Empirical Evidence?

minion-clipboardQuestion: What empirical evidence do you have that Nouthetic Counseling is superior to other forms of counseling?

Answer: Quite frankly, none. Do you wonder at that? Let me tell you why you shouldn’t. To compare Christian counseling with other forms of counseling is to compare oranges to apples (no, let’s say, oranges and socks!). Consider the goal of Christian counseling over against that of others. Most counseling seeks to solve a person’s problem in order to bring relief. That is the prime goal. In Christian counseling, however, the goal is to honor and glorify God, whether or not relief is obtained. How, then, do you compare the outcomes?

Moreover, since the object of biblical counseling is to bring about change in the counselee that honors God, how would you test for that empirically? Would you put his soul in a test tube, shake it up and hope it turns blue? How would you test whether God was honored, whether the motives of the counselee were sound (since God looks upon the heart; not merely on outward behavior) or whether he only made changes outwardly? How would you determine the extent of the Holy Spirit’s work in the counselee’s life so as to make the desired spiritual changes? In other words, there is no way to obtain empirical evidence. Since it is biblical attainments that are under consideration, it is impossible to get statistical evidence for the spiritual changes that the biblical counselor seeks to bring about.

Then, further, why would we need any tests anyway? The One Who tries the hearts of men is the Lord. He infallibly knows what is happening within the person. We can look only at his outward behavior and listen to his speech. It is He Who tests; and that is all that counts. Besides, from the counselor’s perspective, success is measured not by the outcome of the counseling sessions but ultimately by whether the counselor did those things that were biblical, thereby honoring his Lord. Success may be measured in many ways; Christians should measure it in terms of how well the counselor followed the Bible in a given case. And once again, there is no way to test this except by comparing what he does with what the Scriptures require of him.

So, what does the Christian counselor have to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nouthetic counseling? Nothing, as I said before. And he is absolutely content to say so. He must do as well as he can to meet biblical requirements in order to please God, and then let the chips fall where they may. He knows that his performance as a counselor will be flawed since he is not perfect. But he also knows that when he asks for forgiveness for failure God measures his success by that as well as by the performance. So, given the goals, given the persons at work (the counselor and the Holy Spirit) and given the kinds of outcomes that are expected and achieved in the sight of God, it would be not only foolish but arrogant to attempt to test Nouthetic counseling by some human apparatus. We do not have to set results of the sort that they might wish before the world, so long as we honor and please God. On Judgment Day, He will reveal the statistics! Any counseling claiming to be “Christian” that makes much of statistics thereby invalidates itself as such by showing that its goals and outcomes are not thought of in biblical terms.

Since the human counselor is not the only one who is at work in Christian counseling, the Christian has an “unfair advantage” over other counselors. With the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of counselees and enabling them to overcome sinful propensities that hinder growth, producing His fruit through His inerrant Word, what profit would there be in trying to determine how well a human counselor counsels? In effect, he is but a catalyst, ministering the Scriptures in ways that the Spirit utilizes to bring about change in counselees. The Spirit is the ultimate Counselor. The whole concept of empirical evidence, statistics and the like, begs the question. And the thought of attempting to obtain them is repugnant. Sorry, but that is how it is.

There Are Options

There is a sort of legalistic view that misunderstands and, therefore, misapplies the doctrine of predestination by failing to allow for human agency. It turns out to be very close to fatalism.

I’m talking about the sort of teaching that says, “Well you’ve got to find the right girl (fellow)—the one God has for you. If you don’t, you’ll be in misery the rest of your life for having missed out on “God’s perfect will” for you. You will be saddled with a second rate existence as the result.”

You see, there just isn’t any such thing in Scripture as “missing out on God’s perfect will.”

God’s decretive will is always accomplished. And it is established by the use of responsible, human agency. Sure, many Christians make bad choices about their life companions—and some do live in misery. But they are not “stuck” in some lesser-than-best situation about which nothing can be done to remedy it!

No genuine Christian is doomed to live on some sort of a second level existence. There is always the possibility for change through repentance, sanctification, and the blessings that accrue from it. If I didn’t believe in such possibility for radical change, so as to turn bad choices into good outcomes by the grace of God, I wouldn’t have counseled anyone. There is no perfect one for you—the options are always there so long as the other persons considered are genuine believers.

