The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship
A Critical Review

by Martin Bobgan and Deidre Bobgan



    The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship (IBCD has a Core & Discipleship Certification (CDC) Program, which is “designed to help churches develop one another care in the life of the congregation.” One can be certified by IBCD, and “The CDC process also brings one along towards the ACBC [Association of Certified Biblical Counselors] Certification if further certification is desired.”[1]

We say categorically, and have demonstrated from our past writings, that for various reasons we recommend against becoming a certificated biblical counselor.[2] We have often explained that there are many reasons why we left the biblical counseling movement (BCM).[3] One of the key reasons is that those in the BCM, including the IBCD counselors, with one exception, are problem-centered, in that they often talk about problems in a manner similar to those in the psychological counseling movement. Biblical counseling as generally conducted by IBCD is nowhere found in Scripture.[4] In fact, according to David Powlison, a leader in the BCM, the use of biblical counseling as done in the BCM is newly arrived in the church.[5] As we often say, if the psychological counseling movement did not exist, the biblical counseling movement would not have followed in its footsteps in the problem centeredness in which it currently exists.

As we demonstrate from the IBCD OBSERVATION 12-DISC SET, they are, with one exception, equally guilty of the misuse of Scripture as are other certificate offering entities in the BCM. The IBCD training discs consist of 12 counseling sessions with three individuals play acting as counselors with four different counseling cases. The three counselors are Jim Newheiser, IBCD Executive Director/Counselor and pastor of Grace Bible Church in Escondido, California; Caroline Newheiser, counselor; and Tom Maxham, Counselor and pastor of Grace Bible Church.

We assume that these three counselors are used in the video series because they would be the very best and ablest to show prospective certificate students how biblical counseling can best be conducted. We also assume that, since the four counseling cases are the totality of what IBCD offers, they will set the gold standard and are the ne plus ultra of what IBCD expects those trained by them to follow.

A statement preceding each of the counseling sessions reveals that these “observation sessions are fictional but based on real life [sic] scenarios.” In other words, they are imaginative reconstructions “based on real life [sic] scenarios.” The four cases are clearly not scripted. However, when we called the IBCD office we were told that the four counselors and their “counselees” were “play acting and one of them [Dan] is a professional actor.”[6] These are obviously contrived cases with predictable success, or why else would they be offered? Since some of the acting is quite convincing, the viewer might even forget that these are simply artful presentations that lack the literal live dialog of real live cases and thereby erroneously conclude that real cases look like what is seen in these contrived presentations. As we often say, anything less than a literal live case with literal live dialog is less than the literal live truth.

Be mindful, if watching the four cases, of the obvious pinned-on microphones and the fact that each DVD has likely been put together over many hours to create a smooth-looking final result. As often occurs with biblical counselors, these scenes include a combination of excellent Bible teaching eclipsed by unbiblical counseling, with one exception.

The Care & Discipleship Resource Handbook[7] from the IBCD Observation 12-Disc Set provides a “Personal Data Inventory” (PDI) form, which is completed on each counselee. The PDI requires answers to “Background Information,” “Health Information,” “Religious Background,” “Marriage and Family Information,” and “Personality Information.” Prior to the creation and use of the PDI, Christians did minister to one another, and they were in no way hampered or restricted by the non-use of the PDI. Actually using the PDI would more likely subtract from, rather than add to, the counseling process, because it will often provide distractions from the real need and it is totally unnecessary.

The PDI and other such inventories are considered to be valuable by problem-centered counselors, but they can be a detriment when ministering biblically. Also, using the PDI is entirely unnecessary as thousands of individuals who call themselves biblical counselors and others who minister biblically have never used one and could contrive equally successful cases as the ones acted out by IBCD.

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands

Required reading for IBCD certification includes a book by Paul David Tripp, which they strongly promote. Paul David Tripp is a very popular speaker and writer, particularly among those who are interested in what is called “biblical counseling” and “discipleship.” Although he may sound biblical, much of what he is teaching, promoting, and popularizing is the problem-centered, idols-of-the-heart counseling methodology, which has been recycled from psychological insight-oriented counseling methodology and integrated with the Bible by the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). While David Powlison appears to be the godfather of this latter day mania, Tripp’s writings are an excellent example of idols-of-the-heart counseling recycled from insight-oriented psychotherapy. The way he connects the heart with the motives and endeavors to cause the person to gain insight into his own heart is very similar to a psychoanalytic therapist’s attempt to expose the hidden regions of the unconscious with its so-called unconscious determinants of behavior. Psychoanalytic methods of insight and interpretation lead to much subjective guessing as the therapist analyzes what the counselee reveals about herself. Nevertheless, insight-oriented therapists and idols-of-the-heart counselors truly believe that, as they listen to what the person says, they will be able to know and reveal to their counselees their inner core and what drives them.

After studying biblical counseling at Westminster Theological Seminary, Tripp became a faculty member of CCEF and served as a lecturer in biblical counseling at Westminster. He was a pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and in 2006 he started Paul Tripp Ministries. From this base he is a much sought-out speaker on biblical counseling.[8] His articles and books reveal his problem-centered, idols-of-the-heart counseling approach.

Distorting Doctrines

Typical of CCEF books and articles, Paul Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands[9] includes some good teaching. Tripp emphasizes the heart, the inner man, and teaches some truth about the war between the flesh and the Spirit and about how human beings are in rebellion against their creator and end up serving and worshipping self. Therefore, one will find much to agree with. However, these truths make the book more dangerous, because of the way he engages the readers with truth, but is ever so subtly leading them into his problem-centered and thus self-centered, insight-oriented counseling methodology. Tripp gives the impression that mere humans can know another person’s heart if they are especially trained in the elitist idols-of-the-heart counseling methodology. Tripp’s book, written to help counselors see and expose deceitful hearts, is itself a masterpiece of deception as it weaves biblical teachings with recycled insight-oriented psychotherapy. Scripture is treated as if it must be aided by the counselor’s insight to be effective, as if it must be insight infused in addition to being God breathed.

