Inside and Back(us) Out
(Top Section)

For the Biblical Counseling Movement: Against the Bible? (Second Section)


In both the July 21 and August 4, 1995 issues of the Christian Observer Kevin Backus reviews our book Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible. Because of our busy schedule and lack of staff, we generally do not respond to criticisms about our work. However, Dr. Ralph Colas, Executive Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, requested that we respond. Therefore, in this issue of the PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter we respond to Backus’s July 21 review, and in a future issue we will respond to Backus’s August 4 review.

In his July 21 review, Backus asserts that there is a "qualitative difference between this current work [Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible] and others in their past." To what "qualitative difference" is Backus referring? He tells us: "In criticizing the Biblical Counseling movement their customary research is not apparent." And, how does Backus support his contention? He does this by indicating that in one of our books we present numerous footnotes related to our criticisms of Gary Collins, Larry Crabb, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier. He announces that, in contrast to those 904 footnotes in that earlier book, our current book "contains only 148 footnotes."

Backus’s argument from number of footnotes is specious. The intelligent reader will not buy it because it would condemn the very people Backus is trying to defend. For example, two Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation staff members, David Powlison and Ed Welch, have each written a chapter in a book titled Power Religion. Powlison’s Chapter 8 has 32 footnotes, whereas Welch’s Chapter 9 has only 16. According to the "Backus Footnote Standard" (BFS), Powlison’s chapter (to use Backus’s term) would be qualitatively superior to Welch’s. Or, to use a further example, Powlison has a chapter in another book titled Introduction to Biblical Counseling. That chapter has 30 footnotes. Therefore, according to the BFS, Powlison’s two chapters are qualitatively about the same and are both superior to Welch’s. One last example, using the BFS. Our earlier book to which Backus refers has 904 footnotes, but Jay Adams’ book Competent to Counsel has less than 300 footnotes. The "Backus Footnote Standard" to determine the "qualitative difference" in writing would make our book three times better. Sound ridiculous? Yes, but that is the very type of standard Backus has concocted to devalue the arguments, conclusions, and Scriptural evidence presented in Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible.

One advantage of using the BFS method of evaluating a book, however, is that one does not have to read through the entire book, follow the logic, consider the serious nature of the concerns, or discuss the issues. One simply has to count footnotes. That shouldn’t take long, especially if one can add rapidly.

Another problem with the BFS is—to reverse an old adage—to make Backus so earthly minded that he is of no heavenly good. Let us explain. While Backus occupied himself with counting footnotes, he missed all the Bible references in the book. Has Backus so little regard for Scripture that he disregarded our arguments from Scripture? If we had footnoted our Bible references he would have reached a far greater total for his BFS. Either Backus has more confidence in footnotes than in the Bible or he overlooked the references to God’s Word. Is Backus so footnote-minded that he is of no Scriptural good?

Backus goes on to accuse us falsely by saying that "the documentation Against . . . does present is often flawed by faulty assumptions" (ellipsis in original). While he says, "is often flawed," he gives only one example. He says:

One example relates to John Bettler. Martin refers to Bettler’s relationship to the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology [NASAP] and to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy [AAMFT]. He says, "We question the wisdom of anyone who is committed to Biblical Counseling, instead of psychological counseling being interested in belonging to those two organizations, meeting their requirements for membership or even attending their conferences?" Still, he leaves one with the impression that Bettler approves of their teaching. This is different from agreeing with it.

When Backus says that we leave "one with the impression that Bettler approves of their [NASAP and AAMFT] teaching," he is making a false accusation. We say it very clearly. Read again what Backus just quoted from us: "We question the wisdom of anyone who is committed to Biblical Counseling, instead of psychological counseling, being interested in belonging to those two organizations, meeting their requirements for membership or even attending their conferences" (p. 105). We definitely question Bettler’s wisdom in belonging to those two organizations as well as "meeting their requirements for membership or even attending their conferences." But we have never accused Bettler of being in total agreement with them.

Think about it. Both NASAP and AAMFT are quintessential psychological associations promoting psychological theories and therapies to the hilt! NASAP is known as "the home of the Adlerians." Also, NASAP is interested in "fulfilling human potential." Their goal is "to promote the growth and understanding of Adlerian psychology."

AAMFT requirements for clinical membership are extensive and cover four pages in their brochure. Why did Bettler fulfill the four pages of requirements for the clinical rather than associate membership? And, why oh why, has Bettler proudly listed his memberships in these two organizations in the CCEF catalog over the years? These are the kinds of questions Backus avoids confronting.

