A Critical Review of David P. Murray's
"How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling?"
by Martin and Deidre Bobgan

“David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.” He has written an article titled “How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling?” in which he presents his views on biblical counseling.1 Murray begins his article with the following disclosure: “I am a biblical counselor, and biblical counselors are my family.” We too begin with a disclosure: We are not biblical counselors, do not wish to be identified with those biblical counselors we describe in our book Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! and they are not our “family.”2

Right after Murray calls counselors his family, he asks an important question: “Like all families, the biblical counseling family has strengths and weaknesses, but how do I identify particular weaknesses without naming particular people on the one hand, or being too general and lumping everyone together on the other hand?” A major weakness in Murray’s article is that on the one hand he does not name people and on the other hand he is so general and presents an amorphous conglomeration, which leads the reader to lump people together into a kaleidoscopic image that represents no one we know. Because he identifies no individual and no organization, his approach is neither helpful, nor is it in the tradition and practice of the reformers. Murray is reformed, but it is doubtful that he can name one reformer who has practiced his attempted and failed irenic approach.

Murray begins the article by highlighting seven “counseling presuppositions,” of which we will discuss several:

“(1) …. Biblical counselors have exposed the dangerously unbiblical presuppositions behind much secular counseling today (and some Christian), and have re-built biblical counseling on biblical presuppositions resulting in more biblical aims and methods” (bold added). We challenge Murray to produce a quote from one leader in the biblical counseling movement who has publicly “exposed the dangerously unbiblical presuppositions” of even one secular counselor or counseling approach by naming a name of even one “dangerously unbiblical” presupposition of which they are guilty. As we have often shown by naming individuals and organizations, quoting what they say, and contrasting their practices with the Bible, it is often not what the biblical counselors say (biblical presuppositions), but rather what they do (biblical aims and methods). As we have said before, there is much good to be learned from many in the biblical counseling movement, but their teachings are often contradicted by their practices, which can be biblically questionable at minimum and at times dramatically deviant from biblical truth.

“(2) I honor my family’s courage in boldly re-claiming pastoral care, so much of which has been usurped by secular counseling in our day.” By their teachings, those in the biblical counseling movement have given great lip service to pastoral care, but, as the old adage goes, “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.” If the psychological counseling movement had not preceded the biblical counseling movement, the contemporary biblical counseling movement would not exist in its present form and practice.3

One reason why secular counseling has usurped the biblical pastoral care of souls is because so many in the biblical counseling movement, including Murray himself, are so busy being irenic that they do not name names and expose Bible colleges, Christian schools and universities, seminaries, mission agencies, and para-church organizations that promote secular counseling, such as the almost 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors, which is filled to overflowing with psychoheresy.4 As we conclude in our critique of them:

In conclusion, we have demonstrated why the AACC is a sham and a shame and have proven here and elsewhere why they are a quintessential last-days organization with a multitude of believers flocking after them as they are led down the psychoheresy primrose path.5

Sadly, you can find biblical counselors who are part of Murray’s “family,” whom he refuses to name or criticize, who have spoken at AACC conferences!

“(3) [Those in the biblical counseling movement] have inspired and trained many Christians to use the Bible to diagnose the roots of problems and to prescribe lasting solutions” (bold added). Unfortunately, using “the Bible to diagnose the roots of problems and to prescribe lasting solutions” in practice is one of the greatest weaknesses of the biblical counseling movement. We have shown this by responding to literal counseling done by leaders in the movement, such as Jay Adams, David Powlison, Randy Patten, John Street, and others.6 A related weakness of the biblical counseling movement is their problem centeredness, which is a direct result of the desire and central focus of the counselors to “diagnose” and “prescribe,” which is a reflection of secular psychotherapy, which they hope to replace even while emulating.

Murray’s four remaining presuppositions include: “restored … biblical vocabulary”; “quality of the theological and practical resources … to address a vast range of life problems”; “the necessity of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and the Christian community”; and “the multiple hours they invest in repairing broken lives.” We are in agreement with these remaining four presuppositions with the caveat that we disagree with how they may be carried out in practice, since his statements are so very general and could even include psychotherapeutic theories and techniques presented in biblical terminology. Regarding his final presupposition having to do with counselors’ compassion for people and “multiple hours they invest in repairing broken lives,” one has to remember that those who charge money for counseling are part of Murray’s family and therefore much of this compassion comes with a price tag determined by the “multiple hours” of money coughed up by the paying clients. Murray neither names nor condemns such a “filthy lucre” practice as charging for personal ministry as practiced by many biblical counselors.

