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First Thoughts

Priests in the Garden, Zombies in the Wilderness, and Prophets on the Wall: The Current State of the Contemporary Biblical Counseling Movement

David Powlison, Counter-Conversion, and The Biblical Counseling Movement

The contemporary biblical counseling movement is in a significant state of transition. After a half-century of development and growth, most of the established leaders are gone, and newer ones are seeking to influence the contemporary conversation. At this very moment, our movement is discerning whose voices will be dominant and which institutions and organizations will have future influence.

The voices in this transition are not neutral. One side is urging us to use this time of transition to rediscover our past and be faithful to the principles that have defined our movement since its founding. Another side would have us move away from our past convictions and embrace beliefs very different from the ones espoused by the bright lights of our movement.

One of those bright lights—the one whose name everyone is dropping—is David Powlison. Opposing sides claim him because everyone knows he was wonderful. Like Protestants and Catholics with Augustine of Hippo, both sides want everyone to believe he is on their side. David would be nervous about most of this. He would remind us that it is Christ and his Word, not any man, who stands as the authority on the cure of souls. The competing claims about David’s legacy will require a comprehensive appraisal of his teaching, but I am engaging in no such undertaking here. At the beginning of this essay, I only want to share a personal story about my dear friend.

My relationship with David began when he hired me as his research assistant during my Ph.D. program. From there, he became the supervisor of my dissertation. One of the great joys of my life was the relationship of friendship and co-laboring that grew from those years together. He basically forced me into accepting my role as a professor at Southern Seminary when I was unsure I wanted the job, and he was on the search committee that chose me as the executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). We spoke at conferences, collaborated on projects, spent holidays together, and stayed up until all hours in hotel lobbies all over the country talking, laughing, and praying. His spiritual investment in me was greater than anyone I have ever known. Most of what I know about counseling theory I learned from him personally in his living room.

When David received his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, we had agreed to write a book about counseling methodology and our regular conversations became more personal and more treasured. We talked about the preciousness of life, the sweetness of the Psalms, and—as always—the biblical counseling movement. In his final months, David shared two great concerns he had at the end of his life. One of those concerns was the state of the biblical counseling movement. As he reflected on a lifetime of investment in the movement, he was encouraged and concerned. One of his encouragements was that the movement was better at engaging unbiblical psychologies than it had ever been. He knew this was largely because of his influence and was grateful. His corollary concern was that increased engagement had lowered the defenses of a movement more prone to implementing the insights and strategies of the psychologies they were engaging. Like every faithful Christian, David knew there was plenty to learn from other counseling approaches. The great risk of apologetic engagement, however, was that the persuader would get persuaded, abandon faithfulness, and syncretize error with truth. David called this the problem of counter-conversion. His concern at the very end of his life was that a more highly engaged biblical counseling movement was more highly at risk of being counter-converted and adding the unbiblical insights of fallen counseling worldviews into the Bible’s comprehensive strategy for counseling care.

As one attempt to address this concern, in the months before he died, David asked me to speak to the faculty of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) about the importance of maintaining a commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture while engaging other counseling approaches. I agreed and called the talk Priests in the Garden, Zombies in the Wilderness, and Prophets on the Wall. I portrayed the existence of an authentically biblical approach to counseling alongside a thoroughly secular approach in terms of a zombie apocalypse. Because this is a fitting metaphor to describe the current state of our movement, I want to describe here what David asked me to speak about that day.

Priests in the Garden

In my analogy, the garden is a beautiful, lush place flowing with fresh water and covered with beautiful flowers. This glorious garden is where biblical counseling happens, and the priests are the ones who do it. The priests in this magnificent garden are all the faithful people who study the words of our God and apply them to the lives of hurting people. When these priests encounter the truth that Scripture is “A lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Pss 119:105), they know they are encountering a promise from God and have the good sense to believe it. They do not believe God made this promise for the small glory that comes with addressing small problems. They know he wants the great glory of addressing life’s greatest problems. The priestly work of biblical counselors is driven by profound trust in God and open love for people that shines the light of biblical truth in the darkest seasons of life.

In a world full of trouble, this garden is a delightful place, and these priests are ones of whom the world is not worthy. They have the resources that alone address the problems of men and women at a level of depth. But this wonderful garden exists alongside a scary place.

