The large majority of Christian counselors today are not content to rely solely on the Word of God for “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).


Many Christian counselors have sought to wed their theories with the Bible in the hopes of “integration.”  At the heart of most of these efforts is the essential theological and philosophical foundation, that is, the unity of truth.  This is often expressed by the maxim, “all truth is God’s truth.”

 

"seeing that His divine power has granted to us

everything pertaining to life and godliness,

through the true knowledge of Him

who called us by His own glory and excellence."

- 2 Peter 1: 3

 

           

            However, what is meant by truth is seldom considered.  For instance, is one talking about scientific facts involving the brain and the body, or about God’s truth which saves and elevates the soul and spirit?  If a godless person such as Jonas Salk, a New Ager, comes up with a vaccine for polio, that is not truth; rather it is the facts of science.  It is possible for godless men to learn some of the facts of nature, but not the truth that sets men free, unless the Spirit of God reveals those things to them (1 Cor. 2:14).  It mocks God to believe that anti-Christians have been inspired to fill in a missing portion of the truth that God Himself declares He has already revealed in its fullness in His holy Word.

            Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth” and “I am the truth,” not part of the truth.  Most of what passes as “Christian” psychology and counseling deals with subjects upon which God has spoken with finality and about which He claims to have communicated in His Word as the whole truth.  There are no parts of this truth missing from Scripture and left to be discovered among the theories of non-inspired and godless men such as Freud, Jung, Maslow, Rogers, and others.  To suggest that there is such a lack of spiritual truth contradicts the clear testimony of Scripture and the consistent teaching of the church for twenty centuries.  The early church withstood the Roman arena and the Inquisition leaving the stamp of her martyrs upon the pages of history long before Freud or his successors came upon the scene to muddy the clear water of life.

            At this point, it is critical to compare and evaluate several theories of counseling.  Jay Adams, Gary Collins, and Larry Crabb are all influential men in the field of psychology and counseling.  Each man’s approach to dealing with emotional and behavioral problems is distinct.  Identifying these distinctions, along with either the strength or weakness of a particular view, in the light of Scripture, will be the goal.


Larry Crabb

            The first counseling theory to evaluate is that of Dr. Lawrence Crabb, Jr.  Crabb has been quite influential in the field of counseling and Christian growth.  He witnesses Christians struggling in their Christian lives and sincerely wants to offer help.  He has written numerous books in the field of psychology and counseling.

            Crabb’s counseling theory focuses on his belief that the unconscious[1] (core of his being) needs of an individual is the reason for one’s emotional and behavioral problems.  He writes, “In order to understand biblical counseling, we must identify clearly the deepest personal needs of people.”[2]  Crabb writes as follows:

            Unless we understand sin is rooted in unconscious beliefs and motives and figure out how to expose and deal with these deep forces within the personality the church will continue to promote superficial adjustment while psychotherapists with or without biblical foundations will do a better job than the church of restoring troubled people to more effective functioning.[3] 

            The process of healing emotions and behavior must first start with the uncovering of unconscious thoughts.  It is only after the unconscious has been uncovered that the counselor can begin to help the counselee by rethinking both consciously and unconsciously.  This is not Crabb’s original theory,[4] rather it is the same as Sigmund Freud who developed a complex theoretical system to probe the human personality in an attempt to understand and treat mental and emotional problems.  Freud focused largely on the unconscious part of the mind.  The unconscious part of the human psyche is that which is hidden and thus not open to direct knowledge.  Therefore, the unconscious part of the mind, not the conscious, is what influences a person’s thoughts and behaviors.  This psychic determinism was believed by Freud to be already established by the first five years of life.

            Freud’s theory of the unconscious and psychic determinism is unscientific, but his two major theories are the basis for most of Crabb’s counseling methods.  The idea is that there are unconscious urges buried in one’s deep psyche that have arisen from traumatic experiences from one’s childhood and are, in effect, causing one to do things that they do not even know why and have no idea how to control.  Larry Crabb asserts that until the counselor is able to ascertain the psychological techniques for going into the unconscious and coming out with these traumas and re-experiencing them in order to deal with them, one cannot change his behavior and thus his emotional and behavioral well-being is out of control.  The following is not biblical for the explicit reason that God alone knows and is able to bring cleansing to the believer’s inner thoughts that he by himself would never understand, as David prayed:

Search me, O God, and know my heart:  try me, and know my thoughts:  and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps. 139:23, 24).

