Christian Character or Controlled Conduct?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieBible 10 Commandments

Many have a misunderstanding of what takes place in biblical counseling, seeing only part of the process while overlooking the larger objectives. Biblical care is often viewed as the administration of biblical imperatives only; directives to stop certain sinful expressions of behavior and replace them with godly conduct.

And while behavioral change should be one result of biblical intervention, it can be achieved as a secondary byproduct of transformative character change. Until there exists a “new self,” the “old self” has no hope of prolonged and consistent management of sin. Paul wrote:

…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph 4:22-24).

In this passage Paul is not speaking of the exchange of one set of behaviors for another. He is not addressing a change in conduct. Rather the apostle is reminding the believer of the transformation that has occurred through the regenerative impact of salvation, while also stressing the pursuit of sanctification and the development of a character that reflects the “likeness of God.”

Truly this is a call to extinguish the former self and be made new. With that newness comes changed affections, kingdom orientation, distain for sin, and the desire for truth. As these new aspects are developed and purified, behavior must also change. Only the transformed heart can receive and practice the absolute imperatives of Scripture. which now have become relevant, alive, and achievable under the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, as He teaches and interprets God’s Word within the heart of God’s “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17).

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A Little (Psychological) Leaven…Leavens the Whole Lump of Dough

Dr. Ab AbercrombiePsychology text

The Southern Baptist Convention seems compelled to adopt annual resolutions designed to shape and direct its nearly 16 million members toward informed opinions and appropriate conduct. Their latest offering is a Resolution on Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God. On the surface the proclamation appears compassionate, but in full context it contradicts scriptural truth while sanctioning psychological explanations and psychiatric treatment for “mental illness.”

The resolution speaks out against prejudice and stigmatization, and encourages ministry outreach to suffering individuals and their families. Few could find argument with this intent. But the document goes far beyond the needed expression of compassion, promoting questionable and potentially harmful positions that will forever alter the church’s view of human suffering. In the resolution, Southern Baptists declare and affirm that:

  • Mental illness, as defined by psychology and psychiatry, is a valid medical condition needing specialized medical care.
  • Conditions like “autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, and eating disorders” are medical illnesses present in our world as a consequence of “the Fall.”
  • The “wise use of medical intervention for mental health concerns” is an “appropriate” remedy for such problems.

Why are preachers and theologians making these proclamations and what is their source of authority on the issues of depression, instability, anxiety, fear, anger, suicide, and madness? Clearly they have sacrificed the Bible and scriptural sufficiency in favor of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the unscientific reasoning of man. Point in fact, the original resolution had two amendments attached which stated:

  • Scripture is the “final authority” on all mental health issues, and
  • Scripture is “sufficient for counseling all phases of the human condition.”

Both amendments were “overwhelmingly defeated” by those attending the convention and therefore were removed from the final resolution (Steffan, 2014). It is a fearful day when Southern Baptists publicly proclaim that Scripture is insufficient and lacking in authority for matters of “life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:2-3).

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Asking The Right Questions…The Process of Biblical Counseling

Dr. Ab AbercrombieThe Right Question

Biblical Counseling, obviously involves the reading and study of Scripture. But often getting the Bible open, within the context of an emotional discussion, can be a challenge. However, the importance of using God’s Word cannot be overstated. After all, it is the Word that is powerful, superior, and sufficient in its scope and impact, not the counselor.

Biblical counselors must not rely upon the restating of scriptural themes and guidelines only. Rather the literal reading of Scripture is central to the process of salvation, repentance, sanctification, and discipleship. Statements like, “The Bible says…” or “God requires…” are valuable introductions; but they must be followed with specific, contextual digestion of Scripture, if transformation is to occur.

Asking Questions that Require a Biblical Response

Whether the counselor is involved in formal or informal counseling, the use of biblical questions is key to advancing a scriptural process. Questions that require a biblical response are effective in both matters of restoration and evangelism and provide a bridge to opening God’s Word.

Examples of this type of inquiry follow:

  • What does Scripture teach on the topic of divorce?
  • Where in the Bible are we encouraged to harbor anger and pursue revenge?
  • Do you remember any biblical characters who were fearful?
  • Have you ever examined the topic of suffering in Scripture?
  • How do your reconcile this decision with God’s Word?
  • According to the Bible, how does a person gain eternal life?
  • Do you remember the story of David and Bathsheba?
  • Are you familiar with God’s teaching on perseverance?

