“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.

Can You Do Good Pastoral Counseling With Bad Pastoral Theology?

I decided to move some articles from an old blog of mine on Pastoral Theology. That is why some of my posts here are more about pastoral counseling and theology rather than “classic” missions. But since I am in missions and am an administrator at a pastoral counseling center, it is not NOT missions. 

I think this is a good question. I believe the answer to this question is YES!! I have certainly seen people who do a good job with pastoral counseling whose pastoral theology seems… inadequate. Pastoral Theology is Cyclic, Reflective, and founded on a good Theological base and on Experience.

So what are a couple of risks to pastoral counseling when one has poor pastoral theology?

  1. One’s pastoral counseling role is limited. This is if the reflection side is limited by poor or limited theology. Consider the case of Naaman the leper in the Bible. In the story, the servant girl of Naaman was able to give some wise guidance to him through his wife that there was a man in Israel who could help him. It seems as if she did not know much more than this. She did not know his name, or location. Possibly she did not know that much about the Mosaic Law or of ethics… but she knew what she she needed to tell in that specific occasion. Later in the story, other servants of Naaman also give some wise counsel. They were not even people of the Jewish faith, presumably, but they drew from good sagely wisdom that was well established in the Near East at that time. If Naaman was willing to do great tasks on the uncertain hope to be healed, why not do something easy if asked (that may take just a wee bit of humility)? These people were able to give good (pastoral) counseling but most likely their range of effectiveness would be limited.
  2. If one was doing something wrong in pastoral counseling, it is likely that one would perpetuate the mistake over and over again. The inability to learn and grow in this case would be due to poor reflection. One does not learn and grow. The story that comes to mind was a church I used to attend where at the prayer meeting, different ill people would be brought up to be prayed over. Many of them were considered to be “terminal cases.” However, in the prayer the request was that they be fully healed (not healed through death, but healed from death). The prayers were actually not so much a request but a demand. “God you said that you would do whatever we ask you to do, so we declare _________ as healed by the power of your name.” Ironically, several of these prayers were followed in a matter of days by that person’s death. I kept waiting for the members of the group to dwell on the fact that their seemed to be a powerful disconnect between their theology of God (the idea that God has obligated Himself to subvert His will to our will whenever we choose) and what God actually did.

So, Yes, good pastoral counseling can be done by those with poor pastoral theology. However, I believe that good pastoral theology increases the range of one’s pastoral counseling skills, and decreases the amount of repeating the same errors.

Updated Book, “Dialogue in Pastoral Counseling and Training”

Celia and I have gone through our most recentfront art-27357538485030309008..jpg book, Dialogue in Pastoral Counseling and Training, and made a few modest changes. Some of these were fixing small glitches. Played with the structure in spots as well. I think the book is stronger now.

Yes, I know that this blog is MOSTLY about missions, and this particular book is more for training chaplains and pastoral counselors. I have noted that there is a strong overlap of pastoral care and missions, despite the seeming opposite goals. Several of the chapters are quite relevant to missions. The most obvious one is doing pastoral counseling in different cultures. However, theological reflection, group dynamics, family dynamics, and supervisory relations are just a few of the topics that are quite relevant.

As of January 6, 2020, the update of the book has already taken effect for the Kindle version on Amazon. I assume that the paperback version will have its changes approved and available no later than January 9th.   The Book is Available by CLICKING HERE.

By the way, the next book, I think, will be back to being more formally missions. The topic would be Mission to Samaria. The overarching theme of the book is on missions that focuses on the neighbors we tend to ignore. Anyway, that is enough for now. Hopefully, it will happen this year. Still need to work on the online courses for Pastoral Care, and for Cultural Anthropology. I probably should do that before I work more on the new book.


Theodicy– The Questions Real People Ask

Here is a quote by Howard Stone from “The Word of God and Pastoral Care”

Over the years, while making pastoral carecaution2bagainst2bbad2badvice visits and especially hospital visits, I have sadly encountered many people whose well-meaning friends and acquaintances have responded to their why questions with theological answers that left them terribly upset and proved actually to be destructive: ‘This is God’s punishment on you and for your sins.’ ‘This is God’s will; you have to accept it.’ ‘This has happened to bring you to the Lord.’ ‘God wanted your dear one with him in heaven.’ ‘If you hadn’t skipped out on your wife, this wouldn’t have happened.’ ‘If you had stayed home with your children where God wants you to be, they wouldn’t have started taking drugs.’

