Who Has Most Influenced Your Approach to Biblical Counseling?
Our heavenly Father designed us to be connected to one another and to be impacted by each other. So, we all have been influenced by various people. And our approach to, model of, practice of, and thinking about biblical counseling is in no small way influenced by others. I’ve been thinking about that influence lately…
Here are 5 people or groups of people who, by their lives, writings, ministries, and/or friendship have most influenced me as a biblical counselor…
As you read my thoughts, perhaps your mind will be stirred up to picture those who have most influenced you as a biblical counselor. I’d love to hear (in the comments) who has had the greatest influence on you as a biblical counselor…
5. David Powlison
David Powlison (1949-2019) impacted me by his writing, by his demeanor, and by his friendship.
David’s writings, even as many of his titles and subtitles make explicit, maintained a beautiful blend of truth and love. Notice that I didn’t say “balance,” but “blend.” David wasn’t seeking to have a 50/50 balance of truth and love, but a 100%/100% blending of God’s truth through Christ’s love.
David influenced me through his demeanor. Was anyone so brilliant yet so humble? That’s David—so wise yet such humility, such kindness, such gentleness, such tenderness.
If you want to read my longer tribute to David, see: Worshipful Winsome Wisdom. If you want to read many tributes to David, see: Testimonials to Christ’s Glory through the Life and Ministry of Dr. David Powlison.
David influenced me through his friendship. Whenever I talked to David, I knew I had his rapt attention. He had this uncanny way of focusing on me (or whoever he was with) in such a way that I sensed that he valued me, cared about me, and was interested in me.
4. Steve Viars
Steve Viars is Sr. Pastor at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana. Steve is also a lifelong friend—I’ve known Steve since he was 5 and I was 6. We grew up a block away from each other. We went to the same elementary school, middle school, high school, Bible college, and seminary. We were saved at the same church. I guess you could say I’ve known (and been influenced by) Steve for a long time—almost 60 years!
Steve influenced me most by trusting me. Our long friendship, of course, had much to do with that. However, friends can move into different circles, and Steve and I did that. Steve moved into the circles of leadership in the nouthetic counseling world. I moved into circles of launching a Christian Counseling MA at a seminary and launching a biblical counseling division of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). If you now your biblical counseling history and your Christian counseling history, then you know that Steve and I moved into different circles.
I invited Steve to speak at Capital Bible Seminary back in the late 90s. During the week Steve was on campus, we had long, deep talks about counseling from the Bible. Steve heard my heart, read my stuff, and was convinced that I was faithfully teaching and practicing biblical counseling. When others expressed to Steve their doubts about my biblical counseling bona fides (legitimacy as a BCer), Steve would say, as only Steve can say, “Have you talked to Bob? Have you read Bob’s stuff? Come back to me after you’ve done that…”
Steve then started inviting me to speak at the annual Faith Biblical Counseling Training Conferences. Then, when Steve and others were launching the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Steve recommended me as the founding Executive Director.
I would not be an “accepted member” of the modern biblical counseling world apart from Steve’s trust in me, my convictions, my writings, and my teaching.
Steve has also influenced me by his unique and powerful focus on biblical counseling impacting not only the church, but also the community for Christ. For Steve’s brilliant book on how to do this, check out, Loving Your Community: Proven Practices for Community-Based Outreach Ministry.
3. William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle
Up to this point, you may be thinking, “Wow, if Powlison and Viars are numbers 5 and 4, then who in the modern world of biblical counseling impacted Bob more than these two men!?” Well, no one in the modern world has impacted me more for BC than Powlison and Viars. That’s why numbers 3, 2, and 1 are from prior to the launch of the modern biblical counseling movement.
I love history. If I wasn’t a seminary professor, I may have been a high school history teacher and high school wrestling coach. My love for history was directed to church history in the 1980s when there was a battle going on at Grace Seminary about approaches to biblical counseling and Christian counseling. I kept asking the question, “Surely the church has always been about the business of helping hurting and hardened people?”
That question led me to William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle. Many of you right now are likely thinking, “Who? Who are Clebsch and Jaekle?” They are the authors of the book, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective. This book revolutionized my thinking about biblical counseling. It provided me with the historical matrix of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Sustaining and healing entail parakaletic biblical counseling for suffering through compassionate care and encouraging hope. Reconciling and guiding involve nouthetic biblical counseling for sin and sanctification through loving confronting, gracious forgiveness, and wise empowering.
Read anything I’ve ever written and you’ll sense sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding everywhere. Clebsch and Jaekle—through their historical perspective on pastoral care—opened my eyes to a comprehensive approach to biblical counseling that stands the test of time.
2. The Men and Women of the Black Church in American History
When I chaired the counseling department at Capital Bible Seminary, the student body was wonderfully diverse. This diversity, combined with my love for history, led me to co-author with an African American student the book Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care. I learned soooo much from the men and women of the Black Church.
Among those life and ministry lessons is the truth that we can lament and hope simultaneously. The African American spirituals have words of lament and words of hope bound together even in one line. The title of the book—Beyond the Suffering—picks up on this concept. We can honestly, candidly face our suffering face-to-face with Christ, while concurrently clinging to and hoping in Christ.
The Black Church powerfully practiced biblical sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. The consistent one-another biblical ministry of the Black Church is a beneficial reminder that the modern biblical counseling movement is just that—a modern movement. Men and women of God were involved in one-another biblical soul care from the time of Christ up until the time of the modern BC movement. We modern BCers are not so much innovators, as we are joiners—joining the ranks of that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrew 11-12), including the heroes and heroines of the Black Church in American church history.
1. Martin Luther
Keeping to my theme of church history, the #1 influence on me as a biblical counselor in Martin Luther. I did my Ph.D. thesis on Martin Luther—studying how Luther practiced the pastoral arts of biblical sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. (I told you that Clebsch and Jaekle’s model deeply impacted me.) Then, years later, I wrote a book on Luther’s counseling: Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.
While Luther is thought of mainly as a reformer, he wrote over 3,000 letters of spiritual counsel and provided soul care to an entire continent. His empathetic, compassionate care for the grieving is a wonderful reminder to us as modern-day BCers that BC is not only about addressing sin, but also about ministering to the suffering.
While Luther is known for his emphasis on justification, his spiritual care also highlighted reconciliation. Time after time, Luther spoke of our need to remind ourselves and one another of the truth that through Christ we are reconciled beloved sons and daughters of the Father. This is a good reminder to us as modern-day BCers that addressing sin always emphasizes the wonders of Christ’s grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Join the Conversation
Who has had the greatest influence on you as a biblical counselor?
Do you have a “top 5”? A “top 1”?
Are they people you know personally? Are they people you know from a distance—authors or speakers? Are they from the present? The past? Individuals? Groups?