Zombies in the Wilderness

Much of the world is harsh, uncultivated wilderness. This wild place is an analogy for the lost world apart from God and his Christ. Out there, the folks do whatever they please, whenever they please, however they please. That sounds good to those who don’t understand that the whole world is God’s and life only works when it works according to his truth. A group of secular priests attempt to offer therapeutic cures for all that ails the sad people in that untamed wilderness. Picture these therapeutic priests as the zombies of the analogy. They are walking corpses offering lifeless cures to the living dead. Zombies are secular people offering secular support for secular problems. Because these secular therapeutic zombies are a constant threat to the peace of the garden, the analogy has a third group.

Prophets on the Wall

The prophets on the wall stand facing the zombie throng and defend the garden from attack. Their weapons of issuing warnings, of calling out specific errors, and of correcting erring priests are powerful and loud. The cannon blasts of their warnings often disturb the much quieter ministry of priests in the garden. The prophets on the wall, who constantly see the danger of approaching zombies, are sometimes alarmed by the tranquil behavior of the priests in the garden. This divergence in perspective is why it’s crucial to remember that prophets and priests are on the same side. The prophet must remember he is there to protect what the priest is doing, and the priest must remember that the prophet makes it safe to do his work.

The prophet’s work is not to keep the priests in the garden but the zombies out. Sometimes priests want to go out into the wilderness. These priests know they have ultimate answers and want to help those who don’t. They are right to want to go into the wild world of zombies and give them life’s only real cure found in Jesus and the Bible. This desire is why the priests in the biblical counseling world have wanted to engage in the apologetic effort of crossing the wall of sufficiency and interacting with the zombies of secular therapy. They have wanted to engage them on their own turf so the zombies might have an opportunity to see the richness of real help. Such engagement has also given the priests of biblical counseling an opportunity to learn things out there in the wild. There are wonderful things in the wilderness, and some of the zombies roaming around out there know where to find them. But caution is required. There is always something to learn, but in the hands of a zombie, even wonderful things are risky.

One of the risks of the wilderness is the possibility that faithful biblical counseling priests will get bitten and infected by the zombies they were trying to help. This is the problem that Powlison diagnosed as counter-conversion. When counter-conversion occurs, the person who intended to help becomes the person in need of help. This zombie bite of counter-conversion takes a while to fully transform a priest into a zombie. Before that full transformation, infected priests can make it back to the wall, past the protecting eye of the prophets, and into the garden, where they become a threat to the faithful priests cultivating the garden. This intrusion into the garden represents the problem of compromise in the contemporary biblical counseling movement.

Compromise is always a threat to every faithful Christian endeavor. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” This passage teaches that one great threat to Christian faithfulness is always the slow drift of compromise. Compromise is a threat to every faithful biblical counseling priest, to the peace of the entire garden, and to the infected priests themselves as—at least initially—they are unaware of the deadly virus ravaging their ministries. We are facing that risk of compromise in today’s biblical counseling movement.

It takes great diligence to preserve the garden of faithful biblical counseling. All of us have a role to play in this great work. In The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, I likened the development of the biblical counseling movement to the generations of a family. The work of Jay Adams represented the first generation of our movement, which focused on our founding principles. The work of David Powlison represented the second generation, which focused on the development of those principles. We are now in a third generation of our movement. The pressing burden today is whether we will faithfully preserve what we have received and so hand down a movement that is stronger or one that is weaker.

One of the great concerns of this third generation of biblical counselors is the threat of the compromise of counter-conversion. Compromised individuals have infiltrated our garden and are masquerading as faithful. They present themselves as biblical counseling priests studied in our movement and learned in theology. They are neither. The faithful priests in the garden are trying to discern what to make of the statements of infected priests who want to draw them in close enough to spread their deadly infection. Much of the future strength of our movement will be based on the ability of healthy priests to detect the infected ones. That means that one of the great burdens for biblical counseling priests in our day is to recognize the signs of counter-conversion. The rest of this essay is about how to recognize and address the urgent problem of counter-conversion.

The Early Signs of Counter-Conversion

Secular therapists are easy to spot. Negligence of God’s Word, rejection of God’s Son, and obsession with therapeutic interventions are easy to diagnose. Everybody recognizes a zombie. Harder to notice is the priest who once intended to honor God, to be faithful to the Scripture, and to point people to the grace of Jesus, but who left the garden, got too close to a zombie, and now carries the deadly virus of secularity in a package of apparent faithfulness. How do we recognize a counter-converted priest who walks past the prophets on the wall, enters the garden, and slowly and silently begins to disrupt the good work happening in the garden of authentically biblical ministry? Counter-converted priests can be detected by at least three realities.