In contrast to our warnings about and against the biblical counseling movement, Murray concludes this section by saying, “It’s a great family [biblical counselors], and I’d encourage many more to join it.” In contrast we would encourage those who truly desire to serve God through personal ministry to turn away from Murray’s biblical counseling family, as we have described and named them in our writings.7

“Bible Only”

After Murray’s section on presuppositions, he discusses the term “biblical” in “biblical counseling” and essentially argues against what he describes as a “Bible only” approach. He says, “For them, biblical counseling could be more accurately renamed ‘Bible counseling.’ In principle, it means they use only the Bible in counseling people; nothing else is helpful, and anything else is compromise.” He also says, “The unfortunate narrowing of ‘biblical’ in ‘biblical counseling’ results from a limited view of the sufficiency of Scripture; it takes the sufficiency of Scripture to mean that Scripture is all we use in counseling and that to include any other resource introduces unmanageable danger.” In the balance of his article he elaborates on this straw man. His denigrating characterization of some who counsel is without the usual footnoting.

We have spoken with numerous Christians over the years who are licensed secular counselors and written about many who regard themselves as biblical counselors, but never have we found any secular or biblical counselor who would fit Murray’s peculiar, unique, and bizarre description. We do not know of one person who would fit Murray’s far-fetched depiction. Murray has egregiously created a straw man that with all our years of experience we have never met. Taking Murray literally would mean that there are biblical counselors who speak only Scripture and read only the Bible and nothing else while counseling. It would mean that no other words come out of their mouths unless they are Scripture and no other reading occurs except the Bible. These fictional characters described by Murray do not give references in their writings other than the Bible and in their counseling they do not refer their counselees to any articles, books or other than Bible references.

Murray should not be surprised that many who faithfully (without pay) minister the Word to fellow believers through the unction and leading of the Holy Spirit would be offended by his false representation of what they say and do! This could have been avoided had he only named the names and presented the facts instead of irenically identifying through innuendo a practice (“Bible only”) and a collage of individuals that does not fit anyone or anybody and in actuality fits no one and nobody we know.

Contained In or Consistent With

Murray, in contrast to this nobody that we know that he describes as “Bible only,” says, “In the past it [biblical] has meant that something is either contained in the Bible or consistent with the Bible” (bold added). He also says, that “we should expect the Bible to be a sufficient lens to read the information supplied by these disciplines, enabling us to find and use only what is consistent with Scripture” (bold added). So, let’s put Murray’s statement to the test, first with Christian psychotherapists and then with biblical counselors.

Psychotherapists

At the present time there are about 500 competing and often contradictory psychotherapies and thousands of not-always-compatible techniques. To determine methodological systems used by Christians who practice psychotherapy, we conducted a survey with the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), a national Christian organization composed of numerous practicing therapists. In our survey we used a simple questionnaire in which we asked the psychotherapists to list in order the psychotherapeutic approaches that most influenced their private practices. We listed only ten approaches, but provided blank spaces at the bottom of the sheet for adding others before final ranking. The results indicated that Client-Centered Therapy (Rogers) and Reality Therapy (Glasser) were the two top choices, and that psychoanalysis (Freud) and Rational Emotive Therapy (Ellis) followed closely behind. One especially interesting result from the survey is that many of the psychotherapists listed a variety of approaches at the end of the form as well as checking and ranking many of the approaches listed. Their doing so indicates that they have a highly eclectic approach to counseling. In our conclusion we had this to say:

If this survey constitutes a representative sample, it is probably fair to say that there is not just one Christian psychotherapeutic way. There is a great variety in the approaches influencing the clinical practices of CAPS members. This survey seems to demonstrate that, while some psychotherapies are more influential than others in the practice of Christian counseling, in general the Christian  psychotherapist is both independent and eclectic in his approach to counseling.8

Each Christian who is practicing psychotherapy has his own conglomeration of approaches. That is not surprising. According to the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, most psychotherapists are eclectic.9 

If one were to ask the numerous Christian psychologists if their psychotherapies were “either contained in the Bible or consistent with the Bible” or if they “use only what is consistent with Scripture,” we would venture to guess that they would say that they do. What else could they say?! But then we have to ask why it is that the numerous Christian psychologists who would say that they meet Murray’s criteria come to contradictory conclusions about what conversational therapeutic systems to use and which conflicting techniques to apply. There must be a lot of proof texting going on, to say the least.

Biblical Counselors

Murray must be aware that there is a vast array of counselors who refer to themselves as biblical counselors. There are many examples of these biblical counselors who sincerely believe that what they promote meets Murray’s requirement of “either contained in or consistent with the Bible” and that they “use only what is consistent with Scripture.” The internet has hundreds of examples of those who are biblical counselors, who are part of Murray’s “family.” However, we will give only three examples: Bible Counseling by Dough Mallet and Debra A. Read; Only God Can Heal the Wounded Heart by Ed Bulkley; and Breakdowns are good for you! A unique manual for True Biblical Counseling by Robert J. K. Law and Malcom Bowden. The commonality of these three examples and five people is that they all believe that mental-emotional problems absent any known organic reason should be dealt with solely through biblical counseling, totally ignoring the complexity of the brain and the fact that many illnesses that result in such disorders are asymptomatic.

The five authors are biblical counselors and will affirm for Murray or anyone else that their conclusions about what they regard as nonorganic mental-emotional disorders and, as a result, their counseling is “either contained in or consistent with the Bible” and that they “use only what is consistent with Scripture.” After reading and hearing numerous biblical counselors we can guarantee that not a one of them will say that their counseling fails to be “either contained in or consistent with the Bible” and that they do not “use only what is consistent with Scripture.” The above five people are part of Murray’s “family” but not ours.

