Self-Deception

It is a genuine possibility for Christians to deceive themselves. There are many ways in which they might do so—for instance, that’s why we are told to make our calling and election sure (to ourselves, of course: God already knows—in fact, He knew it from all eternity past). There are many other ways to deceive ourselves but, today, I want to mention but one. James is the biblical writer who brings up the matter.  He says:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.      (James 1: 22).

How timely is this command since there are those who would question the fact that we should obey God by doing something to improve our Christian lifestyles.

For some, any effort on the part of the Christian to do what God commands is wrong.  In one way or another—contemplation of the cross is a current one—we are told not to make efforts on our behalf (that’s the arm of the flesh), but wait for the Spirit of God (or Christ within us) to do what needs to be done to conform to the “word” for us instead of us. That is to say, according to them, sanctification is not a joint effort by the believer and the Spirit to obey the truth, but a submission on the latter’s part, while the Spirit of God takes over completely.

Certainly, progress in the Christian’s life isn’t made apart from the Spirit, Who perfects His truth in us, but His fruit comes only to those who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), which he defines as “living by the Spirit” (v.25). To do so, each must “”examine his own work” (6:4), “work for the good of all (6: 10), and be sure he is carrying “his own load” (v.5), since the Spirit won’t do so for him, instead of him.

The self-deceiver is the one who thinks that it is enough to know the truth, and forgets the many biblical exhortations to “do the truth” (cf. John’s writings in particular).

Sufficiency—Another Explicit Statement

Often biblical counselors who understand what Paul’s use of the word “noutheteo” means turn to 2 Timothy 3:15ff to prove that we have, in the Bible, all we might ever need to do effective counseling. They rightly point out the fact that it provides what it takes to carry a counselee through the four stage process of change mentioned there, to a place where he is able to live rightly in the future. Three times in that context, in various ways, the apostle says that the inspired Scriptures are sufficient to make the man of God adequate to deal with every difficulty that has to do with loving God and one’s neighbor. The passage should be so used.

In addition, another portion of the Bible frequently cited to provide the same thing is 2 Peter 1:3, where we are told that the Bible contains all that we need to find eternal life and live in a godly way. This, too, is a powerful testimony to Biblical sufficiency. If “all things necessary” are provided, what else could we possible wish for?

Yet, there is another passage, often omitted in such discussions, to which I want to call attention today. It is found in Hebrews where the writer tells us that God will “equip you with every good thing for doing His will, producing in us what pleases Him through Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 13:21).

That verse ought to be more frequently on the lips of those who contend for the sufficiency of Nouthetic counseling. Let’s take a second glance at it:

  1. The verse affirms that equipping necessary for doing God’s will can be found in Jesus Christ. The information and the know-how that it takes to counsel correctly is what Hebrews is referring to. It is precisely what a biblical counselor must have. And here, we are assured, he does—if and when he is willing to search it out. What an important fact that is!
  2. In addition, the verse states that “every good thing” for doing God’s will is available for the Christian counselor and counselee. That means in every case where there is a problem of loving God or one’s neighbor—the goal of all biblical counseling—what is needed is there for the taking. There is no excuse for claiming he doesn’t have all he needs, or for turning to non-biblical counseling for help.
  3. Along with the Scriptural information that He provides, we are told that God is at work using it to produce in those who need it those changes which please Him. It is important to help others, of course, but what biblical counseling, at its core, is all about is pleasing God. This happens whenever a counselor honors God by presenting the biblical way to help, and when a counselee accepts and follows it.

So You Wrote a Book

So, you wrote a book. Now what do you do? Will you self-publish it? It’s a lot easier to get a book into print and bound these days than it used to be. But it’s very difficult to market.

Should you try the publishers? Sure. But don’t necessarily expect them to jump at publishing it. Just because one publisher turns you down doesn’t necessarily mean the book is no good. Publishers may have many reasons for doing so. The same publisher, at another time may be looking for such a book—but not at the present. So, try another, and another, and another, and another, and another.

What next?

Best idea is to find someone known to a publisher to read and, hopefully, recommend it.

What then?

Self-publish a finite number of quantities. Today, there are places where you can publish a single copy. Apply for and place your intention to copyright symbol on it. Send them to publishers with your inquiry. For now, that’s the best I can do to help.

Are you a good writer? There is a glut of written material out there—much of which should never have been published. Will your book help people in a way that other books already published do not? Is your book exegetically sound? If you don’t know what that means, don’t publish it until you do, and can answer yes. Do you make a genuine contribution—or is this a vanity publication? Most important—do you honor God in the book?