            Although Crabb gives lengthy discussions on the unconscious motivating behavior, he offers little Scriptural support for his views, rather he cites the usage of frovnhma (“mind”) to support his claims.  He writes as follows:

I recently listed every verse in which this word (or a derivative) is used.  From my study of these passages, it appears that the central concept expressed by the word is a part of personality which develops and holds on to deep, reflective assumptions….Let me tentatively suggest that this concept corresponds closely to what psychologists call the “unconscious mind.”[5]

            One should critically note that Crabb can only “tentatively suggest” his conclusions on the unconscious.  In fact, his desired usage of frovnhma is unwarranted.  Mounce states that frovnhma has to do with one’s “frame of thought,” “will,” or “aspirations.”[6]  Thayer lists frovnhma as “what one has in mind, the thoughts and purposes.”[7]  Likewise, Arndt and Gingrich translate frovnhma as one’s “way of thinking, mind(-set),” or “aspiration.”[8]  Therefore, the primary meaning of the word has nothing to do with the unconscious, but with one’s conscious thoughts.  Crabb uses Romans 12:1, 2 to try to support his theory of the unconscious, but again this passage is dealing with conscious thoughts.

            Furthermore, Crabb cites Jeremiah 2:13 (“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters”) and concludes, “people are thirsty.”[9]  The second thing that Crabb states is that man is thirsty for “tension-free relationships.”  This is false.  Mankind is thirsty for God.  It is as Augustine wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, Oh, God, and we are restless till we find our rest in Thee.”

            Crabb focuses on all the suffering from broken relationships and believes this unconscious factor affects all people even if they do not already know it.[10]  However, the Bible is all about people who were rejected.  It is argued that in order to understand a loving God one must deal with the suffering of not having a loving father.  Yet, Christians do not get their concept of God from human beings, but from a revelation of God Himself (cf. Ps. 27:10).  Many of the men and women in the Bible were rejected and yet found their comfort and strength in the Lord.  They did not find it in some psychotherapeutic technique.  Crabb’s counseling theory is similar to humanistic psychology which places the hope for mankind on meeting individualized psychological needs.  His message is one where the gospel is that God will meet individual needs and longings that motivate one’s behavior because of the unconscious.  Sin then is the wrong technique for meeting these needs.  Confession is the process of disclosing what has happened in the past.  Lastly, repentance is getting in touch with one’s past.[11]  What Crabb has done is to reduce the only message that truly has the power to set one free into a psychological construct.[12]


Gary Collins

Gary Collins is a licensed psychologist and counselor.  He was formerly chairman of a division of counseling and also a professor of psychology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He writes the following:

….there will be no conflict or contradiction between truth as revealed in the Bible (studied by Bible scholars and theologians), and truth as revealed in nature (studied by scientists, including psychologists and other scholars).[13] It is too early to answer decisively if psychology and Christianity can be integrated.[14]

            From the very beginning, Collins starts with a flawed system that believes the Bible speaks to human needs, but also that God has also allowed men like Freud and Jung to discover psychological truths about human behavior and counseling that are never mentioned in Scripture but that are consistent with the Scripture and will be helpful to people facing the problems of modern life.[15]   It is true that Christians can benefit from other secular disciplines, but it would be ludicrous to speak of “Christian” physics or “Christian” chemistry since they do not deal with the matters that Christianity does, that is, the soul and spiritual side of man.  Collins’ claim is only legitimate if the Bible is not sufficient for “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.”

            Collins adopts the premise that since medical doctors can cure sick bodies, then the Christian psychologist can cure sick minds.  However, one needs to ask the question as to whether or not one can even equate the mind with part of the body.  In discussing the issue of whether or not mental illness is a myth, Collins writes:

Have you ever felt trapped by some habit you couldn’t shake—perpetual procrastination, nail-biting, overeating, masturbation, lustful thoughts, worry, overusing credit cards, or others?  We might try to dismiss these as myths that are of no consequence or as “nothing but spiritual issues.”[16]

            Of course, the listed habits are not myths, but neither are they mental illnesses.  Collins would argue that these behaviors are the result of some “psychological root.”[17]  Whereas therapy does deal with thoughts, emotions, and behavior, in contrast, it does not deal with the biology of the brain.  Brain illnesses would be the specialty of a medical doctor and not that of a counselor.  Although the brain is physical, the mind and soul are non-physical.  The brain can be studied scientifically, but the mind and soul are the invisible aspects of man that cannot be observed.