Nuanced Fascination with the Wilderness

As the zombie-infection of secular psychology begins to take over the life of a once-faithful biblical counseling priest, you will see a constant longing to return to the wilderness and take others with them. The interest in a wilderness excursion is not to help the zombies but to be helped by them. There is constant talk of the need to learn more about what is going on in the wilderness and to hear voices from outside the restrictive confines of the garden. We are assured that the priests in the garden are great folks but are not experts. The experts—the people who really know how to help—are the ones outside the garden. Counter-converted priests love the wilderness.

This love for the wilderness will be stated very carefully. Watch for the use of uncontroversial and reasonable-sounding words like nuance and balance. These benign words mask a malignant agenda. The slow and subtle advance of the zombie virus is crucial to avoid spooking the host. The virus spreads on a deadly claim: there are essential things out there in the wilderness, and zombies know where to find them.

One great example that is popular out there has to do with counseling and the human body. Counter-converted priests roll this out all the time. As the whites of their eyes turn yellow with infection, they shriek, “The body is crucial in counseling, so we need to learn all the stuff they know out there in the wilderness about therapy and the body.”

Such a statement is as confusing as it is revealing. The statement is confusing by mixing truth and error. Of course, the body is crucial in counseling. No serious person denies this—certainly not in the garden of biblical counseling. But when infected priests want to woo you out of the garden, they add deceit to this self-evident truth. The lie is that we need the zombies of secular therapy to tell us how to make sense of the body in counseling. This is not true and never has been.

Priests in the garden know of the importance of the body, not because zombies told us, but because God revealed it through his Word (e.g., Gen 2:21-23; 1 Cor 6:15-20). It is the truth of Scripture that allows us to make sense of competing zombie claims about the body. For example, should we send people to physicians who will preserve life or annihilate it in the womb? Are our problems physical, spiritual, or a mix of both? Any authentic clarity about these matters comes from Scripture. There are no principled answers for these questions in the wilderness, but only in the garden. The only people confused about this have been bitten by zombies and are on the way to becoming one themselves.

If you need an effective test for infected priests, think of the categories of fascination and frustration. One big difference between healthy priests and infected ones is often not about what they embrace as true or false but about what tends to fascinate or frustrate their ministry imagination. Here we are talking about being fascinated with facts in the wilderness. Notice, I am not disputing that there are facts in the wilderness—nobody does. An infected priest, however, doesn’t just acknowledge the existence of the facts. They are fascinated by them. Wilderness facts captivate their ministry imagination. No healthy priest is blind to the true things out there in the world. But they are not fascinated by them either. What fascinates healthy priests is the truth that changes lives found in God’s Word.

Cautious Frustration with The Garden

Infected priests are fascinated with the wilderness and frustrated with the garden. The resources for real and lasting care found in the gospel of grace and the words of Scripture seem old, quaint, trite, and boring. This explains their constant longing for the wilderness. Bitten by the zombie bug of the secular and therapeutic, they long for the wilderness and are bored within the safe walls of the garden. But this frustration must be expressed as slowly and as carefully as the progression of the disease that has infected them. The priests in the garden are not fools and will notice obvious signs of deviation from Scripture. The zombie disease of the secular and therapeutic moves very slowly in its approach to directly undermine the text of Scripture. One of the early signs of the disease is the rancid zombie breath that exhales frustration disguised as pious sophistication.

The infected priest subtly undermines Scripture by saying things like, “Of course, I am a biblical counselor, but I am clinically informed.” The only priests who ever say such things are ones with deadly infection coursing through their ministry veins. You hear feigned sophistication in the language of having greater information. After all, no one wants to be clinically uninformed. The critique of the knowledge available in Scripture is as subtle as it is insulting. The ability of faithful priests truly to help a struggling person without wilderness knowledge is obviously called into question.

The subtle attack overlooks terabytes of timeless truth that the biblical counseling movement has been downloading for generations. The Bible is no book on theory but is dripping with practical care (James 2:15-16). Real knowledge begins with knowing God and his Word (Prov 9:10). All the depths of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ (Col 2:2-3). It is unbelievers, not Christians, who suppress the truth and are defined by ignorance of the way things really are (Rom 1:18; Eph 4:18). God is the one who made people, alone understands them and has comprehensively revealed that understanding in no other place but Scripture. Secular theories are always getting disproved, tweaked, forgotten, amended, and twisted. The sufficiency of Scripture for counseling, while often derided, has never been disproven.

