The Threat of Eclecticism

Alluring as it may be, eclecticism is a serious threat. It is a decided hindrance to achieving excellence in biblical counseling. The eclectic way offers encouragement from professionals and highly recognized degrees leading to plush positions and money. It requires little original thought and demands virtually nothing in the way of character growth.

There has always been a sinful tendency among God’s people to abandon God and His Word for something else. The entire Old Testament is replete with incidents of the sort. Speaking for God, Jeremiah puts it this way:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

This is a serious problem that has plagued the church of Christ ever since counseling began. The problem with eclecticism is that it is based on the idea that the wisdom of man may be blended with the wisdom of God to produce a third and better thing than either provides alone.

In Acts 17:18 the philosophers in Athens used a derogatory word to describe the apostle Paul. They called him a spermalogos. This term I have translated “an eclectic babbler” in my Christian Counselor’s New Testament. It describes exactly what the eclectics do. The word pictures a bird going about picking up various sorts of seeds here and there. That, at its core, is eclecticism—it is filling the pot with a little Rogers, a dash of Freud, some Maslow, a pinch or two of Adler and a sprinkling of Scripture. Then the whole is mixed together and poured out into a pan to harden. It should not be done by God’s people.

God tells us that in His Word, everything necessary for life and godliness may be found (2 Peter 1:31). The eclectic procedure runs counter to Peter’s statement. Indeed, to add to the words of the living God is nothing less than unbelief. It is an act of rebellion. Isaiah describes God’s people as rebellious children when they engage in this sort of thing (Isaiah 30:1). He decries the fact that they go down to Egypt to make counsel that He says is not [His]. He speaks negatively of the alliance they make with Egypt as weaving a web that is not of [His] Spirit. That is, such a thing is not of His doing. Why? How is that rebellion? He goes on to say, that His people didn’t ask for a word from [His] mouth (v. 2). In other words, they trusted in the promises and schemes of the Egyptians rather than in the word of God. As Isaiah also points out, the Egyptians are men and not God (Isaiah 31:3). What utter foolishness! Why turn to the words and wisdom of men rather than to the words and wisdom of God? The entire second chapter of 1 Corinthians denounces the very same thing. And the Psalmist opens the book of Psalms warning against the counsel of the ungodly, urging the reader instead to delight in the law of the Lord.

The importance of this matter cannot be overstated. The entire church of the Lord Jesus Christ is filled with the ideas of men, largely brought in by so-called “Christian counselors.” One does not question the salvation of these spermalogoi (spermalogoi is the plural of spermalogos) but he must not approve of their thinking in this matter. Rather than calling themselves “Christian counselors,” they more properly might refer to themselves as Christians who are eclectic counselors. But because they (wrongly) use the title “Christian counselor” they deceive many—often including themselves. It is not a matter of their motives, it is a matter of their commitment to biblical counseling.

It is impossible to grow as a biblical counselor, making evident progress toward excellence, when one continually compromises his counseling with a mixture of alien elements. Take, for instance, the idea that one’s past must be investigated in detail in order to help solve his problems today (an essentially Freudian concept widely propagated within the church). When one subscribes to this idea, he will spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to do the impossible. No one can trace back all the past experiences that have led to a person’s becoming what he is today. It would take as long to do so as it did for one to live through them (or longer). Then at the end (which he could never reach because while following up leads his counselee would be experiencing new events that would need to be tracked down ad infinitum), how would he know that he didn’t miss the most crucial experience? No, going outside of the Scriptures is detrimental to progress in biblical counseling.

It has deleterious effects in other areas as well. Consider but one. Delving into the past to find the reasons for present behaviors (attitudes, beliefs, etc.) is a method that seems designed to provide excuses for a counselee. After all, if someone (or something) did it to him in the past, he is probably stuck with it for life. Very little (if any) change can be expected. He is a victim rather than a violator. He is a pawn to be pushed about by people and circumstances. Since this concept runs counter to all that the Bible teaches about human responsibility and change, it impedes the pursuit of excellence in biblical counseling. Unfortunately, too few of the spermalogoi seem to understand this fact.

