The relationship of Christianity to various forms of counseling has been a turbulent subject in recent decades. With the advancement of medicinal science and the proliferation of different disease and therapy conceptual frameworks, a wide variety of challenging questions have been presented to Christians. Even within the Christian tradition, schools of thought vary widely in their understanding. Some see psychological issues as purely physiological. They strictly require a biological fix. Others view all psychological issues as direct results of personal sin that should be addressed with repentance. In my understanding, neither extreme does justice to biblical anthropology and the gospel.
Certainly, many things in life are difficult, and Christians should in no way discredit the many blessings God has given for the help and healing of suffering people. We are body-soul unities, and Christians ought to be concerned with addressing the entire person in every situation. Even in psychological/psychiatric matters, we should be willing to see various medications and therapies in light of common grace. God often provides healing through the technological advancement of medicine. Mike Emlet’s course Counseling and Physiology at Westminster Theological Seminary via CCEF was incredibly helpful for me on these matters.
We should not be under the impression that we can simply preach at people with manic depression or schizophrenia, for instance, expecting that will address these acute forms of suffering. In many instances God has given us medication and other therapies as good gifts of common grace. However, ultimately speaking, our good deeds in the body must be done in service of the ultimate “healing” which happens through salvation in Jesus Christ. In that sense, the gospel is the ultimate healing, since the gospel is a matter of special, salvific grace. It is the matter of first importance (1 Cor 15:3) and should be our ultimate (but not exclusive) concern. When we understand counseling in light of special and common grace, we can begin to address many of these difficult issues with biblical clarity and conviction. And in doing so, the preaching of the gospel begins to take on a central role in our understanding of counseling (cf. Rom 10:14-17) while embracing, and not eclipsing, the necessary care for whole persons.