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This post is a book review of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture, edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert; B&H, 2015 (paper); 366 pp. $24.99

I’ve been pastoring for over two decades. I have a deep appreciation for my seminary training and the churches in which I was raised, both of which prepared me well to serve my church. Yet one thing my seminary training did not do was prepare me to counsel well. In my first years of ministry, I found myself increasingly frustrated with my counseling failures. I sometimes lamented to another pastor friend that it seemed as though my marriage counseling was sure to lead couples to divorce court.

Seminary taught me the truths of the Bible well, but I was not taught how to take those truths and apply them to the difficult life circumstances that met me in counseling sessions. I was taught Rogerian counseling theories, the dynamics of listening well, and mirroring comments back to counselees, but I was not taught how to help guide them through the twisted problems of their lives.

Then I came to a liberating realization: It is not my job to “save” my counselees. My only task is to be faithful to unfold and teach the relevant truths of Scripture to the counselees and then entrust the results to the Lord. The defining question of my “success” before the Lord became went from “Did they change?” to “Did I teach truthfully, clearly, and wisely?”

I am convinced that Scripture and the Holy Spirit are sufficient to accomplish God’s purposes in the lives of our church members and my counselees. This is the message of the book Counseling the Hard Cases (edited by Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert).

This book is particularly valuable in two ways. First, Heath Lambert establishes a biblical foundation for the sufficiency of Scripture. While many authors assert a confidence in Scripture and at the same time appeal to secular methods in the counseling office, Lambert wisely demonstrates the ways in which secularism is embraced, and how Scripture is infinitely more able to address the issues of the heart. For example, he writes:

God knew exactly what he was doing in communicating his truth through his chosen styles. The dynamic forms of Scripture make the Bible much more interesting to read.  Why is it that more people sit in their living rooms and read the Bible than will ever read The Journal of Psychology? God’s style of communication in Scripture speaks to people in ways that are deeply powerful, emotional, wise, and compelling. His words are accessible to a broad spectrum of people. No matter how insightful a scientific text may be, it will never have the power to affect the soul in the way God’s more colloquial manner of speech does. In addition to these powerful characteristics, the form and style of the Bible in no way undermine its power to communicate authoritatively. Texts do not need to be scientific to be authoritative, profound, precise, and relevant for counseling. Such a sense of authority, profundity, precision, and relevance is only lost to those who come to the text with an a priori belief that unscientific forms of discourse are inherently less valuable. We must embrace it as an article of faith, trusting in our God of steadfast love, that his way of communicating with us is superior to other modes we might prefer (18).

So here is help for pastors, like me, who received sound training in their theology and Bible courses, but who were ill-equipped to administer the Word of God to those ensnared in ungodly patterns of living. I believe — and always have believed — in the authority, power, and inerrancy of Scripture, I just needed help to connect Scripture to the problems in people’s lives. This book, with its reliance on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, repeatedly demonstrates how to do just that.

Secondly, 10 seasoned biblical counselors wrote case studies of some of the most difficult cases they encountered in their ministries. The case studies demonstrate the sufficiency of the Word of God to address the needs presented and to change the hearts and lives of the individuals. The cases are indeed difficult, covering topics like sexual abuse, post-partum depression, anorexia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, homosexuality, dissociative identity disorder, and more.

Throughout these chapters there are multiple encouragements about counseling hard cases. For instance, there is encouragement to persevere. When Laura Hendriksen writes about meeting with “Mariana” 58 times (30), I am reminded that the processes of transformation and sanctification are often slow. It is not the task of the counselor to produce change, but to persevere by faithfully and gently teaching Scripture so that the counselee might hear the truth many times in many different ways and be lured to repentance (cf. 2 Tim 2:24-26).

These chapters also provide encouragement with specific counseling advice. The pages of my book are dotted with the letters “HW” — an indicator to me of homework assignments that might be relevant to my own counselees struggling with similar problems. This book has provided helpful reading assignments and Bible studies to do with many of these problems.

These chapters also remind me that even the most persistent counseling problems are often rooted in basic sanctification principles. So even a case as complicated and unusual as something like Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) might emanate from things as basic as pride and humility, guilt and shame, and false refuges and worship (214-22). Few pastors or lay biblical counselors in the church would consider themselves experts with DID, but most of us are adequately trained and prepared to help people biblically respond to issues like pride, guilt, and worship.

This book has now been on my shelf (and a second copy on my Kindle) for about five years. Repeatedly I’ve opened its pages to find help in addressing specific counseling problems. I read it at other times for general encouragement about the counseling process. Every time I’ve perused this book’s pages, I have found the help I’ve needed. I anticipate that it will be a trusted companion in my counseling ministry for many more years to come.

Read this book if you need to see demonstrations of the manifold ways Scripture is all-sufficient for all the problems of life.

Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).  In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.

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