What Our Culture’s Counselors Do Not Say

RTS Charlotte launches their new biblical counseling program and degrees this upcoming fall. For anyone familiar with the state of seminaries and counseling, this counts as a big deal. David Powlison addressed a number of RTS friends at an event celebrating this launch, and he summarized some of the key differences between Christian counseling and secular counseling:


In counseling, there is always a worldview. There is a way of interpreting problems. There is a way of defining causality. There is a way of understanding influence. There is always a proposal for cure. There is always a goal that defines what thriving humans really look like. There is always a sense of a trajectory of change and growth and flourishing; how does a person come from a place that’s bad and hard and difficult and tormented and destructive to a place that’s relatively constructive, and start to flourish? Every single counselor has a view and answer to all those questions, whether they will admit it or not.

Why do we put the adjectives “biblical” and “Christian” in front of “counseling”? We want to consider the things that our culture’s counselors never say:

  • It does not get said in our culture’s counseling that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” [Matt. 4:4]
  • It does not get said that, “Cast your cares upon him” because it matters to Him. [1 Pet. 5:7]
  • It does not get said that, “He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” [Heb. 13:5] Therefore you can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper. I will not fear. What can man do to me?” [Heb. 13:6]
  • They never mention that God has a name.
  • They never mention that God searches every heart and that every human being will give account before God.
  • They never teach the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.
  • They never mention sinfulness and sin and that there is some kind of compulsive and obsessive drive in people to suppress the knowledge of God.
  • They never mention that suffering is meaningful within larger purposes.
  • They never mention Jesus Christ because Jesus is a standing insult to self-esteem, self-trust, self-confidence and all the “self” words that our culture believes are the answer to what is wrong with us.
  • They never mention that God really does forgive sins.
  • They never mention that the Lord is our refuge, and in the midst of terrible afflictions it is possible to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and lose all earthly good and not to despair because he is with us. There is safety—fundamental safety and refuge.
  • They never mention that biological factors and personal history factors exist within the purposes of God. That those things locate our struggles and moral responsibility but do not trump moral responsibility.
  • They never mention our propensity to return evil for evil, or that we should return evil with good.
  • They never mention that human beings are meant to become, will all our heart, conscious worshipers.
  • They never mention that we are meant to live to use our God-given gifts to further dedicate our lives to the coming of his kingdom.
  • They never mention that the power to change does not lie within ourselves. There is an implicit belief that in some way if you can just understand yourself well enough and tap into interior resources and find enough support of human relationships and maybe get a bit of a chemical tweak on your moods and emotions, somehow that’s enough.
  • They do not pray with and for people.

But there is a Father who is a Vinedresser, and there is a Son who is a Shepherd, and there is a Holy Spirit who is a life-giver and a fruit-giver. There is someone outside ourselves who is why we want counseling to be Christian, worthy of the name “Christian.” Part of our worldview is that problems do not get solved until the day we see Him face to face. Only then are the tears all gone. Only then is the struggle with our besetting sins all gone. But that hope is a true hope.

(From an address given by David Powlison in Charlotte, NC on Tues, April 1, 2014. Some parts of the message are reproduced here verbatim and some parts are summarized.)


Are those unmentioned truths essential for counseling, counselors, and counseling training, or are they peripheral?

Leave a comment


3 years ago

Hey Jared!

So glad you took notes at this. What an excellent talk!


Brandon Burks

3 years ago

Isn’t there a difference between Christian counseling and biblical counseling as well? The former being those Counselors who are Christian but, as a practice, merge both biblical and secular physiological principles together (I.e. Integrationists). The latter being those, in ACBC for instance, who see Jesus, the Spirit, and Scripture to be sufficient to heal mental illness. Is that an accurate depiction of the two camps within counseling? Where would Powlson fit in?

Ethan Smith

3 years ago


There is a wide spectrum of counseling techniques. As I understand it, CCEF, of which David Powlison is a part, is considered biblical counseling but would not shy away from using medication if necessary. Nouthetic biblical counseling (Jay Adams) would not use medicine.

Integration is more than just medicine. It is also integrating practices. There is a “five views” book that should explain it a bit better for you (and includes Powlison).


Personally, I appreciate CCEF and others like The Barnabas Center that believe in biblical counseling but also see that medicine can be helpful as well. I think there has been an over-reaction to drugs due to over-prescribing.



Ethan Smith

3 years ago

This should also help:

Ed Welch, “Can We Be Positive about Psychiatric Medications?”

Glenn Smith

3 years ago

I wonder whether Mr. Burks’ point was meant to illuminate [Powlinson’s and Welch’s] integrationist approach, not so much with respect to medicine, but rather in upholding Adlerian and Freudian psychological principles by means of eisegesis.

I don’t find the list given above as illustrative of ‘biblical/Christian’ counseling but rather a simple declaration of what ought to be obvious to a redeemed child of God.

I would contend there is a problem with those who would hold credentials within a secular psychology educational environment (which they have to keep current) and then use it as a [partial] framework in their approach to hamartiology and thus, necessarily, soteriology. Their hermeneutic is flawed from the get go.

The biblical/Christian counseling movement is nothing more than a false belief that we need to have some kind of equal but opposite answer to secular psychology. It creates an unbiblical hierarchy (counselor above counselee), which more often than not, sits outside of an ecclesiastical environment and which is in opposition to Galatians 6:1. Professionalizing such an approach with the final words, “Will that be cash or charge” is, I believe, an abomination before the LORD.

I would not deny the role of biblical counseling. However it is not dependent on the study of general revelation (what other people ‘seem’ to know – Freud, Adler), it does not need credentials from CCEF to uphold its veracity (there is sufficiency in Christ and His Word) and should be carried out more in keeping with Hebrews 3. For a church (pastors and elders) to seek a CCEF approved counselor as a resource (a place to ‘send’ congregants) speaks to the state of evangelicalism today.


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