Ep. 230 When the Integrationist and Biblical Counselor Are Right

Ep. 230 When the Integrationist and Biblical Counselor Are Right

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Shows Main Idea – A Supporting Member asked, How do I see Christ as so glorious that meeting my own needs fade? How do I help someone else put their needs in perspective? In my big hurts, I have tried meditating on Christ and His presence. It does help, but there are moments where the sadness descends, and there doesn’t seem that I can do much about it but let it pass. Am I wrong? Will you help me understand this tension?

Show Notes

I am currently reading a book from a historical integrationist for theology and secular psychology class. I’d like to know what you think about this person’s view on need theory, and is there any place for it in counseling. My biblical counselor instructor says the integrationist believes in a hollow core and the importance of human relationships and our longings for them. I don’t know what I think about needs and how that should inform my counseling.

This class is my last in theory, and I have started my practical counseling. I have to write a paper shortly about this integrationist, and I was trying to cover all my bases. I am mostly through the book, and a lot of what the integrationist says makes sense. He says that Christians can’t expect to not hurt on this earth and that although we can experience fullness with God in some measure, our main hope has to be in heaven.

My biblical counselor teacher says, “The answer is first to allow God to break our selfish desires and to teach us what it means to fear Him alone. So the question is not, “Where can I find my worth?” but “Why am I so concerned about myself?” The problem is not, “How can God fill my needs?” It is, “How can Christ be seen as so glorious that I forget about my perceived needs?”

So I do agree with the integrationist when he says that we will not escape pain and suffering in this life. I see that all over the Bible, too. I’m just not sure how his take on needs fits with a biblical perspective. – Supporting Member

Guard Against Dogmatism

Your question is complicated, but only so if a person tries to make your biblical counselor’s quote the only right answer. His quote is correct in theory, but not in real life as a stand-alone, only option, without caveat or engagement because of the diversity that we see in human complexity and suffering. It’s like saying that medication is never the answer for a person struggling with fear. Let’s say that the “never medication assessment” is correct (for the sake of this conversation), but it does not fit in real life.

So part of the problem is the “faith conundrum.” Meaning, the person who believes (faith) meds is the only answer for what is wrong with them will balk at any suggestion that they are misbelieving. Thus, you have to “walk them back” to a better worldview on thinking about their problems. And “part” of that answer is what your biblical counselor implied about controlling desires, but there must be more than that.

Guard Against Beating Up Yourself

Another example of the tension between theory and real-life is a mother with a gay child could beat herself up because “Christ is not her all in all.” Thus, in real-world practice, the “absolute right answer” may sound correct in the classroom but not so much in the counseling office. It could be unkind to suggest that “Christ should be your all in all” without discerning the person listening to that advice.

One of the mistakes that some biblical counselors make is giving the theoretical right answer without discerning the “starting place” of the person they are helping. In nearly every case, you have to find the correct starting point, and then begin the process of walking with them to a better way of thinking and behaving, which means the integrationist is making a good point, too. And your intuition affirms that something about it does sound correct, perhaps because you’re right.

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Learn to Live in Tension

A second issue is that there will always be an “interplay of tension” between what Christ should be to me and my desires in a fallen body. We will never see the day (in this life) when our motives are purely pure; the “fallen part of us” will always try to subvert our Christocentric lives and hopes. And, honestly, I don’t have a debilitating issue with this since it would be unwise to kick too hard against reality since it won’t change.

Some folks do “strain too hard” as though they can change all their impure motives. I don’t do that. I used to do that, but I’ve had to wrestle with the things you’re addressing here, and I came out the other end with more rational thinking and practice. Over-thinkers, which I am, do struggle with the more delicate hairs of their fallenness that still have life in their fallen bodies.

I would say, based on what you’ve said, that the biblical counselor and the integrationist are correct. However, I realize there is much context that surrounds the quote from your biblical counselor and the reference from the integrationist, which I realize is too much for you to share here.

Know Your Priorities

My point is that our desires for godly children, a purer life, free from all fear, and any other thing that we dislike about ourselves, our friends, or our world will always be with us to some degree. Though the goal is for us is to shrink these forces over time. But, even so, we realize that the “residue of our fallenness” will follow us into the ground. Thus, for me, it’s about priorities, as in 1a and 1b—which is more dominant?

The question I’m asking is whether or not Christ is preeminent in my heart. That reality must be the most dominant. I’m asking if my desires have more power over me than my hopes in Christ. I just don’t overthink my impure motives, as in thinking that I will get rid of every thread of them. But are they in check? Does Christ mean more to me?

I have to live in that 18% gray world (photography term) rather than an “all white or all black one.” What I am looking for is whether my hope in Christ is progressing toward purity until that day when it will be entirely realized in heaven. The integrationist seems to be suggesting this tension, but not giving in to an over-realized eschatology.

