What is Biblical Counseling?

In the midst of a therapeutic culture where counseling had become a formal, professional discipline (well actually many disciplines: psychiatry, psychology, social work, marriage and family counseling, etc.), Jay Adams is credited with “re-discovering” Biblical Counseling. In his book Competent to Counsel, first published in 1970, Adams utilized the term “nouthetic” (transliterated from the Greek New Testament word that is most frequently translated “admonish”) to describe counseling that focuses on ministering Scripture by speaking the truth in love to those in need of counsel.

In the years since Competent to Counsel was published, many books, pamphlets, and other resources, as well as training centers and undergraduate and graduate degree programs for Biblical Counseling have been developed. During the first thirty years since Competent there was relatively clear demarcation and (mostly) respectful debate between Biblical Counseling and what can be described as Christian Counseling. During the last 10 years or so, there has been a blurring of the lines as some of those in the Biblical Counseling arena have focused significant energies on developing relationships with other Christian Counselors and those in Christian Counseling have pursued the use of the term Biblical Counseling to describe their approach to counseling. This has resulted in growing confusion as to the definition of Biblical Counseling.

In simple terms Biblical Counseling is ministering Scripture to those who face struggles in life or who desire wisdom or God’s direction. Biblical Counseling is not a new concept. There are examples throughout the pages of Scripture where God’s Word was cited in instructive and corrective ways to both individuals and groups. There are also examples throughout the history of the church of the utilization of Scripture by pastors and others to provide encouragement and admonition to members of the flock.

Lately, I have had the opportunity to read and consider many recent attempts to define Biblical Counseling written by those who consider themselves to be Biblical Counselors. I was surprised as I read these definitions that they were all missing key foundational elements of Biblical Counseling. None of them mention sin or repentance, only one refers to a conviction regarding the sufficiency of Scripture and they are all broad enough to allow many who do not hold to these beliefs to adopt the title of Biblical Counselor.

In reflecting on the above and based on over 18 years of teaching students how to minister Scripture, I believe the following definition effectively describes Biblical Counseling:

Biblical Counseling is a ministry of the local church whereby transformed believers in Christ (John 3:3-8) who are indwelled, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26) minister the living and active Word of God (He. 4:12) to others with the goals of evangelizing the lost and teaching the saved (Mt. 28:18-20).

Biblical counseling is based on the conviction that the Bible is sufficient for the counseling task and superior to anything the world has to offer (2 Ti. 3:16-17, He. 4:12, 2 Pe. 1:3-4, Ps. 119, Jas. 4:4). Biblical counselors realize the significance of sin (Ro. 3:23, 6:23), and after self-confrontation (Mt. 7:5), lovingly confront those who are in sin (Lk. 17:3-4) and call them to repentance (2 Ti. 2:24-26). Biblical counselors also realize that in a fallen world people can face significant crises that are not a direct result of their own personal sin (Job 1-2). Biblical counselors purposefully and patiently walk with, serve, love, encourage and help people in these cases (1 Th. 5:14) and also call upon others in the Body to assist based on their gifts and roles (1 Cor. 12).

Biblical counseling can be informal (accomplished over coffee, in the hallways of the church, and in the work place and community) and formal (accomplished through scheduled appointments in an office setting). All Christians should be taught to minister God’s Word and encouraged to boldly do so in the official ministries of the church and as they are living life. Biblical counselors are motivated by the compassion of Christ (Mt. 9:36, 2 Cor. 5:14-15) and by obeying His commands (Jn. 14:21). They seek to be salt and light in such a way that others see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).

Learn more about Southwestern’s certification in biblical counseling at swbts.edu/bccertification and the Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling at swbts.edu/counseling.