Counsel from the Cross

Sean Lucas

As I've transitioned from teaching back to congregational ministry, I find myself reading widely in the "practical theology" field--whether pastoral theology, preaching, worship, or counseling. One of the better books that I've read recently is Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson's book, Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ.

The best part of this book is Fitzpatrick and Johnson's repeated insistence that the problems we face emotionally or relationally are most often rooted in sin and the solution is the Gospel of Jesus.  While so many evangelicals believe that the Gospel is something that has to do with "getting saved" but not much to do with the Christian life, the authors come back again and again to show their readers that we are sinful and flawed and yet loved and welcomed. This grace that God continues to show us serves to draw our hearts toward him and provides the power for change.

This power for change comes from our deepening love for Jesus--as we see and savor his humiliation on the cross and live in the light of his exaltation in resurrection and ascension--our hearts are engaged in affection, delight, and joy in Christ. And as we live out of our personal, vital union and communion with Jesus, our hearts move toward the world in obedience to the Savior "who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). Think of this book as Bryan Chapell's Holiness by Grace applied to counseling.

One caveat: Fitzpatrick and Johnson stress an antithesis between "psychology" and "biblical counseling" that is unhelpful. For example, they write that "we pray that you will understand, believe, and remember that there really are only two ways to counsel. You can counsel using either the tenets of psychology or even the Bible's imperatives in the light of the glory story, giving helpful hints on how to progress in a personal pursuit of self-perfections, or you can counsel from the cross." 

Such a stark antithesis neglects the possibility that God in common grace might actually give wisdom and insight to those who offer counsel from the tenets of psychology or sociology. Likewise, it also fails to reckon with the fact that in God's general revelation, his truth "shines in all that's fair" so that whatever truth may be found in psychology and psychiatry is actually God's. While believers must evaluate all these things in the light of biblical revelation, I wonder whether positing such an stark choice actually assists the writers in advancing the cause of biblical counseling. 

[A particularly helpful treatment of these issues can be found in Richard Winter's essay, "The Search for Truth in Psychology and Counseling," in All for Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary, 221-238.]

To be fair, such antithetical statements are a very small part of the book. And the book's clear application of the Gospel to the typical counseling problems that pastors face on a daily basis make it a valuable investment of time. I know that I will be counseling from the cross more effectively as a result of reading this.