Delving, Digging, and Evil Speaking

The process of getting to know another person and what idols are controlling the person’s life involves much digging, delving, and evil speaking about other people who may or not be present to defend themselves in this kangaroo court proceeding. Tripp reveals what kind of information he is looking for in his attempt to know another person’s heart in a section titled “Now For Some Good Questions.”[10] In the first item Tripp advises, “Always ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”[11] Following this he gives over 25 questions as examples. Here are several of his questions:

·         What things in your marriage make you sad?

·         How would you characterize your communication with your husband?

·         Describe how you as a couple resolve conflicts.

·         What do you see as the weaknesses of your marriage?

·         What could your spouse do to greatly change your marriage?

·         Pick one area of your marriage where you think you have problems. Describe what is wrong and what each of you has done to solve it.[12]

One has to wonder how these might differ from secular marriage counseling. They are problem-loaded and will roil up the troubled waters with the couple complaining, speaking ill of one another, and airing their dissatisfaction with the marriage and with one another with an attentive listener who is eager to know more about what’s wrong. With this type of problem-centered counseling, filled with the Jeremiah 17:9 syndrome, it is understandable that some counseling goes on for over a year and/or ends in divorce.

Counseling that relies on talking about problems and asking these kinds of questions will often lead counselees into violating Leviticus 19:16: “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.” The amount of talebearing in counseling is excessive. In fact, without such talebearing this kind of counseling would cease to exist, since it inevitably depends upon talebearing and speaking evil of others.

In his book, Tripp tells about Mike and Marsha who come to him for help. He says:

Mike began to tell the most confusing family story I had ever heard. They had both been married before and had blended two families, each with four older children. Marsha occasionally jumped in with details that only added to my confusion. I don’t think I took as many notes in my theology classes at seminary as I did that afternoon! Their story was full of plots and sub-plots. Their attempts to solve problems invariably made them worse. It seemed that their children had made all the wrong decisions as well. It was a mess![13] (Italics his.)

Such details provide for much evil speaking about other people. These problem-centered counselors thrive on hearing the “plots and sub-plots” and the messes in the lives of their counselees and therefore take many notes for future problem-centered counseling appointments.

Confessing the Sins of Others

The cases Tripp discusses are filled with information that he could only have gleaned through eliciting gossip, complaints about others, and evil speaking about parents, spouse, and others. He appears to be blind to the fact that much of what he seeks to hear from the counselee is filled with gossip, since he himself clearly speaks out against gossip when he says:

Gossip doesn’t lead a person to make humble confession before God or others. When I gossip, I confess the sin of another person to someone who is not involved. Gossip doesn’t restrain sin, it encourages it. It doesn’t build someone’s character; it destroys his reputation. Gossip doesn’t lead a person to humble insight; it produces anger and defensiveness.[14] (Bold added.)

We certainly agree with much of what he says here about gossip! However, he obviously allows such gossiping during counseling. Evidently, because he is in the role of counselor, he must see himself as someone who is involved, rather than “someone who is not involved.” This short phrase seemingly makes the counselor privy to all kinds of confessions of the sins of others without calling it “gossip.” Through the questions he asks and by the information he has gleaned during hours of counseling with individuals, he depends on lots of what would ordinarily be called “gossip” (talebearing) and evil speaking about others in his quest to know the hearts of his counselees. In his attempt to identify a person’s so-called motivating idols of the heart, Tripp elicits self-disclosure, but what he is looking for will generally be contaminated with much talebearing and evil speaking about others. Here are some of his scenarios that include information he got from his counselees as they “confess the sin of another person” to him in his special role of “counselor.”

In the following case, Tripp has figured out that Joe craves respect from others.

Joe was the kind of guy who lived for the respect of other people. The way he sought to get it at home was by establishing a violent autocracy (though what he got was more fear than respect). Outside the home Joe was known as a real servant, a guy who would give you the shirt off his back. People at Joe and Sarah’s church found it hard to believe that he could be capable of the things Sarah said he was doing with her and the children.[15]

Here is an example of a kangaroo court and judging another person’s heart. Generally in such situations there is some truth and some exaggeration. Tripp does not give enough information to support his assumption that Joe craved respect, and, even if he had lots of information that may seem to lead in that direction, Tripp is still guessing. Only God knows! While sin comes from within, it is also stimulated by different environments. Joe may have received cooperation in the church environment and resistance at home. Nevertheless, in any situation such as this, one does not need to listen to evil speaking about a spouse in order to help a couple move into the direction of a godly marriage. More on this later.

Tripp uses the next case for “organizing data biblically.”[16] He says:

Imagine that Greta, a woman from church, asks to talk to you. She is concerned about her husband John, who has an increasingly short fuse. He yells at her and the children at the drop of a hat. He is critical and demanding. He is spending more time at work, and most of his home time is spent on the computers. When she asks John what is wrong, he says that life stinks. Greta says that John’s dad was a negative guy who thought that people were out to get him. John was not like that when she married him, but Greta is afraid he is turning into his father. When Greta asks John how she can help him, all he says is, “Just give me a little space so I can breathe.”[17]

There is no acknowledgment that Greta’s complaining about her husband is dishonoring to her husband and to her father-in-law, or that this is a kangaroo court proceeding, or that this is biased gossip, even if there is some truth in what she said. However, this is a case ripe for digging and delving. Therefore, Tripp uses it to show how to organize data, as if he is dealing with factual information rather than a one-sided, distorted, exaggerated, and/or incendiary description. Interestingly in this illustration the questions all have to do with the husband who is not there. The question “What is going on?” is where Tripp puts “the information that describes the person’s world (his circumstances), both past and present.” Here is where he records information about John from what Greta has said about him, “raised by a negative, cynical father.” The next question having to do with the person’s response again has to do with the person that is being talked about behind his back rather than with the one who is seeking help. The question, “What does the person think about what is going on?” draws the answer: “All we know about John so far in this category is that his wife reports that he says, ‘Life stinks.’” Now for the “motives”: “This includes what you know about the person’s desires, goals, treasures, motives, values, and idols.” Tripp admits that so far he does not know what John “means by ‘a little space’ or why he wants it.”[18] However, if the couple is enticed into this kind of counseling, John will have plenty of opportunities to provide more data, which will likely contain much evil speaking about his wife, parents, children, and people at work. Tripp is the expert here. He is the evaluator and the judge. What a place for the temptation for pride to come in without anyone noticing.