Why are these realities never acknowledged? For years, the zombies have been saying the same things. The biblical counseling movement has more than responded. But the careful arguments made over years of careful work are shockingly ignored. Rather than thoughtful engagement, slanderous misrepresentations are recklessly repeated: we are accused of rejecting knowledge outside of Scripture, of being biblicistic, ignoring care for the body, denying common grace, and all the rest. For years, I’ve wondered why there is such stubborn refusal to carefully respond to our detailed arguments or else to change. The reality is that such stubbornness is a symptom of the disease. Zombie infection clouds the mind of infected priests and leads them to confuse friend and foe. Believing those outside the garden are their allies and those inside are the adversaries, they rob the credibility of healthy priests by slandering their position and hoping you will believe it. When you hear those false allegations, you are witnessing an attempted zombie invasion.

Open Frustration with the Prophets

Priests infected with the zombie disease of therapeutic secularism are defined by fascination and frustration. We have talked about their fascination with the secular wilderness and their frustration with the biblical counseling garden. Another frustration they have is with the prophets on the wall defending against a zombie attack from the wilderness. Prophets are the conscience of the biblical counseling movement. The job of the prophet is to encourage faithful priests and to call out clear warnings when the garden of biblical counseling is in trouble.

Infected priests must destroy prophets because they are a clear and present danger to zombies.  The work on the part of counter-converted priests to take out the prophets protecting the biblical counseling garden is crucial but delicate work. Screaming at prophets to just let the zombies in is recklessly obvious. Something more subtle is necessary.

One such subtlety is the charge of ignorance that we talked about before. Counter-converted priests love to spread the charge that prophets are fools, ignorant, unaware of the research, lack nuance, and disregard truth. In this regard, the same tactics that work against the priests in the garden also work against the prophets on the wall. But future zombies love to level another charge against prophets that is unique and perhaps more effective. The charge is that the prophets are mean.

We live in a world where niceness is the highest order of righteousness, and anything seen as harsh is the unforgivable sin. In such a world, principled disagreement is intentionally misrepresented as personal attack because the zombie infection seeking to destroy the garden knows it is better to be a victim than to be guilty. Infected priests know who they’re dealing with and understand tender-hearted priests will feel badly for anyone viewed as an injured party.

The charge of meanness blinds many priests to the biblical command to rebuke error, which faithful prophets must obey (c.f., Titus 1:9). But if rebukes are mean, then Paul was wrong to correct Peter and to label his religious opponents as dogs (cf., Gal 2:11; Phil 3:2). If it is mean to rebuke, Jesus was cruel when he decried his opponents as snakes, fools, and whitewashed tombs (cf., Matt 12:34; 23:17, 27). If rebukes are wrong in principle, then infected priests who rebuke prophets for giving rebukes are also out of line. Healthy priests must remember that the serenity of the garden is based on prophetic protection and should never think the faithful prophets on the wall are their enemies and the deceitful priests in the garden are their friends.

This does not mean that every prophetic warning must be embraced uncritically. It means that in today’s biblical counseling movement faithful prophets are warning, infected priests are wooing, and everyone will listen to someone. Infected priests respond to this situation by shouting down the prophet and calling for quiet. But every healthy priest knows that a prophetic rebuke is a call to look up, look around, and figure out what is going on. Instead of shutting down the debate, the need of the hour is to listen well to the arguments from both sides. The truth will be vindicated over time, but that requires us to listen carefully and evaluate the claims. That is not consistent with shutting down the debate on a zombie charge that the presence of disagreement is equivalent to a lack of love and respect.

The charge that faithful prophets are bad leads faithful priests to distance themselves from prophets, which isolates the prophets and weakens their ministry. That is the point. When the garden is left exposed to danger, the zombies know they win.