Now, what I have looked at in terms of one concept eclectically brought into the church may be multiplied many times over. All of it keeps one from a true commitment to biblical counseling and craftsmanship. The entire process is deceptive. Most counselors who adopt the eclectic stance have no idea of the damage that they are doing to their counseling ministries and to their counselees. The Spirit of God produced His Word over a long period of time. He, Himself, declared that it makes the counselor adequate, and equips him fully for every good work. The work in view is the work of changing people by means of the Scriptures.

Moreover, the eclectic counselor must necessarily hold contradictions. You cannot say that all things necessary for life and godliness are found in biblical promises on the one hand, and then on the other hand, search for worldly wisdom that will add necessary dimensions to what you read in the Bible. That is but the beginning of the contradictions that abound in this approach.

In addition to holding confusing contradictions, the spermalogoi are themselves personally influenced by the principles and practices of the world as they imbibe and practice them in their counseling. A person cannot spend years in training of any sort and not be influenced by it. When day by day he works in the atmosphere of those principles and practices, advising others to follow them, this influence is deepened. Whether it is the direct influence of teachers and associates or the continued influence of the pagan system, the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:33 applies: “Don’t be misled; bad companions corrupt good habits.”

The warning is apropos. The eclectic counselor is misled. He may not realize it, but over time he will be led farther and farther away from the pure simplicity of the Scriptures into the world of human wisdom. His whole life will be affected by it. Often this defection takes place over a long period of time. Incrementally, as more and more he lays the Bible aside preferring to study the books of men whose views are in competition with God, his home life, his relationship to the church and other Christians, and (preeminently) his relationship to God are affected adversely. If he doesn’t divorce his wife (as far too many have done), he may effectively divorce himself from God and His people. Even when he doesn’t go that far, the little worldly beliefs that continually fill his heart and soul harden him to God’s Word. He may eventually become an adversary of the biblical pastor who attempts to be faithful to Scripture. In some ways, the one who runs off with his secretary is better off—at least he is aware of the radical changes that have occurred.

The incremental changes in one’s orientation are described by the Psalmist who speaks of walking, standing and (at length) sitting. Here is a dangerous progression. First, one becomes enamored with ungodly counsel and walks toward it. Next he is fascinated by it and stands there eating it up. In the end, he himself becomes a teacher sitting in the seat, scornfully speaking against that to which he once held.

I am not saying that this course is inevitable; it is my sincere hope that the words of the psalmist may jolt some of those walking along the road toward the wisdom of the ungodly and cause them to turn back. It is also my hope that some of those who have become enamored by such teachings may wake up. I even have an outside hope that some who now scoff may come down from the seat of the scornful. Since the Spirit of God is at work great things are possible!

Why, then, do I say that progress toward excellence in biblical counseling is impossible for the eclectic? Because so long as he continues his spermalogic course, he is heading in the wrong direction. You cannot go east and west at the same time (without coming apart). You cannot serve two masters. You will come to love one and hate the other. But that is exactly what happens. If one is making evident progress in biblical counseling, he is in retreat from eclectic counseling. If he is progressing toward the seat of the scornful, he is leaving biblical counseling behind. Which way are you traveling?

Providence and Reasons Unknown

God’s providence is a wonderful thing; by it we know that all things work together for the good of His children. In counseling, or preaching, a man of God is able assure others of this fact. He should often revert to that comforting doctrine.

But some are not satisfied with that assurance. They want more. They insist on finding out how God is working out good in any given situation. Sometimes it is apparent how God is providentially at work (or at least partially so), but more often than not we are unable to do more than conjecture about it, Paul—an inspired prophet and apostle—at times found that he could not say for sure what God was doing providentially. In the situation in which Onesimus, a runaway slave came to know Christ through that experience, he writes “perhaps” that is why the event occurred (v.15), but (having no revelation of such facts) will go no further. It would do well for us most of the time to do the same. What we have in this little book of Philemon, interestingly, is an inspired “perhaps.”

Father, Forgive Them

The words following are almost always misunderstood.

Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23: 34, CSB).

What do they call to mind for you?

That Jesus was kind and forgave those who were crucifying Him. And, therefore, forgiveness is not conditioned upon repentance or faith—He offered it unconditionally!