            Collins believes that “there is abundant evidence that all human problems have three components:  physical, psychological and spiritual.”[18]  According to Collins, the psychological part of man is his mind, which he believes to be more than just a physical entity.  However, when the Bible uses the word yuchv it is to refer to the soul which is non-physical.  Any counseling theory of behavior that Collins tries to link to a psychological component is highly subjective on his part.  It is his contention that behavioral and emotional problems are psychological problems and not spiritual problems.

            For example, Collin's method of dealing with depression is a case in point.  Depression is one of the most common problems among those who seek help from a counselor.  In his approach, Collins refers to Aaron Beck whose method of helping depressed people is a common psychological approach.  The “cognitive triad” that both Beck and Collins favor has spiritual implications that both men fail to acknowledge.  The fact that many depressed people “view the world and life experiences negatively,” “have a negative view of themselves,” and “view the future in a negative way”[19] can be either a psychological or spiritual problem.  It would seem then that the counselor has one of two choices; either the counselor will devise theories of his own or he will use Scripture (passages like 2 Peter 1:3 would favor the latter).

            When using examples of men in Scripture to substantiate his theories, Collins gives an interpretation of the situation that is divorced from the Text.  For example, he postulates that Job’s boils were “within the realm of the mind” and that the boils went away “only when his mind was pointed heavenward and he was able to ‘see’ God with his eyes.”[20]  This biblical reference is used to support mental imagery.  Regardless of the fact that guided imagery is both a psychological and occultic practice (and the fact that by Collins own admission that “some counselors misuse visualization and guided imagery”), Collins debunks concerns with the following statement:

…many who fear the entrance of occultic practices into psychology nevertheless draw invalid and illogical conclusions about current counseling practices.  In their often sincere desires to purge occult influences from counseling, some writers have condemned visualization, self-talk, the healing of memories, and other frequently used therapeutic methods.  Visualization, imagination, and guided imagery are related words that describe the use of mental pictures to bring increased understanding, relaxation, or self-confidence.”[21]

            In the same manner as Crabb, Collins uses the same language of humanistic psychology and tries to offer a biblical rationale for doing so.  Collins would argue he defines terms such as “human potential,” “positive self-esteem,” and “real self-fulfillment” biblically.  Why muddy the waters though?  It is far simpler to give exhortation to find purpose in Christ, rather than self (Gal. 2:20).


Jay Adams

            Although many sincere Christians have adopted pseudoscientific therapies in their counseling techniques, Jay Adams writes,

In my opinion, advocating, allowing, and practicing psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas within the church is every bit as pagan and heretical (and therefore perilous) as propagating the teachings of some of the most bizarre cults.  The only vital difference is that the cults are less dangerous because their errors are more identifiable.[22]

            Adams himself has struggled with the issue of Christians using psychological theories from the secular world.  It was his conviction that believers have a superior source using Scripture in the counseling process.  Out of his own struggles, he developed Nouthetic Counseling which consists solely of confronting the believer with Scripture in order to have him change his emotional or behavioral problems.  Adams writes of his concern in counseling:

            Sadly, it is not only liberal pastors who give non-scriptural counsel these days.  Some men, who preach the Bible in their pulpits, change their tune when they enter the counseling room.  They may have been taught in seminary to counsel psychologically (i.e. according to worldly wisdom and ways) rather than scripturally.  They may even mix the two.  Be alert; not all Christian counselors do Christian counseling.[23]

            Adams has endeavored to encourage pastors and counselors to use their Bible instead of psychological theories.  As a result of his passion for counseling from the Scriptures, he was instrumental in forming the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). 

            Demonstrating his view from the Scriptures, Adams writes:

In Colossians 3:16 Paul urged, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and (for the moment we shall simply transliterate the next word) confronting one another nouthetically.”  According to Paul, all Christians must teach and confront one another in a nouthetic fashion.  In support of this proposition Paul also wrote (Romans 15:14):  “Concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to confront one another nouthetically.”  In both Colossians and Romans, then, Paul pictured Christians meeting in nouthetic confrontation as normal everyday activity.[24]

 

"And concerning you, my brethren,

I myself also am convinced that

you yourselves are full of goodness,

filled with all knowledge

and able also to admonish one another."

