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Biblical Terms Used in Christian Counseling

Introduction

Ever since the practice of translating the Bible into secular languages had attained a theological legitimacy in the 16th century (the rise of Protestantism), the Holy Book has been increasingly resorted to by people experiencing mental anxieties, as such that supposedly contained answers as to how these anxieties could have been properly dealt with. However, it is only after the end of WW2 that the concept of Christian counseling came into being as we know it today, just as it was the case with conventional forms of psychological counseling. This can be explained by the fact that it was named during the second half of the twentieth century that the Western civilization has entered the time of its decline, due to a variety of political, economic, and demographic reasons, which in its turn, had undermined psychological integrity of those people who continued to profess Western existential values. Therefore, it would be wrong to discuss the growing popularity of both types of counseling as a “thing in itself”, while explaining the particularities of this phenomenon from a purely utilitarian perspective.

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The available statistical data, in regards to the subject matter, points out the fact that, during recent decades, the popularity of Christian counseling among citizens has been growing in exponential progression. In her article “With God as My Shrink”, Pamela Paul states: “Americans are flocking to counseling that incorporates a spiritual or religious element. Over the past 10 years, faith-based therapies – from pastoral counseling to ecumenical Christian counseling to fundamentalist Bible-based treatment – have surged in popularity. The American Association of Christian Counselors has grown from 15,000 members in 1999 to 50,000 today” (Paul 2005, p. 63). Therefore, it will only be logical, on our part, to suggest that such a situation came into being due to a variety of objective reasons that have not been thoroughly studied yet.

In its turn, this suggestion will serve as a theoretical framework for this paper, because in it we will aim to reveal the growing popularity of Christian counseling as being dialectically predetermined. The foremost thesis of this work can be formulated as follows: the fact that, as time goes by, more and more people in Western countries appear to be affected by psychological insecurities, simply reflects the process of these people being deprived of their belief in themselves as “existential sovereigns”. Despite what is being assumed by conventional psychologists, an individual’s mental anxieties do not always derive out of his or her “repressed sub-consciousness”, but rather out of such individual’s inability to associate its existence with the concept of purposefulness.

And, Christian councilors namely can provide therapy-seekers with comprehensive answers as to the actual purpose of their lives, which allows mentally unstable people to grow increasingly insensitive towards their psychological anxieties. This is exactly the reason why the professional activities of many Christian councilors who lack psychological training, are nevertheless being marked with a high degree of effectiveness. In the next part of this work, we will conduct a word study on major Biblical terms used for counseling, while aiming to provide readers with an insight into these terms’ contextual significance.

The terms

The close reading of the Bible (especially the New Testament) leaves no doubt as to the fact that, for as long as an individual’s existence is being concerned, its objective value directly corresponds to such individual’s willingness to live according to God’s commandments. As it appears from Bible’s context, people should not become too obsessed with addressing their lives’ challenges due to:

A) People’s physical existence being nothing but a form of spiritual imprisonment, which prevents their souls from uniting with Creator in the Kingdom of Heaven; therefore – the more miserable people are, the better are their prospects of being qualified for the life in Heaven: “Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, King James Version). B) The fact that God never ceases to take care of people, even though most of them are being unaware of this: “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30). Thus, Biblical counseling is being primarily concerned with matters of faith, because an individual can act as the believer, which accounts for the well-being of his or her soul. The earlier suggestion will allow us to gain a better understanding of the semantic significance of major Biblical terms used by councilors. These terms can be listed as follows:

  1. “Council/Council”. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, the meaning of the Biblical term “council” should be discussed from a legal rather than from psychological perspective: “The Jewish councils were the Sanhedrim, or supreme council of the nation, which had subordinate to it smaller tribunals” (Easton 1897, p. 275). Thus, it appears that Bible’s authors thought of the process of counseling as being solemnly concerned with legal disputes. When Paul stood being accused of inciting disobedience among Jews, Roman administrator Festus went to discuss the issue of Jewish “councils”: “Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar?” (Acts 25:12). Such Biblical interpretation of counseling remains metaphysically valid even today because, in the eyes of contemporary Christian counselors, they namely can convince concerned individuals to observe God’s laws, while dealing with life’s challenges, which accounts for their professional excellence.
  2. “Soul/ (Ego/Psyche)”. Bible insists that it is the matter of foremost importance for just about anyone to be constantly concerned with the salvation of its soul: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The psychological equivalent of this term is “psyche”. However; whereas, psychological theories refer to one’s psyche as consisting of smaller structural components, such as his genetic predisposition towards indulging in a particular type of behavior and his deep-seated subconscious impulses, Bible discusses soul (psyche) in terms of existential homogeneity – that is, according to the Bible, individual’s soul cannot be made “healthier”. It is whether the person decides to save their soul by or professing his beliefs in Jesus Christ, or he chooses in favor of having his soul being plunged in the lake of fire for eternity, as the price for his disobedience – there is no third option.
  3. “Demoniac/ (Schizophrenic/Manic-Depressive). The Holy Book is filled with stories about people being possessed by demons, which in ancient times used to be blamed for causing folks to act psychologically inadequate. Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines demoniac as: “One “possessed with a devil.” In the days of our Lord and his apostles, evil spirits, “daemons,” were mysteriously permitted by God to exercise an influence both over the souls and bodies of men” (Easton 1897, p. 293). Jesus dealt with demons by expelling them out of “possessed” people into pigs: “And he (Jesus) said unto them (demons), Go. And when they came out, they went into the herd of swine” (Matthew 8:32). Nowadays, psychologists refer to Biblical “demons” in psychiatric terms. However, even though that mainstream Christian councilor does not utilize the term “demon” too often while trying to get down to the actual roots of their patients’ mental anxieties, they do advise these people to pray, as the ultimate mean of dealing with depression, for example. And, as practice shows, their advice often turns out to be quite effective. The reason for this is simple – even though professional psychologists know just about everything about what causes people to become affected by depression (or by any other form of psychiatric disorder), they have a hard realizing that by telling a patient that his depression originates out of the depths of his psyche, they cause such an individual to become even more depressed. Christian councilors, on the other hand, believe that the integrity of one’s soul cannot deteriorate from within, but rather from outside (due to Devil’s scheming) – such suggestion alone, produces a strong therapeutic effect upon mentally inadequate believers who seek Bible-based counseling.
  4. Guilt/Guilt. It is a well-known fact that people who resort to psychological counseling are being often endowed with a complex of guilt. And, it appears that the process of an individual succumbing to such a complex is not altogether subjective. In their book “Psychological Insight into the Bible: Texts and Readings”, Wayne Rollins and Andrew Kille make a perfectly good point while suggesting that: “The cultures of the Bible were communal and based on systems of honor and shame, while our modern Western culture is guilt-based, focused on the individual” (Rollins & Kille 2007, p. 117). Whereas professional councilors strive to reveal the feeling of guilt, on the part of their attendees, as being nothing but a perceptional delusion, Christian councilors adopt an entirely different approach, while dealing with the same subject matter. They say that there is nothing illusionary about an individual experiencing guilt, but one can instantly get rid of the sensation of guilt, as the result of being forgiven by God. And, for anyone to be forgiven, he or she must simply ask for forgiveness: “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme” (Mark 3:28). Unlike professional psychologists, Christian councilors do not refer to the sensation of guilt as a “thing in itself”, but rather as the direct consequence of sin.
  5. Flesh/Body. The whole Bible can be thought of as an epic saga about the never-ending confrontation between what Biblical authors refer to as “flesh” (body) and a “spirit” (consciousness), even though that throughout the Bible the term “flesh” is also being used as the synonym to the word “meat”. Nevertheless, it is namely the notion of one’s physiological corruptibility, with which we associate the prime semantic significance of this Biblical term. Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines “flesh” as: “Sinful element of human nature as opposed to the “Spirit” (Easton 1897, p. 443). From a theological point of view, such definition is valid, as it directly corresponds to Apostles’ insistence that people should live by “spirit”, as opposed to living by “flesh”: “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). Moreover, from a psychological perspective, Biblical idea that people should live by “spirit” appears to be also absolutely legitimate – it namely when an individual becomes overly indulgent, in the sensual sense of this word, which usually results in him or her beginning to experience emotional problems.

However; whereas, professional counselors encourage their patients to observe gastronomic and sexual moderation due to purely utilitarian reasons, Christian councilors emphasize the importance of such moderation by making references to Biblical Gehenna. As a result, Bible-based counseling, concerned with the matter of flesh vs. spirit, is being potentially more effective, as opposed to the one offered by professional psychologists.

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The brief word study, conducted earlier, provides us with insight into what accounts for the fundamental difference in how Christian ministers and professional psychologists approach the task of counseling. This difference can be conceptualized as follows: whereas professional councilors strive to gain a better understanding of patients’ past, for them to be able to provide these patients with practical recommendations as to how they should address their presently pressing mental anxieties, Biblical counselors are being concerned with helping attendees to revaluate their past, by exposing them to the prospect of enjoying everlasting life in Heaven – thus, dramatically reducing the scope of presently existing anxieties, on therapy seekers part.