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! In those words, Jesus was forgiving no one.

Really?

Really! Read again, more carefully. To whom was He speaking?

Uh . . . to God, I guess.

Right, He was not granting forgiveness to those who were putting Him to death. He wasn’t even speaking to them.

Note, also, that His words were a prayer. Do you think it was answered?

Don’t know—it doesn’t say.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to these same people as well as others. Five thousand Jews believed and were saved. That’s how the prayer was answered. Not apart from a condition—namely repentance and faith in Christ’s death for their sins.

Hmmmm.

Do you see? No one is forgiven unconditionally by God. The condition is always faith as the means of receiving it.

Contagion

This is what the LORD of Hosts says: Ask the priests for a ruling.  “If a man is carrying consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, does it become holy?”

The priests answered, “No.”

Then Haggai asked, “If someone defiled by contact with a corpse touches any of these, does it become defiled?”

The priests answered, “It becomes defiled.”

Then Haggai replied, “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “And so is every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled.

Haggai 2:11ff is interesting because it gives us important information about sin and righteousness. Here is what it says in interpretation of the Old Testament laws:

  1. Sin is contagious
  2. Righteousness isn’t.

What should that mean to you?

First, that you won’t become a Christian by growing up in a Christian home. It will require personal faith on your part as an individual.  As a Christian, being among Christians isn’t enough for your growth in righteousness.

Secondly, that if your associations are evil, you can expect some of that evil to rub off onto you.

So—consider this and act accordingly!

“Fearing” the Lord in Counseling

In some ways, there are churches like the Samaritans who were foreigners that were settled in Palestine by the Babylonians and who adopted some, but not all, of the elements of the Hebrew religion. They accepted the law of Moses, but none of the rest of the Scriptures. And included with this deficient, truncated acceptance of divine revelation, we read that “They feared the Lord, but they also worshipped their own gods according to the customs of the nations where they had been deported from” (2 Kings 17:33). Again, we are told, “they feared the Lord but also worshipped their idols” (2 Kings 17:41). They were eclectic “fearers.”

How can you “fear the Lord,” and do what they did? To speak of the “fear” of God was to use what had become a technical term that meant to become a member of the outward community of God. Like circumcision, where there was a circumcision of the flesh and a circumcision of the heart, so too, there was a “fear of God” that was but an outward profession of belief in Him, and there was also the “fear” of those whose profession of faith was also an inner reality.

How much has been gathered into the Christian church today, by people whose profession of faith is merely outward, that is detrimental! It is destructive because God will not take His stand alongside of false gods of man’s making—whether or not it involves idolatry—and accept worship. He tolerates no equal; no partner; no substitute, no one else.

So, my friend, is your worship as well as your counseling eclectic? Often the two go together. It is dangerous to adopt alien systems of thought having to do with the very deepest aspects of a man’s life (such as those involved in counseling) and not be personally influenced by them. Have you so compromised your thinking in the area of counseling that it has, in effect, diluted your views of God? This may be especially the case if you tout what you are doing under the label, “Christian,” when it isn’t. Pretty soon, you may come to the place where you even believe it! Whom do you really fear? Who is the sole object of your fear? In the light of much that goes for “fear of God” in the church, it’s a question worth asking.

No Sissies!

Doubtless, there are Christians who have quite a wrong view of counseling, in their minds. They picture a counselor and placid counselee conversing on a high level, untouched by outbursts of anger, times of frustration, periods of disgust, moments of ferocity, or the like. Such conceptions of counseling are naïve. The truth is quite to the contrary. The counseling room often becomes the scene of open hostility, a venue of weeping, a place of agonizing, of stress, of fear, of . . . You name it, and it probably has happened in counseling!

Now, of course, that isn’t what the counselor strives for or wishes to bring on himself; but, nevertheless, it may happen in spite of his best efforts to allay it. Counselees are in trouble, and they bring their troubles with them. Many—not all—of those troubles are also troubling. Their troubles spill over into the lives of others—family, friends, fellow-workers—counselors. It is the counselor’s task (and great privilege) to help them find God’s good solutions to their problems to replace their own bad solutions that didn’t work, and often made things worse!