In one of Tripp’s possible scenarios, “Dan comes to you concerned that Jim is doing things that are unbecoming of a Christian.” After Dan reveals personal information about Jim, we find that “Dan has also been hurt that Jim has violated his confidence when he has shared personal things.”[19] What is the difference between Dan sharing personal things about Jim and Jim having shared personal things about Dan to the counselor? The difference must be that a “counselor” is the recipient of the sharing of “personal things” about another person, rather than just any old person. Counseling truly opens the door to all kinds of confidences being violated, as well as gossip and other forms of sinful communication.

Deceptive Dependence on Counselee’s Self-Disclosure

Tripp insists that personal things, including private information about others (which may or may not be accurate), must be disclosed. He says: “We learn to ask questions that cannot be answered without self-disclosure.”[20] He supposes that through the counselees’ self-disclosure he will be able to know them better than they know themselves—as if he will know them inside and out. While he will not know them better than they know themselves, knowing private information about other people puts him in a power position. Furthermore, people will trust what he says because of his claim to be able to recognize aspects of their inner person. While Tripp becomes dependent on their self-disclosure, his counselees become dependent on him.

Tripp claims to “filter everything we learn about people through the grid of Scripture,” because the goal is “not only to know others biblically, but to help them know themselves in the same way.”[21] As demonstrated here and in our newsletter, Tripp does not filter everything he learns about people through the grid of Scripture.[22] Can one individual truly know another individual biblically by supposing that he can know the contents of another person’s heart? This is utter self-deception. Moreover, this is God’s territory! Humans can only guess, surmise, and draw subjective conclusions.

One gets the strong impression from Tripp’s writings that believers who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit cannot know themselves without an expert such as Tripp to reveal their inner hearts to them. One also gets the impression that if believers are to minister to each other they must know Tripp’s special methods of gaining insight by eliciting a great deal of sinful communication (thereby leading fellow believers into sin) so that the one believer can supposedly know what idols of the heart might be ruling another believer. Needless to say, one who follows the idols-of-the-heart counseling methodology will be deceived into thinking that he can know what only the Holy Spirit knows. This is a dizzying height for humans to think they can know the hearts of others when they don’t even know how deceptive their own hearts are in the very process. This is fertile ground for Jeremiah 17:9 to be operating and a disaster of a book for IBCD to be requiring others to read and follow!

Unbiblical Errors in Three IBCD Cases

There are several major unbiblical errors in three of the four cases, which we will expose. The first is speaking unbiblically about a spouse who is not present as in the case of “Jesse” and a spouse who is present as in the case of “Dan & Debbie”; the second is the unnecessary exploration into early life relationships as with “Richard” and his father; and finally, discussing the marriage bed relationship, as in the cases of “Jesse” in the absence of his wife and “Dan” in the presence of his wife, “Debbie,” which is most egregiously unbiblical and most reflective of the psychologizing of the faith.

“Jesse”

The first case is that of Jesse with Jim Newheiser as the counselor. Though there is much good solid biblical teaching by Jim, his teaching is eclipsed by his unbiblical excursions into Jesse’s personal life and private relationships. We will give a brief glimpse of why others should not emulate this aspect of his counseling.

When Jim asks why Jesse came to him, Jesse begins by saying that his biggest problem is at work and confesses that his wife caused him to come. The conversation then biblically deteriorates into Jim probing into private relationship areas and Jesse responding to him. Jesse confesses, “No matter how much I do, it’s not enough.” Jim asks, “Not enough for who [sic]?” Jesse complains about his wife and Jim probes for details. Jim asks about any crisis or arguments that caused Jesse’s wife to urge him to come. Jim also explores arguments between Jesse and his wife.

Referring to his wife, Jesse says, “It’s been years since she’s been happy—or we’ve had fun.” Jesse says, “Life has sort of slipped into this routine….” Jim interrupts and offers, “You kind of feel like you’re a hamster on a wheel.” Jesse responds, “Yeah, yeah, you know.” Jesse confesses that he and his wife “fight about stuff.” Jim explores the details of Jesse and Sarah’s arguments, sympathizes with Jesse, and states, “If your wife was just happy to be married to you and appreciative of you, that would make such a difference.” Jesse responds, “Yeah, right.” Jesse describes a plate incident and says, “I get read the riot act because I didn’t rinse a plate.”

Throughout the three counseling sessions with Jesse, Jim asks, probes, seeks, and even leads Jesse into revealing as much as possible about himself, his wife, and their personal relationships. Jesse is sinning against Sarah in her absence by exposing what he regards as her sinful behavior to a third party. In addition to failing to show love to Sarah in her absence, Jesse says hurtful things about her and singles her out as the major reason for his own unhappiness.

We know that those in the psychological counseling movement function as Jim does, but what does the Bible say about how we are to speak in conversation, particularly in reference to others? One might begin with Matthew 12:36–37; 1 Corinthians 13:4–7; and Ephesians 4:29, 31; 5:33.

