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(The following are from my course notes on Theology 1 in the MABC program at Masters University [sorry but the subpoint numbering was converted when I copied this over from the word doc]):


  1. Every Counseling System/Decision Derives from a Theological Commitment.


  1. “Engaging in counseling practice is a theological engagement. Evaluating and debating with various counseling practitioners, whether secular, Christian, or biblical, is a theological enterprise. You are simply not ready to think about counseling – let alone practice it – until you have thought long and hard about theology.”[1]


  1. “[C]ounseling practices, methods designed to facilitate change in beliefs, behaviors, feelings, attitudes, values, and the like. These ideas and practices inhabit an institutional and professional system where a practitioner first receives training and then delivers the goods: an undergraduate department and graduate school, a psychiatric hospital, a clinic, a private practice, a support group, a self-help book, a church.  A ‘psychology’—and there are many of them, creatures of time and place, of the aspirations of their creators, of the worldview of their sociocultural surround—is not an impersonal abstraction.  Psychologies are believed and taught by persons; psychotherapies are done by persons. A psychology proposes a system of truth and ministry, and it must be evaluated as such.  Psychologies are most like practical theology.” David Powlison; syllabus from “Theology and Secular Psychology;” 1995.


  1. Illustration: Consider a person presenting for a particular problem (say depression, unhappy marriage, fear) in different periods of history or different cultures.


  1. What would be the difference in the counseling received?


  1. What would be the reason for that difference?


  1. If this is true, then what are some of the implications for being a “counselor”? See appendix, Ethical Issues in the Psychiatric Treatment of the Religious ‘Fundamentalist’ Patient



  1. Every counseling decision is the practical application of a psychology.


  1. What is a “psychology”?


  1. Definition


  1. Everyone exercises psychology and everyone acts like a counselor – whether conscience of this decision or not.


  1. Biblical psychology.


  1. There is no Psychology: there are only psychologies.


  1. What are the bare minimums for a counseling psychology? (anthropology/telos/methodology)


  1. An anthropology: What is a human being?


  1. Is a human being a bare physical body?


  1. Does a human being have an immaterial spirit?


iii.        Do human actions have moral consequence?


  1. Are those moral consequences relevant to a deity?


  1. Are those moral consequences simply practical/sociological?


  1. A psychology will entail a “telos”: a goal or purpose.


  1. A psychology will entail some sort of methodology: the practical outworking of the what a human being is (anthropology) and what the goal of human life is (telos).


  1. The psychology chosen will be dependent upon a more comprehensive philosophy/theology (many systems will be reluctant to call their system a “theology”, that will be discussed below).


  1. A “true” anthropology is not immediately and universally apparent nor agreed.


  1. A human being is a complex fact.


  1. Even seeming simply things like the what the sun “means” have been difficult for human beings (e.g., Socrates).


  1. Being human beings makes the question difficult for us.


iii.        Human beings are relational/historical/moral/physical & spiritual beings.


  1. Historical/cultural: What are the different ways human life has been considered in various cultures (whether contemporary or historical)?


  1. Hindu/Buddhist?


  1. Enlightenment?


iii.        Stoic?


  1. Gnostic?


  1. Biblical?


  1. The “meaning” of human beings is based upon other considerations.


  1. What do human beings “mean” if the universe is self-existent and human beings are a cosmic accident?  (How do atheists avoid entailments of “accident”? http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/a-cosmic-accident/)


  1. What if human beings are created by a tri-personal God?


  1. What if human beings are the result of Vishnu dreaming? http://www.hinduwisdom.info/articles_hinduism/12.htm


  1. Et cetera.


  1. What a human being depends upon what a human being is before God.


  1. See appendix, Elemental Religion, James Denney


  1. John Calvin, in the opening to the Institutes of the Christian Religion, explains:


Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, bwhich one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. eIn the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” [Acts 17:28]. For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself. Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God. The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward. Thus, not only will we, in fasting and hungering, seek thence what we lack; but, in being aroused by fear, we shall learn humility.For, as a veritable world of miseries is to be found in mankind, and we are thereby despoiled of divine raiment, our shameful nakedness exposes a teeming horde of infamies. Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.


