Editor’s note: This post provides the grounding argument for why theology is needed in biblical counseling. In this series of posts, Terry Enns provides an overview of 10 different areas of systematic theology. This post was excerpted from a message at our Annual Conference. You can listen to the message here.
The theology of biblical counseling is a means to a comprehensive framework and understanding of God and His Word as it relates to the counseling process. We want to understand the totality of God and who He is, as much as we can know Him, so we start with systematic theology. Simply stated, theology is a comprehensive framework for the way we compile all the information about God that is given in Scripture.
Knowing God through His Word is essential because God has commanded us to pursue a rigorous understanding of Him, as His multiple exhortations to teach, keep, and protect sound theology demonstrates. Numerous places in Scripture command us to understand, protect, keep, and propagate understanding and teaching about God. For instance, 1 Timothy 6:3 says, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions.” (See also, 1 Tim. 4:6, 13-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1-4; Titus 1:9-11; 2:1, 7, 10). In other words, if we are going to combat error in the church, the means by which we do that is by sound words, sound teaching, and sound doctrine. As we understand what that sound doctrine is and recognize things that conform to godliness, we will be able to refute error.
The Necessity of Theology
We find this principle in Titus, as well as in 1 and 2 Timothy. Those three letters from Paul to his young disciples who were leading influential churches teach us much about the way the church is supposed to function. And Paul emphasizes the importance of this doctrine for the effective working of the church. As Paul addresses Titus, the young elder in the churches in Crete, he says, “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine…In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine.…not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:1, 7, 10; my emphasis). In other words, Paul says to Titus that the foundation of a good and solid church is good and solid (literally, “healthy”) doctrine. So God has commanded us to know and to pursue an understanding of Him so that we can build a church on that foundation.
Studying theology is also important because everyone lives his or her theology. What we believe informs and motivates what we do, which is why what we do reveals far more than what we say.
People moving to another town will often ask me to help them find a church and so I will start by looking on websites and reading doctrinal statements. But in all honesty, a doctrinal statement really doesn’t mean too much to me anymore. Most churches, not all, but most churches will have a reasonably orthodox doctrinal statement. What interests me far more than the doctoral statement is what they do. What do they do and why do they do it reveals far more about their theology and what they really believe than the doctrinal statement. What we do reveals what we say or what we believe (Lk. 6:45). Therefore, we want to study theology so that we have a sound theology and then we will live out that soundness. Furthermore, as believers we want to instruct our minds so that our beliefs will be changed in accordance with God’s truth and thereby our lives will also be changed.
If we want our counselees to think biblically and within a theological framework that accords with the truth, then we want to think that way as well. I have found J. I. Packer’s words in Knowing God particularly helpful: “All theology is also spirituality, in the sense that it has an influence, good or bad, positive or negative, on its recipients’ relationship or lack of relationship with God. If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.” So all theology is integrally related with how we live in our spiritual life.
What is Theology?
When we talk about theology what are we talking about? Here is a simple explanation. The word theology is comprised of two Greek words theos and logos; the word theos means God, and the word logos means word, study, or doctrine. So theology means a word or a study about God. When we say the word “theology” we’re just talking in general terms about things that apply to God. (If we’re talking about the doctrine of God specifically, perhaps the Trinity, then we will call that “theology proper.” That is a reference to the doctrine of the godhead in particular.)
Simply defined, systematic theology is the organized, harmonious arrangement of all known truth about God and His Word based fundamentally and primarily on Scripture. This understanding of Him is both comprehensive and transforming. The key idea is that systematic theology is simply a way of organizing the revealed truth in Scripture about what we know about God and all things related to God. So we examine every book of the Bible and collate the different truths that relate to any aspect of theology and then we organize them in a systematic way that reveals full and comprehensive understanding about God and things related to Him.
The generally recognized categories of systematic theology (and the ones we will examine in the next six blog posts) are:
- Epistemology = the doctrine of knowledge
- Bibliology = the doctrine of the Bible
- Theology proper = the doctrine of God
- Christology = the doctrine of Christ
- Pneumatology = the doctrine of the Holy Spirit
- Anthropology = the doctrine of man
- Hamartiology = the doctrine of sin
- Soteriology = the doctrine of salvation
- Ecclesiology = the doctrine of the church
- Angelology = the doctrine of angels
- Eschatology = the doctrine of last things
You’re going to have to work hard at theology. Everything you’re going to do is based out of theology and you want to do that wisely. You’re going to want to feed yourself on some theologies. Here are three resources that are particularly helpful:
- Moody Handbook of Theology (full disclosure: the author, Paul Enns, is my father) is going to give you a broad overview of every aspect of theology; historical, biblical, theological, and dogmatic theology.
- Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology is going to be focused solely on systematic theology. It’s a very helpful book because of its comprehensive nature, and it is very readable.
- And then a book we use all the time in counseling and discipling is Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. This is a great book on God’s sovereignty. While much narrower in scope than the previous two books, this is an indispensible book in the area of theology — a book every Christian should read.
If you want to help your counselees and disciples, you have to feed them the truth, and that will take work. And you are also going to have to think and examine and study. But that is going be the greatest hope for change and transformation in their lives — and in your 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.