A prophet must have an unshakable resolve to protect the garden, to help the healthy priests, the infected priests, and even the zombies by telling the truth about the way things are. From time to time, I’ve had to stand up on that wall and warn of threats to the garden. That is where I am standing right now. With all the love and courage I can muster, I am telling you that our garden has been invaded, and we are in danger. The invaders look like priests but have been compromised by the zombie bite of secularism. Some of these counter-converted priests are current and former leaders of biblical counseling organizations, some are professors of biblical counseling in our seminaries. They identify as biblical counselors on social media, get interviewed as authorities on podcasts, and speak at conferences. They are writing books, articles, and social media posts that you are reading, recommending, and giving to your friends.

Faithfulness requires you to be a discerning listener to the voices out there. Listen for their longing for the wilderness and pining discussions for how great it is out there, how much you’re missing, and how much better it would be if we only had all the great stuff they do. Open your eyes and see the division they are sowing between faithful priests in the garden as they divide our ranks between those they praise as intelligent or disparage as ignorant. Don’t you see that the intelligent ones they praise always love more of the wilderness, and the ignorant ones they condemn always love more of the garden? The calls for nuance and balance are always calls for more wilderness. Faithful biblical counselors need to see this as the spiking fevers of zombie infection.

My fellow brothers and sisters serving as priests in the biblical counseling movement, the garden has been infiltrated. The New Integrationists are here, and they want you to believe they are the biblical ones. Faithfulness demands that we take a stand today to defend the wonderful garden we have received and prepare to hand it to those who follow us in a way that is better and stronger. If we do not, we will wake up to find the garden has been overrun, and the zombies are in charge.

The Antidote to Counter-Conversion

To preserve the safety of the biblical counseling garden, we must be clear about the antidote to the zombie infection of secularism. This antidote works for those who wish to protect themselves against counter-converted priests, for those infected priests who wish to stop the spread of the disease, and even for zombies who want to change. The antidote is truth, humility, and repentance. To be safe from invading zombies, we must see things as they really are, humbly embrace that truth, and repent for every instinct to dismiss it. This antidote is foolproof, but it tastes dreadful, and zombies try to avoid it. But for the preservation of the garden, we all need to hold our noses and drink. Here are four doses of strong medicine we need to protect ourselves against the deceit of the secret zombie invaders.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture means that God has given us all we need to know how to please him in any area of life. As this doctrine is applied to counseling, it means that God’s Word is sufficient for counseling such that we need no other source of wisdom to address the counseling-related problems of struggling people. This truth does not mean there are no other sources of information outside the garden of God’s truth any more than it means God’s Word is an exhaustive catalog of human trouble. It does mean that God’s Word is a comprehensive guide to understanding and solving counseling problems and is the only such guide in existence.

I have written more words about this doctrine than any other single issue in my life. I will not repeat here things I have said at length elsewhere. If you are interested in a careful case for this doctrine, you may want to read the first several chapters of A Theology of Biblical Counseling. My goal here is not to unpack the issues but to make the more obvious point that it is this doctrine which has defined the biblical counseling movement since the 1960s. Biblical counselors are sufficiency people.

This is important because many today want to make it seem like you can be a biblical counselor without being committed to the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. It is common to hear folks in the garden say things like, “I am a biblical counselor, but I am trauma-informed.” Such talk never comes from faithful priests who believe the Bible speaks powerfully, relevantly, and authoritatively about human pain and provides God’s unique perspective on how to address the horrors of life in a fallen world. Such talk comes from people who like the Bible but believe that we must add the fallen wisdom of lost people to Scripture in order to offer real care. This language is a combination of cautious fascination with the wilderness and concealed frustration with the garden. It is zombie talk.

Anyone who wishes is free to integrate therapeutic resources with biblical ones. I believe it is a terrible error and think you and the people you mean to help will be harmed by it. But I am not the lord of anyone’s life. You may practice any counseling system you choose. But when you do, you must be honest. The use of secular therapies in counseling is not what biblical counselors do. It is wilderness behavior, not garden behavior. In the old days the voices urging us to integrate the Bible with secular thinking honestly called themselves integrationists. Today the voices calling us to integrate deceptively call themselves biblical counselors. The opposition has concealed themselves in our midst.

My appeal here is not for agreement but for integrity. The very high and clear barrier around the garden of biblical counseling is the wall of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. There are plenty of people who are integrating secular theories with biblical truth. They are referred to with labels like integrationists, Christian psychologists, redemptive counselors, and transformational psychologists. Those folks would love to have you. You can join their group any time you like. But those meetings happen outside the garden.