More recently I have also come across another whole class of answers — more psychological than religious — to theodicy issues: ‘You are responsible for your illness.’ ‘You are sick because of your destructive thoughts.’ ‘The cancer inside you is pent up anger; you’ve got to release it to get well.’ ‘You are what you eat; if only you had cut out salt and exercised more.’ Some people are so eager to give their answers that they scarcely wait for the questions to be asked. The results are often quite grim.

When I first began pastoral care work, I would have thought such pronouncements were rare, or occurred only in the more conservative denominations. Not so! Things such as this happen everywhere, regardless of the conservative or liberal orientation. Simplistic and damaging answers flow from well-meaning people at a time when their hearers are in considerable distress, vulnerable, and unable to talk back. I raise the issue here because if ministers care only for people’s emotional pain and do not respond theologically to the issue of theodicy, parishioners will inevitably get their theological education elsewhere, and it may not be the kind we would have wished for them. In other words, if ministers will not respond, sooner or later, to the vital questions of theodicy, neighbors and friends are likely to do so, and not always in a helpful manner.                                       –page 165


The Wise Fool


Many years ago I was being stashed at Destroyer Squadron 2 (in Norfolk, Virginia) in between ship duties. During that time, I was asked to join a Damage Control Inspection on a ship I had never been on before. I was a Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) at the time. Even though I was mostly along for the ride… during the damage control drills, I would be asked questions about what actions would be best. Now, I had been qualified Damage Control Watchstander before, and I had done my share of trainings in flooding and fire and such. But I was certainly no expert. Part of me wanted to say:

“I am a FRAUD!! I shouldn’t be here… but I have no choice. You can ask me anything but my answer is probably no better than your own.”

I rather felt the same way in 2004 when I got to the Philippines as a missionary. We were sent by our home church so we did not have the advantages of pre-field training. Yet many asked me to speak at different events  It was good experience…. and part of me appreciated the trust. Yet, that feeling was still there.

“I am being listened to because I look like a missionary… but I have no idea what I am doing or saying!!”

Now these were not the only times I have felt this way. Other times I felt like this include:

  • The first time I visited a nuclear submarine to try to repair their navigational radar.
  • The first time I taught a class on church growth and multiplication
  • The first time I was team leader for a medical mission.

That is okay, however. We are supposed to feel awkward and ill-prepared the first time one does something big and different. In effect, in such situations, there is always a bit of “Fake it ’til you make it.”

But for me, at least, I find things different in doing pastoral counseling.  My primary pastoral counseling is with missionaries and other clergy. I am the administrator of a pastoral counseling center, and so I get called upon to do a certain amount of pastoral care/counseling. Many will talk to me like I know what I am doing and am wise in what I am saying. I feel like saying,

“Look, only with the greatest difficulty do I have some sense of what I should do and say in my own life. I am far far less sure of what you should do or say. Nearly all of the ‘wisdom’ I may have has come from my being in the vicinity of so many many many failures and mistakes… many of which I caused myself.”

But in counseling, the feeling of incompetence does not go away…

…and I think that is a good thing.fbdd23f3ee7915dfmed

I have seen pastoral counselors become confident in their abilities. Some go towards being confident moral adjudicators, “knowing” exactly what the client should do and not do. Others towards playing junior psychologist… diagnosing with doubtful confidence what is “really going on”

But pastoral care/counseling is strongest when it is most humble… most tentative. Robert C. Dykstra, in his book “Images of Pastoral Care” lists several paradoxical metaphors/images of pastoral care. Among these is:

  • Wounded Healercircus-clown-cool-picture-favim-com-2428316
  • Circus Clown
  • Wise fool

I have always appreciated Henri Nouwen’s metaphor of the wounded healer. but I am beginning to appreciate Heije Faber’s “Circus Clown” and Alastair Campbell’s “Wise Fool.”

