Let’s Be Careful Out There

imagesA popular cop show in the eighties began each episode with the officers assembled in the briefing room where the Sargent would give out assignments for the day. At the end of each briefing the officer in charge would exhort his officers with the admonition, “Let’s be careful out there!”

Biblical counselors would do well to embrace that exhortation as well. Today’s biblical counselor is blessed with training opportunities and resources we could not have imagined 30 years ago. The first NANC conference I attended was held in a church Sunday School room. At the first February conference I attended in Lafayette I was one of 35 students. The books available to me that dealt with biblical counseling fit on less than two feet of bookshelf.

Today, thousands attend these conferences every year, the books I own on biblical counseling fill an entire wall, most people can find training in biblical counseling within one or two hours of driving time, dozens of theological seminaries now have courses in biblical counseling, and our Institute has hundreds of students studying under Dr. Adams on every continent around the world. We have much for which to be thankful as God’s people have come to embrace the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

With all these successes and opportunities for learning, however, we will quickly find ourselves disqualified and our ministries impotent if we do not embrace the words of Sargent Esterhaus to “be careful out there.” The august responsibility of the ministry of the Word to hurting people should fill us with a sober desire to minister the Word carefully, accurately, and skillfully. God’s Word is not magic. We do not simply tell counselees to “read God’s Word and He will bless you.” Before the counselor can minister the Word to his counselee he must first be a student and exegete of the Scriptures and become skilled at using them as God intended them to be used.

I was reminded of this again as I read a blog recently at a biblical counseling website. The author’s purpose was worthy—he was seeking to show how counselees can be encouraged in their suffering by understanding that our Lord Himself endured suffering. Sadly, his use of the Scriptures to make his point served only to confuse and, even worse, taught some very bad theology which, if understood rightly, would discourage a counselee about the ability of Christ to meet the need of the hour.

The author began by asserting, in spite of the clear teaching of Philippians 4:6, that anxiety is “not necessarily” sinful. He made his case by quoting a bizarre translation of Mark 14:33 (the Amplified Bible) and concluded that Jesus had a “panic attack” in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The author then moved to Hebrews 2:10 which he claimed teaches that Jesus’ sufferings were “part of His maturing and perfecting for our sake.” He later added that “as Jesus was perfected through various sufferings, including anxiety, so are we.”

The biblical counselor should be careful to understand that the word translated “perfect” here is used in the sense of “complete” as it is in Hebrew 10:14. Christ’s sufferings completed His task as the “Author of their salvation.” They did not serve to mature Him in a sanctifying process as they do for us. The idea of a Christ who is just like us and in need of “maturing” is, well, sub-orthodox.

The task of exegesis is of primary importance. Do not neglect it. Handle God’s Word with care and sobriety. From behind my podium in our briefing room here in our little corner of the internet I plead with my fellow counselors—let’s be careful out there!

 

One Way Cults Begin

It’s true that all popular figures are in danger of allowing themselves to gather groups around them who become near-worshippers of them. They can encourage this “groupee” dynamic and gain a following that believes almost anything that they affirm—remember Jim Jones and the Koolaid? This popularity phenomenon is obviously one ripe source for the fostering of cults. Unless this dominant figure discourages such adulation, he may unconsciously allow these followers to become cultic in their attitudes. If the leader sets forth a doctrine or two that deviates from traditional biblical teaching, you have all of the ingredients necessary for establishing a cult. But that’s not the emphasis of this blog.

Rather, as someone has said, “Cults are the unpaid bills of the Church.” What does that mean? Simply this—whenever the church of Jesus Christ fails to emphasize some truth, and becomes imbalanced in one direction or another, it leaves room for a cult to creep in and take over that area of theology which it has neglected. You didn’t pay your bill, so someone else moves in to take possession of what was your God-given responsibility to teach in the first place.

Take the days in which there was little emphasis upon eschatology. The Adventist cults gained favor. The period in which there was little concern for pastoral care led to the beginnings of the healing cults.

The question today is what is the church neglecting, and what will this lead to? Clearly work in systematic theology and the faithful exegesis of the Scriptures is at an all-time low during the current generation. Where are the giant exegetes today? The outstanding systematic theologians? Those whose interest is in biblical theology abound; but where are the commentaries that deal in depth with the text rather than skipping around from place to place attempting to find similarities in various passages?

