James A. Smith Sr.
Director of Public Relations
Addressing a room of Southwestern students and faculty, Professor of Counseling John Babler noted that, because they are men and women called by God to minister to others, God will eventually bring to them people who are seeking their counsel. “When that person comes to you for counsel,” he continued, “you’re faced with two choices: you can either minister the living and active Word of God, or you can minister the dead thoughts and ideas of humans.”
Babler was one of a panel of speakers from Southwestern’s Terry School of Church and Family Ministries who spoke at Grindstone, Sept. 20, on the topic of biblical counseling. Joined by Waylan Owens, dean of the Terry School, and Dale Johnson, assistant professor of biblical counseling, Babler advocated biblical counseling as the methodology for helping people overcome their problems.
“Biblical counseling, as it’s taught here at Southwestern, is based upon a number of convictions, but one of the primary convictions is our belief that the Bible is sufficient for the counseling task,” Babler explained. “It’s not the Bible plus something else; the Bible is sufficient for the counseling task.”
“Not only is it sufficient,” he continued, “but it’s superior to anything the world has to offer. So the Bible is sufficient and superior to the world’s wisdom in regard to the counseling task. … So, much of what we do in biblical counseling is speaking the truth in love and calling people to walk and to obey the commandments that Jesus has taught [in Scripture].”
Noting that no issue falls outside the parameters of Scripture, Johnson brought up his aunt as an example. His aunt has stage 4 cancer, but Johnson clarified that this should not define her; rather, the church should view her like anyone else: as one who needs care.
“What she’s responsible for is not the cancer that’s befallen her and is racking her body,” Johnson explained. “What she’s responsible for is how she responds to this light, momentary affliction. So that never is outside the jurisdiction of the church, because all of that is encompassed under this thing that we call ‘soul care,’ which God has clearly placed under the authority of the church.”
In addition to providing an overview of what biblical counseling is, the panel also fielded questions from the audience. One such question related to the use of medication, such as antidepressants. Johnson, acknowledging that terms like “major depressive disorder” do not appear in Scripture, nevertheless pointed out that Scripture does contain the symptoms associated with this “disorder.”
“Things like Psalm 42,” Johnson explained, “when the psalmist is saying, ‘My soul, my soul, why are you in despair?’ He’s asking this question. Or in Psalm 6, when he’s describing his bed as being flooded with tears. We see those same types of things in the Scriptures.”
Johnson agreed that people exhibiting symptoms of depression should get a medical workup in order to rule out issues such as hypothyroidism, but beyond that, Scripture is sufficient to deal with the problem. “When we start to think about depression, we often act like depression is not normal to the human condition,” Johnson said. “[But] we live in a very broken world, and you’re going to experience grief and pain and struggle and ‘this is not the way it’s supposed to be’ moments.”
“It is our job [as biblical counselors] to begin to prod the soul; to look deeply within,” Johnson continued. “Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword for the division of joint and marrow, soul and spirit, and able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. There is nothing known to man, nothing on the planet, that is able to discern and see and expose man to the degree that Scripture is.”
Regarding how to train up members of the church as biblical counselors, the panel noted that Southwestern offers a certification program (see here). At the same time, however, Johnson cautioned ministers to remember that all believers are counselors, as soul care is the DNA of the church.
Owens concluded, “When you have an opportunity to counsel with people, whether you’re officially trained or not, you will still have confidence in the Word of God and in the work of the Holy Spirit, because just like in preaching, it is not about what [the preacher] says; it has to do with what the Holy Spirit does in the lives of the people who are sitting there in that room and hear him. … We should be amazed, because there’s nothing we can do for these people, but there’s everything that God can do for them.”