But even then—if one happens to be married to an unbeliever (not a legitimate option) God, according to 1 Corinthians 7, can save and transform the unbeliever. And if He doesn’t, a repentant believer, living according to the Word of God, can lead a joyous life.

Tulipburger

Some time ago, I wrote an article for RC Sproul’s little monthly magazine Table Talk. In it I wanted to stress some aspects of the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism.” As you know, the word T-U-L-I-P is used as a means of remembering each of the points. T stands for total depravity; U for unconditional election, L for limited atonement, I for irresistible grace, and P for perseverance of the saints.

Now, many people find no difficulty in accepting four of the five points, notably, the first and last two in the word. I wanted to stress the fact that in leaving out the L, they not only mess up the word TULIP, but their own theology, and at the same time, miss what is, in many respects, the main doctrine of the five. So, I devised the TULIPBURGER.

Let me explain. The T and the P are like the two pieces of bun that hold a burger together—absolutely essential, but, in themselves, hardly a burger at all. I liken the U and the I to the lettuce and the tomato. Better, but still not a burger. Lastly, I suggest that the L is like the meat in the center. Truly, the idea of limited atonement is the “meat” of Calvinism. To hold to the fact that Jesus didn’t die for “mankind,” or, as that means, persons in general—but for persons in particular, is essential to having a “Personal Savior.” I’m delighted, that with the apostle I can say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” I agree with Luther who, when commenting on the first verse of the 23rd Psalm said, “Thank God for personal pronouns.”

To realize that Jesus’ death was 100% effective; that He didn’t die for people in general, but that He knew His sheep, and called them by name, and gave His life for each one of them individually is a blessed truth, not to be omitted from the burger. Because He did, therefore, every one of them will have eternal life. It is a rich doctrine not to be lost by focusing on buns, lettuce and tomato alone, while forgetting the meat.

Jesus didn’t come to make salvation possible—He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” God was satisfied with His death for everyone for whom He died. He didn’t die needlessly for millions who would reject Him. He knew all that the Father had given Him, and said that not one of them would be lost. They would all be saved. After all, if Jesus’ death for sin really did satisfy God’s justice for any, it would also do so for all. So, if He died for all—all would be saved. Of course, we know that isn’t true. Yet, if universal atonement were true, then God could hardly punish men and women for eternity for whom Christ had already suffered the punishment. There is no double jeopardy. And therefore, there is no burger unless it is a TULIPBURGER!

Drive Away?

Then, there’s the elder who, by his words and actions, has driven off the last three pastors.

It seems that he’s as actively at it in his old age as he was when he was young. Age hasn’t mellowed him; it has just provided him time to dream up new and more effective ways of doing what he does best.

Now, you come as pastor to the church. Rapidly, you discover the fact that the last two men remained as ministers of the church for only two years; the one before them leaving after two months. The word is out that elder so-and-so “drove them off.” You have a problem on your hands. Because you won’t encourage gossip, you seek no more information. Rather, you have decided to deal with any problems that may be forth-coming if and when they happen.

It isn’t long before elder S&S provides you with your first opportunity. It really isn’t important to go into the matter in any depth. The details of the issue are not important to the present discussion. What we want to focus on is the dynamics of the interchange that brought them to a head—and what occurred thereafter.

Elder S&S was opposed. The fact, in itself isn’t all that important; he was often opposed to much that the pastor and other elders wanted to do. Sometimes, the group allowed him to stifle ideas and suggestions; less often, they stood up for their views—especially when little was at stake! He’d become angered, but not hot-headed over such matters. But the issue at hand was, on the occasion in view, one in which much was at stake. The future growth of the congregation seemed to inseparably bound up in it. As pastor, you are anxious to see it happen for the welfare of all concerned—including elder S&S. Most of the seven other elders agree with your judgment. But four of them are weak and unwilling to stand for what they believe if it comes to a fight. They just “don’t have the stomach for it,” they say. Yet, they believe the project is necessary for the church’s welfare.

But old S&S doesn’t see it that way.

