Theology journal examines Christian counseling

Communications Staff — January 30, 2004

In pastoral counseling, ministers face the challenge of simultaneously proclaiming the Word of God and applying valid insights from the discipline of psychology, writers in the winter edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology conclude.

Three Southern Baptist seminary professors and four other scholars contribute essays analyzing how ministers can contribute to the psychological and emotional well-being of their congregations.

In his editorial, editor Stephen Wellum argues that the chief task of a Christian counselor is to help people conform all of their thoughts and behaviors to the authority of God’s Word.

Attempting “to correlate ‘equally’ the teaching of Scripture with contemporary thought … normally leaves the authority of Scripture far behind and instead places center-stage whatever is current in contemporary secular thought,” writes Wellum, who serves as associate professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.

“It is imperative that Christians, whether at the lay level or those who serve the church as professional counselors, carefully and self-consciously learn how to bring every thought captive to Christ, including the ideas that have been shaped by the psychological revolution,” he writes.

“And we must do so in such a way that the full authority and integrity of the Gospel is preserved, while at the same time seeking to apply and utilize valid insights from the discipline of psychology as viewed through the grid of Scripture.”

Eric Johnson, associate professor of pastoral theology at Southern Seminary, shows how knowledge of God and knowledge of self are intimately related. When we understand God’s character and attributes, Johnson argues, we will receive psychological healing in our lives.

“Because of the thorough interdependence of self-understanding and God-understanding according to Christian thought, we would expect that the Christian self would be profoundly benefited by its perception and experience of God,” he writes. “ Through our reading, hearing, and reflecting on the word of God, God the Holy Spirit reveals the knowledge of God to the soul.”

Contemplating God’s goodness, power and wrath will give Christians a deep awareness of what God values and how he wants to heal their lives, Johnson argues.

“Knowing and being loved by God strangely transforms one’s sense of worthlessness and inferiority,” he writes. “The self-importance of narcissism is relativized in God’s presence. His sovereignty soothes anxiety and fear. His righteousness and justice help to put into perspective experiences of injustice and so reduce bitterness.”

Sam Williams, associate professor of pastoral counseling at Southeastern Seminary, argues that Christians should engage in serious study of God’s emotions in Scripture and develop a “theology of emotion.”

“Good theology should lead us not only to think God’s thoughts after him but also to feel God’s feelings after him,” Williams writes. “If Christlikeness is our goal as his followers, that would include not only Christlike behavior and thoughts, but also Christlike emotions as well.”

Specific emotions such as fear, joy and delight, when rightly ordered, help Christians to serve God properly, he writes. Godly emotions must be cultivated in local congregations, according to Williams, because they provide important motivation for Christian service.

“God gives emotions for a specific purpose. They are necessary for us properly to know and relate to and glorify God; they are designed to facilitate the fulfillment of the Great Commandments: loving God with all we are and do, and loving our neighbor as readily as we love ourselves,” Williams writes.

David Tripp, lecturer in practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, examines the relationship between counseling and preaching. Tripp argues that counseling and preaching aim at the same goal of helping people to live their lives in submission to Christ.

Both tasks seek to confront spiritual blindness and help people understand their need for God’s Word, he writes. Preaching and counseling, however, differ significantly in their method and process.

“Preaching and counseling exist in fundamental unity as two aspects of the church’s call to zealously and unceasingly incarnate the Wonderful Counselor on earth. Their basic content and purpose are the same; both find their reason for being in the God who speaks, the Counselor who has come, and the Word who has spoken,” Tripp writes.

“Every preacher is called not only to give wise, biblical counsel from the pulpit, but also to train the company of counselors that sits before him. God, help us in our preaching not only to comfort people with the counsel of the Word, but also to train them to give that counsel to others.”

David Powlison, editor of the “Journal of Biblical Counseling;” Robert Roberts, distinguished professor of ethics at Baylor University; and Mark Yarhouse, associate professor of psychology at Regent University also contribute articles. The journal also includes a number of book reviews, a panel discussion on applications of counseling ministry and a sermon by John Piper.

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