Best wishes on your book. When you get it published, send me a free copy, please (and one to Donn as well).

Paul (or You) In Prison

In discussing problems with Christian counselees, we often find ourselves deeply involved in matters concerning the providence of God. People want to know “Why?” But it isn’t always possible to respond to that question in any specific way. If it is, fine; but that is the exception, not the rule.

So what do we say? Well, of course many different things—responses that fit each individual situation—but there are some principles (abstract as they may be) that people usually find helpful.

In referring to Paul’s imprisonment at Rome (Philippians 1) we show how God used it to convert soldiers as well as encourage others to go preach. As we open up the passage at some length, the following encouraging principles emerge:

  1. God is in your problem
  2. God is up to something in your problem
  3. God is up to something good

Whether or you are able to see all or even only part of what it is that He’s up to, you can rely on the fact because of Romans 8:28,29.

What is providence? It is the working out of God’s plan by God Himself. Unlike Deism, Christianity teaches that God plans His work,then works His plan. Deists believe that having created the world, He no longer is concerned with it. He wound up the clock, now it can run on its own. Rather, we believe He made and maintains the world. And that He personally does things in it—in particular, in people’s lives.

If you’re in some trouble today, reread those three facts, believer, and you should be encouraged by them—even if ‘right now you can’t see how God is at work in your problem. Some day—now or in eternity—you may understand fully. But it’s your task at the moment—to believe, and look forward to whatever outcome God may bring from it. In the long run, you may even be privileged to discover (as Paul did) what God was up to—and that you will see that it truly is good!

Things Matter

Many consider that the only things that matter are those that have earthly consequences. But in God’s plan of things, He created both the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. Others who see this connection between the two have a different view of how things matter.

These two fundamental ideas comprise two various different philosophies which, when seriously adhered to as guides for thought and conduct, lead to two quite distinct ways of life.

That is why some fix their concerns upon the preservation of all that they can in this life. They have only one world, only one life to live. And they intend to make the most of it.

On the contrary, Christians have two worlds, both important, but one more important that the other. Indeed, it is thought by some that all the Christian cares about is the world to come. Pie in the sky when you die bye and bye, if you will. Not true. An informed Christian knows that he can begin slicing the pie right now! He sees both worlds as inseparably linked. What happens in the one affects what happens in the other.

This basic view of life for the Christian means that he is concerned about how he lives here, not merely how he will fare in the future. His activities, however, ought to reflect the fact that he has interests that are much broader than the one who is an earthling—confined in his thinking and living to the here and now. Contrary to those who look on the faith as restrictive, it actually enlarges those who live it biblically

It is something like a man who lives in America, but who knows that there is a Europe as well, longs to travel there, and is day by day preparing to travel there. Others spend their money and time on things that mean the most to them at the moment. He, on the other hand, is saving up for the trip, is reading up on the foreign country to which he will go, and is learning all he can about it before he leaves. He is having a whale of a time anticipating it. He’s having a good time of it. He may even spend time learning the language. While he is huddling over Rosetta Stone, others are out carousing—or simply having a good time doing things that won’t last. That have consequences only in this world of here and now. While they are engaged in temporal entertainments he is devouring the travel guides to the land across the sea.

So, because of the distinct view of life and death, things that we do here and now matter. They matter because the two worlds are immutably united. That which unites them, of course, is the cross of Christ.

On Writing

Because I have spent much of my life writing articles and books, it has been necessary to consider what good writing is like. While I am sure that I do not have all of the answers, I think I have a few. In this post, in a running outline form, I shall share some of my guiding principles with the hope that some of you will find them useful and be encouraged to put some of your own ideas into print.

Christian writing should be

I.  Biblical—but not academic.

  1. Writing that is informative, scholarly, and substantive,
  2. that uses the original languages and the best commentaries and helps,
  3. need not be dry as dust,
  4. using a stilted, abstract, passive, colorless style
  5. similar to that which is found in most Ph. D. dissertations.

But, instead, it can be,

II.  Interesting—but not shallow.

  1. Interest can be aroused over a variety of matters:
  2. stories, jokes, unusual experiences.
  3. But, good writing arouses interest from the subject matter itself
  4. by exposing the interest values that are inherent in it,
  5. by relating it significantly to the reader and
  6. by doing so in a style that at every point is appropriate to him and that grows out of these values.
  7. Such a style will have warmth and vividness, will stress active verbs, and will adopt the best colloquial form of the day.