Jim asks obliquely about Jesse and his wife’s sex life. Jesse confirms that they “come together” sexually “twice a month.” Jim asks, “Is that something you’re both pleased with?” Jesse responds, “I don’t think she cares.” “It’s always like a chore I think for her and that’s frustrating.” Jim affirms, “You don’t want to feel like you’re a bother?” Jesse responds, “I don’t want to be with someone who is like doing it begrudgingly.”

This excursion into the privacy of Jesse and Sarah’s sexual intimacy is unholy at least and unbiblical at worst. The marriage bed is holy and for Jim to pry and for Jesse to expose his wife in the way he does is seriously sinful, but Jim is the one who, in his authoritative role as counselor, has precipitated and therefore encouraged Jesse’s unfaithful and unmerciful responses. In addition to the prior verses regarding conversation, Ephesians 5:2529 says:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.

There is a final session with both Jesse and Sarah, his wife. Jim first says to Sarah, “Just wanted to explain to you what’s going on.” Jim then asks, “Has he [Jesse] been sharing with you what we have been talking about? Sarah nods a “yes” answer. This appears to be an incredible question and response that lack credibility! Is anyone naïve enough to believe that Jesse has revealed to Sarah all the unbiblical bad-mouthing he poured into Jim’s receptive ears? Add to this that Jim has been this couple’s pastor for three years. Review all the critical and caustic statements made by Jesse about Sarah during counseling and think about the possibility that he would reveal his outrageous talk about her behind her back when he got home.

Jim then goes on to explain some details of the two prior sessions with Jesse. Jim says, “Application here would be I’ve heard kind of about him from him—Jesse from Jesse—but someone else—the person who is closest to him—has a different perspective. I’m not saying it is contradictory, but sometimes we don’t even know ourselves as well as we think we do.” Jim’s summary of his prior counseling of Jesse omitted Jesse’s criticism of Sarah and even his revealing to Jim, when asked obliquely how often they had been “coming together,” their twice-a-month sexual intimacy. In all candor, Proverbs 18:17 would require that all of Jesse’s allegations about Sarah be brought out into the open so she can respond to them. That would be the biblical obligation that Jim would have, but failed to do.

In spite of so much focus having been on Sarah’s faults during the first two sessions, Jim says to Sarah, “I want to assure you that when I am counseling a man by himself, my only purpose is not to tell him what his wife did wrong but to focus on him.” While Jim did not tell Jesse what Sarah did wrong, he permitted and even encouraged Jesse to talk about Sarah’s wrongs through his questions and sympathetic response, a grossly unbiblical thing to do.

“Richard”

Tom Maxham counsels Richard, who attends Grace Bible Church where Tom is a pastor. In the first session Richard explains that his wife had encouraged him to come and says that thinking about the past causes him to feel down. He describes a former church he had been in for twenty years where the “doctrine wasn’t good” and which emphasized a “works righteousness.” After discussing with Tom a number of concerns, Richard reveals that it is hard for him to believe the extent of God’s love towards him. At this point Richard briefly describes his early life with his dad, who left the family when Richard was about eleven years old, after which his mother divorced his dad. Richard says, “I don’t think my dad ever told me he loved me until I was older.”

Richard wonders if that may be his view of God, though he quickly adds, “I know that God‘s not like that. He’s not like my dad.” Richard says, “I don’t think about my dad much,” but then says, “I guess it still influences me.” He quickly adds, “We reconciled before he died. I gave him the Gospel and he prayed with me.” Thus, there was a good ending of Richard’s relationship with his dad. Richard concludes, “He just didn’t know how to be a dad.”

Two things to note here: First, Tom did not bring up the subject about Richard’s dad in the first session and did not probe beyond what Richard said about his early life relationship with his dad. However, in the second session Tom re-introduces the subject by saying, “Let’s talk about your dad. Tell me that story.” Richard then spells out the details about the early years with his dad, the rest of the family, and particularly his own thoughts about his dad.

Tom says, “I remember you mentioning—I think it was last time—the one church you were involved with. You kind of looked at the guy, the pastor as the father.”

Richard responds, “Yes. He was probably 14 or 15 years older than me and was great with his wife, with his kids—just seemed like the perfect dad.”

Tom suggests, “Do you see a tie? You were deserted and mistreated and then you have someone who will affirm you and treat you right.”

Richard responds, “Yeah, I see that, but that went way overboard to where I would have probably done anything for that man. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know why.”

As he draws on the white board, Tom says, “Looking for affirmation, approval especially of a male,” and then speaks about “the lie,” which he describes as Richard’s belief that “the greatest need I have is for a man, a father figure to affirm me and approve me.”

Before responding to this scenario, we need to say that Tom ministered well in sessions 1 and 3, but his excellent teaching and ministering in sessions 1 and 3 are undone in session 2. Though Richard in session 1 says, “I know the past is not supposed to have that much to do with what I’m doing now. I’m responsible for what I do,” and reports “a good ending” with his dad, Tom re-introducing the past and Richard’s paternal relationship was a grave mistake, for it opened the door to Richard unnecessarily and unbiblically dishonoring his father by exposing his father’s sins to another person.

Equally unbiblical is Tom’s belief communicated to Richard that there was a connection between Richard’s alleged need for “a father figure to affirm me and approve me” and the absence of that from his own father. That is pure speculation—a page out of a psychology book and not the Bible! All of our hearts are condemned by Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Answer: “Only God!” Only God would know for sure if such a relationship existed in Richard’s mind. Richard seemed ambivalent about his lack of a love relationship with his father, but admitted his extreme attraction to the pastor of his former church. Tom unnecessarily confirms a connection between the two and Richard’s current state of mind. Even if Richard had had a good father who had affirmed and loved him, he could still have been sinning by looking for love and acceptance from another earthly father figure or anywhere else as anyone may do.

Tom did minister wonderfully well for the balance of the session, even though he based his teaching on the straw man that he had erected and which was agreed to by Richard. However, the end does not justify the means.

