Second Generation Counselors

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

Second generation biblical counselors? When I hear people speaking that way, I wonder where some of them have been for the last generation? In their attempt to move away from Nouthetic Counseling—call it what you will—I am somewhat amused at the way they view things. Perhaps this is because there are many who are so young that they have little perspective upon the history of the biblical counseling movement. They believe that whatever existed when they came upon the scene was the first generation—primitive, without guidance, lacking finesse, and unsystematic, to which they probably have an obligation to bring newer refinements and insights.

Because of their shortsightedness, I am pleased to help them obtain a realistic and more historically-accurate view.

The fact is, our self-tagged “second-generation” counselors are nothing of the sort. They are what, more accurately, might be called the third generation or, more precisely stated, the heirs and recipients of an already-refined second generation of biblical counselors that, practically speaking, makes them nothing less than a third.

What am I talking about, and how do I justify such terminology?

I don’t mind being called the Great-grandfather of Nouthetic Counseling. As a matter of fact, without going into details, I can assure you that this description tends to fit my view of things more accurately than that of some who view me as its Granddady. It’s when young whippersnappers act as if no thinking has been done, or as if nothing has been written beyond Competent to Counsel and, therefore, as a second generation, they must seek to radically improve upon what has gone before, that the tags become of some importance. They give the impression that some of us have been sitting around for a generation twiddling our fingers while dishing out C to C like pablum! Nothing could be further from the truth. A great deal of refinining, maturing and enlarging of the system has taken place since 1970. Much effort has been expended over the forty-year period, many aspects of counseling have been explored in depth, and a large amount of new material has been mined and made available. What is so surprising—and disappointing—is that this maturing process has been carried on not by our self-styled “second-generationers,” from whom we expected so much, but largely by the same small group of “old-timers” who have been a part of the cadre of counselor-theorists who have been “having at it” from (or near) the beginning—people like Wayne Mack, George Scipione, Lou Priolo and a dozen or so more.

You can speak about the need to get perspective upon the “new times” in which we now live all you want. Some of us, however, have lived long enough, and have been grappling with “new times” long enough, to have seen a couple of them come and go!

We no longer live in the days of Freud, Rogers, Skinner, Adler and Maslow. Believe it or not, some of us oldsters know that. Indeed, we emerged from that era into one in which medication became nearly the sole the answer to life’s problems, due to the lack of a succession of new “giants” like those big five.” We now live in a third period, one in which (along with general confusion in the field), “spirituality” is added to medicine, everything is now thought to be an “addiction” or one sort or another, and Eastern elements have again become of interest. Yet, strangely, the third generationers don’t seem all that interested in these elements arising in the new generation after all. You can’t find much in their all-but-unprolific writings about what is happening. Their interest seems to be, above all, to widen the tent for truly biblical or (if I dare call them such) Nouthetic counselors. They must become acquainted with their eclectic brothers from whom they have become estranged. They no longer discern the need for believers to assert the sort of antithesis to the world that was once deemed all-important. Indeed, the antithetic spirit found in the Scriptures, seems to them to have been the culprit in the first place [obviously, the Scriptural antithetical stance toward right/wrong, true/false, holy/unholy, saved/lost, and a host of other similar contrasts, would not be denied outright by our revisers. Error in setting forth the antithesis would, instead, be the charge].

What does all of this mean? We are told that these are new times. That, curiously, seems to be the new interest. Rather than the antithetical stance Nouthetic Counseling has taken in the past toward eclectic error, we now must approach those who hold to eclectic views of various sorts and team up with them as much as possible. It’s time for bridge-building; rapproachment.

But this isn’t a matter of refinement, maturing, or meeting the changes of a new and different time. The eclectic issue has been with us from the beginning. Consider Aaron’s golden calf, where he threw gold into the fire and “out came” the calf. The calf’s existence was not a call to abandon Yahweh, or His faith. It was intended as a help to undergird and foster it. But, instead, what emerged was a new religion that God condemned. The Samaritans wanted to join the returning Jews who were rebuilding their city. But, uncharitable as it may have seemed on the part of Nehemiah to refuse their offer of help, he wisely did so anyway, doubtless recognizing that his action would create hostility for years to come—as, indeed, it did. Why, then did he do so? Because he understood what it seems that some of our well-meaning “big tent” friends fail to recognize—when you build bridges, traffic moves in both directions. And it has been demonstrated gain and again in the Scriptures, and over and over during many centuries since, that the more influential traffic is that which is incoming rather than outgoing. The history of the church has been a history of weakening through compromise by affinity. Naturally, no one intends to compromise; rather, he hopes to win those who disagree with the truth. But you can’t do this by joining them. As soon, as one begins to become buddy-buddy with some who hold views diverse from the Scriptures, he discovers that (in spite of that fact) there are some really “nice” integrationists. And the more buddy-like that they become, the more he is influenced in all sorts of ways by them. All of this is not to say that one must be hostile toward them. Nor is there a need to cease “converting” them to the “Nouthetic Faith” (I hope you understand my factious use of these terms). But the notions of converting and unifying are incompatible. And, it would seem that this fact has been lost by those seeking to adjust to these “new times!”

