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 Biblical Response to Dependency and Addiction

Dr. Ab AbercrombieWorried man

Dependency and Addiction

According to experts, alcohol and drug addiction are diseases; obesity and overeating are due to genetic predisposition; obsessive relationship attachments are labeled “codependent;” and excessive spending may be a symptom of bi-polar disorder. To refer to these matters as sin is considered taboo. After all, it isn’t our fault if we have a physical malady, genetic flaw, poor childhood, or biochemical imbalance.

Focusing on sin, some argue, is harsh and promotes guilty, shameful emotions. I argue that telling someone there is no remedy or cure for their behavioral prison is harsh. Without transformation, we can only teach someone to manage their illness rather than resolve their sin.

Addiction is indulgence of the flesh in the temporal pleasures that come with the element of attraction. For some substances, medical addiction can, and does, become a complicating factor making deception and entrapment yet greater. Yet in its origin, it is the placement of something or someone above God.

Edward Welch (2001) calls addiction a worship disorder, pointing to idolatry as a central theme in our excessive consumptions. He writes:

Furthermore, the problem is not outside of us located in a liquor store or on the Internet; the problem is within us. Alcohol and drugs are essentially satisfiers of deeper idols. The problem is not the idolatrous substance; it is the false worship of the heart (p. 49).

Scripture states: “Now the works of the flesh are evident…” (Gal. 5:19). If the cravings and actions of our flesh are evident (obvious), then through them our heart is revealed. The heart conveys our affection; our devotion of time and energy; our longing; and our commitment.The heart invested fully in a person or substance will have little evidence of godly worship, service, or holy conduct, as these assets cannot be attained apart from godly adoration.

Many suggest that the Bible has little to say about addiction in general. For example, the Bible does not speak of pornography, drug addiction, or relationship dependence at all. The Bible also does not mention automobiles and rocket ships because they did not exist at the time God gave His revelation. But theologically and structurally, Scripture has volumes to say about idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14), worship (John 4:23), respect and maintenance of the body (1 Cor. 3:16-17), lust (1 John 2:16, sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7), temperance (1 Cor. 6:12), and pure meditations (Ps. 19:14). Perhaps Paul summed it up best:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any (1 Cor. 6:12).

[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…]

The Danger Of Experiential Theology…

Dr. Ab AbercrombieHand on open Bible

Theology is the study of God and God’s relation to the world. Consequently, all believers are theologians in pursuit of truth pertaining to our Creator and His revelation of Himself to His creations. Our theology (knowledge and belief about God) must come from Scripture as there is no other reliable source by which believers can discern absolute truth. Paul stressed this point when addressing spiritual maturity:

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).

When we forsake the veracity of the Bible to search for truth, we are subject to chaos and vulnerable to the “waves” of opinion and experience that carry us astray. Believers often become deceived through the manipulation of truth by those advancing a personal agenda as a spiritual reality.

Case in point is the growing trend toward Experiential Theology, which defines God through personal experience, emotion, and the subjective discernment of reality. Experiential theologians are easy to spot because they rarely reference Scripture, and when they do, typically the presentation of the Word is misrepresented and contextually flawed. [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…]

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). [Read more…]

Counseling Unbelievers…

Sad Man Half Face

Dr. Ab Abercrombie

The Bible is fully sufficient for the counseling task and superior to any method the world has to offer…for believers. But is the same claim applicable to unbelievers? Many in the biblical counseling field think not. For example, Jay Adams and many within the Nouthetic arena contend that unbelievers require “pre-counseling evangelism” before biblical counseling can ensue. (Newheiser, 2006).

But often counseling is initiated before the counselor can assess the spiritual status of the counselee. Other times an individual enters counseling convinced of his/her salvation, yet lacking the capacity to hear and respond to Scripture, due to an unregenerate heart. In situations like these, should the counselor place the counseling on pause to initiate evangelism?

Rather I suggest there are biblical mandates to both restore the fallen (Gal 6:1-2) and evangelize the lost (Matt 28:19-20) which dictate the counselor’s response and no distinction between the two activities exists. In fact, the course and nature of the counseling can only be determined within the counseling setting, where the Word and the Spirit direct the counselor’s assessment of spiritual need.