In the circus, everything works in the superlatives, the greatest this, and the most amazing that. But amidst the dazzling array of highly skilled artisans comes the clown… whose humor comes in part from his or her apparent incompetence, and lowliness… individuals that seem so much to not fit into the menagerie that composes the circus. Yet they seem to have a clear role. As Faber states, there appears to be a psychohygienic purpose for them being there. It pulls people back from the ethereal to the mundane… from the transcendent to the imminent. One is reminded of the court jester who could say whatever he wished without repercussion… being a fool after all… yet in so doing would perhaps say exactly what needed to be said. Every “great man” or “great woman” needs someone who does not compete for greatness, but rather listens to what needs to be listened to and says what needs to be said.

In the hospital… in the jail… in the military… a chaplain should be a bit strange, not quite fitting in. When I was in the military, I liked the chaplains. They did not think or act like others in the military. They helped one deal with the “crap” one gets dumped with, helping one adapt thoughtfully to the culture, while in turn being rather counter-cultural themselves. I never asked a Navy chaplain whether he (the ones I met were male) felt a bit out of place and awkward in the military. If I did, I am not sure what he would say– but I hope he would say something like:

“I often feel out of place– I am accepted as part of ship and part of the wardroom, and part of the organizational structure, but I don’t really fit into it comfortably– almost as if billeted at the last moment. I have access to everyone on the ship from the captain and down to the greenest seaman recruit, yet I have little to no authority to do much of anything that ties directly to the mission of the ship. I am welcome to gatherings and yet I think I make people feel awkward much of the time. People come to me, either voluntarily, or by order of someone else. Some come expecting clear answers and solutions, others come just so they can say they have gone through the motions of ‘getting some counseling.’ In both cases, I can guarantee nothing. I cannot guarantee they will be better after talking to me. I cannot guarantee any guidance I may give is even correct. All I can do is be available, pull them briefly out of the structure of rank, authority, and responsibility, as well as DOs and DON’Ts in their chain of command, and truly communicate human being to fellow human being.”

That is what I would hope to hear, kind of like a clown at a circus… a (wise) fool in the courts of power.

Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions (Continuation)

As I noted before, I am involved in missions in the Philippines. I teach missions, but I also am the administrator of a pastoral care and counseling center, and I am the registrar for a pastoral counseling certification organization. The goals of missions and pastoral care are often quite different so I have wrestled with this a bit. The first post noted the question on whether pastoral care is, in fact Christian. Pastoral care often utilizes “non-Christian” methodologies. Additionally, some people who are not Christians describe themselves as pastoral care providers. To me this was fairly easy to resolve. The next two are a bit tougher.

Resolution #2.  Can one actually do pastoral care for non-Christians? Some argue that pastoral care is meaningless unless the other person is already a Christian. I have, in fact, heard this one quite a bit.

It is built on a theological presumption that one’s spiritual journey starts from Salvation, continues through Sanctification, until ultimate Glorification. It takes a strong view of the Fall and Redemption. A different perspective takes a higher view of Creation. We are all created in the image of God and have some ability to respond to God’s call to change. As such the pastoral care roles of healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling are applicable when dealing with non-Christians.

This is ultimately a conflict of theological perspectives, both of which can find its Bible references. However, in missionary practice, the second viewpoint seems to be evident.

1.  Non-Christians do change. The lack of personal redemption and the Spirit of God in their lives certainly limits their ability for meaningful change, but that does not imply that all change is impossible. Jesus healed the body of many before He healed their hearts.

2.  Salvation is a process, even if Conversion is an event. As noted elsewhere with the Engel Scale and Gray Matrix, discipleship is a process that may start from a position of ignorance about and/or hostility with God, and continues towards steps of changes of attitude and understanding, through conversion towards growing as believer and follower of Christ. Since the process starts well before conversion, it seems foolish to presume that ministering to an unbeliever is useless.

3.  Many many many people go through a process of growth outside of what is commonly accepted in Evangelical churches. The Evangelical presumption is that an individual goes through three steps:  Salvation/Conversion, Joining a Faith Community, Discipleship. But for many (and even more for those from collectivist cultures) things often go in a different way. They start with joining a faith community, going through discipleship, and then at some point undergo conversion. This reality means that pastoral care occurs for such people prior to conversion.