Wisdom While Counseling

Thus, if a person is struggling with fear and is using a medication as their “current faith answer,” I’m careful about suggesting a better, potential end goal. Maybe they do need to live in the practical and functioning truth of a “sufficiency of Christ worldview” without medication. It would depend on where the individual was with God (starting point) and the genuine issues of the body and soul. I would not “fuss” at her for using meds.

Minimally, I would rejoice that she wants (desires) to feel better. I would also celebrate with the mother of the gay person who wants (desires) her child to walk in holiness. I’m glad both of them have these great desires, and I don’t want them to stop desiring them. Ever!

But where I would want to go with them is to help them to mature to where these good desires are not controlling them. I would not teach them that these desires are wrong without discussion; that would be wrong. It’s bizarre, if not crazy. With all that said, I would say that the biblical counselor and the integrationist are correct, based on your quotes. It’s a matter of order and priority as to what is most significant.

But even with the right priority, I will have days when I weep like a baby because things continue to be the way they are. But if in my “heart of hearts,” I know that Christ is my “all in all,” then I’m okay. And if this were happening with a similar person, I would weep with that person who is crying. I know that joy will come back in the morning because they have their priorities correct; they are just having a bad day. But that is not who they are. It was an episode, not a pattern in their lives.

What Is Controlling You?

God gave us desires, and He means them to be good. And He will provide us with the desires of our hearts, the good ones, that is. Sometimes, though not always, the Lord does keep His mysterious reasons for not providing all of them. But that’s okay; He’s good still, even if I don’t get my good desires.

The attempt to defeat all desires because they are not needs, as we like to say, is wrongheaded, which is why I don’t overly focus on them. To desire is a God-given gift. May we never stop wanting, wishing, desiring, hoping, dreaming, or imagining. I do this every day with our ministry, with no exceptions, for 12-years running.

Again, it comes back to order: Are my desires controlling me? But here is the caveat for the over-thinkers: it would be unwise to delve into your “good desires,” thinking that you want something for the wrong reasons (impure motives), and you won’t be happy until you’re pure through and through. If you do this, you will get lost in your head, and drive your friends crazy.

That Ambiguous Motive

The example I use is my wife coming home and me treating her kindly when she arrives. Is it a great desire to treat her well? Of course, it is. It’s godly. Do I have impure motives? Of course, I do. I’m a fallen human. I know that if I’m unkind to her, things will go badly for me, for her, for the children, for the dog, and set a tone that none of us want in our home.

But if I treat her nicely, I will have a better day. We all will. Honestly, I do not get hung up on the “granular impurities of my good desires.” Again, I’m fallen. But the question is, What is the overarching desire of my life? Which do my heart, family, and friends affirm? The answer is for Christ to be my all in all. I have to find rest in this wretched old body until my Christ delivers me to where there will be no more impurity in my imperfect thoughts.

[The] Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:7-9).

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Become An Original Thinker

Unfortunately, too many counselors are not able to think outside their training, which binds them to their trainers, and it disconnects them from Spirit-illuminated engagement and growth. I’ve been meditating a lot lately about this idea of “original intelligence” and “classical intelligence.” My biblical counseling, historical hero, David Powlison, was the maestro at both.

Classical is what you get in school, and is more connected to theory. Original is the unique ability of the individual who can think in their unique way that leads to unique favor from God and unique help for others. David was the master at taking in “classical sanctification theory,” and “wordsmithing” it in his unique and profound way.

Most people only have classical intelligence: what they learned in school, so they all sound like parrots in an echo chamber. That reality is one reason I don’t read a lot of biblical counseling books. After a while, they all seem about the same—blending—amounting to a bunch of “good reminders” but not provocative in a biblical way. Jesus provoked you, as He took the “same old, same old Old Testament” that everybody regurgitated and shared, and said it differently. Powlison was similar.

Create Your Voice

I love reading from folks who have that “voice” that is not like any other. It is them. They have original intelligence. They are not parrots, and they don’t stray outside biblical norms and expectations. Yet, they communicate in a way that does not sound like their classroom or the last person they heard.

This kind of person also makes the best discipler because they know how to take their “broad and deep classical knowledge” and contextualize it to the unique person sitting in front of them. Your post affirms that you, too, can think out of the box, but within the broad scope of a biblical framework that does not imitate someone else like a parrot or creep into heresy, which will serve you well in real life, as you care for others.

As long as original thinkers listen humbly, question humbly, but are not so quick to take things at face value, they will continue to grow this unique “original gift” that fits their “original selves.” And, of course, they desire to live in a community that has the courage and grace to help them stay within all biblical parameters. Original intelligence thinkers are rare.

I miss David.

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