The Language of Scripture…

Finger in BibleDr. Ab Abercrombie

Thanks to the proliferation of television, self-help books, and the Internet, many counselees have researched their individual conditions and concerns before making an appointment for biblical counseling. As a result, many will enter counseling using secular, psychological, and even medical terms to describe their complaints. Often this terminology is applied to others instead of self, as the individual counselee seeks to describe his/her circumstance.

Some examples I have heard within my counseling room include:

  • “I have been reading on the Internet about adult ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and I think it describes me perfectly.”
  • “I saw a TV special on depression and now I understand that I have a chemical imbalance that causes me to be depressed. Do you think I should start medication?”
  • “My wife has a borderline personality disorder…”
  • “My husband has a narcissistic personality disorder…”
  • “My son has an oppositional defiant disorder…”

In each situation, the counselee had spiritual, behavioral, and emotional issues that were indeed painful and chronic. Each were seeking an explanation for their struggle. However, their use of secular language and humanistic diagnostic terms led them to pursue secular and humanistic relief. Each one had discovered a term or condition they believed absolved them of responsibility; both for the problem and the solution.

Scripture relates the following truth: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is…” (Prov 23:7a). Our meditations matter greatly and so do our sources of study and research. Whenever a believer consults and relies upon worldly versions of “truth,” he/she becomes vulnerable to the intoxicating influence of humanism.

As a Biblicist, I view the Bible as fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any explanations offered by the world. Most Christians however value and respect the Bible and might even see it as inerrant; but few have studied Scripture from the perspective of sufficiency. As a result, most of our counselees offer distorted renditions of life that strangely employ biblical language mixed with secular opinions and terminology. But when the counselee settles upon, and believes the secular explanation (as in the examples above), we know they are seeking the world’s remedy that may, or may not, find agreement with God’s Word.

This merger of Christian thought with secular reasoning, in time, defiles the purity of one’s relationship with Scripture. Humanism is diametrically opposed to biblical truth in most, if not all, circumstances. When attempting to find agreement between God and the world, one has already conceded that the Bible is insufficient for the problem at hand. In using secular and psychological terminology, the counselee demonstrates his/her urgency for relief, without regard to God’s intent and purpose. Paul wrote concerning the overtaking of the mind and conscience:

To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled (Titus 1:15). [Read more…]

A Biblicist in an Unbiblical World…

Dr. Ab Abercrombie
Ps 119 photo

Being a Biblicist in an unbiblical world is challenging. Long past are the days when children were taught to read using the Bible. It is no longer culturally correct to evoke the Word of God in public. Even those within the church often bristle when Scripture is revered as absolute, literal, and authoritative. Compromise is the demand and concession is the norm. God’s Word, if spoken at all, must be unifying, peaceful, and affirming of human needs, to gain worldly acceptance. But Christ gave the following warning concerning God’s message to the world:

“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51-53).

The gospel is divisive and exposes the inner heart of man. It reveals belief or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, worship or idolatry, humility or pride. The illumination of Scripture asserts the glory of God and the depravity of man. The exposure of sin would be unbearable except for its remedy, the Lord Jesus Christ. But even the remedy will be refused by most and accepted by few. And as Jesus teaches, even those we love will turn away from the truth and often reject the believer who reads, proclaims, exalts, and seeks to live out God’s Word. The writer of Hebrews details this divisive impact:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Heb 4:12-13).

Thus, when Biblicists speak, live, and teach in accordance with Scripture, the result will be like a two-edged sword. God’s Word is deliberate in its intent, piercing the soul, and judging (exposing) the heart of everyone who is in proximity to its effect. The Bible is clear that no individual is immune to the working of Scripture and that our hearts are laid bare before Christ, to whom we are accountable. This is a glaring and unsettling fact; all will give answer to “Him with whom we have to do.” Believers and atheists, faithful followers and apostates, meek and bold, submitted and wayward, will each respond to the same truth. There is no other scale; no alternate template of measurement.

A purveyor (teller) of truth must know that the success of his/her ministry is not found in its outcome. Rather, the success of biblical ministry is determined by the accurate handing of God’s Word (2 Tim 2:15) and the minister’s obedience to speak “truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The end result of truth is dependent upon the sovereign activity of God, as He interacts with His creation. Jesus told this parable:

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself…” (Mk 4:26-28b).