And, it isn’t long into the meeting before he lets everyone know it. Characteristically, he expresses his will in such a way that there could be no doubt where he stands. That’s OK. But, then, in addition, he begins to berate the pastor—you—who presented the matter to the board. Without elaborating upon the offensive manner in which he does so, what he says is, “This simply won’t happen! I’ll see to that. If a young, newly manufactured seminary product thinks he can come into this church and change things, he’ll find out differently.” All of the other elders freeze and look at you. How will you respond?

You say (calmly, but firmly), “Elder S&S, you are certainly welcome to your opinion—and I’m glad that you express it so strongly—but you are not going to get away with insulting anyone here—including me! I expect you to ask for forgiveness before we go any further. You know, I’m sure, what Paul said to Timothy: “Don’t let anybody despise your youth. . . “ (I Timothy 4:12). I have been ordained by the church of Jesus Christ—just as you have—and we must both respect that authority. I have not mentioned the fact that you are an aged elder, though that too is a fact. Indeed, I should respect your gray head, as the Scriptures indicate, and I intend to do so. Now, I’m ready to forgive you as soon as you ask for it.”

I shall not continue the scenario, although that would be of interest. The question is, will you, when faced with such an insult and challenge to your authority—as the three previous pastors did—allow the church to be run by one man who, by insults and threats, has dominated the scene so forcefully that not only pastors, but over the years, elders and members as well, have found more congenial quarters elsewhere. If you were to submit to the domination of elder S&S, you too would be out of there before you know it. It is time for someone to stand toe-to-toe and eye to eye with such a person. And that somebody is YOU.

 

The Preacher’s Library

You used to be able to tell a lot about a preacher—and about his preaching—simply by walking into his library. If it was filled with catchy titles, how-to manuals, frothy experience-oriented fluff, as well as second-rate commentaries, you could know that isn’t the place to hang your hat as a church member. But things have changed. Now, a man can have an entire library on a computer’s disc that includes volumes that were once inaccessible, and with translations galore at his fingertips. It has become very hard to judge a man by his books (unless he‘s an old foggy like some of us), because all of the good stuff can be hidden away on a hard drive.

But, were you to be able to become aware of what he has on shelves and on disks—and how frequently the good stuff is used—you’d know what you used to know from visiting his library.

Preacher, we can’t tell anymore. That may be a blessing to all. But one thing is true: you know what your library (of both books and computer programs) is like, and of greater importance, you know how often you use the resources at your disposal. We don’t know, until we hear you preach. Then, over a period of time, we can surmise what kind of sources you are using and how hard you are working at exegesis.

What a preacher focuses on will determine what kind of ministry he has. Is it an exegetically-based ministry, or is a ministry of the popularization of modern themes? Do you really feed hungry sheep the bread of life, or do you hand over hand-me-downs from other preachers? Do you focus on sensational topics? Are you a prophecy hound? Do you always avoid the tough passages? Are your people being entertained—or are they learning? Do your people go away challenged, convicted, caring? Does your preaching edify? These should be matters of deep concern.

It has been historically true, and doubtless is and will continue to be true, that a man who is well read, who has good sources and uses them well, is more likely to have a fruitful and longer ministry than the one who doesn’t. He will tend to become a better exegete, he will be well-read in biblical and church history, he will be able to draw upon a wealth of systematic and practical theology, and his congregation will become the better for it. How does your library look, pastor?

Speaking of exegesis, how do you do it? Do you cobble together bits and pieces from various commentaries into some explanation of the preaching portion? Or do you do the hard work of figuring out for yourself what the passage says, using various commentaries to help you? Between these two approaches to the text, there is a large difference. That for which you have worked will come through in your preaching as authentic. That which has been cribbed from some commentator who did the work, will come through as inauthentic (unless, of course, you are an astute actor). Hard work requires using a goodly number of sources to help you come to valid decisions about a passage. But it doesn’t mean abusing them by mere copying. Are you guilty of this sin, preacher? If so, repent, and begin to do the right thing that you know, down deep, you ought to be doing. Rightly handling the Word of God is not only work, but a great responsibility.

There Are Ways

There are ways and then there are ways! How something is done can make all the difference. Sometimes, when people read books about counseling, the cold print seems to indicate coldness of attitude on the part of the counselor. Especially can this be true when it is necessary to hold a counselee to his responsibilities before God. But it is important to know that the “necessity” just mentioned is two-fold.