It’s not pleasant to have to tell a counselee, “Please sit down, so that we can discuss the matter civilly. We’ll get nowhere so long as you keep yelling at your wife that way.” But it must be done. It isn’t easy to comfort one who has just broken down and is sobbing uncontrollably. But a counselor must do so. There can be little hope for a counselee who, disgusted with what her husband has just said, gets up to leave; but the counselor must stop her. There is no hope for a counselee if he refuses to do the appropriate homework that will solve his problem. But the counselor must persuade him to do it. It is never an easy thing to bring a counselee to repentance, or to tell him to confess his sin to another. But he must, for counseling to get anywhere. In other words, counseling isn’t the neat, simple, friendly matter of pleasant relationships that some may picture it to be.

There are times when in the course of counseling, someone may even turn on the counselor himself. He may threaten, utter epithets that we shall delete, or slam a door in his face. No one is exempt from the wrath of some people who want things their way and will broach no other. Very seldom does physical harm ensue, but even that is not beyond possibility. In other words, rewarding as it may be to see many of those very people I have been describing repent from their ways and receive the help of the Lord, the process of achieving those results isn’t easy or always pleasant. The road may be hilly and rough.

It is most difficult in many cases to persuade counselees that the prime purpose for seeking help ought not to be relief from some difficulty, but ought to be to please the Lord whether or not relief comes. Yet, that intellectual/spiritual struggle cannot be bypassed, and is necessary in the majority of the cases in which you will counsel. Counseling has its compensations, of course—wonderful ones! But that isn’t what I’m discussing at the moment.

Why, then, discuss it? Won’t that drive potential counselors away? Yes and no. For those who really want to help people, it will perhaps be enlightening, but helpful. They will not enter the lists unprepared. For others who wanted an easy, respectable “job”—well, yes, unless they repent I hope it does drive them off. But in the Scriptures, Jesus never called men to softness; it was always to hard things. And, as a result, He forged a team that would endure and spread His message to the ends of the earth.

It would be less than honest to allow potential counselors to think that counseling is a neatly-tied, easily-unwrapped package of goodies. It isn’t. You have to dig down through the stuffing to the bottom to find the prize. But it is a blessed way of serving Christ. Jesus calls no sissies to be counselors! Can you measure up to the task?

Don’t You Know?

In 1 Corinthians 6, the phrase “Don’t you know” appears at the beginning of six sentences in verses 2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19. Amazing! How forgetful and/or neglectful the members of the Corinthian church were. Paul spent about 18 months with them, teaching them everything that he repeats in these six verses, but here, he has to say it all over again.

But he doesn’t simply repeat himself. Rather, he puts each matter in the form of a stinging question which points out their failure to recall or obey what he had told them about God’s will for their lives. Surely, having to do so didn’t mean that their flawed behavior was because of that master teacher’s inability to teach them!

Certainly, today, there are preachers who would like to get into their pulpits and shoot forth a sally of similar questions about what he has been endeavoring to get into the heads—and lives—of his people. But most of them would be afraid to be as bold as Paul. Right? But, now wait a moment. Maybe you can, after all.

Perhaps a way to begin to do something like this is to preach a message on Six Questions that Shouldn’t Have Been Asked. Then, use this sextet of verses to show how some people respond to truth. He might, then, raise the issues that were in his mind about his people covering at least six that he thinks they need to pay attention to. Best wishes. People need such preaching, pastor—don’t you know?

Trust and Obey

 

Therefore, buckling the belts of your minds for action, keeping level-headed, set your hope entirely on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.   1 Peter 1:13

The encouragement that comes in suffering is not mystical; it doesn’t just suddenly appear from nowhere. The Christian himself is responsible for it. If he doesn’t experience the joy, gladness, and hope mentioned in the previous verses, that is his own fault. He cannot complain against God, the church, or anyone else; this verse makes it perfectly plain that he is responsible for developing the hope that will sustain him in trial.