Moreover, application, as a result, is disappearing from the pulpits of those who are enthralled with the “discoveries” of some biblical-theological devotees. People are beginning to get essays from the pulpit in place of clear, substantive doctrine, proclaimed from well-exegeted passages, and applied to the daily lives of those who listen. There are even those who are questioning the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone!

It’s time for preachers to wake up. We could easily have a new sort of cult emerging right before our eyes— one whose adherents look down their noses on “mere” exegetes and systematic theologians, and dismiss practical preachers of the truths of the Scriptures. Take heed!

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To Pray or Not to Pray—That is the Question

In 1 John 5:16, John wrote that if you see someone committing a sin that leads to death (the KJV goes on to say) I don’t say you should pray about that. On the surface, that sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Well, it is strange. Why shouldn’t you pray for him?

Because of the kind of sin he committed-one that leads to death. What sin is that? To answer that isn’t the purpose of this posting. I want to concentrate on that word “pray” or “ask,” as some have it.

There are two distinct words in the Greek—

One, aiteo means “to ask for, or pray.” That’s not the word used here.

The other is eratao, which means “to ask about, inquire.” It is used here.

The verse doesn’t say not to pray, but rather not to go about trying to dig up all the dirt behind his sin unto death! A very important exhortation we need to stress often to overly curious people and gossips.

For more information about this passage and 49 others (shameless plug alert), see my recent book, Fifty Problem Passages Explained.

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Remember Aunt Minnie!

I’m always amused, when not disturbed, by the ways in which people misunderstand and, then, misrepresent biblical teaching. It’s interesting and instructive to study the phenomenon. In doing so, you discover there is one-short-of a zillion factors that might lead a person to do so.

Usually those factors are more-or-less unconscious. The person committing the “crime” doesn’t fully understand his own motivation.

Most frequently it seems, when that is the case, he remembers an incident from the past that he uses now to bolster his totally irrational reasoning. Something–you know–like what happened to Aunt Minnie fifteen years ago. He thinks that the reason for citing her case, I said, is to bolster his argument as an illustration for or against something, when all of the time, rather than an additional proof,” it is the very reason for his atrocious prejudice. All these years he’s been waiting to get at whoever might seem to agree with what happened to old “Aunti.”

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For Now . . .

This week we are away at the annual NANC conference. We will be rerunning some of the most important blogs from this past summer.

Often, I’ve been charged with being critical of others. But I have hardly been charged with being critical of those in the basic Nouthetic counseling camp. Yet, interestingly enough, I find that, as of late, some of these very persons have had little hesitation out attacking my writings—and even me personally. This is perfectly all right so long as what they say is accurate and the system that they propose (indeed, there seems to be such a system growing) is, indeed, genuinely an improvement over what I have set forth. But to “advance” is not always an advantage. The question is—what direction is this new way of counseling taking?

I see several serious deviations taking this “new” system back to a number of the old unbiblical ways that we thought we had put to bed. Let me mention but a few.

First, exegesis is minimized, and in its place we discover an emphasis on feelings, a superficial use of the Scriptures, “getting to know people,” and the lot. One whole book, for instance, is based on a faulty, superficial, misinterpretation of Ezekiel 14. Here was a people, being carried away into Babylon, largely because of its worship of the images of false gods rather than Yahweh. Yet their devotion to these images was so strong that what they could not do physically, they were doing spiritually—they were carrying away images of them in their hearts (Ez. 14:3,4,6,7) .

Throughout Ezekiel, true images of genuine false gods of the time, (such as Moloch) are in view. The first half of His book is consumed with condemning such idolatry. As a result, God’s “four sore judgments” (v.21) were about to fall upon them. Yet, they persisted in spite of Ezekiel’s last minute warning to repent and turn their faces from such idols (v.6).

Now, the book in question, “uses” the Ezekiel passage to set forth the fallacious idea that these idols were being manufactured in the hearts of the rebellious Jews, and that, rather than idols representing false pagan gods, the passage supports the concept of the human heart being the source of sin-specific idols of those who produce them. So, totally failing to do the exegesis of the passage necessary to proclaim God’s truth, the passage is “made” to support an unbiblical view which (certainly) was the furtherest thing from Ezekiel’s mind when he wrote. And, a view that leads counselors in a wrong direction.