Without this assessment, the counselor is left to trust the counselee’s representation of spiritual status without biblical examination. This is dangerous because many within the Church bear a false security reinforced by human markers of salvation (i.e. church membership, baptism, confirmation, or experience). Others may be genuinely born-again yet now doubt or discount their salvation due to the presence of sin and its destructive impact in their lives.

Because of this, the first step of effective biblical counseling is the analysis of the assignment: Is the task evangelistic or restorative? Counseling must begin in order to discern this critical truth. Some steps for making this assessment follow: [Read more…]

Hurricane Katrina: What is God Doing?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieHurricane aftermath

Michael and Angela share the first mattress on the left as you enter the shelter.  Both in their mid-twenties, are trying to occupy their three daughters in the midst of the chaos around them.  There is a panicky energy about them; the kind of uneasy tension that comes when one is lost and without direction, running low on hope.  They are stranded in a small rural shelter in Alabama, over 175 miles from their home in New Orleans; a home that is no longer standing.

“We were hoping to leave New Orleans anyway” says Michael, trying to find an upside to his situation.  “I just want to find work and get a place for my family to live.  I’m a good carpenter and I’ll work hard.”

Myrna is across the shelter on the opposite wall.  She is a single mother with two daughters: a twelve-year-old, basketball star/honor student and a two-year-old toddler, who isn’t quite sure where she is and why she can’t go home.  “This is the third shelter we’ve been in since the storm” Myna said.  “Every time they move us we get farther from home.”  Home is Pascagoula, MS about 50 miles away.  Myrna and her children were awakened by the rush of water rising against their front door.  The hurricane they thought was far enough west had made a last second jog to the east, and now the storm surge threatened her family’s survival.  Kicking out a window, Myrna and her children escaped by foot to a near by fire station where they rode out the storm huddled together on the second floor.

Myrna starts to cry quietly.  “I try not to let the children see me upset.  My twelve-year-old is already so hurt.  Every time it rains or she sees lightning, she starts to panic.”  Myrna works in housekeeping for a hotel that no longer exists.  She has no vehicle, no clothes, no money.  “I don’t know where I am going from here.  I have family in Atlanta so I guess I’ll go there for a while.  I want to get away from the coast.  I don’t want my babies to go through any of this again.” [Read more…]

Whatever Became of Sin?

Dr. Ab AbercrombieSnake and Apple

In 1973, the world-renowned psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled: Whatever Became of Sin? In his book the doctor projected the day would come when sin would no longer be an element of the human vernacular. He speculated that the explanation of sin and wrongdoing would be replaced by rationalizations excusing individual accountability.

Menninger predicted the term sin would be replaced with words like illness, disorder, dysfunction, syndrome, etc. The human condition would be excused as a product of biochemistry, environment, experience, and trauma. He projected that even crime would go unpunished as criminal activity would be justified and minimized as the result of some medical abnormality for which one could not be held responsible.

According to Menninger’s prognostication, the day was approaching when practically everyone would be considered sick and their conduct pardonable. No longer would there be any liability for human error, choice, and willful conduct. Everyone would be innocent, vindicated through biology, psychiatry, and humanistic reasoning.

Aren’t we just about there? The good doctor was a pretty good prophet!

Humanism has become the dominant theology of our day, embraced increasingly throughout society and regrettably, in the Church. Humanism teaches that everything is relative and there are no absolutes. As a result there can be no sin because there are no fixed guidelines of morality. Under this doctrine, man is considered good and deserving of everything it he wants.

Furthermore, humanism assumes there is no God. Man is his own sovereign ruler; wise, competent, and capable of making decisions that are best for him. Salvation then is the pleasure and gratification of the human experience. Humanism is individually focused without regard to others and it seeks immediate gain without consideration of its long-term or eternal impact. [Read more…]

The Scriptural Mandate to Counsel

By: Dr. W.P. “Ab” Abercrombie