What is Biblical Counseling?

What is biblical counseling? Let me describe it by unpacking both key terms.First, biblical counseling is counseling. It helps specific individuals, couples, or families in their specific situations to know Christ better and handle life in God-pleasing ways. It is conversational— interactive and person-specific in ways that go beyond public preaching or teaching. In this sense, it is simply personal ministry, the ministry by one person to another person. We might also simply call it discipleship, or intensive, remedial, or problem-oriented discipleship. More broadly, it is nothing short of true biblical friendship, or “intentionally helpful conversations” (David Powlison), as pictured in passages like Proverbs 20:5; 27:5-6; Romans 12:15; 15:14; Galatians 6:1-2; Colossians 3:16; James 5:19-20; and others. As a process of personal ministry, it shares with secular counseling approaches basic concerns about relational dynamics, interviewing, listening skills, personal warmth and care, empathy, confidentiality, etc. But it does not share its limitations of clinical detachment, dual relationship avoidance, financial burdens, and other “professionalistic” trappings (even when biblical counseling is done by specially trained professionals). While biblical counseling is the task of pastors, it is also the domain of all of God’s people—wise parents, spouses, roommates, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in your church. Second, biblical counseling is biblical. Its truth source is God’s inerrant, inspired Word, and its focus is on that Bible’s main thrust, namely, Jesus Christ and his life-changing, redeeming work for us and in us. In that sense, biblical counseling is Christ-centered or Christ-driven. In true biblical counseling the Bible is more than a grid, filter, control, or standard (all passive images); the Bible actively drives both theory and practice. The concepts and methodology are not merely consistent with, controlled by, or “prooftexted” from the Bible; they emerge from the Bible itself as one interprets it accurately. We build our counseling on a biblical view of such key matters as.

  • The triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and his character, ways, commands, and promises
  • People and their problems, including their beliefs and motives as well as their behavior
  • How people change, and God’s provisions for such change in the Gospel
  • The centrality of the church and God’s equipped leaders and members in the change process

At least four convictions underlie the practice of biblical counseling: 1) We present the Lord Jesus Christ as the crucified, risen Savior who, through his Word and his Spirit, can help us handle our personal and relational problems. Jesus alone provides the forgiving mercy (through his saving death and resurrection), the practical wisdom (in the Bible), and the enabling power (through his Spirit) we need to know and please God in our daily living. Biblical counseling is eminently Christ-centered and Christ-driven, exalting the Christ of the Bible. 2) We use the Bible as our God-given tool to diagnose, explain, and solve our problems. As God's Word, the Bible alone provides true, thorough, authoritative, and sufficient wisdom and direction for every life situation we face, and it is richly superior to all human wisdom and the competing counsel of secular and Christian integrationist psychologies. 3) We reflect the love, concern, and compassion of Jesus our Shepherd and Counselor. Biblical counseling is a caring process of Christlike love for struggling sheep. Qualities like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience mark our ministry of God’s Word. 4) We address both the inward and outward aspects of our problems to bring thorough and lasting godly change. Biblical counseling is not shallow, superficial, or simplistic. Scripture alone uncovers and solves our heart (beliefs and motives) and behavior (words and actions) struggles.

In one sense, biblical counseling is simply the intentional, consistent, application of historic evangelical Christian truth—the Gospel—to the realm of personal ministry and human problems. In our day we are witnessing a growing literature of books, journals, and pamphlets that reflect the theory and practice of biblical counseling. A useful starter volume is Psychology & Christianity: Five Views (IVP, 2010), in which David Powlison presents the Biblical Counseling position in contrast to competing views. Powlison also edits the Journal of Biblical Counseling and has assembled two collections of his essays in Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture and Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community. On a popular level, books by Paul David Tripp, Edward Welch, and others show how the Bible speaks profoundly to the complexity of human problems. Institutionally, we see an increasing number of churches of all sizes biblically counseling their members and reaching their communities this way. We can look at biblical-counseling seminaries like mine, plus networking, training, and certifying organizations like the Biblical Counseling Coalition, the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors. Related organizations like Peacemaker Ministries use biblical counseling methods to assist and equip Christians and their churches to handle conflict biblically. It is an exciting day for those committed to biblical counseling. As other evangelical Christians come to see the bankruptcy of integrating the pure wisdom of God’s life-changing Word with human notions of secular psychologies, we are finding a new openness among God’s people to the power of Scripture to speak richly and robustly to our human struggle.

DBob_Jonesr. Robert Jones is an elder, adult teacher, internship instructor, and director of biblical counseling training at Open Door Church in Raleigh, NC. He serves vocationally as a biblical counseling professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC. He is a graduate of The King’s College (B.A.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.Div.), and Westminster Theological Seminary (D.Min., Pastoral Counseling). Additionally,  Bob is a certified Christian conciliator, adjunct instructor, and church reconciliation trainer/team leader with Peacemaker Ministries; a certified counselor with the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors; a visiting professor at Faith Bible Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He has written two books (Uprooting Anger and Pursuing Peace); six CCEF booklets and over a dozen articles and book chapters on counseling and pastoral ministry. Bob and Lauren, his wife of twenty-nine years, have two adult sons.