If you want to stay in the garden of biblical counseling, you need a period of social distancing where you quit evangelizing others about the wilderness and, instead, drink deeply of the great glories of God’s wondrous Word. And those of you listening to the zombie song about how wise they are in the wilderness and how simple we are here in the garden need to wake up and realize you’re being played.

Degrees of Sufficiency

As the zombie disease of secularism takes over the lives of infected priests, they seek to create conflict among the healthy members of the garden. They erect an artificial division between priests who are purportedly committed to extreme views on the sufficiency of Scripture and those with a more nuanced position. Such statements are not just a misapprehension of the biblical counseling movement but also represent a misunderstanding of basic Christian theology.

The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture does not admit degrees. It does not exist on a continuum of extreme to subtle. Like most doctrines, it is either true or not. This issue has less to do with biblical counseling than it does with clarity about the way theology works.

In Christian theology, the doctrine of sufficiency is one of four perfections of Scripture. The other three are authority, clarity, and necessity. The authority of Scripture is one that most Christians understand and means that Scripture, as God’s Word, is the supreme standard for all beliefs and behavior. This doctrine of biblical authority does not exist on a continuum. Scripture is either your authority or it is not. We would never deride someone as an extreme Christian who embraces the whole Bible as her absolute authority and then praise nuanced Christians who are more reasonable about the authority of God’s Word. Such talk would be silly.

As it is with authority, so it is with clarity, necessity, and sufficiency. The Bible is either clear, necessary, authoritative, and sufficient, or it is not. The sophisticated-sounding summons for balance on the matter of sufficiency is an ignorant appeal from Zombieland. Rejecting that summons requires no knowledge of biblical counseling at all but merely an introductory understanding of Bible doctrine. Such zombie calls require the reminder that we can have all of Scripture’s sufficiency, or we can have none of it. No option exists for part of it.

No Conflicting Doctrines

The point of any halfway-decent zombie infection is to destroy the barrier of the sufficiency of Scripture so that the garden’s cultivated serenity becomes overrun with the harshness of the wilderness. Throughout the history of the garden of biblical counseling, various zombies have tried to destroy the wall of sufficiency by making it seem like the facts out there in the wilderness are as legitimate and helpful as God’s truth in the garden.

One main way zombies have done this is by taking the truth that God reveals himself in the things he has made, called general revelation, and using that as the theological justification for incorporating secular theories in biblical ministry. The claim used to be that because God has spoken in the things he has made, we should use the stuff out there where the zombies live to help hurting people. Nobody makes that claim anymore. The argument failed because the zombies did not know what they were talking about. The biblical truth of general revelation does not have to do with the truthfulness of information outside the Bible but with what the created order says about the God who made it (cf., Rom 1:19-20). The doctrine of general revelation teaches the creation-wide testimony of the existence of God. It has nothing to do with whether anything in particular is relevant for counseling.

That argument died but did not change the desire of the zombies to break into the garden. Now, all the zombies are trying to do the same old thing in a brand-new way. The doctrine that contemporary zombies are using to breach the wall of the sufficiency of Scripture is the doctrine of common grace, which is God’s kindness to give blessings to all people whether they know him or not.

This doctrine is unequivocally true. Real facts absolutely exist out there in the wilderness that we can know, understand, and embrace. It is important to say this because zombies are always trying to deceive younger and less experienced priests in the garden into overlooking the fact that biblical counseling leaders have been affirming these things for decades in books, articles, statements of faith, and lectures. When you hear someone say that biblical counselors reject facts not found in Scripture, ignore common grace insights, deny the importance of the body, and on, and on, and on—you’re listening to zombie lies. No one who truly understands the biblical counseling movement falls for that stuff. Such claims are not only patently false about the biblical counseling movement but also reveal another critical misunderstanding about a basic truth of Christian theology.

Fundamental to Christian doctrine is the reality that the truths we confess are never in conflict with one another. This must be the case because God is one, true, righteous, and faithful. He will not speak out of both sides of his mouth. What he says in one place will never be at odds with what he says in another place. Our Christian commitment to this reality is proven every time we seek to make sense of apparent contradictions like divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the oneness and threeness of God, and the human and divine authorship of the Bible. Christians have a responsibility to avoid articulating any doctrine in a way that places it at odds with another.