  1. It is for the counselee’s benefit
  2. God requires it

Now, as I said, in making that point, it all depends on how you do so. There is a firm, rigorous adherence to the Scriptures that is absolutely essential to good counseling. There can be no compromise about this: what God requires, must be insisted upon. That is on the one hand. However, that insistence can be made in a spirit of loving care and concern, or in the spirit of the proverbial schoolmarm, using the hickory stick.

Granted, with recalcitrant counselees, verbal hickory sticks may be appropriate on rare occasions. But only when one digs in his heels and refuses to do what he knows that God requires. But even then, there is no need for the counselor to be harsh. Indeed, if he has half a heart, he will be crestfallen, will even plead, and will grieve if the counselee turns away from the truth.

He knows also that God’s people are “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That means he will bend over backwards to be certain that every counselee knows precisely what God’s word teaches about his situation. He would have no one walk away from counseling ignorant of the biblical facts. This is not because he wants to cram the Scriptures down throats, but because he knows that in that book lies all the hope that one could ever have for solving his problems.

At every turn, in every situation, then, he is to exercise patience. His is to be a shepherdly care, at all times exhibited in honoring the Lord by ministering to His sheep. Whenever he fails to understand this and, instead, develops a cold, professional, white-coated manner, he has departed from his God-given role. Neither rudeness, roughness, austerity, nor complacency becomes a shepherd. He goes to length to save and restore all who stray.

So—let’ have no more of this effrontery! Let’s have no more false accusations hurled! Let’s have a true picture presented—please?

A Truly Blessed Life

There are fascinating developments in store for every true believer. Some of them occur in this life; they will occur to all Christians in the life to come. Ours is not a “dull, somber, uneventful, faith.” It is an exciting one—even now—if and when you enter into it with fullness and determination.

“What does that mean?”

It means that you don’t play Christian; you live your faith. It means that you get excited whenever you discover some new truth in the Scriptures. But, of course, that doesn’t happen if you aren’t studying them. It means that you are thrilled when a relative or a neighbor to whom you have witnessed professes faith in Christ. But, of course, that doesn’t happen unless you witness. It means that your heart is warmed to see that couple who were at each other’s throats come back together in loving care and concern because you counseled them. But, of course, that doesn’t happen unless you counsel people.

“In other words, unless we understand, believe, and do what Christians ought to know, trust Him to bless our lives, and do what He commands, there will be no joy to our faith?”

You’ve got it. If your Christian experience isn’t challenging, exciting, interesting—something’s seriously missing. So, get with it, Christian. As James says, we are “blessed in the doing”(James 1:25c).

Let the Sunshine In

I’ve lived in bleak wintry weather in the hills of W. Pennsylvania. I’ve shoveled snow two feet deep in Kirkwood Missouri. I’ve had my fill of strong winds and bitter cold blasts that go right to the bone. I’m thankful that at last I’ve been able to escape those things.

Sure, it can get cold here in South Carolina. In the winter the temperature can drop below freezing many nights—but the days are usually in the 40s and 50s. And then . . . right in the middle of winter . . . there can be one, two—or even a week—of 60-70 degree weather that suddenly descends like a blissful summer day. Plants are deceived into thinking its summer and begin to bloom—only to have their blossoms suddenly destroyed by a hard frost. Sweaters are once more exchanged for coats and jackets: suddenly, it’s winter once again!

But those few days of warmth! How they lighten the load. How they cheer the spirits. How they anticipate things soon to come in February, when the tulips appear and the jonquils grow tall. “Summer,” those days say, “is just around the corner; don’t give up hope!”

How foolish it would be to me to close the shutters when the winter sun shines brightly and warmly, saying, “This isn’t the way winter is supposed to be!” That’s the way that, conceivably, some weird, foolish person who was not raised up in the South might respond. But what foolishness it would be! Let the sun shine in! Enjoy the way it heats the home, driving down heating bills! Fling open a window and breathe the fresh balmy air that fills the house as it replaces that which has become stagnant within.