Of course, I recognize that some find it uncomfortable to be huddled in a small tent together with those who, personally, may not be as pleasant and affable as those in the big tent next door. People with strong views tend to assert them. Euodius and Synteche had been “fellow workers” with Paul. It’s people like them, who do things, who are often a “bit too stringent” about their beliefs. It is easier—and much more pleasant– to buddy-up to those who never seriously challenge beliefs. Oh, of course, there is academic discussion galore. Differences of opinion are vigorously banded about. Such discussion is very pleasant. And one can even believe that he is bringing the Samaritans with their mixed faith into line with his own Yahwehistic views. It will happen one of these days, he comes to believe, but it never—or at least, very seldom—does. Yet, all the while that he has been comporting himself in this manner with his new-found friends, he has been strangely influenced himself. Because it is so gradual, and precisely because he has consciously sought to avoid it, he fails to recognize what is happening. But, if he wants to see what is happening, let him only consider the growing coldness of his relationships with his former compatriots. He is ashamed to use their materials, be called by their names, remain closely associated with their work. Indeed, he can only look down at what they are doing in counseling as a primitive form of what he has now come to see truly biblical counseling ought always to have been like. It’s time to re-write documents and set forth beliefs in a more winning manner. No wonder such “advanced thinkers” consider themselves the “second generation!”

But some of us have lived for two generations. Our perspective is broader than those with pen in hand could ever realize at this stage in their lives. We saw what happened in the past and participated in hard-fought battles that finally rescued and brought the present prosperity to a church which previously had been compromised by such a robust form of liberalism that J. Gresham Machen called it “another religion.” What happened then in those broader circles, looks like it might be on the road to happening again in the narrower field of biblical counseling. If this should happen, then the gains of generations past are likely to be lost. Just as that which has been attained at such cost is ready to “take off,” it is likely to flounder. Oh, no. I’m not speaking of numbers, either of a bodily or of a financial sort. In those respects this well-healed, new alliance is likely to “take off” all right! But what is its destination?

Could such things really happen to Nouthetic Counseling? You’d better believe it! Indeed, it’s already happening—big time. Speaking of “times,” don’t fail to discern the signs of the times. Former strongholds and even fountainheads of such counseling, no longer use materials distinctly identified as Nouthetic. It’s not that they need more up-to-date information (such data just aren’t appearing from third generarionists). No, the problem is that proponents of the big tent are hesitant to be too closely associated with “those worthy pioneers” (as they might possibly characterize them in a charitable fashion in certain circles), who, though they may have suited their times, are now out of touch with ours. If they wish to drag along behind, fine. Bit if they fail to do so, they will eat our dust! One thing is sure—they can no longer be trusted to lead the way.

There is no longer an imperative to be biblical in the radical sense of declaring that which differs from Scripture “unbiblical,” and to emphatically state that those who espouse such unbiblical views, are “wrong” (or even “harmful” to their counselees). Instead, a highly questionable camaraderie has been growing in which all sorts of supposedly biblical (or Christian) counseling is tolerated (if not condoned and encouraged). Any strong vocal antithesis toward error in counseling that yet exists will be found among those prehistoric types who still believe in conking such dinosaurs over the head when they get too close to the cave. The third generation will have none of this impoliteness.

If there is a separation, who is leaving whom? Obviously, the newcomers are taking the lead. No one is attempting to force them out of anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a sad, even lamentable thing for the “cavemen” to see them depart. In spite of this, perhaps, they will call us “stubborn.” Uncalled for? Hmmm. After some thought, I think that I’ll accept the epithet. But should that not be sufficient for them then, perhaps, the preferred term is “sour grapes.” You began it, but now that it’s taking off under new leadership you want to hold the reins so tightly that there can be no slack. Hmmm. After additional serious thought, I’ll also agree to that “holding the reins” bit. But I balk at the “sour grapes.” I’ve never tried to hold on to anything when God was blessing it or whenever anyone else was ready to take my place. My ministry has always been one of beginning something, then handing it over to another. Those who know me well will agree, I think. I’ve spent my life encouraging men to minister so that they would be ready to receive the reins as soon as possible. If anything, I’ve let go too easily or too soon. No, I won’t agree to that charge.

“Well,” what are you doing writing this article? What do you hope to achieve? One thing: awareness. I don’t expect to be able to forestall what is taking place, but I believe it’s possible that others can. Moreover, I believe there are many who haven’t the slightest idea about what is happening and would step on the brakes if and when they did. And, of course, there are affiliations at stake. Decisions will have to be made about these. There are those who wish deeply to serve Christ in an honorable way, and who need to know what is taking place before it happens to such an extent that they lack time to inquire, investigate and make good decisions.

Indeed, what should your decision be? If your answer is, “Decision about what?” then I think I’ve proven my point about awareness. I don’t want to tell you what to do—except one thing: stay true to the sufficient Word of the living Christ, and to the living Christ of the sufficient Word. If you do so, you will not go wrong.

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