Encouragement in trial is not merely a matter of trusting in God’s promises in some purely intellectual manner. Surely that is important—indeed it is a theme that Peter never really leaves behind—but there is another side to the page; the suffering believer must do good. That doing of good begins with the matter of hope. Right here, at the outset, the believer’s trust in God’s promises is pictured as a matter of obedience: “set your hope on the grace . . .” That is a command, involving a duty. Consistent with the major thrust of the entire epistle, Peter already strikes the note: Trust and Obey! There is no other way to be happy in trial, but to trust and obey. God holds the individual believer responsible for his behavior in times of trial and trouble and says that these two elements constitute that responsibility.[1]

[1] This post is an excerpt from Dr. Adams’ short homiletical commentary on 1 Peter entitled Trust and Obey (now out of print).

Casting Out Demons

Does God expect you to cast out demons? Have you wondered whether or not that ought to be an adjunct to your counseling? Some have; others have assured them that it is necessary to do so.

In counseling for 10 hours a day two days a week for many years, I have yet to encounter anyone demon-possessed. Oh, sure, I’ve had people claim that a counselee is; I’ve had counselees say so too. But in every instance, the problem turned out to be something else.

But, enough for my experience. What does God say about the matter? The answer? Nothing.

“Nothing?”

Precisely. He says nothing about it. And because nowhere in the entire New Testament does He command you or me to cast out demons there is no reason to expect that He wants us to do so. We ought never to do in His Name that which He doesn’t command. To do so is to misrepresent Him.

“Are you sure He doesn’t tell us to do it?”

Absolutely. Read your New Testament from beginning to the end and you’ll find no such command. That is an important fact because in Jesus’ parting words to the apostles (Matthew 28) He told them to teach their disciples to “observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” Obviously, since they left no such command for s to observe, there is no reason to think that we should do so. Don’t let anyone add to the commandments of Jesus and tell you that he has the right to do what He never gave Him the right to do. To do that is a serious matter. The issue is as simple as that!

For whatever reason, today we are to preach the Gospel to the lost, and nothing more. We’re not apostles armed with signs and wonders as they were (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12: 12). They faithfully did as they were commanded. Let us do so too.

The Gospel

Say what you please, it all boils down to one thing.

“What’s that?”

The fact that some of us are tired of hearing weak, feeble presentations of the gospel that sometimes come even from those we respect in other ways.

“Such as?”

Such as ‘Take Jesus into your heart.’ Show me anything comparable to that in Scripture!

“OK. What else?”

‘Let me share Jesus with you.’ Or the bare, ‘Trust Jesus as your Savior’ and the lot. Many of them present Jesus as an add-on Who merely makes life more pleasant.

“Well . . . “

No ‘Wells’ about it—that’s not preaching the gospel.

“OK, then, how do you preach it?”

The way that Paul did. Listen to his words in I Corinthians 15: 1-3:

This is the good news that I preached to you by which you were saved. . . How that Christ died for our sins in agreement with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in agreement with the Scriptures.

When he told them that this was the good news he preached, here is what his message was:

  1. Good news. News has to do with something already accomplished. So, the preacher of the Gospel is a reporter. He is not asking people to do something to be saved, but to believe in two events that have already occurred. What needed to be done had already been accomplished before Paul began to preach.
  2. But, notice, Paul sets forth the fact that Jesus died for our sins. That means there is bad news over against which the good news is brought. The bad news is that apart from salvation from it, people are headed toward eternal punishment for their sins.
  3. The first of the two events, which are the very essence of the gospel, is that the preacher reports that Christ died for the sins of His people. That’s good news because it means He took the punishment due them for their iniquities, so that their sins could be forgiven and they could go to heaven.
  4. The second of those two essential events is that, though dead and buried, Jesus rose from the dead. In this way, we have a living Savior to Whose sacrifice of Himself God gave approval by raising Him from the dead. A “Savior” on the cross alone has not defeated death, and is no Savior.
  5. In addition, Paul declares that both of these factual events were predicted in the Old Testament, so that we have the added assurance that the gospel is really the good news that it purports to be, since it fulfilled prophecy to the full.

If you are presenting the Gospel, you call on acknowledged, repentant, sinners to receive the finished work of Christ by faith. Faith doesn’t save, but it is the means by which one is able appropriate the message of salvation reported in the Gospel.

“Oh! . . . . Uh. . . . Thanks.”