Let the news reports of blizzards in the North, Midwest, and Northwest have little effect on you. Let the bitter cold freezing TV reporters shivering while muffled from head to toe not squelch your enthusiasm for the relative warmth of your 50 or 60 degree day! Go on outside, work in the garden, get things ready for spring—that long period between winter and summer that corresponds to that equally long span of time and weather that divides summer from winter here in the South.

Summer in winter! Think of it. Unusual? Not at all. That’s the way that it is with God’s providence. Just when the trials that come seem no longer endurable, when cold shivers of doubt begin to run up your back, when frost covers your plans, when heavy clouds of despair gather in mass—just then God sends the warming truths of His Word to dispel the frost, melt the snow, crack the ice. Suddenly, like summer in winter, the sunlight of His truth shines through, breaking the clouds to bits, rescuing you from the desolation you feared looming on the horizon. No! You will not give up! How can you, when God Himself met your greatest need in Christ, surely He can meet even this one-no matter how like hardened ice it may seem.

God does not leave His children in the lurch! They are not “His chosen frozen!” He is always there—even behind the clouds. He is there in the sleets and snows of life; he is there on the frozen tundra. He is there ready to send the warmth of His loving care into your frigid existence. He is there!

That is the message of hope that Christian counselors have to bring to those who come weary from trudging through the drifts of sorrow and pain. Theirs is the work of opening the shutters to drive away the shudders! Are you interested in helping others View the sunlit warmth of God’s Word? Would you like to see the ice melt in the lives of those frozen with despair? Believer, you can do so. There are few things as exciting as seeing lives dreary and cold brighten in the heat of God’s glowing truth. Again and again, the joy of witnessing the melting of marriages grown cold, the thawing of frozen relationships, the softening of frosted souls, is the lot of biblical counselors. What joy to see the sun shine in!

We will be glad to help you enter into this joy. You too can be a counselor bringing the warmth of God’s blessing that alone drives away the chill of life’s winters. You can join those who regularly bring summer to winter as you help desperate believers experience God’s Son-shine!

Thank you!

Hello to all of you who sent me birthday greetings! I appreciate them very much. I am unable to answer each of you individually—so here and now I want to say thanks! May the Lord bless each with a long and biblically-prosperous life.
In Him,
Jay

Guidance

I once visited the Sunday School class of a Bible believing church. The study that morning was on Joshua 9, the story of the Hivities who came from Gibeon. Because they were afraid of the Israelites, they sent delegates requesting Israel to make a treaty with them. These delegates disguised themselves as travelers from a distant land outside the area Israel had been commanded to occupy. They wore old sandals and threadbare garments, carried old sacks and wineskins, and brought food that was dry and crumbly. They spoke only of victories that had taken place far in the past, not recent ones.

The teacher did a good job of reiterating the facts of the incident. Then he went on to apply it to us. Rightly, he showed that God had forbidden His people to make treaties with the people of the land of Palestine (Deut. 7:1-5; 20:16-18). Rightly, he pointed out that the people were deceived by failing to inquire of the Lord (Josh. 9:14), and rightly, he warned us of the deceptions of Satan in leading God’s people to violate God’s plain commandments. Then he asked, “How can a Christian know he is making a decision in accord with the will of God?” It was the question of guidance. The question was appropriate, and Joshua 9 has something important to say on this vital subject. His answer was something like this: “I asked my Christian friends and consulted some Christian books, and what I have come up with is that there are six ways in which you can know God’s will in reaching a decision.” Then he wrote the following six guidelines on the chalkboard:

  1. Scripture
  2. Prayer
  3. Advice of Others
  4. Circumstances
  5. Reason
  6. Peace

It is time Christians stopped following such advice!

Items 1 and 2, rightly understood, must stand. In his explanation of item 2, however, he did not properly tell us the place of prayer in the process of receiving guidance from God. His idea (a very common one, unfortunately) was that when you pray, you must be still and listen for some sort of answer from God. If that is true, why were the Israelites to consult the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21)? Moreover, if God whispers answers in stillness, why bother with the other five items? Such replies would be better even than Scripture since they would be in English (we wouldn’t have the translation problem from Greek or Hebrew), and they would be directly applied to our individual situations. No, any such idea, even ideas of deep impressions or feelings received in prayerful waiting, must be eliminated, since they would render the Bible’s teaching either unnecessary or negligible. You would also face the problem of distinguishing impressions from God from those that arise out of your own prejudice.