[Read more…]

Kingdom Success: Imagine What God Could Do…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieRunners legs

Through the years I have taken note of my fluid and changing definition of success. When I was a young child, pleasing others seemed to be my goal, and I especially wanted my parent’s approval for the things I did. Their evaluation was the only measuring stick I had. If they were happy with me, then I was a success.

By middle school I had discovered music and sports along with the recognition of others for accomplishments in each.  The spirit of competition emerged and I quickly moved toward an orientation of “winning and losing” as I approached activates in my life. My parent’s approval was still important, but I now viewed it as much more “conditional” in its nature. My father seemed more excited when I won “first chair” status in the trumpet section or when I made the starting lineup on the football team.  Success, I determined, was much sweeter in the winner’s circle.

High school brought the acute awareness of friends, females, and fun. By this time, my parent’s approval was the antithesis of success. If they liked it, there must be something wrong with it. I wanted popularity, recognition, fellowship, and good times. If I was connected and included in “the group,” this was my greatest achievement. I still loved completion and wanted to win, but not at the cost of my inner circle.

After winning an athletic scholarship to college I now focused on the next level of accomplishment. By this time my identity was that of a “jock.”  I loved being on the team, standing out, and being something special. I was known by the number on my jersey and my accomplishments on the field. I guess that identity would have sustained me longer if only I hadn’t been such a “flop” at the collegiate level. In college the winner’s circle is pretty small and needless to say, I was well beyond the outer rim.

Since I had built my entire reputation as #75, there had to be a reorientation. “Winning,” to coin a phrase, “isn’t everything.” I swallowed hard, looked around, and decided I needed to re-invent myself. I surmised that if I wasn’t going to be an All-American, I’d better be smart and make a lot of money. So an “A” student I became, graduate school I pursued, a doctorate I received, and a private practice I built.

I was educated; I owned my own business; I had a beautiful wife; a baby daughter; a house on the bay; and even had my old football stories to tell. It’s amazing how much greater you were, the longer you are away from the game! I was the unhappiest “winner” you could have ever met.

So I decided I needed to work harder; build more business; hire associates and dominate the market. I worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week. But the harder I pressed, the greater my desperation and pain. I had spent the past 35 years of my life chasing the world and alas, the world had won. My proclaimed victory had in fact become my greatest defeat. My call to reality came from a question Jesus asked:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26)

[Read more…]

Consequence or Condemnation…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieDepressed Man

“As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

Here King David records a truly remarkable promise of God. Once we are His children we are forever covered in the security of His forgiveness and mercy.

As humans it is hard for us to fathom such a complete separation from sin. But according to God’s Word, once our sins are confessed before the Lord, they are literally forgotten. If our confession and devotion to Jesus is genuine, then eternity with Him is assured and no act or person can ever take us from His presence. Jesus said,

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10:27-28).

As followers of Christ, we can find great comfort in our Savior’s words. But we must be mindful of the fact that forgiveness, mercy, and salvation are terms dealing with eternity. In other words, our sins and transgressions have been made clean by the blood of Jesus and we now are saved from the condemnation of hell. As Paul wrote:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).


But does freedom from condemnation also provide the believer freedom from consequence? Does faith in Christ render one invincible and oblivious to the effect of sin? Does godly conduct really matter once we are under grace? Paul asked and answered the same sort of question,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2).

Clearly the Christian is not excused by grace to go on with his/her previous state of living. Instead we are called to no longer live for ourselves but rather conduct our lives with honor, compelled by the love of the One who saved us (2 Cor 5:14-15). In this state of love and honor we are connected to Christ in a manner that yields conviction and sorrow when we sin; provoking repentance and restoration rather than prolonged, deliberate disobedience. Paul wrote,

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Cor 7:10, NKJV).

[Read more…]

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieRed Heart

I do not often quote rock music icons to make a point, but Tina Turner’s heartfelt question is remarkably relevant for the ministry of biblical counseling: “What’s love got to do with it? According to the apostle Paul…everything!

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3).

Paul provides a poignant reminder that the core of the Gospel is love. While knowledge of God’s holy and perfect nature, the severity of His justice, and the righteousness of His law, awakens and convicts the human heart of its depravity and need; it is the God’s love that draws and transforms the sinner. The Word exposes the counselee’s human plight (Rom 3:10-12, 23) but also provides the grace and sufficiency of Christ as our remedy. Paul wrote:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Rom 5:8-9).

