First of Two Farts

Charles B. Truax and Robert R. Carkhuff in their book Toward Effective Counseling and Psychotherapy: Training and Practice (Aldine-Atherton, 1967) say that counseling by and large is ineffective. Some counselors and therapists are significantly helpful while others are significantly harmful. The result is an average helpfulness not demonstrably better than the effect of no professional treatment. But among those who are effective counselors, say these authors, three characteristics are common to all. Whether his approach is psychoanalytic, client-centered, behavioristic, or eclectic, the effective counselor possesses accurate empathy, nonpossessive warmth, and genuineness.

Do pastors have anything to learn from this study? Should they examine their counseling practice to see if they possess this “therapeutic triad”?

An attitude prevalent in the Christian community is that the counsel of Christians and non-Christians is worlds apart. It is felt that nothing good can come from unregenerate man, or at least that what comes from him is certainly inferior to what the Christian has to offer. Is this feeling valid?

This two-part article will attempt to demonstrate (1) that non-Christians, because of common grace, have much to teach Christians about counseling and (2) that the therapeutic triad should be found in Christian counseling.

The Christian counseling popular today seems permeated with the idea that unregenerate counselors have little or nothing to offer the believer seeking counsel. The believer, it is said, needs counsel that is uniquely Christian and is derived solely from the Bible. As one school of thought expresses it, competent counselors don’t borrow a little Freud, a little Rogers, and a little Skinner and frost it all over with a few Bible verses. A “totally biblical” methodology is said to be the goal. Interestingly, this “totally biblical” methodology employs many elements in common with professional counseling.

A serious neglect of the doctrine of common grace is evident in the theory of much Christian counseling. Every Christian counselor would do well to read Cornelius Van Til’s booklet Common Grace (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954). In brief, he has this to say about common grace. It is “a certain positive accomplishment in history that the sinner is enabled to make by God’s gifts to him” (Ps. 145:9, Luke 6:35, 36, Acts 14:16, 17, 1 Tim. 4:10). It “equips human life ever more thoroughly against suffering, and internally brings it to richer and fuller development.” The history of civilization is proof “that man is the co-laborer with God.”

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The 1924 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, parrying attacks on the doctrine of common grace, went so far as to say that when it comes to promoting temporal welfare “the unconverted man can even excel, a regenerated person.… Though fallen and depraved the natural man is still a rational creature.” Although he thinks creation exists apart from God, he is able to understand the operation of this creation. “Looking at the matter thus allows for legitimate cooperation with non-Christian scientists.…” Calvin was of the same mind when he said, “Because God has determined everything, secondary causes have genuine meaning.”

Van Til then concludes, “Accordingly, we need not fear to assert that there is a certain attitude of favor on the part of God toward a generality of mankind, and a certain good before God in the life of the historically undeveloped unbeliever.” We must maintain with Calvin “that he who reads nature aright reads it as the Christian reads it” (italics mine).

We can therefore be “generous” with the unbeliever, says Van Til:

It is when we ourselves are fully self-conscious that we can cooperate with those to whose building we own the title. God’s rain and sunshine comes, we know, to his creatures made in his image.… Then why not cooperate with those with whom we are in this world but with whom we are not of this world? Our cooperation will be just so far as and so far forth.

From what Van Til says I gather that if Truax and Carkhuff read nature aright they deserve our attention. They may interpret creation apart from God, but if they read it aright they will read it no differently than a biblically committed Christian reads it.

Does this mean the Christian pastoral counselor has nothing unique to offer? I answer that a well-trained Christian counselor has an advantage over a non-Christian: he is able to understand man’s spiritual dimension. This is especially important in counseling Christians whose lack of spiritual health impinges on their emotional health. What is more, a man who accepts the Bible as his authority will not be satisfied with what he considers the answers of men. He often will accept answers from the Bible.

This was demonstrated to me by a young man suffering severe depression. He had committed a sin he felt was especially abhorrent. He said he had confessed it but still felt condemned. He believed that he was still God’s child and that God had forgiven him, but he couldn’t forgive himself. I had him read to me aloud Romans 8:31–34. I said, “God doesn’t condemn you, but you condemn yourself. Who on earth do you think you are to condemn yourself when God doesn’t? Are you greater than God?” He broke into a broad grin. My “righteous indignation” based on the authority of Scripture made its point. The depression was broken.

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The Christian pastoral counselor is not only equipped to use the authority of Scripture but is also in a position to understand the dynamics of the Holy Spirit’s operation in the Christian, and to be taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:11–16).

Finally, the Christian counselor is committed to the preservation of the marriage and home, not only because this is his business but also because he honors the authority of Scripture.

This does not mean, however, that Christian counsel is intrinsically better. A poorly trained Christian may do worse than a non-Christian who is trained well. Because of common grace, Christians have much to learn from the non-Christian professional community. In the following Minister’s Workshop (August 31 issue) I will discuss what Truax and Carkhuff have to say about the therapeutic triad.—ANDRE BUSTANOBY, marriage and family counselor, Bowie, Maryland.

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