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Biblical Counseling—Common Cause with Creation

Biblical Authority

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The so-called “culture wars” have spilled into every field of study, not just origins. Heath Lambert, president of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, explains how his field faces the same core battle as creationists.

The debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye last year got me thinking about the reason it is so hard for Christians to convince our culture about our views in any field, not just origins science. My own sense is that few minds are changed precisely because of what Ken Ham pointed out early in the debate, “Bill Nye and I have the same evidence—the same universe, the same fossil record, everything. Our disagreement is over the interpretation of that evidence based on worldview.”

As I have reflected on the debate between Ham and Nye, I have repeatedly considered the striking parallels with my own field of biblical counseling. The specific content of each discipline is rather different: origins concerns the existence of the created order, and counseling concerns how we help people who struggle with problems. But everything else is the same.

The most central distinction that Ham made throughout the debate was the one between observational science and historical science. Observational science, Ham argued, concerns the scientific method and the facts people can actually see and evaluate (that is, observe) from the world around them. Historical science has to do with the presuppositions people have about how unobserved things came to be in the past. Observational science is based on observable, repeatable experiments, while historical science is based on worldview commitments.

Observations and Interpretations

It is this crucial distinction between observation and interpretation—which Nye never really engaged—that is the reason few minds will be changed by debate alone. Despite the comments of evolutionists, which have filled the media, both men discussed a lot of facts. The reason for the staunch disagreement is that both men approach the facts from a different direction and interpret them through different grids. It is impossible for these facts to be understood independently. They must be interpreted. This is the same idea that theologian John Frame articulates in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God when he says, “The Common distinction between ‘fact’ and ‘interpretation’ must be rethought in the light of Scripture. It will serve us adequately if we think of ‘facts’ as the world seen from God’s point of view and ‘interpretations’ as our understanding of those facts, whether true or false . . . . We must insist that there are no facts utterly devoid of interpretation; there are no ‘brute facts.’”1

Counselors who take their cues from secular psychology accuse biblical counselors of rejecting science.

Evolutionists have created a cottage industry out of accusing creationists of being committed to magic rather than science. Such epithets miss the point. Both sides of the debate traffic in facts, but interpret those facts based on different sources of authority that inform their worldview commitments.

The authority an evolutionist uses to interpret the facts of the created order is the secular and materialistic worldview. The authority that creationists rely upon to interpret those same facts is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. Both sides share the same facts, but come at those facts from different worldviews informed by opposing systems of authority.

Evolutionists are wrong because they refuse to admit the truth articulated in God’s authoritative Word. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18–19). We will never be able to persuade evolutionists merely by a debate, regardless of length, because they need the saving grace of Jesus Christ to open their blind eyes and soften their hard hearts.

Origins and Biblical Counseling

When it comes to counseling, the debate between those committed to biblical counseling (as I am) and those committed to other approaches concerns whether the Bible is sufficient to inform the counseling task, or whether psychology provides a crucial adjunct to the conversations that happen in counseling. Those who believe that the Bible is not sufficient for counseling, and who argue for the necessary inclusion of psychological methods in counseling, point to the science of psychology to buttress their claim.

David G. Myers is one of the most influential leaders alive in the discipline of psychology. He is also a professing believer in Jesus Christ but is not convinced that the Bible has a role to play in counseling. In an article he wrote responding to the biblical counseling belief in the sufficiency of Scripture, he attempted to show why he believes the Bible is insufficient:

If people of faith can bypass the hard work of investigation and go straight to the answers, . . . well, why not? Just tell us how many neurotransmitters the body has; why electroconvulsive therapy is therapeutic for so many depressed people; what genes contribute to schizophrenia; whether hypnosis and multiple personality reflect dissociated states of consciousness; to what extent children’s developing personalities, language, and values respectively, are shaped by genes, parents, and peers; how best to understand the function of dreams; what long-term consequences (if any) there are to various forms of child abuse; and how one might best help someone conquer anorexia. . . . These are but a few off-the-top-of-the-head examples of nontrivial current issues. If God indeed gives inside answers to us people of faith, then let’s speak up.2

Myers suggests that biblical counselors “bypass the hard work of investigation” by denying objective facts. He unloads a flood of questions about factual and scientific realities to suggest that people cannot know from the Bible what biblical counselors claim they can. His tactic is akin to an evolutionist trying to embarrass a creationist by posing questions like, What do you say about the fossil record? What about carbon dating? Do you really believe that some all-knowing, all-seeing Deity made all of this? Come on! You don’t really want to date the world from a book of the Bible, do you?

