“RTV” Counseling. Part Two

Continuing from Part 1. “RTV” Counseling is that type of so-called “Biblical Counseling” that is the least Biblical. It stands for “Read This Verse” Counseling.

#3. “RTV” Counsleing often devolves into bad hermeneutics on two levels. On the first level, there is often bad hermeneutics (process of interpretation) of the Bible. For example, a common RTV passage for counseling is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This seems like a great verse for people who feel unable to do something. And yet it really isn’t. The passage is about Paul lacking the ability to do some things. But in Christ, he has the ability to endure all things. That is often quite encouraging… for me I find it greatly encouraging… but very much in a different way than it is often used. But of course this passage is not the sum total of what the Bible says about enduring challenges, any more than Matthew 18 is the sum total of what to do about church conflict, or Matthew 5:32 is the sum total of the Biblical message on divorce. Even if the right verse is used for the right situation, it will almost always be sub-biblical because the guidance in the Bible is much broader than what is contained in one passage. On the other side, there is often bad hermeneutics of the client. Anton Boisen describes people as “Living Human Documents.” as such, they must be “read” and interpreted. Until one has carefully listened and clarified, one has not truly read the person. Cutting out this process just deals with the superficial.

I bring this up because we have a Christian Counseling center. I have heard people say things like, “Oh… I heard that you don’t use the Bible when you do counseling.” Frankly, that is far far away from the truth. For a long time I was curious at that. Of course, even in Christian counseling there can be competition, and one way to make a charge that is almost completely unverifiable is to say, “They are unbiblical.” Still, I was curious if there was truth to this. I think it is because when they are thinking of Biblical Counseling, they are really meaning RTV Counseling. Unfortunately, the Biblical Counseling movement, going right back to Jay Adams and at least some of his followers embraced a certain superficial and limited use of Scripture with a bit of Job’s friend methodology.

If one wants to call one’s counseling Biblical, it should have the following qualities:

  1. It should utilize a thoughtful use of the whole of Scripture, not a list of encouraging or challenging verses. This is not easy, and such an integration probably should be described as Theological, to avoid the temptation to verse-drop or verse-bomb.
  2. It should be modeled after Jesus Christ in character and practice, and demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  3. It should come from a position of humility and mutuality. The counselor is, at best, a wounded healer (drawing from Henri Nouwen). The counselor is never an expert or perfect model.

For me, I like the fact that people in my denomination are gravitating toward the use of the term “Biblical Counseling” rather than “Spiritual Counseling.” I think their avoidance of the second term is because of its new-age connections. Still, “Spiritual” is a word that can mean anything… or nothing. Even though people misuse the term “Biblical,” in my opinion, at least it is a word that means something. On the other hand, I don’t like the term “Biblical Counseling” as it is used in my denomination as a weaponized term. Just a week ago, a person from my denomination came over to the Philippines to promote Biblical Counseling, and the first thing she did was to put it in conflict with Psychology. There is much wrong with Psychology… but when it is wrong, it is wrong because it is wrong.

I know that last sentence sounds non-sensical. However, Psychology is wrong when it does not correspond with truth. The same is true of (so-called) Biblical Counseling. A lot of what is called Biblical Counseling needs to be challenged by Psychology because a lot of Biblical Counseling is far less than Biblical (far less than good theology). And Psychology needs to be challenged by Biblical Counseling… but both must be challenged by truth (God’s truth).

I fear that another problem with the use of the term “Biblical Counseling” in my denomination is because of its reluctance to attach itself to the historical church. My denomination likes to link itself to the primitive church. I like the term “Pastoral Counseling” because it links the Bible to the Historical church in terms of counseling. However, I understand the term “Christian Counseling” as useful the Christian Counseling movement embraces more of an integrationist stance (all truth is God’s truth). Still, I prefer Pastoral Counseling as my term. However, all counseling associated with Christians should be Theological.

“RTV” Counseling. Part 1

I used to be a mechanical engineer working for one of the larger defense contractors in the world. Sometimes we would have short-cut solutions to problems. In people’s homes, one of the big shortcuts is duck tape (also spelled duct tape, incorrectly, at times). We did not use duck tape however, but one of our short-cuts was RTV.

RTV stands for “Room Temperature Vulcanization.” If you go to the hardware store you may see it marketed different ways. A common way is “Silicone Sealant.” It commonly comes in a tube, and one can squeeze it out as a clear (or sometimes colored) gel. It will harden (vulcanize) over the next few hours becoming silicone rubber. It is useful for many things. It can be used as a sealant (obviously), but can also be used to cushion, support, and help components pass various tests like drip-tests, shock tests, and vibration tests.

Using RTV isn’t cheating per se, it is durable and resistant to chemicals and other things meaning it can be a long-term solution. Still, sometimes RTV can be used to “put a patch” on something that should have been designed or manufactured differently. In other words, it is a short-cut… and sometimes a short-cut is not the best way to do things. In fact, at its worst, it is used more to hide problems rather than truly solve them.

In Christian counseling, I do consider there to be a type that could be called “RTV Counseling.” In this case it stands for

Read This Verse” Counseling

I suspect you have come across this before. Perhaps you have seen something shared on Facebook or Instagram or whatever is your preferred online form of information—- perhaps it is a list of problems and associated with each problem is a verse to read.

Maybe it lists a problems like “FEAR” and then it has the verse Isaiah 41:10. When you look it up, it says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” It is a good verse… a comforting verse (even though it is actually comforting words to Israel… not to you). And then there will be other problems and associated verses. Other problems might be things like “Temptation” or “Anxiety.” I rather suspect that most of you all reading this would have no trouble guessing what verses would be associated with these.

But when does the short-cut undermine the solution? I will use fear as an example.

#1. RTV Counseling involves a lot of guessing. Why does the person feel fear? The RTV counselor does not know. The counselor appears to assume that the only answer could be “Lack of Faith in God,” or perhaps “Lack of Assurance in the Benevolence of God.” Did the counselor guess correctly? Maybe. Maybe not.

#2. RTV Counseling, even if the counsellor guesses right typically does not address the underlying issues. For example, suppose the counsellor did choose a good verse regarding fear. Suppose the client really does struggle with the benevolence if God— Why does the person struggle with this? Maybe the client has suffered loss in the past. I have met people who seem to do fine where there is lack of reconciliation between their faith beliefs and their personal experience. Many, however can’t. Giving guidance that seems to violate one’s values or experiences can be viewed as not only not helpful, but insulting.

Suppose someone is suffering grief due the loss of a loved one, and an RTV counselor comes along as says Read This Verse…”For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I have certainly heard this used before… but why? I suppose my best guess is that the counselor is guessing that the bereaved is thinking, “I am so sad because, and only because, I think my loved one is gone forever and in a horrible situation. If only I had reason to think that my loved one is fine, I will lose all sadness and radiate joy…. despite losing the presence of my beloved.”

Is that a good guess? Probably not. The sadness is most likely because the beloved is gone from them now. There is something missing… there is an attachment severed. Grieving is very appropriate rather something to squelch.

Sadness is not a problem to fix. In many ways the same goes for fear. We were designed that way. God gave us the ability to feel fear for our own protection. Feeling fear is not the problem. The problem is when fear crushes our spirit, stunts our growth, dominates our minds, or steers us on the wrong path. There are good reasons to feel fear, just as there are good reasons to feel sad. But we need to explore those reasons.

And that we will do… In Part 2.