Editor’s Note: This counselor uses techniques that are generated by the text of the Bible. His counseling approach is truly “applied Christianity.” This focus on the Bible earned a place on this page.
Godly love (agape) guides both my theoretical approach and my practice of professional counseling, marriage and family therapy, and addictions counseling. The editors have asked that I share, in a personal way, how faith in the gospel should play a central role in Christian counseling.
The thoughts that I will present are impelled by three deep and urgent concerns. First, I hope what I discuss will encourage those seeking counseling to find a counselor who is guided by the gospel. I also hope churches with counseling ministries will recognize the importance of employing counselors whose theoretical approach is firmly based on the gospel. And finally, I hope Christian colleges and universities which educate Christian counselors will realize that they are failing their students and the church if they fail to provide, boldly and unashamedly, curricula that prepare students to practice gospel-based counseling.
Christian counselors seek to help people achieve life changes leading to healthier, more meaningful living and greater inner peace and joy. Although the Code of Ethics for most mental health disciplines directs counselors to avoid imposing their personal values and beliefs on clients, the counseling process basically is an interaction of values and beliefs.
Every counselor’s work is based on faith – a faith based on his epistemology. “Faith” is a person’s conclusion of what is true; this conclusion is based on the weight of evidence he views as true. In order to arrive at a specific belief concerning any subject, one must employ some method of knowing. Epistemology attempts to explore the different methods that have been used to establish beliefs and, in light of their implications, make some decision concerning the most appropriate one(s) to follow. Generally speaking, humanistic counselors
base their faith on empirical evidence. But, in addition to empirical evidence, Christian counselors are influenced by rationalistic and authoritative evidence.
Counseling is an art, not an exact science. How each counselor applies his art is based on his philosophy of counseling and his philosophy of life in general. Since a counselor’s personal belief system affects the counseling relationship, it is of critical importance that your counselor believes in God and in the Bible as the plenary and verbally inspired word of God. In addition, it is equally important for your counselor to view the gospel as the only source of power that can effect sanctifying changes in a person’s life.
God provides the best way to help people achieve life changes which endow them with healthier, more meaningful living and greater inner peace and joy (Galatians 5: 22-25). All humanistic mental health theories focus on change within the nature of man. The Bible also talks about change, but not change within man’s nature. It reveals the mystery and secret of changing the very nature of man (Ephesians 4: 17-24; 2 Corinthians 5: 17). Because no power but divine power can change our nature, and no book but the Bible can teach us how to change our nature.
There are two possible motives for everything we do: selfishness or love, i.e., agape love. We will be motivated to please either God or self. The underlying origin of all interpersonal and personal problems we experience as human beings is selfishness. Only one power changes the selfish nature of man. Only one power. It is not the power of science. It is not the power of psychology. It is not the power of a therapist. It is not the power of a church or its ministers. It is not the power of man wrapping his mind around something and changing it himself. It is, of course, the power of God. God used His power to create the world; He proved that power by raising Jesus from the dead; He will use it gloriously to raise Christians from the dead. And that same power is at our disposal! It is the only power – the Only Power – that can change our selfish, sinful nature to a nature that is
godly and loving (Romans 1: 16; 8: 1-17). The message of how we can overcome our selfish nature is called the gospel.
Without question, knowledge gained from scientific research is valuable. However, unless the selfish nature of man is put to death, any knowledge gained from science will be applied through selfish motives, and it is sure to result in dysfunction and death. Christian counseling, on the other hand, can help people change their nature; humanistic counseling cannot and will not bring about this result!
Should the church promote humanism, or should it promote the gospel? One of the ethical challenges I face as a therapist occurs when churches ask me to present lessons based on humanistic research about life issues (addictions, marriage, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief, low self-esteem, etc.) instead of how to apply the message of God’s love to them. The Bible is filled with information about how to let God effect behavioral change and joyful inner peace.
Paul charged Timothy to preach the word. And for what reason? “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4: 3,4 KJV). I believe Christian counselors should never allow themselves to be used by those in the church who wish to replace the message of the gospel with humanistic philosophies!
Another ethical challenge I face occurs when I am asked by a church to recommend a counselor. Many churches are beginning counseling ministries. However, church leaders may not know that many Christians doing counseling are trained only in humanistic theories and do not know how to help people change their selfish, sinful nature to a godly, loving nature. This also applies to those graduating from some Christian colleges, for many of the graduate counseling programs in Christian colleges teach only humanistic theories. Beware of those who call themselves “Christian counselors.” There is a difference between Christians who use only humanistic theories in their counseling practice and Christians who help individuals experience the nature-changing power of God.
Paul warned the church in Colosse about being taken captive by the deceptive philosophies of men: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ . . .. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Colossians 2: 8, 18,19 KJV).
I believe churches should never employ counselors whose theoretical approach and practice of counseling are not based on the gospel.
I am often asked to explain how I maintain my faith. Interestingly, my work probably strengthens my faith more than anything else. One of the best ways to keep the gospel in our hearts is to share it (Romans 1: 11,12; Colossians 3: 16). Because my counseling practice is founded on the gospel, I am able to talk about it all day every day. Wow, what a privilege and blessing! I also am able to see the power of God resurrect people’s lives and give them a peace that surpasses understanding. The love of God is so amazing and so awesome! I am often emotionally overwhelmed when I see it working right before my eyes. Jesus said of himself, “ I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). I know God’s Way is the only way for achieving true peace and joy! I know because I experience it every day.
William T. Lambert, Jr., BA, MCC, MS, LMFT,LPC, MAC, AAMFT Clinical Member
Marriage and Family Therapist, Mental Healthcare Provider, and Christian Minister