Mallet and Read present the basic premise of their form of biblical counseling by saying:

Jesus did indeed work with “mentally ill” people all the time. Every person He touched needed Him to heal his or her “mental illness” because “mental illness” is really a spiritual matter. To take it a step further even, we have found that those who are classified as “mentally ill” in reality have a distorted view of who God is, whether through incidences in their past, or through present doctrinal errors to which they are clinging.10

To communicate the underlying theme of his book, Bulkley tells a story about a young man “who had difficulty dealing with the normal pressures of living.” After a short time in psychotherapy the man was “placed on strong psychoactive medications.” After two weeks of drug treatment his parents saw him and “could hardly believe the change.” His mother said, “He looked like a zombie.” She also said, “He was so drugged that he could hardly communicate.” The following three paragraphs are Bulkley’s comments about this situation:

Fortunately for this young man, his parents believed in the power of God to heal the heart. They placed their son in bed and began playing tapes of biblical teaching as they prayed for his recovery. After two days of listening to the Word, the young man sat up, his eyes clear, and said, “It’s all so simple!”

He hurried to the bathroom and flushed his psychoactive medicines down the toilet. His recovery was rapid and total and he is now a productive husband, father, and businessman.

“It’s all so simple!” That’s the essence of this book.11

Bulkley then explains the essence of his biblical counseling for such cases and says regarding the above story: “You may have been told that your problem is genetic and that there is nothing you can do except to dull the pain with medication.”12 This is the framework in which Bulkley does his “Bible only” biblical counseling.

Law and Bowden describe what they do as “True Biblical Counseling.” They declare: “All problems that can be dealt with and solved in counseling sessions are always due to the pride, self-centeredness and self-pity of the counselee” (bold theirs).13 They also say, “It is when people cannot get their own way and feel hard-done-by that they can descend into self-pity and begin to display one or more of the many forms of ‘mental illness.’” They declare: “Get rid of self-pity and the ‘mental illness’ will disappear.”14 A one-sentence summary of their position is: “the fundamental cause of all” mood disorders is the “self-pitying and sinful response of people to difficult situations.”15

While Murray would seem to disagree with such scenarios (according to his concluding section), his unwillingness to question any specific person or practice leaves his readers without any footing to reject the practices of those members of Murray’s “family.” It is unfortunate that David P. Murray, a seminary professor with extensive academic training would take such a pedestrian approach to deal with such a dramatically important biblical topic as to what biblical counselors and biblical counseling are and should be. The absence of names and footnotes to support what he says leaves one trusting his personal say-so. Murray‘s devious and deceptive deliverance of the answer to his article question is clouded, convoluted, and complicated by his love for his “family” of counselors and runs roughshod over the truth of Scripture.

Our answer to his original question, “How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling?” is that in practice it is far from biblical. We have written, naming names, about individuals and organizations in the psychological and biblical counseling movements, because, unlike Murray, we would rather risk losing friends and even “family,” if necessary, than to write irenically as he does, hiding behind a façade of peace that presents a perplexity of people with insinuating innuendos that lead nowhere. 

Endnotes

1    David P. Murray, “How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling?” The Gospel Coalition, Oct. 1, 2012, http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-biblical-is-biblical-counseling/.

2    Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011.

3    Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1994, Chapter  4, “The Onerous Ones,” pp. 73-92.

4    Martin and Deidre Bobgan, “American Association of Christian Counselors: A Sham & a Shame,” PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 19, Nos. 3, 4, 5.

5    Martin & Deidre Bobgan. PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity (Revised & Expanded). Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2012, p. 380.

6    Martin & Deidre Bobgan.  Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! op.cit, Chapter 3; Person to Person Ministry, Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2009, Part Two; “A Critical Review of the Master’s College & Seminary Biblical Counseling Program,” PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, Vol. 20, Nos. 4, 5, 6.

7    Martin and Deidre Bobgan.  Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! ibid.; Person to Person Ministry, ibid.; Christ-Centered Ministry Versus Problem-Centered Counseling. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers,  2004; Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1994.

8    Martin & Deidre Bobgan, “Psychotherapeutic Methods of CAPS Members,” Christian Association for Psychological Studies Bulletin 6, No. 1, 1980, p. 13.
9
    Michael J. Lambert, ed.
Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, Fifth Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004, p. 805.

10  Dough Mallet and Debra A. Read. Bible Counseling. Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2003, p. 31.

11  Ed Bulkley. Only God Can Heal the Wounded Heart. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers,1995, p. 9.

12  Ibid.

13  Robert J. K. Law and Malcom Bowden . Breakdowns are good for you! Bromley, UK: Sovereign Publications, 1999, p. 2.

14  Ibid., p. 3.

15                    Ibid., pp. 3
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, January-February 2015, Vol. 23, No. 1)

Article Topics | Titles |Top

PsychoHeresy Awareness Ministries
4137 Primavera Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93110
www.pamweb.org