Book Review: A Theology of Biblical Counseling by Heath Lambert

by Jason Barker

I remember my first real pastoral counseling opportunity as a newly minted youth pastor. A young man in the group I led had posted an away message on his instant messenger account (that should give you some indication of just how long ago this was!) vaguely implying that he was tired of living and was considering suicide. Word traveled among the group quickly, another teen passed the information along to me, and I immediately called the boy’s parents to inform them. Unsure themselves of what steps to take, they asked that I meet with him for counseling. I did not have the courage to tell them that I had no idea what to do either.

What followed was a few one-on-one meetings in which I asked questions, offered platitudes and advice, and, generally speaking, was completely unhelpful. I was unprepared to provide biblical counsel, so I just provided counsel, which is almost as bad as ignoring the problem and maybe even worse. In hindsight, the next several years of pastoral counseling opportunities were characterized by the same ineffectiveness sweetened by good intentions. At the time, I knew there had to be a better approach, but I just could not find it.

And then I happened across the practice known as biblical counseling. The idea that biblical theology rather than secular psychology was the key to understanding and helping people change made perfect sense. For so long I had restrained theology to certain aspects of my work in ministry, and its integration into my pastoral counseling efforts changed everything.

A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry

A Theology of Biblical Counseling is a landmark new book that unpacks the core theological convictions that underlie sound counseling, and practical wisdom for counseling today. Dr. Heath Lambert shows how biblical counseling is rooted in the Scriptures while illustrating the real challenges counselors face today through true stories from the counseling room.

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Making a defense for the critical connection between theology and counseling, Lambert then connects the dots between individual doctrines (the doctrines of Scripture, common grace, and sin, for example) and the human condition. He gives specific applications to counseling people and, when necessary, provides critique of relevant alternative practices of psychology. The appendices are included, the first of which is particularly helpful in understanding how biblical counseling should pair with necessary medical intervention in the treatment of mental disorders.

Key Points of the Book

  1. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is one of the most foundational doctrines for effective biblical counseling: As pastors who counsel, when we speak to those seeking help, our words must be rooted in something more than our experience or the opinions of others. We have no greater source of wisdom than the Bible, and the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture holds that the Bible “contains all that we need to know God’s will and live a life pleasing to him.” (37). Biblical counseling is grounded in this belief, and the wisdom of the Bible, which is living and breathing, is more than enough to speak to the needs we have in life.
  1. A right theology of God causes us to love Him rightly and pursue personal holiness, which in turn will solve many of the problems we face: God is holy, separate from creation, and, while we are made in his image, superior to us in every way. His preeminence requires that we love him and be devoted to him above all else, pursuing personal holiness in every aspect of our lives. When we understand that holiness is our greatest need in life, that the majority of the problems we face stem from a lack of holiness in us or in others, we can prepare a battle plan to win the war.
  1. The ultimate goal of theology is to know Jesus, but our intimacy with Jesus must overflow into loving and helping others: The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:14 of a debt he owes to “Greeks and to Barbarians.” This debt was accrued when he was converted and charged to bring the gospel to the world. Because Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was indebted to God and to those who needed to hear the message entrusted to him. Likewise, those of us who know and love Jesus are obligated to spread the hope we have to those who need it most – the ones who have not been saved and the saved ones who have forgotten who they are in Christ. If we merely revel in our theology in isolation, what Kingdom good are we?

Powerful Quotes From the Book

  • “That moment when the counselor must respond to the pain that has been revealed by a broken person is one of the most sacred occasions in all of life. Another human being has just revealed something intimate, profound, and difficult about her life, and now she is waiting for a response. Those moments make me powerfully aware of my responsibility as a counselor to offer wisdom and care. (37-38)
  • “The common grace that secular psychologists possess to know correct information does not mean that the articulations of secular psychologists about how to help people are the standard for what is true. The Bible, not the findings of psychology, is the standard for what people really need in counseling help.” (84)
  • “We cannot talk about a theology of counseling without talking about Jesus, who is the glorious epicenter of all existence. He is the Savior with whom all people must reckon. For good or ill, every person who has ever drawn breath will one day bow their knee as they stare agape at this exalted King. Knowing him is foundational to life, and so it is foundational to counseling.” (137)
  • “It is important to be clear that there is no other Christian response to sin than this one. A counselor who would counsel Christianly must, regardless of whatever theoretical counseling system they adopt, call sinful people to repent of their sin. This is not a debatable issue for Christians, but is, rather, a matter of fundamental Christian faithfulness that we learn from our Savior.” (232)
  • “This is what we do in counseling. We take what we know from the truths of theology, and we apply it to people who are suffering under the weight of all the kinds of pain this world has to offer. We apply biblical truth to struggling people for the purpose of building their hope and increasing their joy in truly knowing Christ in this life and ultimately in the life to come.” (319)

Application in the Local Church

People live in a fallen world and are therefore destined to suffer hardship. As a pastor, regardless of the size of your flock, you inevitably will be called on to provide personal counsel for members of your congregation who are struggling. Attending Bible college or seminary does not necessarily prepare you for that task, however. Remember, however, that you are not the most important part of the counseling dynamic, and the weight of success or failure in helping others does not rely as much on you as it does on the wisdom to which you appeal in your counseling. Stay rooted in the Bible because it is sufficient for every need.

Citation: Lambert, Heath. A Theology of Biblical Counseling: the Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016. 335 Pages.

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(DMin, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) Jason is an experienced pastor and theological educator seeking to encourage and equip the next generation of church planters. Jason serves at Colorado Christian University and consults with a variety of church leadership organizations. He and his wife live in Southern California with their four children.

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