“He insists that today’s debates about the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling have been addressed in the past in that confessional statements have not only addressed the sufficiency of Scripture for doctrine, but the sufficiency of Scripture for living the Christian life.”
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts reading through A Theology of Biblical Counseling, The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry by Heath Lambert (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).
Yesterday we examined Heath’s explanation of the sufficiency of Scripture, although we noted that the language was not clear enough nor consistent enough to know whether he was asserting that Scripture always has something to say or that Scripture always has everything to say.
Perhaps it will become clearer now in pages 38 and following, where Heath begins to examine critiques of biblical counseling, especially the critique offered by his own Southern Seminary colleague, Dr. Eric Johnson.
Eric Johnson’s Position
Heath states Dr. Johnson’s position on page 39ff:
1. “Johnson…does not believe that the Bible is sufficient for the work of counseling”
2. “He argues that the Bible is sufficient only for salvation and doctrine.”
3. “His point is that it is a serious error to argue that Scripture provides sufficient resources for the work that counselors do.”
4. Johnson believes “Protestant Christian theologians have argued for Scripture’s sufficiency only in the categories of salvation and doctrine.”
Heath explains that Dr. Johnson bases his views upon a certain understanding of Reformation history. Dr. Johnson says that Catholics and Protestants debated the source of Christian authority, with the Roman church arguing that its own teaching and tradition was essential to understanding the Scriptures, whereas the Protestants believed that Scripture alone was sufficient to interpret the Scriptures.
In taking on Dr. Johnson’s view, Heath leaves us under no illusions about how high the stakes are:
“Johnson’s critique goes to the heart of the biblical counseling movement. The faithfulness – even the existence – of the movement is at stake in a critique like this” (40).
Heath commends the Reformers for the courageous way in which they defended the sufficiency of Scripture in their day, but warns,
“Threats against God’s truth did not end at the Reformation…The greatest threat today to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture from attack by those who believe the Bible is not a sufficient resource to help when life’s challenges confront a person” (40-41).
Heath does accept Dr. Johnson’s argument that the the debate today is somewhat different to that of the Reformation:
“The Reformation debates were primarily about the sufficiency of Scripture in relation to the doctrinal debates with Catholics. Today the counseling debates about the sufficiency of Scripture relate to whether it is appropriate or necessary to use secular systems of thought in counseling” (40).
However, Heath argues that although the issues are different, the underlying principles are the same. He insists that today’s debates about the sufficiency of Scripture in counseling have been addressed in the past in that confessional statements have not only addressed the sufficiency of Scripture for doctrine, but the sufficiency of Scripture for living the Christian life.
Heath then quotes the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith on the sufficiency of Scripture and concludes that they not only teach the sufficiency of Scripture for doctrine but also that the Bible was “equally sufficient for the matters of life, which would include the types of issues addressed in counseling today” [emphasis mine] (42).
Five Debatable Areas
This produces five areas of debate:
1. What are “the types of issues addressed in counseling today”?
2. Is the “sufficiency” language of the Protestant reformation and its confessions applicable in the same way to the sufficiency debate in counseling?
3. Is the Bible equally sufficient for doctrine and the types of issues addressed in counseling today?
4. Has Heath stated Eric Johnson’s position with sufficient accuracy and comprehensiveness?
5. Is what Heath says here consistent with earlier statements about secular sources like psychology being sometimes “true,” “helpful,” and “welcome” for various counseling purposes (26, 27, 30)?
I’d like to answer these questions over the coming days as we continue to read through the book, but let me address the first one today.
Debatable Area 1: What are “the types of issues addressed in counseling today”?
I think it would be helpful for us to know exactly what are the types of counseling issues that Heath has in view here. A few pages back, he said that the sufficiency of Scripture was under “attack by those who believe the Bible is not a sufficient resource to help when life’s challenges confront a person” (40). So, I’m assuming that the “types of issues addressed in counseling today” are “life’s challenges.” Which leads me to my tenth question:
Question 10: Is Scripture a sufficient resource for a life-challenge like, say, autism, or developmental delay, or bi-polar disorder? Or, to put it another way, is it “equally sufficient” for these matters of life as it is for doctrine?
Personally, I believe that Scripture is a sufficient resource for the spiritual dimensions of life-challenges like that. The question is really asking if the biblical counseling movement is asserting more than that.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.