When our study of the Bible stops permeating our lives, what has gone wrong? David Powlison, teacher of pastoral counseling for Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF), says it may be because we view the Bible as abstract doctrine. We could also be misapplying the events in Scripture. Bible Study Magazine recently spoke to the editor of The Journal of Biblical Counseling about studying the Bible for application and the need for interpersonal ministries to be informed by Scripture.
What is your framework for understanding how the Bible speaks to our life experiences?
The Scriptures themselves aren’t just normative truth about God, his promises, and his will. The Scriptures capture how God speaks into the lives of particular people with particular struggles as they face particular situations.
When we do straight Bible study or Bible exposition, we study the interplay of message, original audience, and original situation. But when we seek to bring what’s going on in the Bible into our personal lives, we sometimes fail to update the audience and situation, and so we fail to relevantly adapt the message. What situational pressures are you facing? Where are you struggling? In order to rivet Scripture to life, we need to understand both Scripture and life.
Scripture is a ministry book. It applied with immediate, firsthand relevance. It still applies here and now, but with an applied relevance.
How do you define your counseling as biblical?
When I think of biblical counseling, I think of Ephesians 4. We are instructed to speak the truth in love and grow up into Christ. We’re told to speak loving, constructive, relevant words that give grace to those who hear (4:15, 29). What goes into having a constructive conversation of consequence?
What do we really mean by the word “counseling”? Counseling addresses our personal, interpersonal and situational struggles. It brings to the table both what we do and what is done to us. And God is a wise counselor. In other words, counseling is about what Scripture is about—about how those things that go wrong are made right.
How should the Bible inform the way we counsel?
Wise counseling is not a theory, a system, or a program. It’s about a person—our redeemer. It’s understanding people’s problems and why our redeemer is immediately relevant and not just a religious add-on.
This calls for fundamental flexibility. So counseling ministry ought never to be boilerplate, pat answers, or a quick fix. First Thessalonians 5:14 communicates this vision for thoughtful flexibility: we’re called to admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and hold on to the weak.
What challenges do churches face in counseling ministry?
If a church has unbalanced skills—they’re good at casting vision, administration, and pulpit proclamation, but not very good at talking with people—that’s a problem. The ministry of Jesus is very conversational. He was always answering questions or starting conversations by asking questions. He created personal interaction. Churches often teach very little about how to wisely conduct conversational ministry. We often get our organizing principles and practices from Scripture. It’s not surprising that Christian people often don’t see that counseling needs to be as grounded in Scripture as all other aspects of ministry.