Backus reveals in this criticism that, instead of reading our entire book and then reviewing it, he evidently had read only parts of it. On the other hand, Backus demonstrated in his booklet titled More "Tossed Salad": A Critique of Dr. Larry Crabb’s Model of Counseling or Adler Revisited: Another "Need" Based Therapy that he had read and somewhat understood our critique of Crabb in Prophets of PsychoHeresy I, as well as Jim Owen’s critique titled "Inside and Back Out with Dr. Larry Crabb."

Either Backus did not read or did not comprehend Chapter Six of Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible, regarding the extent of Bettler’s clear use of Adlerian ideas. Check Chapter Six with any Adlerian therapist and see whether or not Bettler is—to use his word—recycling (integrating) Adlerian theory with the Bible. Anyone who has studied Adler will tell you he has. And, our documentation proves it! Our greatest disappointment with Backus’s review is that he apparently neglected to read the entire book or else simply ignored its contents .

For the Biblical Counseling Movement: Against the Bible?

In the last issue of the PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter we responded to Kevin Backus’s July 21 review of our book Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible. In this issue we respond to his August 4, 1995 review published in the Christian Observer.

The beginning of this review of Against Biblical Counseling: For the Bible is rather puzzling. Backus begins by saying:

The chapter of the Bobgan challenge to Reformed pastoral counseling entitled, "The Onerous Ones," suggests numerous flaws in Biblical counseling.

Without evidence or proof (talk about a need for footnotes), Backus says one of our chapters is a "challenge to Reformed pastoral counseling." We have been in the counseling movement and written about it for years. What exactly is "Reformed pastoral counseling"? Is it counseling done specifically by "Reformed" pastors? Is "Reformed pastoral counseling" a specific form of biblical counseling? Is "Reformed pastoral counseling" another name for nouthetic counseling? By "Reformed pastoral counseling" does he mean disguised integration practiced by Reformed pastors? Perhaps. He makes a connection between "Reformed pastoral counseling" and our chapter "The Onerous Ones."

But, probably what Backus did was to use the logical fallacy of the red herring. One logic books says:

The fallacy of red herring gets its name from the practice of using a herring, a particularly smelly fish when cooked, to divert hunting dogs from the scent of a fox.

This logic text says: "To recognize the fallacy of red herring, look for an argument in which the speaker responds by directing attention away from the issue to other, seemingly related issues." Backus injected the word Reformed where it was not needed and, to our knowledge, is not even used by Jay Adams, who, after all, is both Reformed and the father of the movement. The Christian Observer, which published Backus’s reviews, is a Reformed publication. Thus our supposed "challenge to Reformed pastoral counseling" smells like a Backus red herring to us.

In this review Backus uses three examples and demonstrates his ability to twist facts to prove his prior-to-reading-the-book assumptions. His first distortion of truth occurs as follows:

Of whom is Bobgan speaking in his section about counselors who counsel eight hours a day, five days a week? The AMA may estimate psychiatrists have 51 client visits weekly; but what does that have to do with Biblical counselors? The counselors at CCEF East each see 12 counselees in an average week.

Throughout his review Backus reveals a determination to defend CCEF. However, in his rabid zeal to defend CCEF, Backus misrepresents what we have written. First, we did not—nor would we ever—say that John Bettler, David Powlison, or Ed Welch from CCEF counsel "eight hours a day, five days a week." We have been in touch with counselees and counselors at CCEF over the years and would never say that these three men counsel on such a schedule. As a matter of fact, Bettler counsels very little. However, there have been others over the years who have counseled large numbers of individuals or many part-time counselors who together counsel a great number of individuals. We would say that the onerous ones, "a one-to-one relationship, one day a week, one fifty-minute hour, one week after another, one fixed price, and one right after another in a one-up/one-down relationship," do apply to CCEF. If Backus is claiming that this is not true, then he has either been misinformed or has misunderstood what goes on at CCEF. Irrespective of how many counselees each individual counselor sees, a quick look at the counseling schedule of CCEF will prove that the onerous ones are in place. As we have said:

Since time and money are crucial to the professional psychotherapist, the regular process in a therapist’s office is one person right after another, with clients going in and out of the office like factory workers on various shifts at an assembly plant. This is not necessarily a criticism of the treatment they receive once they arrive and have entered their time slot. It is simply a picture of a process that works by the clock. Clients know very well that they have been preceded by others and will be followed by more (p. 85).

How does Backus think that CCEF is able to collect almost one-half million dollars in counseling fees? Backus’s failure to confront our other criticisms in the "Onerous Ones" chapter demonstrates that he has obviously already bowed his knee to the direct-pay-for-ministry Baal of "biblical counseling" and genuflected, perhaps unthinkingly, to CCEF, which is an organization that collects "cash, check, or credit card" almost $500,000 annually from its "clients" and runs a separated-from-the-church counseling center.