Clearly the potential questions are endless, but their selection must be Spirit led. Just as in the choice of Scripture, God must direct this method of inquiry. When He does, the question will always be pointed, penetrating, and revealing. These questions will invariably lead to one of three outcomes:

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“Say It Ain’t So…”

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSay it ain't so…photo

You may remember that oft-quoted plea that is a part of baseball lore, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” In 1919, famous baseball player “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was accused, with several teammates, of betraying the fans of the game by “fixing” the World Series, after the highly favored Chicago White Sox lost the championship to the Cincinnati Reds. After Jackson’s testimony before a grand jury in 1920, a young, faithful, and believing fan begged his hero to deny the charge of betrayal: “Say it ain’t so…”

I feel similarly as I write this article and plead… “Say it ain’t so…Al (Mohler)!” “Say it ain’t so…John (Piper)!” I am a fan of these leaders and highly value their teaching. But recently both have taken positions on the sin of pornography that are confusing and potentially dangerous for the Body of Christ. Both have offered endorsement of psychology and neuroscience, proclaiming this form of sexual immorality a biological addiction.

This may seem a minor thing; a frivolous matter of semantics; but it is far more insidious. This is especially true for teachers with  sizable platforms and influence. Bear with me as I discuss why this matters.

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“Do you wish to get well?”

Dr. Ab Abercrombie Sad man praying

As a biblical counselor, I sometimes encounter counselees who seem immobilized. They appear simply unable or unwilling to move forward, languishing in despair, relational struggle, and sin. Even when seeming to understand Scripture and claiming conviction, they remain unchanged.

In one such occasion I was helping Ron, a professing believer, evaluate his role as a husband and spiritual head of his home. Over three meetings we had examined his salvation and studied numerous scriptures pertaining to spiritual submission (Jas 4:5-8), authority (1 Cor 11:3), leadership (Eph 5:22-29), love (1 Cor 13:3-7), forgiveness (Matt 6:14-15), and accountability (Rom 14:11-12).

In each example the counselee expressed grief and claimed conviction to lead and love his wife as Scripture instructs. But near the end of the third meeting the discussion veered off course:

Ron: I know the Bible is true and God expects me to do these things. But how can I?

Counselor: What do you mean?

Ron: How can I lead when my wife will not cooperate? How can I love someone who is cold and distant?

Counselor: So you are unable to obey God’s teaching because of your wife’s condition?

Ron: I would be a better Christian if I were married to a godly woman. I just don’t see how I can do anything until she gets it together.

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Marital Abandonment

Dr. Ab AbercrombiePensive Woman

Don had been married thirty years to the wife of his youth. Together they raised three children, built two careers, and seemed headed for late-life contentment. Suddenly Don’s wife announced, “I don’t love you. This marriage has been a mistake from the beginning. I want a divorce.”

Janice had been married 19 years when her husband left her without explanation. Within weeks, he abandoned his job, relocated, and refuses to speak to his wife and children. As a stay-at-home mother, she is without financial support and terrified for her future. Her husband has “left the grid” and refuses to respond.

Both couples profess Christ and previously demonstrated evidence of salvation and fruit within their respective homes. Regrettably these stories are far too common within God’s Church, and the Body is facing an onslaught of spousal abandonment. There is increasing need for biblical counsel on this topic and we must examine God’s Word on the matter.

As a biblical counselor I have repeatedly heard that  “abandonment” is biblical grounds for divorce. I have heard it from pastors, leaders, and individuals who have been deserted. But does Scripture support this claim. Jesus said:

“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matt 5:31-32).

Jesus never wavered on this point. No other reference to an acceptable divorce appears in Scripture. And even the matter of sexual immorality is to first be addressed under the biblical themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, and obedience to the admonition that God hates divorce (Mal  2:16).

Often the victim of abandonment will have no choice. The spouse who leaves may initiate a divorce and refuse reconciliation. On this point, the rejected spouse has little recourse. Yet too frequently, the abandonment results in a prolonged separation, with the absent spouse taking no steps toward a permanent ending. What then should be our counsel?

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Me…An Evangelist?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieWoman dazed

Most Biblical Counselors do not define their work as evangelism. We are more familiar, and perhaps more comfortable, with the biblical roles of teaching, encouragement, discipleship, and restoration. We often assume that because a counselee has selected a counselor with a biblical orientation, he/she is already a believer. But beginning with that supposition can lead to ineffective treatment results that carry great eternal ramifications.

While it is certain that none of us can fully know the true spiritual condition of another person’s heart, we must be receptive to what the Holy Spirit reveals when we begin a counseling process. A thorough and ongoing spiritual assessment must be at the foundation of everything a counselor does.

Typically a counselor is consulted at a point of great distress and brokenness. God can, and will use this vulnerability to open the client’s heart to the gospel message. The fact that a non-believer has selected a biblical counselor may be evidence that God is working in that client’s life. Jesus said:

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Jn 6:44a).