  1. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self


Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy—this pride is innate in all of us—unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured. For, because all of us are inclined by nature to hypocrisy, a kind of empty image of righteousness in place of righteousness itself abundantly satisfies us. And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure—so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption. Just so, an eye to which nothing is shown but black objects judges something dirty white or even rather darkly mottled to be whiteness itself. Indeed, we can discern still more clearly from the bodily senses how much we are deluded in estimating the powers of the soul. For if in broad daylight we either look down upon the ground or survey whatever meets our view round about, we seem to ourselves endowed with the strongest and keenest sight; yet when we look up to the sun and gaze straight at it, that power of sight which was particularly strong on earth is at once blunted and confused by a great brilliance, and thus we are compelled to admit that our keenness in looking upon things earthly is sheer dullness when it comes to the sun. So it happens in estimating our spiritual goods. As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.[2]


Biblical Counseling is a psychology which takes seriously our position as human beings, created in the image of God. It takes seriously our position before God, as creatures coming after the Fall but also after the Cross and in anticipation of Christ’s return.


We do not deny that other Christians practicing various sorts of psychologies do not know or belief these things; however, these fundamental beliefs are not necessarily at the core of what they do when they do “psychology” of whatever sort. Biblical Counselors can take into consideration work which is done by Christians and non-Christians in the areas of psycholgy, physiology, sociology, et cetera. We, however, take the theological as foundational.



  1. A telos cannot be determined/answered without knowing what a human being is or means.


  1. E.g., an automobile: If I do not know what driving is (the purpose for which an automobile was created), then I cannot understand an automobile when I come upon it. I may think it is a very poor shelter: thus, the steering wheel is a “mistake”.


  1. The telos is a goal of a system, and the telos cannot be known (or aimed at) without knowledge of the larger system.


  1. Accordingly, the methodology for counseling will depend upon:


  1. An anthropology: you cannot know how to change a human being is unless you know what a human being is.


  1. If a human being is a “mere” body, then change entails solely a change in the body.


  1. If a human being entails a spiritual element, then change in the human being entails a spiritual change.


iii.        If a human being is determined, then change is not possible.


  1. A telos: you cannot know what change is needed unless you understand what the telos of a human being is. (Brief examples)


  1. Epicureanism


  1. Stoicism


iii.        Gnosticism


  1. Christianity


  1. Materialism: Note that materialism does not provide a telos. When someone speaks of “science” as providing “answers” for questions of ethics (e.g., abortion) or any telos, they are talking nonsense. Materialism (what Schaeffer calls “modern-modern science”) is a methodology for examining the world a partial theology, but it cannot provide any telos.


  1. Since we are on this side of the Fall, no amount of observation will ever be sufficient to tell us what we need to aim at when it comes to normality. It would be like to trying to figure out how to fix a car solely by looking at a junkyard and assuming that the rusting heaps are the goal of car maintenance.


By means of the Scripture, we have a model for what is true humanity. As Barrs explains, “The law is a definition of true humanness” (Delighting, 97):


Because law is a definition of true humanness, there are many biblical texts that remind us that God’s law is good and is intended for our good, for the good life. Walking in the ways of the law will bring blessing, life, and freedom to us, for we will be living as God created us to live (101).


  1. “The one purpose of every sane human being is to be happy. No one can have any other motive than that. There is no such thing as unselfishness. We perform the most “generous” and “self-sacrificing” acts because we should be unhappy if we did not. We move on lines of least reluctance. Whatever tends to increase the beggarly sum of human happiness is worth having; nothing else has any value.”

Ambrose Bierce,  “A Cynic Looks at Life.”


Happiness is the mark and centre which every man aims at. The next thing that is sought after being, is being happy; and surely, the nearer the soul comes to God, who is the fountain of life and peace, the nearer it approacheth to happiness; and who so near to God as the believer, who is mystically one with him? he must needs’be the happy man: and if you would survey his blessed estate, cast your eyes upon this text, which points to it, as the finger to the dial: ‘ For all things are yours.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23)
Thomas Watson, “The Christian’s Charter”


“It is not a thing contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity; but the very announcement of the gospel, as a system of ” peace on earth and good-will toward men” (Luke ii. 14), shows that it is not only not destructive of humanity, but in the highest degree promotive of its spirit. That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is; and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The sainfcs love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them, would be no happiness to them; for that which any one does not love, he cannot enjoy any happiness in.”