In his second example, Backus first condemns us for criticizing Leslie Vernick (a woman) for what appears to be her counseling a man. Then later he inadvertently reveals that we are correct in raising this concern, when he quotes the CCEF policy as follows: "CCEF’s general policy is that women counsel with other women or children. But we do not prohibit women counseling with men in certain cases." Enough said?

Backus claims that a woman counseling a man fits "the one another mentoring which the Bobgans’ [sic] themselves appear to be emphasizing throughout their book." Now this really puzzles us. Backus knows we oppose women counseling men, but he places it under "one another mentoring" which he wrongly claims "the Bobgans’ [sic] themselves appear to be emphasizing throughout their book." No one who has read and understood our book would make such a suggestion. In addition, the words mentor and mentoring are absent from our book. Backus’s use of the word mentoring in reference to our position reveals he does not have the foggiest notion of what we are saying in our book. We would never call mutual care in the body of Christ mentoring, a currently popular term loaded with psychobaggage.

Backus’s final egregious example of distorting what we say and rushing pell-mell to the defense of CCEF has to do with the name change from The Journal of Pastoral Practice to The Journal of Biblical Counseling. Backus unnecessarily spends about half of the space in his review on this one of numerous concerns we have about the biblical counseling movement. Backus quotes Powlison’s reasons for the name change, which we will abbreviate here: (1) CCEF did not want to exclude lay people. (2) The dominant emphasis of the journal had always been counseling. (3) There was a change in editor from a pastor (Jay Adams) to a nonpastor (David Powlison). (4) Christian psychologists were using the term. Backus quotes Powlison as saying, "We wanted to claim a good name (The Journal of Biblical Counseling) before somebody else did. We thought to rename it so that nobody else would take that name."

This is an example of how Backus selectively reads or avoids reading our book. He refers to page 71 of our book, spends almost half of his review on this one item and avoids what we say on pages 47-50. Backus quotes Powlison as saying, "We wanted to claim a good name (The Journal of Biblical Counseling) before somebody else did." Powlison is right about one thing: Christian psychologists do claim to do biblical counseling. But, because it is such a broadly used term with such a wide variety of meanings, including integration and CCEF’s so-called "recycling," we question Powlison’s decision to grab the name, already contaminated beyond clear usage, "so that nobody else would take that name." As we explain on pages 47-50, Collins, Crabb, Minirth, Meier, and others who call themselves "Christian counselors" and "Christian psychologists" consider themselves to be biblical counselors. As we say on page 50: "One can see how corrupted the term biblical counselor has become." In his rush to defend CCEF Backus ignores or avoids the obvious in our book.

Backus very sloppily weaves his way through our book, failing to confront its most important points, avoiding our most important concerns about the biblical counseling movement, misrepresenting what we have said (as with the onerous ones), using his BFS (Backus Footnote Standard), and disregarding Scripture references all together.

Our most important points and our major themes are in bold type and could not have been missed by anyone who read the book and would not have been ignored by a competent reviewer. For example, on page 11 the following statement is in bold type:

Any person who can be used by the Holy Spirit to lead another to salvation or along the way of sanctification is competent to be used by God to give wise counsel without needing specialized biblical counseling training.

On page 21 we have the following bold statement:

We are against biblical counseling, but we are for biblical counsel given through the ministries of the church as outlined in Ephesians 4:11-16, Romans 12 and elsewhere in Scripture.

Two important statements in bold in the chapter on the onerous ones are:

We say categorically that any biblical counseling ministry that charges a price is unbiblical (page 83).

A step forward for those in the biblical counseling movement would be to discontinue all biblical counseling centers that operate outside a church (page 90).

Since CCEF both charges a fee for ministry and is separated from the church, it is in violation of both statements. The statements in bold type represent important issues. Backus either did not read these statements or chose to ignore them. Apparently he, along with CCEF, believes in charging for ministry and is in favor of such unbiblical arrangements.

One of the major questions we ask in our book in bold type is:

What did the church do without the biblical counseling movement for over nineteen centuries? (page 18)

A most important question, but never addressed by Backus.

The title of Backus’s August 4 review is "Responding to the Bobgan Challenge." We contend that he has failed to respond to our challenge. Instead, Backus has scratched the back of CCEF but not even touched the surface of our book. Apparently Backus would rather be a sycophant of CCEF than to be accurate and truthful as a man of God should be. It is unfortunate that Backus lacks the knowledge, experience and devotion to Scripture necessary to deal with such important challenges. After reading his reviews, one can see that Backus could write his own book and title it For the Biblical Counseling Movement: Against the Bible.

(From PAL V3N6


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