As ministers of Christ we are endowed with gifts and callings that are powerful under His direction; but without love the aim of our ministry will prove futile. Biblical counseling is a hard process of diagnosing and exposing sin through the use of God’s Word (Heb 4:12). It also deals with the impact of living in this fallen world, including the often unjust suffering shared by unbelievers and Christians alike.

Showing counselees their biblical infractions is critical if they are to recognize and address matters of unbelief, idolatry, self-centeredness, and pride. Repentance is fundamental both to regeneration and restoration. But if counselors are not cautious, our presentation of truth can become harsh and condemning, leaving the counselee with a sense of hopelessness.

Helping with the hardships of life require a proper view of God’s sovereignty and grace, the necessity for endurance, and sensitivity to spiritual needs that are revealed in times of greatest trial. And while absolute truth is necessary both for sin issues and circumstantial sorrow, the Bible requires us to advance God’s truth in merger with God’s love. Paul wrote:

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, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Eph 4:14-16).

[Read more…]

Fruit Sins and Root Sins

Dr. Ab AbercrombieRoots

In his Bible study entitled, “Behold Your God”, Dr. John Snyder provides an excellent teaching on “fruit sins” and “root sins” which has special relevance to the practice of biblical counseling. Within the study, Snyder emphasizes the importance of true repentance that reaches to the heart of one’s deepest spiritual condition so that character and identity are literally changed.

Fruit sins are defined as the behavioral expressions of an inner heart condition. As Scripture relates, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident…” (Gal 5:19a): they are obvious. Like apples hanging from a tree, these expressions of sin are dependent upon the root. In other words, an apple tree cannot produce pears nor an orange tree avocados. Consequently, removing the obvious fruit will not change the identity of the tree.

In human terms, the modification of behavior does not change the character of a man or woman. Only by impacting the root can the fruit be altered. Jesus taught this truth plainly, saying:

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matt 7:16-18).

Since fruit sins are visible, repentance often centers only upon what has been revealed or discovered. When a husband is caught in pornography he repents for what has been found out. When a wife’s excessive spending becomes apparent when hidden bank statements are exposed, she is sorry for the consequences of her actions. Both the husband and wife may then strive to stop their individual expressions of sin, and for a season, may be successful. But unless the heart issues are addressed (root sins), the behavior will likely return in its original or modified form.

This type of repentance is superficial and fails to address the true depth and scope of the spiritual problem. At the root of these issues there lies a much more insidious problem that is grounded in one’s identity, integrity, and character. Many of the most common and compromising root sins include idolatry, unbelief, selfishness, pride, unforgiveness, anger, wrath, and bitterness. Until the fullness of the heart is addressed, these core vulnerabilities will continue to yield behavioral sin. [Read more…]

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). [Read more…]

A Broken and Contrite Heart…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSad man praying

Have you noticed that many of the most repentant prayers in the Bible come from God’s most faithful servants? Human logic would suggest otherwise. Most would assume that as one grows in his/her faith, sin would decrease, along with the need for confession and repentance.

But in truth it seems the closer one draws to God with a desire to obey and serve; the more grieved he/she becomes with sin. In the life of a growing Christian, the presence of sin becomes increasingly poignant and unacceptable and takes the individual more frequently to his/her knees, seeking out the purifying work of grace and the restorative impact of the Father’s discipline.

Repentance is the centerpiece of Christian growth and sanctification. Whenever one is dull to the stirring conviction of the Spirit, he/she is in true danger. Repentance is God’s gift that provokes the unbeliever unto salvation, and draws the Christian toward sanctification. A repentant lifestyle is brings life, vindication, joy, and development. It is a gift of God that simultaneously convicts the conscience, provokes confession, and heals the willful patterns of our lives.

Because of this we see the great characters of Scripture humbled, submitted, and burdened by the undoing of sin, seeking instead the freedom and provision of grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Paul described well the single remedy for his base depravity:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25).

The awareness of our plight as sinners deepens our dependency upon Christ while provoking praise, celebration, and thankfulness for God’s unmerited favor. A life that is sensitive and yielded grows to have no tolerance for sin and thereby develops an urgent pursuit of righteousness. [Read more…]

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).

[Read more…]

“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. [Read more…]