Christ-Centered Counseling

Along with a local PCA Church, Grace Community Presbyterian in Fort Worth, Texas, I amhow-people-change-cover reading through several books this year. For the months of March and April, I’m reading through How People Change by biblical counselors Dr. Timothy Lane, executive director and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), and Dr. Paul David Tripp, president of Paul Tripp Ministries, pastor, and adjunct professor at Westminster Theological Seminary as well as adjunct faculty member of CCEF. The slogan across the top of the CCEF website (www.ccef.org) is “Restoring Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church.” We’re off to a good start.

As you may have guessed, I’m not the sort who naturally gravitates toward such “practical” material. But that’s my own problem. This volume, however, proves promising. I’ve only gotten through chapter one, so far, and it appears to have already gotten my number. The title of chapter one is “the gospel gap” (all titles are in lower case in this book), which the authors summarize in this way:

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a “then-now-then” gospel…First, there is the “then” of the past. When I embrace Christ by faith, my sins are completely forgiven, and I stand before God as righteous. There is also the “then” of the future, the promise of eternity with the Lord, free of sin and struggle. The church has done fairly well explaining these two “thens” of the gospel, but it has tended to understate or misunderstand the “now” benefits of the work of Christ. What difference does the gospel make in the here and now? How does it help me as a father, a husband, a worker, and a member of the body of Christ? How does it help me respond to difficulty and make decisions? How does it give me meaning, purpose and identity? How does it motivate my ministry to others?

It is in the here and now that many of us experience a gospel blindness. Our sight is dimmed by the tyranny of the urgent, by the siren call of success, by the seductive beauty of physical things, by our inability to admit our own problems, and by the casual relationships within the body of Christ that we mistakenly call fellowship. This blindness is often encouraged by preaching that fails to take the gospel to the specific challenges that people face. People need to see that the gospel belongs in their workplace, their kitchen, their school, their bedroom, their backyard and their van. They need to see the way the gospel makes a connection between what they are doing and what God is doing. They need to understand that their life stories are being lived out within God’s larger story so that they can learn to live each day with a gospel mentality (pages 3-4).

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I’m a big believer in the Christ-centered emphasis of Reformed theology. You may have read previous posts where I’ve recommended books like Christ Centered Preaching  and Living the Cross Centered Life. This book on biblical counselling is right up the Christ-centered alley. Here’s a helpful guide for learning to live life in light of the gospel.

Two great passages of Scripture give us a picture of this so-called “then-now-then” application of the gospel to the believer. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul writes that the gospel is the basis for the instructions he gives in the first ten verses of chapter two.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

Back “then” the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation for people in every nation (v. 11). “Now,” or as Paul writes, “in the present age” (v. 12), this grace of God trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, embracing self-control, uprightness, and godliness, “waiting for our blessed hope” (v. 13), in other words, looking forward to “then,” when Christ returns, who, back “then,” gave himself for our redemption from lawlessness to “purify . . . a people for his own posession who are zealous for good works” (v. 14). As you can see, the authors draw directly from Scripture for their approach to counseling, with no modern psychological influences evident. This is Christ-centered counseling if I’ve ever seen it.

Likewise, Peter gives a bit more extensive treatment in his second letter. In fact, in 2 Peter 1:9, the apostle explicitly indicates a professing believer’s tendency to “forget” about what Christ did for him in the gospel. Here is Lane’s and Tripp’s “gospel gap.” Let’s take a look at the passage–2 Peter 1:3-11.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us (backthen“) to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises (again, past tense), so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped (detecting a pattern yet?) from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 

For this very reason, (“now“) make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins (here’s the “gospel gap”). Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will (“then“) be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For these reasons, and a few others (so far), I’m inclined to believe the promotional synopsis at the Westminster Books website when it claims “This book explains the biblical pattern for change in a clear, practical way that you can apply to the challenges of daily life.”

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