A few weeks ago (June 20, 2005) I wrote an article on Biblical Counseling that created considerable response, both pro and con. (See Weekly Messenger archives at www.reformationrevival.com.) I am always grateful for genuinely kind letters in response to my Weekly Messenger articles. Often the reality is that my readers have considerably different approaches, all of which would be worthy material for a respectful dialogue and serious public discourse. I can not respond to all of these replies as I would like. I do try. Sometimes this blog spot will allow this to happen.
One very good letter I did receive stated that the writer shared mutual concerns about biblical counseling. Since I was not sure what these concerns were it was very hard to respond to them point by point. I have found that most in the movement that bears the name, "biblical counseling," rarely cite their own concerns about their variously defined movement. An objective history that sees the good things this movement has done for the church (since about 1970), as well as some of the harmful things it has brought into churches, would be a welcome book or article in my view. I have seen the fruit, good and bad, of this movement in very conservative churches. The concerns that I raised were related to the pastoral and practical damage that I have seen firsthand. As with any movement it is always difficult for those who disagree with me to see their own strengths and weaknesses as I see them. (That is true in reverse for me just as well.)
A gracious and wonderful letter from David Powlison, sent to me with a massive stack of enclosures that I am currently reading, assured me that David did hear me and essentially agreed with several of my major points, at least as I read and understood his letter. (I am not surprised by this entirely, as my article did cite CCEF as moving in a far better direction than the narrow movement of counseling I know at the level of conservative local churches. I did not name NANC, as one example, on purpose but it seems clear to me that NANC, or at least the strong followers of NANC’s heros and spokesmen, are now opposing CCEF in some fundamental and rather important ways. There is a clear divide here, at least to my mind, though some wish to deny it.)
My friend also wrote of my painting the story with "broad strokes." The nature of my article was to do exactly this, paint with broad strokes. I do not generally name names in these weekly pieces nor do I seek to do scholarly research in them. These pieces are painted in broad strokes precisely because this is what the people of God really need. God’s people are generally filled with good will, godly wisdom, and good sense. I appeal to these basic qualities in what I write and how I write it.
Put very simply, I do not follow the present direction of Jay Adams, NANC, et al. I have spoken in these circles, read some materials, met both advocates and critics, etc. I know what I hear and what I feel and what I sense and there are important issues in all of this context that need profound discussion in the open. I am not the one to lead this discussion but hope some will and would be happy to promote it.
Most of all I am deeply and profoundly concerned that biblical counseling, broadly so-called, is tearing apart churches and making something other than core orthodoxy a test of faith and loyalty to Christ and his infallible written revelation of Holy Scripture. We evangelicals tend to destroy ourselves with every new insight and reformation we launch and this battle over the nature and role of counseling is just one example of my point. For thirty years I have watched "biblical counselors" disagree, attack the motives and positions of solid fellow Christians, and in general create further schism in the body. I have preached in several NANC settings and what I wrote is firsthand observation of what I have seen and heard. This was a major reason for my original article, plain and simple.
There is much room for me to learn from writers in this field and from the very good things several people have sent to me, most of which I was previously aware of and, in fact, have a great deal of sympathy for, especially those things written by men like David Powlison and Ed Welch, who are champions for a much better way forward in this whole field of pastoral ministry.