The problem is that infected priests articulate their understandings of common grace and the sufficiency of Scripture in contradictory ways. Counter-converted priests claim the existence of common grace requires Christians to incorporate secular realities into counseling. They intend to sound reasonable and nuanced as they argue that the true doctrine of common grace justifies the implementation of secular insights into biblical counseling. What they actually do is articulate two glorious truths in contradictory ways.

Remember that the Bible is either sufficient or it is not. If the Bible is sufficient for counseling, then—by definition—it needs no augmentation from opposing counseling systems. But infected priests claim God’s common grace adds necessary insight to a Bible in need of no additional insight. Every first-year Bible student understands this cannot work.

Cleaning up their doctrinal confusion requires infected priests to make a choice between denial or modification. If you insist that common grace supplies crucial information for counseling that God left out of his Word, then you must deny that the Scriptures are sufficient for counseling ministry. If you will not deny sufficiency, then you must modify your understanding of the doctrine of common grace so that you embrace it as true and wonderful but not containing necessary counseling interventions which place it at odds with the sufficiency of Scripture. Either the denial or the modification is required to maintain harmony between the doctrines and silence the contradictory zombie growls.

If you are an infected priest, I pray you would neither persist in your untrue understanding of common grace nor make matters worse by denying the sufficiency of Scripture. Instead, you should embrace what every healthy priest in the garden already knows: the Bible is sufficient for counseling, common grace is true, and God’s Word is not divided against itself. If you are a healthy priest in the garden and hear someone explain that common grace justifies the use of therapeutic interventions in our counseling practices, then you’re listening to zombie logic that doesn’t understand the contents of Scripture, the nature of common grace, or the way Christian theology works.

No Disconnected Doctrines

In Christian theology, not only are there no conflicting doctrines, but there are also no disconnected doctrines. Every truth in the Christian corpus is related in some crucial way to every one of the others. No doctrine exists in isolation. To understand this, it helps to think of organizing the doctrines of the Christian faith not by a list but by a web. If you have ever seen a spider web glistening in the early morning sun, you will know how this works. Motion in any one part of the web registers in all the others. Destruction of any one strand creates structural collapse for the entire thing. It is the same with the truths of the Christian faith. All the doctrines are related to one another and ultimately stand or fall together.

You can see how this works by selecting any two doctrines and working to build the relationship between them. Take, for example, the doctrine of the righteousness of God and the truth of the return of Jesus Christ. The unity of Christian doctrine means there is an essential relationship between these two truths. First, God has promised that Jesus will return, and if he does not, God would be unrighteously dishonest. Second, when Jesus returns, he will reward everything good and punish everything wrong as a crucial vindication of God’s righteousness, which seems, in this fallen world, to be overlooking sin and wickedness. You get the idea. The fact that there are no disconnected doctrines guarantees that essential connections exist between every doctrine taught in Scripture.

This reality is crucial today when many counselors are talking about the relationship between sufficiency and common grace. The wrong view of the relationship between common grace and the sufficiency of Scripture leads infected priests to two errors. First, as we have seen, they err by articulating truth in contradictory ways. Second, they accuse faithful priests of rejecting the truth of common grace. Three realities explain the true relationship between these doctrines and corrects both problems.

The first essential connection is that common grace makes it possible to access the sufficient Scriptures. Before we can read Scripture, God must provide the gift of human language. He also provides the blessings of printers, bookbinders, typesetters, and modern distribution systems. All of these goods are the result of God’s common grace and require no one who receives them to be a recipient of saving grace. This reality shows that common grace is the servant of God’s special revelation in Scripture. Its purpose is to lead us to the Scripture so that we can access God’s infinite and special revelation to his people.

That leads to a second essential relationship between common grace and Scripture, which concerns the different and complementary nature of their content. Scripture is God’s special revelation going to his chosen covenant people telling them everything they need to know about who He is, who they are, the nature of the problems they confront, and how to resolve them. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” The content of common grace, however, concerns God’s care for all people to provide for their existence on earth. Matthew 5:45 says, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” The content of Scripture focuses on the nature of redemption and the content of common grace focuses on the nature of creation. Special grace is available in Scripture for the purpose of redemption from our problems. Common grace is available in nature for the purpose of creational existence.

A final essential connection is that common grace can only be recognized by the authoritative and sufficient revelation of Scripture. The doctrine of common grace refers to all of God’s good gifts in life. Those gifts are true and wonderful but can also be hard to identify in a fallen world. How are we to know which realities in a fallen world are more and less defined by common grace? When Christians evaluate secular counseling approaches like, for example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), how are they able to identify what therapists get right and what they get wrong? How is it possible to separate the fish from the bones? The most important answer is that the Scriptures are alone sufficient and authoritative to evaluate all such counseling interventions.

