In Dr. Lambert’s 95 Theses, I could find acknowledgment that not all biblical counselors are skilled (Theses 27 and 28). What I could not find was the subsequent acknowledgment of the possibility that a non-biblical counselor who is more skilled with a lesser tool may be more effective for some individuals than an unskilled biblical counselor with a superior tool. The tone of Dr. Lambert’s 95 Theses seems to be, in my assessment, that a biblical counselor is always superior to a non-biblical counselor because of the quality of resource from which we counsel. This is the point I struggle to affirm.
There are two words that Dr. Lambert uses frequently in his 95 Theses – sufficiency and authority. There is a third word that seems to be implied as the necessary implication of these two words, which I believe needs to be discussed in order for the 95 Theses to be applied well – competency.
The way I would frame the question would be, “Does the fact that the Bible is authoritative and sufficient mean that every well-meaning believer with a Bible is competent for counseling? If so, why do we offer counselor training? That would seem unnecessary. What does training add to an already-competent individual? If not, how do we account for the limitations of the human counselor when we advocate for the quality of the Bible as a counseling resource?”
Let’s take as examples these three theses.
“Thesis 11 – When the Bible claims to address all the issues concerning life and godliness, it declares itself to be a sufficient and an authoritative resource to address everything essential for counseling conversations (2 Pet 1:3-4).”
“Thesis 12 – Christians must not separate the authority of Scripture for counseling from the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling because, if Scripture is to be a relevant authority, then it must be sufficient for the struggles people face as they live life in a fallen world (2 Pet 1:3-21).”
“Thesis 13 – The authority and sufficiency of Scripture for counseling means that counselors must counsel out of the conviction that the theological content of Scripture defines and directs the conversational content of counseling.”
You may or may not be convinced that these theses prove the sufficiency of Scripture, or you may disagree with the implications Dr. Lambert draws about sufficiency. But that is not the point I am making here, and I want to ask you to set aside the sufficiency debate for the moment so we can have a different conversation in this post.
Notice that the entire argument is about the quality of the source (the Bible), not the quality of the agent (the counselor). You might say, “That’s because the Holy Spirit is the real and ultimate Counselor.” I don’t disagree. But I would ask again, “Why do we do counseling training then?” Yes, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate counselor, but Scripture calls us to be ambassadors of God’s work (2 Cor 5:20) and calls us to be skilled at it (2 Tim 2:15).
So that returns us to the question, “What limitation does the quality of the human counselor place upon the premier counseling resource – the Bible?” Stated another way, “What limitation does an unskilled person bring to the finest piano, violin, baseball glove, scalpel, chisel, paint brush, smart phone, etc.?”
This is one significant element I find missing in Dr. Lambert’s 95 Theses and much of biblical counseling’s development of the concept of sufficiency. We talk about the quality of the Bible for counseling more than the preparation of the counselor.
In my contribution to the Biblical Counseling Coalition book Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Living in a Broken World, I tried to make the case for a “layers of competency” approach within biblical counseling (excerpt here) and advocate for a five-tiered approach. That being said, I readily admit the number of layers is arbitrary.
For each level of training and experience I try to define the (1) advantages, (2) disadvantages, (3) opportunities, and (4) limitations that emerge. Every level of competence has all four. There is no perfect competency range. The church needs an increasing excellence at every level of competence.
My premise, then, is this – acknowledging the limitations of the craftsman is no insult to the tool. This is what I teach every one of my little league baseball players when they slam their bat after they swing-and-miss at strike three: “Don’t blame the tool. Let’s work on your swing.”