One of the ironies of this “third camp” is that some biblical counselors call “Christian counseling” un-Christian because there are some Christians who use un- or sub-biblical practices in their counseling. Thus, the biblical counselor refuses to call themselves a Christian counselor.
Think about that for a moment: Christian means Christ-follower, and the biblical counselor does not want to be considered a Christ-follower counselor. Granted, some people make a mess of the word Christian but should we abandon the word because of unbiblical practices?
I’m not ready to abandon, separate, or disassociate myself from being labeled a Christ-follower yet. Sadly, I have made a mockery of Christianity at times in my walk with the LORD. Even so, I love the name Christian and gladly wear the appellation.
Discipleship can be biblically defended (apologetic). It is God’s way: “Go and make disciples.”
Jesus walked, sat, ate, slept, and lived with sinners. He entered into their real world, related to them in practical ways, and brought careful soul care to them. He did not hang out a shingle, creating an alternate environment for people to come to Him for care.
The primary context for this kind of relational culture is in the local church where everyone participates according to how the LORD has distributed His gifts to them. The principal and best way of describing His approach to soul care is discipleship.
Explaining the difference between nouthetic and biblical counseling is a bit like asking whether a coin is heads or tails. A coin is both heads and tails. In talking about the heads side or the tails side of the coin, we are merely emphasizing different surfaces of one thing.
Such is the case with today’s conservative, Bible-based counseling movement. The language of “nouthetic” or “biblical” serves to emphasize different streams inside one, larger movement. First, I will explain why nouthetic and biblical counseling are two sides of the same coin, and then I will explain the differences that each side emphasizes.
Whether you use the term “nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, Jay Adams was the man who got the whole project started with his first book on counseling, Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. The word nouthetic in the title comes from a Greek word meaning to confront or admonish. When Adams applied this language to counseling he argued that it included three elements:
In that book, which introduced evangelicalism to his nouthetic model, the very first time he refers to his project in the early pages, he calls it “biblical counseling.” That was more than 40 years ago, but even today on his own website at the Institute for Nouthetic Studies, Adams says that nouthetic counseling “is biblical counseling.”
In a 1976 book, What About Nouthetic Counseling, Adams said he actually preferred the title “biblical counseling.” He has continued to use the “nouthetic” label to keep his project separate from approaches to counseling that are unfaithful to the Scriptures but increasingly apply the “biblical counseling” label to their work. For Adams, there is nothing sacred about a label. What matters is whether the Bible drives understanding of people as well as the counseling task.
The next big leader in Adams’s counseling movement was David Powlison, who succeeded Adams as the editor of The Journal of Pastoral Practice and immediately renamed it The Journal of Biblical Counseling (a decision Adams himself approved). Powlison is more responsible than anyone else for bringing biblical counseling into the mainstream of evangelicalism.
Even Powlison, however, has not been hung up on a “biblical” counseling label, but has at times referred to the movement as biblical-nouthetic counseling and serves on the board of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). For Powlison, like Adams, the defining mark of faithfulness in counseling is whether it conforms to the Scriptures, not what one calls it.
Beyond these two giants in the field, examples could be multiplied. Ed Welch, another key leader, has in the past referred to the movement as biblical-nouthetic counseling. NANC, perhaps the largest organization in the movement, defines their purpose as pursuing excellence in biblical counseling.
There are no massive fault lines in the movement between “biblical” and “nouthetic” labels. Regardless of the name a person uses, the people in the movement are committed to using the Scriptures as the source of wisdom that drives the change process in conversational ministry.
You can read the entire article here.
Heath Lambert is assistant professor of biblical counseling at Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).