Good Christian writing also will be

III. Practical—but more than a stress on “how to.”

  1. While “how to” and good methodology are essential,
  2. the writing must address itself to problems and issues
  3. and meet needs;
  4. in short, it must be motivated by a desire to help someone in some way
  5. and should, in fact, do so.

That is why it must be

IV.  Substantive—but clear and simple.

  1. It is hard work to strike the proper balance between substance and simplicity,
  2. but that is an essential factor.
  3. There is a large class of people who need to read substantive material but will do so only if they think that what they are reading isn’t.
  4. Because most academics refuse to write in a style that will reach them, their scholarship results in too little good.

When necessary, Christian writing must be

V.  Polemical—but not personal.

  1. It should attack faulty positions, but not people.
  2. However, a writer should never smash a window unless he has another, better one to replace it; negative writing, calculated only to tear down or root up, is a blight.
  3. The Christian writer, therefore, must also plant and build.
  4. But there must be a zeal for truth, coupled with boldness; people are tired of pussyfooting.

And, finally, conservative Christian writing should be

VI.  Innovative—but for a purpose.

  1. It must never contain innovation for its own sake.
  2. Rather, innovation must be used to clarify, freshen, and strengthen old truths,
  3. and it is important to realize that in many things the most radically innovative step of all is to be more biblical.

Egypt–A Perennial Problem

Again, and again, the people of God turned to Egypt for help instead of turning to God. The problem still occurs. Of course, in this article I’m not speaking of physical Egypt, but of all that Egypt came to represent.  Physical Egypt is the type of all that one trusts rather than God.

So, what does the Bible say about Egypt? Here is but one of many passages in which God explains what happens whenever His people turn to Egypt:

When Israel grasped you by the hand, you splintered, tearing all their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you shattered and made all their hips unsteady.     (Ezekiel 29:7).

Christian, are you leaning on a splintering reed rather than the rock-solid One Who saved you? If so, is your shoulder beginning to hurt?

Are you putting your trust in some modern “Egypt” of your own making rather than the unshakable, sturdy Creator and Sustainer of the universe? Foolish, if you are—and do you find yourself beginning to limp?

Staffs made of flimsy reed cannot help. Turn from them and back to the one and only unfailing support—the God Who made you!

An Observation, and a Wise Example

Somebody you’d like to “tell off?” You think he needs a piece of your mind—a good talking to? Think twice; but first, read the following:

When there are many words, sin is unavoidable.
Proverbs 10:19

Most of Proverbs is filled with wise observations given in FYI form (as in this one).  That is to say, they are not in the form of commands, but of information that a wise person, wishing to be wiser, will pay attention to. He will apply them as he sees need to do so.

These proverbs don’t promise anything when setting forth truth in this form—they merely tell you what is happening (generally) in God’s world—in relation to Him and others. The wise will wisely apply what he learns from such observations.

The proverb that you are examining is plain enough—but don’t stop with it. Instead, use the understanding that we have reached about many of the Proverbs from chapter 10 on, and begin to learn how to live wisely as a result.

Disagreement

People may not like Nouthetic Counseling (articles appear from time to time attempting to debunk it). But that’s to be expected. Whenever anyone tries to do something to serve the Lord there will be opposition.

What we ask for is an honest appraisal of what we teach—nothing more. We don’t expect everyone to see eye to eye with us. Far from it. But when they differ, we would like them to represent our views fairly.

To say that we believe everything bad that happens in a person’s life is due to his personal sin, is a calumny. We have never taught any such thing. Yet, this is frequently parroted by those unsympathetic with NC. Trouble comes our way because of Adam’s sin, yes. But certainly not all of it because of the sin of individuals since. This was made perfectly clear in Competent to Counsel as early as 1970!

Additionally, to say that we don’t believe in doing good to unbelievers is equally false. We would want to feed them if hungry, clothe them if needy, and so forth. But to ask them to do what only Christians can do is not only to treat them unkindly, it is counterproductive. It is one thing to do good to another; something quite different to ask him to do the same.

In a recent blog we were accused of teaching that the counselor cannot be wrong—only the counselee. That is nonsense! We have said so much about how a counselor can go wrong that there is hardly anything left to say. For instance, we have set forth Fifty Failure Factors for counselors to use in order discover possible ways in which they might be failing counselees.

In this same blog, the writer claims that the goal on NC is control. Yes, control of one’s own lifestyle by the Spirit—but never control of counselees by counselors. In Galatians 5, Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit, one piece of which is “self-control.” That is precisely the goal of our counseling. It is always interesting to note how far from the actual practice of NC a critic can come, but it would be nice if he would read far enough in the literature to know what he is criticizing.

Empirical Evidence?

Question: 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.