Heath Lambert is concerned with “establishing what God has revealed about counseling” (13). As a biblical counselor, he believes that the goal of counseling should be solving mankind’s main problems. In his view, the Bible both claims to be and is sufficient for accomplishing that. On the front end of the book, he declares these presuppositions, spends some time differentiating them from other approaches and then begins to develop their implications.
One of Lambert’s principal conversation partners in the first half of the book is the field of Christian Counseling. For the Christian Counseling world, the goals of counseling are more diverse and not limited to mankind’s “major” problems, allowing them to isolate more specific issues that seem to require the use of extra-Biblical resources (such as secular psychology). Lambert frames his disagreement with them as a debate over the sufficiency of the Scriptures. According to him, the Bible is not necessarily sufficient for all of mankind’s questions and problems, but it is always sufficient for the issues that it claims to be sufficient for. Lambert’s central thesis is that the Bible does claim to be sufficient for the issues with which counseling is concerned. This is the heart of the debate between biblical and integrationist counseling. On one side you have Christian integrationists and on the other you have biblical counselors like Lambert.
His thesis sets Lambert up for a form of circular argumentation. (Not all circular arguments are vicious, but some are and this one might be.) I agree with Lambert that “the Bible [is] about the problems we face and God’s solutions to those problems” (52). We are also in agreement that the work of counseling is primarily concerned with the kinds of problems that the Bible is about. (He rightly avoids calling them “spiritual” problems because all problems involve our bodies and our souls - we are a psychosomatic unity. They’re just human problems.) However, in the first several chapters of the book Lambert repeatedly assumes that counseling is (or should be) only concerned with those kinds of problems. I expected him to argue for that assumption. Either I wasn’t paying attention, or he never actually does it. He comes close to arguing for it when he states that “counseling is not primarily about an exchange of highly technical information… [but] an exchange of wisdom about life’s problems” (56). His case could be greatly improved if he established that any counseling conversation that moves beyond the sharing of information is immediately found in moral and spiritual territory, where science has to serve other masters. Such an argument would sharpen his break from the integration approach of Christian counseling and would clarify the “informing” approach that he attempts to chart (“contributions from unbelievers can inform the work of biblical counseling”, 79).
The most commendable feature of Heath Lambert’s book is his emphasis on faithfulness and obedience to the Word of God over the supposed “evidence” that we have empirically about what works and what doesn’t. Shepherding human souls requires supernatural help that cannot be proven or deduced by the natural man. As Lambert takes his reader through fundamental tenants of systematic theology and applies them to counseling, walking by faith and not by sight is required. He rightly guards us from seeing man as an animal or a machine. We do this even in the metaphors we use for people (“how we are wired”). Even as Christian believers, with a supernatural metaphysic, a Triune God and a real human soul, we can subconsciously adopt naturalistic patterns of thought with regards to helping people. Lambert helps us step back and realize that God is relevant and God is involved in the lives of the people we love and are trying to help. When God reaches out to help people, he doesn’t just send us a list of variables (in their body or their environment) that we need to tinker with.
When it comes to systematic theology, the book could again use some precision. Lambert relies on Grudem & Ware’s understanding of eternal subordination of the Son, criticizes the Puritans for a misunderstanding of regeneration, and introduces some new theological categories that are unfortunate at best. These do not detract from the solid Reformed foundation that he builds upon throughout most of the book, but they would definitely make a systematician raise questions.
Overall, if the reader is aware of the above reservations, the book can be a helpful introductory resource into the world of biblical counseling.
Other reviews: David Murray, Nate Brooks.
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