First of all, here’s the warning: Read the Book of Job!
In 1970, Jay E. Adams published a book titled Competent to Counsel. That book inspired a whole new attitude toward counseling in churches and among Bible-believing Christians. A mature Christian, one who is “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge” is “able to admonish,” or in Adams’s translation, “competent to counsel” others (Romans 15:14).
The movement that this book sparked, however, has had unintended consequences. The “biblical counseling” movement has spawned schools and programs that offer “certification” to counselors, both ordained ministers and lay people, encouraging them to offer their “professional services” in scheduled sessions – exactly like the secular “counselors” do. And like their secular counterparts, they believe they have special qualifications for counseling others, qualifications that the average Christian, however mature and diligent in Bible study, does not have.
Another negative consequence of this new class of “biblical counselors” is the belief many of them hold that they can diagnose a person’s real problem and thus apply a biblical solution. This presumption has resulted in the spiritual abuse of vulnerable Christians who are made to believe they have unconfessed – even unknown – sin in their lives that is causing their problems. Indeed, Jay Adams sees counseling as “confrontation” that has three “sides”: “1. Discernment of wrong doing in another that God wants changed. 2. Verbal confrontation of another with the Word of God in order to change his attitudes or behavior. 3. Confrontation of another for his benefit.” (The Christian Counselor’s Manual, p. 14)
While I have found much of Jay Adams’s material to be very helpful in my own ministry, I find that his approach to “counseling” is limited to people who come to a formal pastoral appointment with some sort of conflict. Yet people, yes, even Christian people, often hurt from causes other than personal conflict. In fairness to Dr. Adams, while he identifies sin (original sin) as the source of all troubles and problems, he does not say that personal sin is always the cause of an individual's problems. His followers, however, often fail to look for other sources than personal sin.
And that brings us to the Book of Job.
Job’s three “friends” came to “mourn with him, and to comfort him” (Job 2:11). They started out with manifestations of genuine grief, and they did what comforters should do: they sat with him, provided companionship. And they did it for seven days! Then Job broke the silence and poured out his despair, and that’s when his friends went tragically astray. All three of them reacted to Job’s words, which Job himself admitted were “rash” because of his grief (6:3). They took it upon themselves to defend God’s integrity and accuse Job of irreverence, if not blasphemy. This led them to suspect that Job had hidden sins that were the cause of the apparent judgments that had fallen upon him.
Fast forward to the end of the book.
God rebukes Job’s three friends with these words:
It came about after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. "Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8)
Stern words for those who were sure they knew what Job’s problem was! Who were sure they spoke for God! Those of us in the ministry, as well as lay Christians devoted to ministering God's grace to others need to read the Book of Job at least once a year in order to reflect on how we should deal with those who are troubled. And let us beware of jumping to conclusions!
Some Worthwhile Reading
Martin Bobgan was an early advocate for the “biblical counseling” movement, but he began to see how it had strayed from its original purpose to become something very much like the world’s concept of “counseling”. Martin and Deidre Bobgan have written two books that clarify the problems with current biblical counseling and outline ways average Christians can truly minister to one another's needs: Competent to Minister and Against Biblical Counseling, For the Bible.