That view, largely being propagated by another brother, who does little, if any, true exegesis of passages, but largely intellectualizes (playing around with nuances of various sorts), has been spread all over the counseling world. Among other things, the concept makes Scripture (with little use of the same) teach that we are allowed to search out the idols specific to each person in order to counsel him (whether it be an idol of laziness, lust, or whatever). Of course, the Ezekiel passage has no such counseling construct within it (nor does any other passage). And it teaches absolutely nothing about human beings manufacturing heart idols. Indeed, the Bible teaches quite another concept that is contrary to this view: it denies the ability of others to know another person’s heart.

Let’s examine a few verses with reference to this concept. First, at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, in his prayer, he emphatically affirmed that God “alone” knows human hearts (1 Kings 8:39). Moreover, God tells us that man looks on the outward appearance [man’s territory], but that He looks on the heart [His territory] see 1 Samuel 16:7. Even Paul was cautious not only about judging others’ hearts, but even about judging his own (See 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). These are only a few of the consistent teachings of Scripture about the same thing. Man has the right to ask others what their desires are but, as in Paul’s case, even one’s own assessment is questionable. We can watch, and listen, but we cannot discover another’s heart problems. Moreover, as we have seen, to discover individual idols, within a complex person who isn’t sure of himself (as Paul said), again, seems quite presumptuous.

Much more could be said about other aspects of this developing system, which contains elements of redemptive-historical speculation replacing exegesis, and of Gospel sanctification—rather than sanctification of Spirit-enabled effort—must be reserved for another place. For now, let me simply warn you that the names of at least 4-5 rather prominent persons have become associated with the new system, so you ‘re likely to encounter its tenets soon, if not later. All I want to say now is beware. It’s adoption will destroy your counseling ability, and you are likely to discourage your counselees as well as yourself.

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Exegete It

“Tell me more.”

Sure you want to know?

“Definitely.”

OK. Here’s how it is: first, you exegete the passage.

“Whoa! What’s that big word mean?”

It means to so interpret the passage that you obtain as the result of your work nothing more than, nothing less than, and nothing other than what the Holy Spirit intended you to obtain from it. In other words, you understand its meaning and purpose and how it applies. You know what the Holy Spirit was up to when he had the writer pen the words.

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I’ve Had It Happen Too Often!

“What are you talking about this time?”

Thinking I had a verse all tacked down only to discover that someone else has interpreted it differently and . . . and I think rightly!

“Oh.”

Well, over the years, it’s taught me one lesson, at least.

“What’s that?”

To sit loosely upon an interpretation until you are absolutely sure that it is correct. And then—be sure that you’ve covered the waterfront of views out there so that you will not have omitted one that might change your thinking.

“Hmmm. What should this mean to me—a layman—who knows little about exx . . exogetics . . .or whatever you call it?”

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John 3:16

John 3:16 is a well-known favorite verse of many.

But I wonder if you’ve ever thought about the fact that it says Jesus is the “only begotten Son of God?”

Haven’t you been begotten of God if you are a Christian?

Indeed, in the very context of that verse Nicodemus is told that to enter God’s kingdom, one must be born again. So, is He, or is He not, the only begotten Son of God?

Well, the Greek term actually means “unique, one of its kind,” not “only begotten.” That understanding clears up any mystery along those lines that may have confused you.

Right?

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Words, Words, Words

“Getting it all together” and Letting it all hang out.” Two expressions of recent vintage seem to be indicative of the confusion of our age. Of course, there’s always a bit of this going on in the English language. For instance does a house burn up or down? Is something inflammable or flammable? Is the missing link not a link at all and, therefore, not missing?

You could go on and on all you wish, but one thing is certain—language can be made to mean many things.

That’s why it’s important to be careful about what people tell you or what you read.

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Similar, but Different!

And what a difference it is!

Have you ever placed John 5:26 next to John 5;28, 29 in juxtaposition to one another? No? Then let’s do so—right here and now.

The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear will live.

. . . the hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His voice, and will come forth—those who have done good to a resurrection of life and those who have practiced evil to a resurrection of judgment.”

There are similarities: in both, Jesus speaks of a coming hour. In both people hear Jesus’ voice. In both, those who hear are dead. In both they come to life.

There are differences: In one, those who hear live; in the other they are resurrected to life. In both, people are dead, but in only one are they said to be in their graves. In one, the hour for life is present (“now is”); in the other no such time frame is given.

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