Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry - Ephesians 4:12

Biblical Versus Psychological Counseling


Counselors help clients explore and understand their world and environment so they can find better ways of thinking and living. Although biblical and secular counseling have common elements, there are vast differences between them.

General types of counseling:

  1. Secular counseling.
  2. Integrated Christian counseling.
  3. The twelve-step system.
  4. Biblical or nouthetic counseling.

Secular Counseling

Secular psychotherapy or psychological counseling can be found in every city and is easily attainable. Secular counselors go to secular universities and their training is in the field of psychology.

Secular counselors use humanistic approaches to deal with their client’s issues. Their philosophy is based on man solving his own problems, using his own resources, and not relying on outside sources.

These types of counselors do not address the spiritual dimension of humans, and they certainly don’t bring God into the equation as having any influence or answers to their questions.

After meeting with a secular counselor, many people come away feeling they didn’t learn anything new. Secular counselors rarely give advice requiring action on the part of the client. They listen to the client, “mirror” what they said, then ask something like, “How did that make you feel?”

Clients pay the bill then leave frustrated because they wanted more than a listening ear, they wanted solutions to their problems.

This method of counseling does not address the spirit or soul, which is ironic since psychology is the study of the soul. Secular counseling assumes there are no absolutes or meaning to life and rarely deals with the consequences of personal decisions.

Galatians 6:7 – “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

Integrated Christian Counseling and Twelve Steps

Many Christian counselors, churches, and ministries integrate secular psychotherapy with biblical teaching. These people are obviously a better choice than secular counselors, but their methods fall way short of true biblical counseling.

For example, the twelve-step recovery program encourages people to turn to a generic “god” for help. In biblical times, having anything to do with other gods was considered idolatry. These types of programs rarely address moral issues and usually go completely against biblical teaching.

The Bible tells us we are not to mingle ourselves with the world’s philosophies or traditions. Christians should never seek counsel from non-believers, not even Christian counselors who use the twelve-step system.

Colossians 2:8 – “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Biblical or Nouthetic Counseling

Biblical counseling was used by the church until somewhere around the twentieth century when psychological counseling began to proliferate. The church started seeking counsel from the world, mixing biblical teaching with psychology.

The body of Christ succumbed to the world instead of the other way around. The Bible makes it clear we should never mix the doctrines of scripture with the teachings of the world (Colossians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

Only Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Word can transform people’s lives and set them free from what binds them. There is power in the Word of God!

Fortunately, biblical counseling began to surge again in the early seventies through the work of Dr. Jay E. Adams. In Romans 15:14, the Greek word admonish is “noutheteo.” This was the basis for a method he developed called “nothetic counseling.”

His book, Competent to Counsel, led to the formation of a number of organizations and seminary courses promoting his version of pastoral counseling.

What is nouthetic counseling?

Nouthetic counseling holds that pastoral counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused on Christ. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular, and fundamentally opposed to Christianity.

It is diametrically opposed to those seeking to synthesize Christianity with secular psychological thought. The aim of nouthetic counseling is to encourage conformity to the principles of scripture.

In 1993, nouthetic counseling was renamed to “biblical counseling” to showcase its emphasis on the Bible. The foundation of true biblical counseling is listening to a person’s problems or struggles and applying God’s Word to them.

Romans 15:14 – “I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”

What God Says

When I was first saved, God laid on my heart to know His Word so if anyone ever had a problem, I could give them what God said about their situation – not what I thought. What I think does a person little good, but what God says is of infinite value. It’s the Word that has the power to change people’s lives.

Biblical counselors point people to the Word of God, specific scriptures pertaining to their situation or problem, and then tell them, “There’s your answer.” At that point, people will either continue to wallow in their situation and sin, or apply God’s Word and find freedom, victory and liberty.

Supporting scriptures:

Psalms 1:1-2 – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night.”

2 Corinthians 6:14-17 – “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from among them and be separate. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’”

Exodus 18:16 – “When they have a difficulty they come to me, and I judge between one and another, and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”

Hebrews 4:12 – “For the Word of God is alive, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

2 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

John 8:31-36 – “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, you are My disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.'”

Starting a new church or ministry is one of the most rewarding things you can do to advance the gospel, but it can also be very challenging. With over 40 years of church planting and ministry experience, Dr. Linton's passion is to encourage, support and equip pastors and church leaders.