Dishonoring Father and Mother

When looking for the source of problems in a person’s upbringing, problem-centered counseling often leads a person to violate God’s commandment to: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exod. 20:12). Even if a person has had problems related to a father as Richard reveals, the principle to honor father and mother, repeated in Ephesians 6:2, is to be followed. This would mean not dishonoring, in Richard’s case, a father to a “third party,” especially when the father is not present to respond (Proverbs 18:17). Contrary to Scripture, Richard is permitted and sometimes prompted and primed by Tom to talk about his past and present problems perceived to be related to his father (Exodus 20:12). Richard carries on unrestrained by Tom. Counseling that opens the door to a person bad-mouthing parents leads to violating the Scriptural admonition to honor parents. Such counseling also distorts a person’s relationship with parents, because as negative things are discussed the positive things fade away. The best Richard could have done is not to speak badly about his father, and the best Tom could have done is not to pursue or encourage such unbiblical talk.

Christ-centered helpers do not need to talk about a fellow believer’s father as Tom did, but encourage the direction away from parental blame and towards a focus on growing spiritually in the likeness of Christ Jesus, the Word of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit. After all, every true believer has been born again and has a new Father, a new life, a new family, and an indwelling Holy Spirit.

Blaming the Past

Exploring the past is one of the major themes of Freudian and other insight-oriented psychotherapies. By permitting and participating in such problem-centered counseling, Tom is clearly being unbiblical (Phil. 3:13, 14). As a result of the PDI, it is revealed that Jim also indulges in the same unbiblical error as Tom when reporting about Dan and Debbie. Jim says:

Dan’s father died when he was young and he was raised by a strict mom. Debbie grew up with non-Christian parents and had lots of freedom. Dan does not like being counseled and has some years of anger “bottled up.” Debbie believes that she is doing the right thing.[23]

 For years the biblical counseling way of dealing with problems of living has been to talk about the problems, feelings, circumstances, and the sins of others, including family members. Because many counseling theories consider one’s childhood to be the source of later problems, much time may be devoted to looking for ways that parents and other adults failed to give the child exactly what the counselee or counselor thinks the child needed at the time.

There is no biblical basis for such use of the past (as determinants of present behavior). The Bible includes the past works of God in history, because we are to remember the works of God both individually and corporately. But, regarding the Christian walk, the cross took care of the past. The walk of the believer is to be according to the new life and is therefore present and future oriented. In Philippians 3 Paul gives his religious and personal background, on which he had depended for righteousness before God. But when confronted by Jesus he saw his own wretched sinfulness, not only that he had persecuted the church, but that he was sinful to the core. He knew he could not make himself righteous by going back into his past. Therefore he declared: “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). This does not mean an inability to recall the past; it means that the past now has a different significance. Biblically speaking, attempting to fix the past is purely a fleshly activity that wars against the Spirit.

A person need not be trapped in negative patterns of behavior established in the early years of life, for the Bible offers a new way of life. Put off the old man; put on the new. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7), and He said elsewhere that new wine could not be put into old wineskins (Matt. 9:17). Jesus offers new life and new beginnings. One who is born again has the spiritual capacity to overcome old ways and develop new ones through the action of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit, and the sanctification of the believer. One wonders why so many have given up the hope of Christianity for the hopelessness of past determinism.

Turning to the past to find reasons for present problems, as Tom did and as often happens in problem-centered counseling, places blame on others and on circumstances rather than on one’s own responsibilities and possibilities. Because of the nature of memory, remembering the past cannot be done without enhancing, embellishing, omitting, or creating details to fill in the blanks. Therefore, this is a faulty method of help because of the brain’s limited ability to remember accurately and its tendency to distort.

Christ dealt with every believer’s past at the cross when he died for their sins. When believers identify with Christ’s death and resurrection they are free from the past of the flesh as well as the power of the flesh. They have a new life in Christ and are to live according to that new life. Attempts to heal the hurts of the past are futile because one is not to heal that which is to be counted dead and buried. Such sinful attempts give power to the flesh and will result in fleshly living in place of walking according to the Spirit. Christ-centered ministry will encourage and help a seeker to leave the past at the foot of the cross and to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

This past and parental blame for one’s current state of mind is now even being questioned among some psychotherapists. An article in a professional psychotherapy journal states:

Perhaps the most enduring but unsubstantiated theoretical belief among therapists is the timeworn notion that difficulties in adulthood stem from childhood misfortunes. Almost all therapy approaches, from psychoanalysis and Imago therapy to the emotion-focused and sensorimotor methods, embrace some version of this dogma. Given its venerable pedigree, this belief in the potency of childhood events is one of the most difficult to deconstruct. Nevertheless, as a general clinical hypothesis, it’s deeply flawed.

The simple truth is that a preponderance of the evidence mitigates [militates] against assigning any great importance to childhood experiences and memories—processed, unprocessed, or reprocessed. Martin Seligman, the former president of the American Psychological Association, puts it this way: “Childhood events—even childhood trauma—and childrearing appear to have only weak effects on adult life. Childhood, contrary to popular belief, does not seem, empirically, to be particularly formative. So, contrary to popular belief, we are not prisoners of our past.”[24]

The journal also states:

Most therapists like exploring feelings with their clients, delving into family history, helping them achieve emotional growth, going deep—and taking their time doing it. That’s why they got into therapy in the first place.[25]

Replace “therapists” and “therapy” with “counselors” and “counseling” and likewise it can be said of many of those in the BCM, including Tom’s counseling of Richard, which is the IBCD example that is presented as a practice to follow by those who expect to be certified by them.

Psychotherapy?