Thus, whatever the illogical it might sound, the actual reason why Biblical counseling becomes ever more popular among Americans is not that it is being divinely inspired or because Christian counselors are capable of providing their patients with comprehensive answers to all questions, but because this type of counseling is better refined, in the methodological sense of this word. It is better adapted to the psychological needs of those people, who despite their lack of intelligence (this is what causes them to attend Biblical counseling, in the first place), still rely on their strongly defined sense of rationale, while dealing with a variety of existential challenges.

Therefore, we cannot agree with those people who believe that the sheer effectiveness of Christian counseling can be explained by the fact that the Bible is the actual word of God or by the fact that unconditional love serves as the metaphysical foundation for such counseling. For example, in their article “Christ-Like Love and Forgiveness: A Biblical Foundation for Counseling Practice”, Robert Cheong and Frederick DiBlasio suggest that it is namely because Christian counselors stress out the importance of the concept of love, which allows them to gain trust, on the part of attendees: “The intimate interaction between love and forgiveness cannot be ignored in a Christian perspective for counseling practice. The keys to understanding forgiveness within the context of love involve the issues of sin and the costly nature of divine love. Consequently, a right understanding of forgiveness starts with a right understanding of biblical love” (Cheong & DiBlasio 2007, p. 20). Of course, authors do not specify what should account for a “right understanding of biblical love”, especially given the fact that Old Testament is filled stories of Jehovah commanding Jews to kill as many “goyim” as possible, so that they could prove their allegiance to the “God of Love”: “Every one that is found shall be thrust through, and everyone that is joined [unto them] shall fall by the sword. Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished” (Isaiah 13:15-16). Therefore, there must be another explanation as to why Biblical counseling continues to gain popularity among more and more Americans.

This explanation has been outlined in the introductory part of our paper – as time goes by, White people, who account for 90% of those who attend Biblical counseling in Western countries, are being increasingly deprived of their former liberty to act as individuals endowed with free will, because these countries have fallen under neo-Liberal ideological dictatorship. However, Biblical counseling allows these people to regain their existential identity as sovereign beings, who had consciously decided to subject themselves to Creator, in exchange for God’s promise to endow them with everlasting life in Heaven.

Unlike professional psychologists, concerned with making inquiries into the “oral”, “anal” and “phallic” stages of their patients’ development, Christian councilors are being primarily concerned with helping people to realize the metaphysical purposefulness of their existence, without resorting to utilization of sophistically sounding but often meaningless terminology, during the process. The reading of Christopher McCluskey’s article “A Christian Therapist-Turned-Coach Discusses his Journey and the Field of life Coaching”, in which the author talks about how he was able to simultaneously act as both: Christian minister and a coach, substantiates the validity of our earlier suggestion: “The core difference (between counseling therapy and coaching) is that therapy is oriented toward the healing of brokenness and restoration of stability, while coaching is oriented toward health, wholeness and a journey toward the fullness to which God has called people. However, I realized that this difference is not being quite as substantial as it might appear initially. (McCluskey 2008, p. 268). There is much similarity between the principles of coaching and the principles of Bible-based counseling.

For example, for someone who suffers from depression to be able to instantly get rid of his mental anxieties, he would simply need to do 10-20 push-ups – this is the biggest secret conventional psychologists are trying to keep away from the public. Christian counselors provide virtually the same opportunity to older people, affected by mental insecurities, without asking them to even move their fingers – all they have to do is entrust their problems to God and simply stop worrying about them. In both case scenarios, coached/counseled individuals’ ability to overcome their mental problems would directly correspond to the strength of these people’s willpower. As Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the movie “Silence of the Lambs” used to say: the first principle – simplicity. Regardless of the nature of the psychological problem, experienced by therapy-seeking individuals, namely, the counselor can restore such individuals’ belief in themselves by offering them a set of simple solutions, which signifies the extent of his professional adequateness.

Nevertheless, in recent years, more and more Christian counselors have been seriously considering the incorporation of psychoanalytical theory into Bible-based counseling, even though this theory is simply irreconcilable with Christianity. In his book “A Theology of Christian Counseling: More than Redemption”, Jay Edward Adams refers to such “progressive” Christian councilors in rather an ironic manner: “When compromisers talk about all truth as God’s truth, they call it “common grace”. They abuse this concept. They mean by such use that God revealed truth through Rogers, Freud, Skinner, etc.” (Adams 1986, p. 8). This kind of Christian councilors can be easily distinguished from those who remain intellectually honest with themselves and with people that they provide counseling services to, simply because “progressive” counselors’ professional vocabulary closely reminds that of professional enforcers of political correctness – in their speeches, they replace emotionally-charged Biblical terms of “love”, “obedience”, “demonic” and “punishment”, with such neutrally-sounding secular terms as “tolerance”, “lawfulness”, “unconventional/alternative” and “improper treatment”.