When broken and tender, the heart of the client is searching for truth and peace that can only come through a personal relationship with Jesus. The Lord uses that pain and suffering to draw us into a situation where the truth can be spoken and received. Since there are no errors or accidents in the timing of God, the counseling session can be His appointed moment. Paul wrote:

…for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION ” (2 Cor 6:2).

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The Wall Is Broken Down: Homosexuality and the Church

Broken Wall

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is in crisis and the enemy is gaining force. The biblical foundation of our faith has been ruptured by a secular assault, the likes of which, we have not seen. And while victory is assured and even the “gates of Hades” will not overpower Christ’s Church (Matt 16:18); the wall is broken down and believers are being devoured (1 Pet 5:8). We need soldiers who will “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3).

The Book of Nehemiah provides a historical reference from which to draw. When Hanani and his fellow countrymen came into Susa, they gave Nehemiah the following report concerning the status of the Holy City of God:

“The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire” (Neh 1:3).

With the wall of Jerusalem “broken down” there was no longer protection from the enemy. God’s people were without refuge, stricken of hope. The rampart, which divided them from the world, had been breached. The Bible records Nehemiah’s response:

“When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh 1:4).

The news we are receiving today is much the same. The Body of Christ has been overtaken with a brutal onslaught. The walls and foundation of our faith are falling under the powerful attack of the enemy and I submit it is time for mourning, repentance, fasting, and prayer “before the God of heaven!”

The weapons of the enemy include emotion, experience, intellectualism, and bias, each challenging the veracity of Scripture as the foundation for life and eternity. Christians are dropping and surrendering in alarming numbers, yielding to secular pressures and the demands of unbelievers.

Recently we see two prominent issues taking center stage in the church: mental illness/suicide and the homosexual agenda. The church is being bombarded with pressure calling for the abandonment of scriptural order and the acceptance of public opinion. Increasingly the church is chided as lacking compassion whenever it references scriptural teachings in these areas. And regrettably the assault has weakened our stance and is eroding the boundaries of truth.

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Love Her Into Submission…

Dr. Ab Abercrombie  Pre-marriage young couple embrace

Christian men everywhere unite! It is time to help our wives toward biblical obedience once and for all! Women everywhere should answer their scriptural mandate:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph 5:22).

I know you have done everything to get these “weaker vessels” (1 Pet 3:7) in line. But in your frustration you have  abdicated your responsibilities. In response the women were left to dictate the order in your home, define the family’s spiritual focus, work long, tiring hours away from the children, and run the churches you attend. No matter how much you complain, criticize, yell, sulk, or withdraw, those women just keep assuming control and overriding your authority.

But while you believe that you have exhausted your options, I bring one last hope for turning this mayhem around. It is a tricky maneuver to be sure; they will never see it coming…Let’s love them into submission!

Yes it is challenging and no it won’t happen overnight. But take heart…if we persevere these unique creatures can be transformed into wonderful helpers designed just for us! (Gen 2:18).

Step 1…Become a man under authority…

Submission conveys love, trust, and respect for authority. It depicts a willingness to sacrifice one’s desires in service to another. I know it has been a long time, but think back to high school physics class and recall the most basic physical law: “Every action yields an equal and opposite reaction.”

According to God’s Word, when you learn to submit (conveying love, trust, and respect), your wife will be compelled to do the same. Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote:

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Eph 1:22-23).

All authority belongs to Christ. A submitted man recognizes and honors this truth first and foremost. Seeking surrender and humility before the Lord presents a model for the wife to follow. An obedient man is a trustworthy and reliable leader because his motivations are not selfish, but rather his existence and aim is to the glory of God.

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“It’s Not My Job…”

Dr. Ab Abercrombieshutterstock_137708114

In the Book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote about the importance of sanctification and maturity in the Christian life:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…(Eph 4:14-15).

“As a result” of preaching, teaching, evangelism, and biblical care, the saints are to be unified and equipped with knowledge, maturity, and unity, moving collectively toward the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:11-13). Therefore the unified, mature, and prepared Body of Christ should be growing in stability, with correct doctrine, not subject to false teaching and deception, and capable of expressing “truth in love” to one another, so that all grow up into the likeness of Christ.

Truth in love is the foundational work of biblical counseling. In its truest application, biblical counseling should occur constantly within the normal day-to-day discourse between believers, as we focus our intent and movement toward the goals of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, this piece of biblical care is typically left to the pastoral staff or trained counselors, and often occurs only when spiritual issues have grown into urgent crises.

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