Tom’s voyage into Richard’s past, his relationship to his father, and his need for a “father figure to affirm” him is a Western cultural psychological phenomenon. It did not come out of the Bible. It is almost nonexistent in East Asian countries because East Asians have typically not been self-oriented. They have typically been we-oriented, while Westerners are typically me-centered. Also, the culture and tradition of East Asians has been to regard the family as sacred. Therefore one would not blame family or parents for one’s present life. One specialist writing on “psychotherapy in Japan” refers to the “family’s sacrosanct character” and the reluctance to blame “a parent or parent’s role in a patient’s neurosis or, especially, the ways in which a maternal figure may not be all-loving and good.” The article says, “A Japanese, instead of investigating his past, romanticizes it: Instead of analyzing his early childhood, he creates fictions about it.” The contrast to Western individualism is seen in the following: “Even for [Japanese] adults, expressions of individuality are often considered signs of selfish immaturity.”[26] Tom’s counseling regarding the influence of Richard’s father would be a cultural flop for Asians who have not been westernized.

 Dan & Debbie”

Jim and Caroline Newheiser are counseling Dan and Debbie in this enacted case. The acting on the part of Dan, a professional actor, is commendable, but the counseling primarily done by Jim is lamentable. To portray this as a successful counseling case to others sets a standard of practice that should not be followed, as it could easily lead to the husband not coming back or, even worse, to increased conflict and bitterness between Dan and Debbie and maybe a divorce.

Marriage counseling is big business in the world and in the church. As more and more people have been going to marriage counseling, more and more have become divorced, and this includes professing Christians, who may be divorcing at about the same rate as unbelievers.[27] With all the time and money and the great expectations that counseling will help married couples, it is disconcerting to learn that marriage counseling only helps about half of the time, which is similar to sham treatment. Why are the results so poor? The editor of Psychotherapy Networker, a journal for practicing psychotherapists, confesses that “most therapists who actually do marital therapy (about 80 percent of all clinicians) don’t really know what they’re doing.” He says:

Untrained in and unprepared for work that requires a highly skilled touch and nerves of steel, many therapists blunder ineffectually through sessions until they’re fired by their clients or, overwhelmed by a couple’s problems, they give up too soon in trying to save a marriage.[28]

But then he admits that skilled, experienced therapists are often unsuccessful as well. One psychotherapist reported in a professional journal article that:

Controlled outcome studies show that only about half of couples improve with treatment. And even among those who do make progress, a disheartening chunk, 30 to 50 percent, relapse within two years.[29]

The first serious error is to counsel such a couple together. The hostility and anger voiced by Dan to “third” parties will only, under normal versus contrived counseling circumstances, drive a deeper wedge into the relationship. For Dan to play the victim while exposing his wife personally is reprehensible and irresponsible. For Jim to permit such theatrics for others to follow is biblically erroneous.

The second more serious error is for Jim to follow Dan, who brought up the subject, into the marriage bed. Dan alleges that Debbie is obsessed with cleanliness in the house and that she has been withholding sex from him. Dan’s description of Debbie’s reluctance is not only critical but also mocking at times. Dan sarcastically says, “I’m not the one withholding sex from my wife,” meaning, of course, that she is the one depriving him. Dan then jabs deeper by saying, “I’m not withholding sex because the house isn’t clean.” As Jim pursues the sexual intimacy subject, he says, “In Matthew 7 Jesus says, after you get the log out of your eye, then you’re able to see clearly to take what’s in her eye out of her eye.” Dan replies, “So what’s my log? I don’t demand sex or I shouldn’t expect it?” Later Dan asks, “How does me wanting my wife to come upstairs—how is that wrong for me to expect that and how is it right for her to stay downstairs cleaning the house from cover to cover?” After Jim’s reading and discussing James 4, Dan asks, “It’s okay for me to desire to be in bed with my wife?” Then after a brief interchange, Dan says, “If her body is mine and she’s not providing it [sexual intimacy] because of some stupid ideas…that the house has to be….”

In the third counseling meeting the subject of sex comes up early. Dan reports, “She didn’t come upstairs to bed. If she forgave me, she would have come up right away.” Jim asks, “Did it finally happen?” meaning, did they finally have sexual intimacy. Dan confirms that it did “finally happen.” Dan expresses his desperate desire for sex by saying, “If it doesn’t happen I go nuts.” A few minutes later Dan laments, “I don’t think that a husband should beg a wife to go to bed.”

Our earlier criticisms of Jim’s biblical violations when counseling Jesse doubly apply here with Dan and Debbie, because of the extended time spent on this unnecessary sexual excursion and diversion. Such excursions into this sensitive and biblically sacred area of marriage by biblical counselors are not unusual. Jim is only doing what is standard for many counselors and probably what he teaches others to do.[30] As we say about such needless excursions: This reveals how deeply worldly this counseling is and the extent to which psychological problem-centered counseling has been emulated and embraced by biblical counselors. As much as prying for details is expected and practiced in biblical counseling, details about a couple’s sexual intimacy should not be shared with a third party or pursued by a biblical counselor. Nevertheless problem-centered counseling, such as practiced and encouraged by Jim, depends on such details, even in these intimate areas. There are ways to minister to couples without invading their bedrooms and physical intimacy through unnecessary and unhelpful sinful communication.

Jim’s excursion into the privacy of Dan and Debbie’s sexual intimacy is a reflection of psychological counseling rather than a biblical need. While the topic of sex is clearly dealt with in Scripture, Paul was no doubt answering general questions in 1 Corinthians 7 rather than having private sessions with couples during which they exposed one another! One does not need to hear the complaints or the details to teach about marriage. Biblical counselors would do well to skip the preliminaries (the digging and prying) and teach the doctrines and principles from Scripture, thereby trusting the Holy Spirit to do the convicting and the inner work for outer obedience.

