Are You Receiving Biblical or Biblicist Counseling?

In biblicism the interpreter, not Scripture, becomes sovereign.

The biblicist counselor isolates a verse of Scripture that appears to speak to the issue at hand and then applies it wrongly to the counselee, in part because the counselor is not reading Scripture with the church, its confessions, or its most trusted theologians and scholars. Instead, they isolate Scripture from Scripture (a most important hermeneutical key) as well as themselves, paving the way for potentially harmful conclusions.

 

One of the most common critiques I hear (or read) of the biblical counseling movement concerns the manner in which some unidentified biblical counselor has dealt with some unidentified counselee’s problem.

Typically, the criticism sounds something like this: I was suffering from (X) emotional problem (i.e., depression/anxiety), and the only thing they did for me was 1) tell me I’m a sinner, 2) call me to repent, 3) direct me to memorize a verse of Scripture, and 4) pray.

Other criticisms involve scenarios where abused wives have been counseled to remain in abusive marriages because, as the story goes, “God hates divorce” and because Christian women live in “submission” to their husbands “as unto the Lord.”

Sometimes, these stories of alleged incompetence are hard to believe. You don’t need an MDiv or a PhD to avoid these gross, negligent errors. Yet, they are said to occur, and I must believe that somewhere “out there” a counselor operates with an immature, truncated, even dangerous understanding of what it means to counsel “biblically.”

If I have a hard time believing these stories of incompetence, it’s not because I necessarily disbelieve the teller, but because the telling in no way represents my training, education, or practice of biblical soul care as a counselor.

Is your counselor biblical or biblicist?

My assessment of these terrible experiences some have endured is that what they encountered in essence was not biblical counseling, but what I think would be better described as “biblicist counseling.”

To understand “biblicist counseling,” we have to understand that approach to theology and Scripture known as “biblicism.” Theologian R. Scott Clark has written that biblicism is:

The attempt to understand Scripture by one’s self and by itself, i.e., in isolation from the history of the church and in isolation from the communion of the saints. In biblicism the interpreter, not Scripture, becomes sovereign.

It is important to understand that biblicists, consumed by rationalism, believe they know “a priori” what Scripture must say about a given topic. In counseling, this may express itself as “God hates divorce” when a wife is necessarily fleeing an abusive husband.

In biblicism the interpreter, not Scripture, becomes sovereign.

The biblicist counselor isolates a verse of Scripture that appears to speak to the issue at hand and then applies it wrongly to the counselee, in part because the counselor is not reading Scripture with the church, its confessions, or its most trusted theologians and scholars. Instead, they isolate Scripture from Scripture (a most important hermeneutical key) as well as themselves, paving the way for potentially harmful conclusions.

One of the great ironies of “biblicist” counseling is that counselors may well insist that they hold a high view of Scripture, including affirming the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. Yet, they don’t understand what is meant by “Scripture alone.”

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