4.  Related to the above points, many nonbelievers are ready for pastoral care before they are ready for conversion. They need to see change before willing to commit. Some people are willing to do a leap of faith prior to knowing where they will land, but most people need a taste of possibilities first.

I feel that pastoral care is applicable for unbelievers, and this is quite consistent with missions principles.

<The last question will be in the final post of this series.>

Daniel and Proselytizing

One of my jobs is that I am the administrator of a counseling center in the Philippines. My wife is a chaplain and we teach pastoral care/pastoral counseling.

We teach that one does not proselytize in counseling. Or at least if one does proselytize… it is done by permission or request from the person… and never at the beginning of the conversation.  There are good reasons for this.

  1. In many settings, our ability to serve (such as in a hospital, jail, or evacuation center) is dependent on abiding by set policies. Such policies may include no “cold call” evangelizing.
  2. In times of crisis, encouraging a person to make a major life change can be detrimental (destabilizing an already unstable psychosocial situation). And any positive response (such as saying the sinner’s prayer) is likely to not be a heartfelt response since it was offered at a time of mental chaos.
  3. It may be interpreted by the client/counselee that the motive of the counseling is not to help but to rack up another score for one’s church.
  4. It may close down conversation before one has had an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in a manner that is understandable and recognizable to the counselee. (Front end evangelism may actually reduce the likelihood of conversion/ transformation instead of increasing it.)

There are other reasons… but this is a good, if short, list.

But some say that this is ridiculous. If one is counseling a non-Christian, that person is unregenerate and so one must focus on evangelism first. The argument is:

  • Being unregenerate they are unable to make meaningful change without the Holy Spirit indwelling them.
  • Salvation is more important than any other problem they may have. (This is the strongest of the three points here.)
  • Our call is to share the Gospel. Anything else we do, with regards to the world, is a distraction.

As an Evangelical Christian, from a revivalist tradition, I find these arguments to be relatively strong and logical. Yet, it is not our tradition that should guide us, but God’s Word.

The example of Christ makes it clear that we are to always demonstrate God’s love and message in both word and deed. With Christ, however, God’s love is often demonstrated before the presentation of God’s message of redemption. Further, it seems doubtful, at best, that Jesus limited the rest of his teaching/counsel only to individuals who responded to His message to follow Him. Jesus’ ministry should challenge the view that evangelism must always be the priority in all counseling encounters with non-Christians. But there is still room for differences of opinion.

A difficulty is that there are few examples of long-term counseling between a believer and a non-believer in the Bible. Thankfully, we do have at least one good example. That is Daniel.

Daniel served as a counselor to the rulers of Babylon and Medo-Persia. These were all pagan rulers. There is pretty good parallelism to the situation of many Christian counselors… especially chaplains. Daniel was a follower of the one true God serving as a counselor to unbelievers. Daniel’s role was, in part, because of his spiritual role (he was chosen not simply for being wise, but seen as having access to a god). Additionally, Daniel was under the obligation of the Abrahamic covenant to be a blessing to all nations. As such, a call to repent and turn to God (Yahweh) was certainly a critical (if not THE critical) activity.

But didn’t Daniel share his faith? Absolutely. There is ample evidence of that in the Book of Daniel. But was that all he offered? Nebuchadnezzar appears to have become a follower of God at the end of his life… but for most of the time of the interaction between Daniel and himself, he was not a believer. As far as we know Belteshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus never got further than a pagan’s respect for the god of Judah. It seems quite evident that Daniel did not see his role as a counselor as wasted in guiding pagan rulers.

We know that God’s message to these rulers through Daniel was not limited to proselytization. Even for the conversations that are not recorded in the book of Daniel, one cannot assume that Daniel would have maintained his role as a counselor for many decades if the only real counseling he gave was a call for the rulers to become Jewish proselytes.

I am not downplaying evangelization or proselytization. I am simply questioning the presumption that our role with unbelievers is meaningless unless it starts with classic evangelism and is to be limited to classic evangelism (up until conversion at least).

It seems to me that Daniel does provide a balanced approach.

  1. He lived a life of integrity and godly witness even in a potentially hostile environment.
  2. Served faithfully, seeking to meet felt needs of his counselees, while not blind to their actual needs.
  3. Did not feel limited in sharing the message God had for his counselees… regardless of its nature.