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In his interview with Kevin Miller, called “Putting an End to Christian Psychology”, one of the most famous proponents of fusing Christianity with the theory of psychoanalysis Larry Crabb, had said the following: “If a woman struggles with depression or lacks the sexual desire for her husband because of past sexual abuse, the immediate response is to send the woman to a professional counselor. The underlying assumption is that spiritual resources aren’t sufficient to deal with what’s going on – that only people with massive levels of professional training can help” (Miller 1995, p. 16). We have a good reason to think that, in this particular case, a professional psychologist’s involvement would not come very handy either. However, if this woman was made to believe that the lack of sexual desire, on her part, was bringing her closer to God (Jesus never encouraged but only tolerated sex reluctantly), it would have effectively eliminated a woman’s mental insecurities, related to her inability to enjoy sex. And then, it would only be a matter of time, before this woman would regain her sexual adequacy back.

The solemn reason Christian counselors are not being required to hold a degree in psychology, for them to qualify for providing counseling services to therapy-seekers, is because they are assumed to be “experts on faith”. In theory, the strength of their religiosity should compensate for their lack of education – as we are all aware; one’s strong faith does miracles. However, individuals like Crabb ridicule the very idea of Bible-based counseling. Moreover, by doing it, they also undermine the theological validity of Christianity. Just as it is the case with professional psychologists, “progressive” Christian counselors are being directly interested in extending the “therapy” they offer for as long as possible, simply because – the longer such therapy lasts, the more they get paid.

The editorial “The End of ‘Biblical Counseling”, available on the website of Psycho Heresy Awareness Ministries, states: “Many biblical counselors operate in community counseling centers similar in format to psychology clinics… The BCM (Biblical counseling movement) would be seriously handicapped if biblical counselors would stop the unbiblical practices… particularly the unbiblical practice of separated-from-the-church counseling centers and the unbiblical practice of charging fees for what should be freely given as mutual care in the body of Christ” (PHAM 2005). As of today, the Biblical counseling movement faces two prospects: it is whether it eventually turns into the mockery of itself, or it reestablishes its former operational legitimacy by confirming its allegiance to Bible as “final authority” on behavioral issues.

Conclusion

The foremost conclusion of this paper confirms the validity introductory thesis and can be summarized as follows: the practices of psychological and Biblical counseling are conceptually irreconcilable because they are being based on essentially opposite methodological premises – whereas, psychologists go about addressing people’s mental anxieties by probing their clients’ subconsciousness, Christian counselors approach the same task by probing the strength of therapy seekers religious faith; whereas professional counselors’ activities contribute to the process of Western societies becoming increasingly atomized, Biblical councilors strive to preserve these societies’ inner integrity by instilling people with the thought that their lives revolve around God and not the other way around. The ultimate reason why the practice of Bible-based counseling should maintain its operational independence is being expressed along the lines of a famous saying that – whatever is stupid but works is not stupid.

Bibliography

Adams, J. (1986). A theology of Christian counseling: More than redemption. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Blanton, P. (2008). Integrating postmodern and Christian contemplative thought: Building a theoretical framework. Journal of Psychology and Christianity. 27 (1), 73-84.

Cheong, R. & DiBlasio, F. (2007). Christ-like love and forgiveness: A Biblical foundation for counseling practice. Journal of Psychology and Christianity. 26 (1), 14-25.

Easton, M. 1897 (2003). Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2009. Web.

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Fewell, T. (1995). The changing role of today’s chaplain. Corrections Today. 57 (3), 18.

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McCluskey, C. (2008). A Christian therapist-turned-coach discusses his journey and the field of life coaching. Journal of Psychology and Christianity. 27 (3), 266-269.

Miller, G. (2003). Incorporating spirituality in counseling and psychotherapy: Theory and technique. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Miller, K. (1995). Putting an end to Christian psychology. [interview with L. Crabb]. Christianity Today. 39 (10), 16-17.

Palermo, G. (2003). How Christian Is Christian counseling?. Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies.15 (1/2), 183-184.

Paul, P. (2005).With God as my shrink. Psychology Today. 38 (3), 62-66, 68. Psycho Heresy Awareness Ministries (2005). The End of ‘Biblical Counseling’. 2009. Web.

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Schlosser, L (2003). Christian privilege: Breaking a sacred taboo. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development. 31 (1), 44-51.

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