Lambert, Heath. A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
Everyone has life problems—some small and some large. Christians usually want to turn to the Bible for answers, but it is not always clear where to look for those answers—Psalms, Proverbs, or maybe the New Testament? Some even wonder if God’s word is sufficient to provide everything needed to address their issues. One key debate today within conservative evangelical circles is whether biblical counseling or Christian counseling is the key to addressing these problems. Biblical counselor and seminary professor, Dr. Heath Lambert, confronts this very issue with his new book entitled A Theology of Biblical Counseling.
Lambert starts out by defending the use of the Bible for counseling God’s people instead of the use of many secular methods of psychological counseling that are available today. Who knows the problems of man better than God himself? Lambert takes the time to define biblical counseling and to defend it against Christian and secular counseling in the first chapter. He writes, “Counseling is a theological discipline,” explaining that “we are who God says we are” (11). “What is wrong with us is what God says is wrong with us” (17). He claims that all counselors use theology whether they know it or not. “There is no other option available but to have a theological vision of reality. Every vision of reality about counseling will be theological” (17). This is a very controversial view for Christians today. Lambert uses ten key doctrines of theology to systematically explain why biblical counseling is the most effective form of counseling leading to lasting change in the lives of God’s people today: Scripture, common grace, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, suffering, salvation, and the church.
Lambert compares biblical (or nouthetic) counseling to Christian counseling to give readers an overview of the differences. Many may confuse the two, which can be devastating if a person goes in for counseling thinking that the counselor will be using biblical principles only to find out that the “Christian” counselor opens with prayer and then uses secular scientific methods to try to address problems. Lambert asks, “What must God think when his people talk about the principles of his Word only after they have been filtered through secular psychology?” (89). He then shows areas where biblical and Christian counselors agree (26-27). After reading through this list it can become a little confusing as to whether Christians should reject psychology or not. On page twenty-six, Lambert states, “biblical and Christian counselors agree that psychologists make true observations that are often helpful.” But three pages later he writes, “Biblical and Christian counselors continue to disagree on the question of whether it is necessary to use secular counseling techniques to help people…” (29). It seems like Lambert is hesitant to reject psychology altogether, but he spends most of the book attempting to do just that.
Starting in the second chapter, Lambert uses actual counseling cases (with names changed for privacy) to show how to apply each of the theological doctrines to help those in need. These cases prove to be very helpful in understanding application of the biblical principles contained in these chapters. Most of these doctrines are commonly taught in evangelical churches around the world, but they are not consistently applied to counseling. Seeing how real lives were changed via Lambert’s cases solidifies the idea of how to apply them in one’s own counseling ministry. For example, Lambert uses the doctrine of God to show that God is self-sufficient; yet, as his creatures, humans must depend on him (108). He used this doctrine to counsel a young lady who had been abused her whole life to show her that God was someone in whom she could finally trust (132).
Two of the most important chapters were the last two doctrines that Lambert covered: salvation in Chapter 10 and the church in Chapter 11. When understanding salvation we have to know which parts of salvation are monergistic and which are synergistic. Salvation truths like election and regeneration are not controllable by humans, but when it comes to sanctification we are called to be involved in the work with God (291). This is important to know because if a biblical counselor tells someone struggling with a pornography addiction to “let go and let God” there will be little chance of reformation. But knowing that God gives that person the power to change is life-transforming (2 Peter 1:3)! Lastly, the doctrine of the church is essential to effective biblical counseling because the Christian life is not meant to be lived out alone (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). We need our brothers and sisters to hold us accountable, to fellowship with, to worship with together, and to point us to Christ (Heb 3:13; 10:24). Lambert even points out the importance that church discipline had in the life of one unrepentant church member as it led him to repentance (311).
By using these examples and applying biblical truths to solve issues, Lambert is able to prove his case that biblical counseling reigns as king of counseling. This is because we must depend on God’s word and the power of the Holy Spirit to transforms lives, not secular psychology (Romans 15:13). While this book seems to be aimed toward those with a counseling ministry in a local church, it would be helpful for anyone who wonders whether God’s word is sufficient to change the lives of those suffering the effects of sin in our world. I highly recommend this book for all of those who are concerned with the epidemic of pain and suffering within our churches today. Theology is not just knowledge about God. Theology is meant to transform the hearts and minds of God’s people by leading them from death to life.
Chad Lindon, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church member and seminary student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.