- Romans 15:14

 

            It is Adams’ conviction to admonish and warn (nouqetevw) his clients.  The nouthetic view began with the idea that pastors and lay people are or can become competent to counsel without psychological training.  However, it appears that the current biblical counseling movement intimidates pastors and other Christians into thinking they are incompetent to counsel, no matter how knowledgeable and mature they are as believers.  Moreover, this movement often looks too much like the psychological counseling movement it was meant to replace.

            In 1973, he gave a series of lectures at a leading evangelical seminary emphasizing to both faculty and students the need to stick strictly to the Bible and avoid psychological influences:          

I do not think I need to labor this point….I am sure that the reason why I was invited to deliver these lectures in the first place was because of our common conviction about this vital imperative.  [Others] may insist you cannot use your Bible as a textbook for counseling, try to shame you into thinking that seminary has inadequately trained you for the work, tempt you to buy all sorts of shiny psychological wares to use as adjuncts to the Bible, and generally demand that you abandon what they may imply or openly state to be an arrogant, insular, and hopelessly inadequate basis for counseling.[25]

            The Bible promises those that heed its counsel “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17).  Therefore, as Adams writes, “Any system that proposes to solve human problems apart from the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit (as all of these pagan systems, including the self-worth system, do) is automatically condemned by Scripture itself.”[26]


            The integrity of men like Crabb and Collins is not in question.  No doubt these men are fellow believers.  Furthermore, in fairness to them, is not Jay Adams being narrow-minded?  Certainly, scientific discoveries in the field of medical practice have truly deepened the understanding of certain Scriptures.  What about those theories of counseling[27] that claim to be the study of the yuchv?  As stated previously, if a Christian can go to medical doctors who treat physical illness then what is the harm in visiting a doctor who treats mental illness?  The answer is threefold:  (1) Medicine deals with the body, which would include the brain.  These are areas that the Bible does not address; (2) Medicine is a physical science, unlike certain counseling theories which integrate psychology with Scripture and demonstrate themselves to be a spiritual science; (3) The Bible is not a scientific manual, nor does it claim to be.  However, it does claim to provide all answers as to one’s sanctification.

 

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you,

with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another

with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

- Colossians 3: 16

 

            The great Physician has given the remedies for man’s emotional and behavioral problems.  To go to other physicians who will offer a remedy that will support one’s ego and that will give an excuse for one’s behavior will not suffice.  The Scripture says, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6).  Christians need to strongly avoid those theories that mix psychology and the Bible in counseling.  The emphasis needs to be on the Word of God alone for all matters of life and godliness.


[1] Terms such as “deep longings” or “thirst” and “wrong strategies” are used to describe the unconscious.  Larry Crabb, Inside Out (Colorado Springs:  NavPress, 1988), pp. 53-55.

[2] Larry Crabb, Basic Principles of Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1975), p. 53.

[3] Larry Crabb, Understanding People (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1987), p. 129.

[4] Crabb, Understanding People, pp. 126-130.

[5] Larry Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1977), p. 91.

[6] William D. Mounce, Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1993), p. 475.

[7] Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, n.d.), p. 658.

[8] William F. Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed., rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 866.

[9] Crabb, Inside Out, p. 53.

[10] Ibid., pp. 95-110; 185-188.

[11] Crabb, Understanding People, p. 211.

[12] Ibid., pp. 93-96.

[13] Gary Collins, Psychology and Theology (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1981), p. 15.

[14] Gary Collins, Can You Trust Psychology? (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 130.

[15] Ibid., p. 97.

[16] Ibid., p. 135.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 114.

[19] Gary Collins, Christian Counseling, revised edition (Waco:  Word Books, 1988), p. 108.

[20] Gary Collins, The Magnificent Mind (Waco:  Word Books, 1985), p. 143.

[21] Collins, Trust, pp. 104-105.

[22] Jay Adams, More Than Redemption (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1979), pp. xi-xii.

[23] Jay Adams, Ready to Restore (Phillipsburg:  Presbyterian and Reformed, 1981), p. 15.

[24] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1980), pp. 41-42.

[25] Jay Adams, The Use of the Scriptures in Counseling (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1975), pp. 1, 3.

[26] Jay Adams, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image (Eugene:  Harvest House, 1986), p. 65.

[27] Certainly, the segment of psychology that studies such matters as learning theory, sensation, perception, and problem-solving are scientific.  Biblical counseling theories that endorse psychotherapy are the areas of criticism.

 

 

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