When infected priests accuse biblical counselors of rejecting common grace insights they are saying something untrue. Biblical counselors have been at great pains to affirm the doctrine and insist that all Christians must embrace it. The reason their position on common grace gets misrepresented is because, as healthy priests, they won’t apply the doctrine in zombie fashion and place it at odds with the sufficiency of Scripture. The important reality to learn here is that before we can apply common grace faithfully, we must understand it accurately. A defining characteristic of infected priests is their confused misapplication of the true doctrine of common grace.

Wolves, Zombies, and the Future of Biblical Counseling

In this essay I have been using an analogy to talk about harmful forces doing damage to faithful Christians practicing biblical counseling. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ does something similar. He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:15-16). The obvious difference between the two illustrations is that where Jesus is talking about bad prophets, I am talking about bad counselors. Apart from that distinction, there is a great deal of similarity.

Jesus portrays a location of safety and delight at constant risk of invasion and danger. He portrays treacherous forces outside a faithful community that is not content to stay put but is always seeking to invade territory not their own. Unfortunately, these hostile forces never candidly announce who they are and what they are doing. They seek to accomplish their goals in secret and with subterfuge.

Jesus’ words teach us the necessity of warnings lest we be caught off guard. He also teaches the importance of warning by way of analogy. The way Jesus warns of false prophets is much more colorful and gripping than if he had merely said, “Be careful when bad people say untrue things.” Instead, he engages our imaginations and emotions and gets us thinking about sheep, pastures, and flesh-eating wolves. As grisly as it is, it would be a mistake to miss that the reality to which the analogy points is far worse than the fictional metaphor. It is far worse for a false preacher to corrupt faithful Christians than it is for any wolf to eat a sheep. Likewise, it is far worse that a counselor would lead others away from Scripture and toward secularism than it is for a fictitious priest to suffer from a mythological zombie bite.

That is why it is important in Jesus’ teaching that he does not just graphically represent the warning, but he also practically explains how to see the danger. He says you will recognize them by their fruits. Jesus does not engage in anything so practically limited as producing a list of names of false teachers that would have expired a few millennia ago. Instead, he does just what you would expect from the One who intends his Word to have enduring authority, relevance, and sufficiency. He doesn’t give exhaustive details but provides a way to think. He says we will recognize the invaders by their fruits.

I have labored to make you aware of a crucial danger in contemporary biblical counseling. I have not sought only to warn but to explain how you could recognize the danger and turn from it. That recognition happens through a wise observation of behaviors. Jesus asks his people to open their eyes and recognize the bad behavior of bad teachers. Jesus thinks any careful listener would be able to recognize the wolves. Today, the future of the biblical counseling movement depends on you recognizing the zombies.

And there’s just one last thing. I don’t believe for a second that Jesus Christ took any delight in the necessary declaration that some people are wolves. I take no joy in declaring the existence of infected priests. The opposite is the case. I know many of these people. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We have served together, spent time together, and I love them. I also believe they pose a serious threat. I know they will be upset by this warning and so I want to close with an appeal from my heart to all the infected priests disturbing the tranquility of the biblical counseling garden.

You do not have to spend your energy demeaning and mischaracterizing those of us who have devoted our lives to sharing the truth of Scripture with people in pain. You don’t have to keep denying biblical truth embraced for years by your brothers and sisters in Christ. No one is forcing you to stay locked in doctrinal and ministry confusion. You don’t have to disrupt life in the garden. You can change.

But that change will require a humble embrace of the truth. You will have to admit where you’ve been wrong. You’ll have to retract public statements you’ve made. You will have to stop publicly opposing faithful ministers of the Word. You will have to unlearn years of very expensive education. You may have to change where you work. That will be painful. But real ministry with a sufficient Bible and a living Christ will be worth it. God’s promise to oppose the proud and give grace to the humble will meet you in your faithfulness (James 4:6). With all my heart, I believe life in the garden will be better with you in it. But we need you healthy. We need you here as a help and not a hindrance. So, I close inviting you to join us here in the garden of healthy priests ministering to people in pain with the powerful, relevant, authoritative, rich, precious, and sufficient Word of Christ.



Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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