Danielle

Although we are opposed to enacted biblical counseling cases, Caroline Newheiser did demonstrate how one could minister to another believer without succumbing to the usual borrowed-from the-world excursions into the past and problem-centeredness that seem to pervade much of what those in the BCM do. With every possible open door into exploring the past to find the origin of thoughts and behavior, as done by Tom, Caroline stayed in the present with the power of the Word of God and active reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide her as she ministered, trusting Him to do the major work in Danielle. Caroline did not explore possible reasons for Danielle turning to bulimic behavior aside from such questions as “Are you also eating because you’re sad?” Instead, she consistently turned to the Word and encouraged Danielle that Jesus would help her and that His truth would set her free. When Danielle questioned whether her husband, Chad, could love her if she’s “big,” Caroline did not ask what Chad might have said to give Danielle that impression, or how he treats her, or about their sexual intimacy, as done by Jim. Instead she suggested that Danielle ask Chad how he feels about her. Though trusting that Chad would be affirming to Danielle, Caroline taught the important lesson that what God thinks about us is far more important than what people think about us. When Danielle talked about what she feared other people thought about her, Caroline did not even venture into idols-of-the-heart, the biblicized BCM unconscious motivation routine, as promoted by Paul David Tripp in his IBCD required-reading book. Instead, she acknowledged Danielle’s concern and moved into how we can have wrong ideas about what other people are thinking about us.

Caroline recognized that Danielle needed a true understanding of the cross and her new identity in Christ. While Caroline asked some pointed questions during the second session to ascertain how deeply Danielle was involved in her eating-disgorging behavior, she was not following the usual BCM hunting and digging. While she expressed to Danielle that her suspicions of other people were sinful, Caroline did so with the gracious humility of one who is also at the foot of the cross, also in the process of being changed, rather than as one with all the answers. As she spoke of Jesus, Caroline would brighten up, thereby casting warm light in the midst of Danielle’s gloom. Caroline‘s love for Jesus penetrated the darkness even while her manner was very down to earth.

At the beginning Danielle was very resistant to the idea of wanting any outside help. She said she was there because Chad wanted her to go. Caroline responded by saying that she wanted to talk with Danielle because she cares for her and that Chad also cares for her. She explained that hard times can bring believers closer to Jesus and “that’s what a rich Christian life is, full of people who are close to the Lord and want to know Him” and to honor Him. She paused and then asked Danielle in an inviting manner, “Is that you r desire—to honor Him?” Then as Danielle talked about how other people see her, Caroline said, “That’s not how I see you. I see who you are inside” (i.e., a child of God). With tenderness and humility Caroline drew reluctant Danielle to various passages in Scripture, gently invited Danielle to read some of the passages aloud, and then expanded on them as pertaining to who God is, what He has done for Danielle, and how He is there to help her lead an abundant life. Rather than majoring on the gorging-purging, Caroline illustrated Romans 6 as a basis for describing a person before and after the cross.

Caroline majored on Christ and Danielle’s relationship to Him with nearly every item of discussion. She did not ignore the problem, but talked about how God thinks, thus encouraging Danielle to have a different viewpoint—that of how a woman can be beautiful on the inside. Caroline repeatedly drew Danielle to Christ with such words as “with God’s help,” “but God can work,” and “We can come to Him broken, weak, frail, and He will love us. That’s His promise.” Knowing the importance of bringing an awareness of Christ into every aspect of one’s life and behavior, Caroline asked Danielle to pray before eating anything. Caroline also asked some pointed questions about behaviors that sometimes accompany bulimia, but, as she mentions in her comments afterwards, she never used the word bulimia with Danielle because she did not want to give her a disease type of label, which was wise.

As one views the three other IBCD cases, one can find many good teachings that are valuable to bring up in counseling, but the good things are overshadowed by ideas, methods and techniques recycled from the world of psychotherapy. In contrast, Caroline did not succumb to any of those fatal errors in ministering to Danielle. Thus there is much to learn from Caroline’s example. The shadow and influence of psychological theories and therapies that hover over and creep into so much biblical counseling are absent. Instead, the light, life, and truth of Christ shine through unhindered. Rather than trying to fix the flesh by exploring the past and identifying idols of the heart and being problem-centered, Caroline ministered to the new person in Christ. Because Caroline did not look for reasons for Danielle’s thoughts and behavior outside herself, Danielle was not tempted to speak ill of others. Even when Danielle suspected what others were thinking, Caroline drew her away from critical thoughts of others into the truth of God. Much of what is seen in Caroline as she ministered to Danielle is not so much Caroline herself but the Holy Spirit working through an ordinary vessel who has been gifted to minister. While this was actually an enacted video performance, there was nevertheless a genuineness that came through in Caroline’s love for Christ and dependence on Him. Moreover,

Even though these counseling presentations are enactments, they are supposed to reflect ministering as it should be, i.e. one of compassion, which Caroline enacted well. This is a human quality that no certificate or degree program can do for a person. As we viewed the three counselors we saw Jim and Tom with all their background, training, and experience as stereotypical problem-centered biblical counselors practicing what they teach and preach, but Caroline came through as a person of passion and compassion, which can be developed, but cannot be taught!

Conclusion

Over the years we have heard and seen many biblical counseling cases acted out as in the IBCD Observations or described as in Counseling the Hard Cases.[31] We have continually complimented the excellent, at times, teachings that are presented, but, in spite of the fact that those in the BCM are often biblical in their teaching of Scripture, they are biblically undone by what they do in their counseling. In other words, their counseling betrays their intent to be biblical, as we have just revealed.

What we say may shock some and be a relief to others, but it is entirely unnecessary to take biblical counseling classes in order to be effectively used by God to minister godly counsel to one another along the way to Christian maturity. A disagreement we would have with the biblical counseling training program promoters, such as IBCD, is that they attempt to prepare individuals to be “biblical counselors,” such as Jim and Tom, when they should prepare individuals to do biblical ministry as part of the biblically ordained ministries found in Ephesians 4:11–16, Romans 12, and elsewhere in Scripture, such as exhibited by Caroline. One needs to “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Such study occurs in worship services, Bible studies, Sunday school classes, and at other times of reading and instruction in the Word, but it is often absent in the biblical counseling movement because of its problem-centeredness.

