care (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2002).
5 Jay Adams. Competent to Counsel. (United States, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970)
6 Timothy Clinton, Ohlschlager, G., Competent Christian Counseling, Volume One: Foundations and Practice of Compassionate Soul Care (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2002).
7 Diane Langberg in CCT
8 AACC members survey
9 Backus, Thurman, & Vernick
10 Russ Willingham
11 Mark McMinn, Dominguez, A. “Psychology Collaborating with the Church.” Journal of
Psychology and Christianity, 22(4), 2003, 291-294.

12Larry Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling: A Model for Helping Caring Christians Become Capable Counselors. (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1977).
13 Larry Crabb, Connecting (Nashville, W Pubishing Group, 1997, p. 25).
14 This section is a summary of the biblical foundations of counseling addressed in Ian F. Jones, The Counsel of Heaven on Earth (Manuscript submitted for publication, 2003).
15 Leslie Stevenson, Seven Theories of Human Nature. Second Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 5-7); Mary Stewart Van Leeuwin, The Person in Psychology: A Contemporary Christian Appraisal (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1985, p. 46). The four features of a complete theory of human nature are identified by Stevenson and developed by Van Leeuwin within a Christian world view. They overlook the crucial fifth criterion: a clear articulation of the source of authority for the truth claims.
16 A challenge for all Christian counselors is to examine their preferred counseling model in light of their personal history, personality, and culture. Failure to do so is likely to result in a theory that inadvertently reflects the needs, character, and experiences of individual theorists, who then assume that their particular approach is universally applicable for all people at all times—a fault found, in particular, among the pioneers in secular psychology and counseling. Subsequently, any other approach encountered by these Christian counselors must be, by their own definition, less than biblical.)
17 Francis Schaeffer argues that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is essential, in that it reveals that God has no need for relationship outside of Himself. He was not compelled to create us in order to have fellowship, but we are absolutely dependent upon Him for our existence and survival. See Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent [Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale House, 1972], 14-17.)
18 See Paul Vitz, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self Worship, Second Edition [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1994]
19 Variations on the question of location are found in the response of Jesus to people seeking healing and many of the questions He asked and discussions He had with His disciples. Most of His post-resurrection appearances are examples of God locating people in need and directing them toward an understanding of His will and truth.)
20 These questions reflect general areas of inquiry in counseling. They should not be used in a rote manner, without considering the location of the client in terms of language, temperament, concerns, context, and physical, spiritual, social, and emotional condition.
21 Counselors need to be cautious about automatically responding to an identified problem with a pre-selected technique or verse of scripture, without investigating a client’s location in such areas as context and motives.
22 If the terms “Wonderful” and “Counselor” are considered to be separate names or titles, as some translations prefer [e.g., King James Version], then “Wonderful” conveys a sense of the incomprehensible and mysterious nature of God
23 Isaiah is not describing three or even six different entities in the passage, but a single Spirit manifest in different attributes. While parallelisms involving synonyms that convey identical meaning are used in Hebrew literature, the terms used in this passage appear to have discrete, although overlapping meaning. See, e.g., Joseph Addison Alexander, The Earlier Prophecies of Isaiah [New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1846], 220; and Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: The English Text, with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. In the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by R. K. Harrison [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1965], 380-381).
24 LXX refers to the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Old Testament.
25 George Ohlschlager and Tim Clinton, “Inside Law and Ethics: The Ethics of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation in Professional Counseling,” Christian Counseling Connection. (Issue 1, 2000: 6-7.)
26 Martin E. P. Seligman, Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1975, pp. 21-44)
27 Blaise Pascal, Pensèes and The Provincial Letters [New York: The Modern Library, 1941], 92 [Pensèe #262].
28 Kevin Scott Forrester, “Determining the Biblical Traits and Spiritual Disciplines Christian Counselors Employ in Practice: A Delphi Study,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Fort Worth, Texas: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2002, 151-157. The biblical traits were love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, compassion, living in the Spirit, humility, forgiveness, truthfulness, holding others accountable, approachable, wisdom, self-giving, able to teach, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, walking with the Lord, prayerful attitude, giving God the glory, discernment, thankfulness, empathy, respect, biblical morality, giving comfort & encouragement, confrontation, integrity, renewed mind, thoughts obedient to Christ, using the armor of God, knowledge of God’s Word, endurance, hope, acceptance, ability to relate well to others, a longing for God, knowing self, avoiding quarrels, work towards biblical goals, an example to those served, and not practicing worldliness. The spiritual disciplines were prayer, listening prayer, service, Scripture: counselor pro-active, maintaining purity, compassion, praise, being an example, accountability, forgiveness, discernment, obedience, confession/repentance, wisdom, agape love, growth, caring, listening and guidance, thought life, and ministering to all needs.

  • Sign Up Now

    Free Devotionals, Web Specials and Announcements Sent to Your Inbox.
  • Recent Posts

  • Subscribe to Our RSS Feed