Prayer to discover the Lord’s will should be that you may understand and use the Bible in a proper way. It should be prayer for ability and strength to do whatever you discover God wants of you as you study the Scriptures. We are not given the Urim and Thummim for our day, but we have been given an inerrant and infallible Book, which contains all we need by way of precept and example for living a life pleasing to God. All that is necessary to love God and our neighbor is found, in one form or another, in the Bible. Today we consult God by turning to His written Word.

What of the other four items the teacher listed? Is seeking the advice of others or looking at circumstances helpful when making a decision? Look at what happened to the people of God when they did just that. Joshua listened to advisers who investigated the claims of the Gibeonites, and sinned (Josh. 9:14). Looking at the circumstances—old wineskins, crumbly bread, etc.—was precisely what deceived them. Surely, their reasoning in the situation failed them. And their peace, or assurance that they were doing the right thing, was utterly false. Indeed, if the teacher had stayed with the Biblical passage itself rather than consulting his friends, he would have seen that the text is totally opposed to the notion that divine guidance is found by these procedures.

Consider the idea of “open doors” (another way to speak of circumstances). Suppose I apply for a visa to India and am turned down. That is a “closed door.” But what does that tell me? I can interpret it any number of ways. I can say, “OK, that means God does not want me to go to India; I’ll try somewhere else.” Or, I can say, “God is testing me to see if I mean business; I’ll go back to India if I have to swim!” Just what guidance does an open or closed door give? Absolutely none. The position of the “door” must be interpreted, and in the circumstances itself there is nothing to tell you just how to interpret it. So circumstances do not guide; they require careful understanding and are factors in decision making because the Bible applies to circumstances, but they are not sources of guidance. Some open doors lead to elevator shafts!

In the matter of advice from others there can be help, just as commentaries and other biblical expositions can assist in making a Scriptural decision; but that advice must be evaluated. Other’s opinions are no more valuable than, and can be just as misleading as, those of Joshua’s advisers who were deceived by the Hivites. It is not their opinions on what you should do that you want; what they can give you that is of value is help in discovering and in using Biblical principles that apply to your situation. Also, others may be of help in assisting you to understand the parameters of the situation about which you must make a decision. But when you discuss this matter with them and think about it yourself, be sure the problem and the situation are described and understood in Biblical terms.

Reason must be used in moving from the Scriptures to the problem as you apply Biblical teaching to your decision. But the effects of sin on the human mind have been considerable, and you must pray that God will enable you to interpret, to apply, and to implement His Biblical principles that converge on the issue at hand. Help from the consensus of commentators at this point, when it can be found, ought to be of some value too.

As for peace, let me clarify a passage that has been so frequently misunderstood and misused. That passage, to which the Sunday School teacher referred, is Colossians 3:15: “Let Christ’s peace have the final say in your hearts, to which you were called as parts of one body.” Because peace is to have final say or act as an umpire in our hearts, many have concluded that Paul is teaching that once we have peace about a decision we can know we have made the right one. Nothing could be more wrong. The passage has nothing to do with guidance or decision making. It has to do with love and getting along with other Christians as members of the body of Christ (cf. vs. 12-14 for context). When all is said and done, Paul writes, in the final analysis you must let the principle of peace among the members of the body control your words and actions. There is nothing whatsoever in the passage about individual peace. Your heart (the place where you think about such matters, and the source of your words and actions) is to be influenced by considerations of what will bring about and maintain peace among the members of the body. That is Paul’s concern.

Guidance comes from the Bible, prayerfully used. Circumstances affecting a decision must be evaluated with the Biblical parameters, and the conclusions of such evaluations must be stated in Biblical terms. The advice of others is to be sought, not for their opinions but for their assistance in using the Bible to help you make a decision that honors God. Your reason is not to be trusted and must always be subjected to the Bible at every point. Peace has no relevance whatsoever to the matter. Questions about other aspects of guidance, especially concerning the application of general principles to particular cases, cannot be discussed here. The Bible is the source of revelation from God and the only sure guide to pleasing God. Nowhere else can we find His inerrant Word: why then should we turn to other sources?