We repeat, the biblical counseling movement is a recent phenomenon in church history. The certificate/degree training programs are entirely unnecessary to minister effectively to individuals, couples, and families. These were not necessary before the latter-day invention of the biblical counseling movement and they are totally unnecessary now. The certificate/degree-oriented biblical counseling organizations act as intimidators and disablers of mature believers who would, with a little encouragement, minister to fellow believers in need. This smacks of an expert/dummy relationship. From our many years of experience, we know that there are numerous Christians who are mature in the faith who would be blessed to minister to others in the fellowship, but who do not because they feel blockbustered by one-up training organizations and educational institutions that promote training followed by more training.

As more and more biblical counseling organizations spring up and as more and more training in biblical counseling is recommended, there will be fewer and fewer mature believers ministering, because they will be more and more intimidated if they have not been trained. So the idea of more biblical counselors being available by getting more believers trained will actually result in fewer and fewer believers who are mature in the faith ministering to one another in the Body of Christ. The objective of biblical counseling training may be to have more individuals available for counseling, but they are discouraging far more people from ministry than they are training, and thus the problem is worsened by the training programs.

The idea of the need for training believers in counseling actually results in believers concluding that they are unable to minister unless they have been sufficiently trained (more and more courses and manuals), supervised, degreed, certificated, and instructed through manuals with contrived counseling cases and special methodologies. In a word, they are intimidated. By shutting down the biblical training programs with their accompanying intimidation, more and more mature believers will begin to minister if encouraged to do so.

We challenge these institutions that claim to put the Word first to test what we have said according to the very Word they claim to defend. We challenge them to biblically defend the literal detailed dialogues that occur in what is called biblical counseling. While we are opposed to Christians enrolling in any certificate or degree biblical counseling programs to learn such systems and methods of counseling, we do encourage those who wish to minister to others to increase their Bible knowledge, to attend Bible classes, or to enroll in a biblical studies degree program rather than a biblical counseling degree program.

There are numerous biblical counseling books in print and few that have detailed counseling conversations; thus, we recommend that one withhold judgment about a particular biblical counseling approach, such as IBCD, until one knows exactly what kinds of conversations go on in the counseling, whether sinful or godly. And note particularly how often or seldom sinful talk and behavior are called “sinful” in their conversations. If such information is not provided, then that should eliminate that approach from consideration. Based upon these many conversations that we have examined over many years, we find that the biblical counseling cases are highly problem-centered and therefore very unbiblical.

The principles and practices of biblical counseling certificate organizations weaken the position of the church, the role of pastors, the role of church leaders, and even the ability of lay people to minister to one another. We have, in our training and calling others to mutual care ministry, ignored certificates and degrees in biblical counseling and emphasized the importance of finding believers who (1) are knowledgeable in the Word, (2) are filled and gifted by the Holy Spirit to minister to others, (3) have shown through their behavior that they are growing in sanctification, (4) and have walked with the Lord and been dependent upon Him through their trials in life. Such knowledge, life, gifts, and callings become apparent as believers come to know one another in the Body of Christ in the local church. Increasing one’s knowledge of the Bible is essential, but biblical counseling, as preached by those in the certificate/degree organizations can be detrimental.

 

(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, November-December 2015, Vol. 23, No. 6)

[1] The Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship website: www.ibcd.org.

[2] Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1994; Christ-Centered Ministry versus Problem-Centered Counseling. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2004; Person to Person Ministry: Soul Care in the Body of Christ, Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers , 2009; Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011; PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter articles, www.pamweb.org.

[3] When referring to what those in the Biblical Counseling Movement do, we use their terms of counselor, counseling, and counselee.

[4] There is no such ministry office of Biblical  Counselor in the New Testament.

[5] David Powlison, "Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies)," www.ccef.org/cure-souls-and-modern-psychotherapies.

[6] Phone call to IBCD 7/17/2015.

[7] Jim Newheiser. Care & Discipleship Resource Handbook, Escondido, CA: IBCD, 2014.

[8] http://www.paultrippministries.org.

[9] Paul David Tripp. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002.

[10] Ibid., pp. 174ff.

[11] Ibid., p. 175.

[12] Ibid., pp. 175-176.

[13] Ibid., p. 183.

[14] Ibid., p. 206.

[15] Ibid., pp. 176-177.

[16] Ibid., pp. 188-189.

[17] Ibid., p. 188.

[18] Ibid., p. 189.

[19] Ibid., p. 222.

[20] Ibid., p. 273.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Carol Tharp, “Broken-Down House by Paul David Tripp Reviewed,” Parts One and Two, PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April, 2010, Vol. 18, No. 2; May-June, 2010, Vol. 18, No. 2, http://www.pamweb.org/articles.html.

[23] Jim Newheiser. Care & Discipleship Resource Handbook, Escondido, CA: IBCD, 2014, p. 109..

[24] Jay Efran and Rob Fauber, “Spitting in the Client’s Soup,”  Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 39, No. 2, p., 33.

[25] Mary Sykes Wylie. “CBT Path out of Depression,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 38, No. 6, p., 39.

[26] Sudhir Kakar, “Western Science, Eastern Minds,” The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 1, p. 114.

[27] “Born Again Adults Less Likely to Co-Habit, Just as Likely to Divorce,” Barna Research Online, August 6, 2001, www.barna.org.

[28] Richard Simon, “From the Editor,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 26, No. 6, p. 2.

[29] Brent Atkinson,” “Brain to Brain,” Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 26, No. 5, p. 40.

[30] Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, Chapter Three; “A Critical Review of The Master’s College & Seminary Biblical Counseling Program” PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 20, No. 4.

[31] Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert, eds. Counseling the Hard Cases. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2012.


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