“The Spirit of Charity Opposite of a Selfish Spirit” by Jonathan Edwards in Charity and Its Fruits




  1. The ultimate category in which a psychology rests is theology


  1. This is expressly the case in a system like Biblical Counseling which wears its theology on its sleeve.


  1. But even the extreme of materialistic atheism is a theology:


  1. Hegel (ref: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hegel/)


  1. The 19th Century concept of evolution whether in biology, cosmology, economics are Hegelian. (ref: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spencer/)


  1. “The right side of history”: ethics and sociology.


iii.        Admittedly there is a debate as to whether Hegel had an explicit spiritual monism. But that impulse


  1. The material universe possesses the attributes of God:


  1. The material universe is eternal.


  1. The material universe has generative powers.


iii.        The material universe can generate the personal.


  1. The evolution of the universe entails a telos.


  1. Pantheism[3].


  1. Panentheism[4].


  1. Pagan mythologies. Jeremiah 2:26-27


  1. Magic and science


  1. If the extreme of pure atheistic materialism is a theology, then is necessarily true of those systems between Biblical Counseling and atheism.


  1. Non-Biblical Counseling Systems


  1. What can be seen?


  1. What can be understood?


  1. Where is God (and does it matter)?


Non-biblical such systems ignore the God-ward side of the human heart, the systems cannot lead to a sufficient response to problems with appear. Psychology attempts to manipulate either the inputs (environmental) or the outputs (behavior).  While it is not impossible to change a person’s reactions to the world, or the way they react to that world it doesn’t ultimate address the problem of the human heart.


Consider for example a pair of prisoners wrongly accused, arrested, beaten and left in a dungeon. One would look to this circumstance as hopeless without altering the environment (gaining a release). However, a knowledge of God’s presence and God’s purpose can radically transform the prisoners’ heart and their response. Acts 16:25.


Our what of a person who has been grieveously abused and who has responded with depression, anger, self-destructive behavior. If we try to address the past, we need to minimize the event (it’s not really your fault – true — therefore you should not feel shame — which denies the reality of sin’s presence and damage).  Or, one may try to lessen outflow of the human heart by drugging the patient (to merely shut down the nervous system) or find “constructive responses” to the sorrow, hurt, loss.


Christ however, offers to bear sorrow (Matthew 11:28). To show sympathy (Hebrews 2:18-19). To give grace in weakness (Hebrews 4:14-16).  To sin against someone is to degree and shame them, to call them less than human. However, God can speak to one and declare them utterly unclean (Mark 1:40-41). God can adjudge one righteous and none-can deny it  (Romans 8:33). God makes one a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). God will also render perfect justice in response to all sin. Unless we are willing to deny all truth the Scripture, we must take these promises of God as meaningful and effacious.


































  1. Consequently


  1. Every counseling system entails a theology: a counseling decision is the practical outworking of a theological commitment.


  1. Not every counseling decision is the result of an explicit theological decision: One may choose a counseling practice or goal without realizing the basis (anthropology) or purpose (teleology) of that methodology.


  1. If we are not conscious of our counseling decisions, we will be syncretists without knowing it.


  1. Colossians: Do not touch.


  1. Examples


  1. Marriage


  1. Is the purpose of marriage personal happiness?


  1. Is the purpose of marriage to come to understand the metaphor so that we may better understand the original


  1. Suffering


  1. What does suffering mean?


  1. What does suffering do? (We will consider this at the end of the class).






  1. The ingredients of a belief system[5]
  • “Source of authority”
  • “Sin”
  • “Salvation”(solution)
  • “Sanctification”

[1] Heath Lambert, A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 32.


[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 35–38, fns. omitted.

[3] According to pantheism, God “is all in all.” God pervades all things, contains all things, subsumes all things, and is found within all things. Nothing exists apart from God, and all things are in some way identified with God. The world is God, and God is the world. But more precisely, in pantheism all is God, and God is all.

Pantheism has a long history in both the East and the West. From the Eastern mysticism of Hindu sages and seers to the rationalism of such Western philosophers as Parmenides, Benedict Spinoza, and G. W. F. Hegel, pantheism has always had advocates.


Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 580.



Panentheism is not to be confused with pantheism. Pantheism literally means all (“pan”) is God (“theism”), but panentheism means “all in God.” It is also called process theology (since it views God as a changing Being), bipolar theism (since it believes God has two poles), organicism (since it views all that actually is as a gigantic organism), and neoclassical theism (because it believes God is finite and temporal, in contrast to classical theism).


Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 576.


[5] This question of systems is discussed at length in the essay by Ernie Baker and Howard Eyrich in “Caution: Counseling Systems are Belief Systems” in Scripture and Counseling, ed. Bob Kelleman and Jeff Forrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 159, et seq.