Creationists push back on such tactics by evolutionists, and biblical counselors similarly push back on Myers’s list and his presuppositions. Myers confuses fact and interpretation. There are some items on his list that constitute legitimate scientific pursuits that generate objective facts. His question about neurotransmitters, for instance, fits in this category. That is an area of scientific investigation. 3

His question about caring for someone with anorexia, in contrast, is much different. Treating such a person requires listening; understanding; exploring motivation and desire, which the Bible weighs in on; and answering questions about proper medical care, which require the supervision of a physician. 4

All of the information we glean from our investigations into each of these categories (as well as many others) creates different types of information that then need to be interpreted. Any true information about neurotransmitters doesn’t stand alone but needs to be interpreted to discover its relevance for the counseling task.5 Wisdom received from the many voices weighing in on anorexia needs to be interpreted to establish its conformity with the authoritative wisdom we have in God’s Word about how to care for the physical and spiritual problems of people.6

Counselors who take their cues from secular psychology accuse those of us in biblical counseling of rejecting science. Just like with evolutionists in the origins debate, however, such accusations miss the point. I know of no single biblical counselor who rejects the scientific observations of secular psychology. Biblical counselors embrace the same facts as secular persons. Biblical counselors are not distinct from these other counselors in their embrace of the facts, but rather in their approach to and understanding of the facts. Biblical counselors give the Bible first priority in interpreting what facts are relevant and helpful for counseling.

Common Cause

Biblical counselors, biblical creationists, and biblical archaeologists (fill in the blank with any discipline of study) are in the same boat. We must continue to articulate the intellectual justification behind our deeply held convictions about the Scriptures. We do this work, however, understanding that the facts will never persuade anyone. To change minds and hearts we must probe below the facts to the worldview commitments that sustain the interpretations of those facts. You can’t change interpretations until you change worldview commitments. A change of worldview commitments requires an exchange of authority from prevailing secular and materialistic beliefs to the Scriptures.

In these kinds of issues we do not need more facts, but more of the grace of Jesus who alone opens eyes, transforms hearts, and brings profound change.

Dr. Heath Lambert is a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. He is executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and editor (with Stuart Scott) of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture.

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Counseling the Hard Cases, Chapter One

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Footnotes

  1. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1987), 71.
  2. David G. Myers “A Level-of-Explanation Response” in Psychology and Christianity, ed. Eric L. Johnson and Stanton L. Jones (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2000), 230.
  3. Even here, however, there is debate about whether neurotransmitters are the cause or consequence of a problem. See Irving Kirsch, The Emperor’s New Drug: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2011).
  4. Writing ten years later, Myers acknowledged that the task of counseling, which requires wise love, is different from much of his psychological work that requires the scientific method. See David G. Myers “Level-of-Explanation Response,” Psychology and Christianity: Five Views, ed. Eric L. Johnson (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2010), 274–75.
  5. All should question the necessity of neurotransmitter information for counseling since all counseling—secular or religious—even up to the present day, happens without any knowledge of this activity in the person pursuing counsel.
  6. Understanding the complex interaction between physical issues (which often require medical information based in scientific observation) and spiritual issues (which require God’s truth as revealed in the Bible) is a large and complex task beyond the scope of this brief article. For more information on it see, Heath Lambert, The Gospel and Mental Illness (Louisville, Kentucky: ACBC, 2014); Heath Lambert and Stuart Scott, Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H, 2012); Jay Adams, The Big Umbrella: And Other Essays and Addresses on Biblical Counseling (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2010).

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