Why a PhD in biblical counselling?

I’m studying toward a PhD in Biblical Counselling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The reason I’m studying for a PhD isn’t because I want a few letters before my name, in fact letters are quite meaningless to the bulk of people in New Zealand. The reason simply is that New Zealand needs biblical counselling. I want to share the need for biblical counselling in New Zealand to explain my trajectory.

When I did my Bachelor’s degree in biblical counselling, I learned that there is much more to biblical anthropology and that the Bible contains answers to the most fundamental problems man has. I learned firsthand the need to putt off my sin. It changed the way I relate to my wife and children, resolved some long term consequences I experienced and has led to an increasing knowledge of and joy in the Lord (Col 1:9-10). It is no exaggeration to say that I had never heard the things that I learned when I did my undergraduate degree. Others may have, but I hadn’t, at least not in the depth that I learned them.

In New Zealand, the counselling world is dominated by psychological counselling models. This is true of small organizations that teach “Christian” counselling, as well as the main Bible Colleges. Laidlaw, the largest Bible College in New Zealand explicitly trains people to be able to take secular vocational roles. Carey, though more balanced, also uses an integrated counselling approach. I point this out not to say we need to compete with these schools, but to bring more balance to pastoral ministry in New Zealand.

This means that almost every pastor trained in New Zealand starts with a counselling foundation other than the Word of God. This doesn’t mean these pastors aren’t biblically informed, but it does mean that they lack core foundational elements necessary to biblically understand the circumstances, sin and suffering they experience.

That sounds like a bold statement, so let me unpack it. What is man? According to evolutionary psychology or neuroscience, man is simply biology. Psychodynamic psychology believes that inner, unconscious forces motivate our behavior. Behavioral psychology believes that mans behavior is conditioned while humanistic psychology believes that people can control their behavior and that man naturally seeks to attain their full potential. Each of these models has a very different view of man and his problems. Which is right? The short answer is that at certain points they all have something right, but they fall short in a number of ways.

Each of these reduces man to something less than the biblical model. Neuroscience and behavioral psychology largely ignores the non-material reality of man. Psychodynamic psychology rejects the biblical model of the soul and the reality of sin. Humanistic psychology tends to be overly optimistic of man, not accounting for sin and the bondage we are in without Christ. None of them assume the God of the Bible. This doesn’t mean they have nothing of value to offer, but it does make them insufficient for helping man solve problems in a manner that accords with God’s ideal.

Even when we filter these through scripture, the biblical model is not assumed to be the foundation, but more of the sieve to purify. This doesn’t change the foundations of these methods, instead it sanctifies them, using the authority of scripture to legitimize them. Man, not God is still authoritative.

The biblical counselling model starts with the Christian worldview as presented in scripture and then builds as much as scripture allows us to build regarding God, man (anthropology), sin and its effects on the mind and creation, suffering and biblical living. Most of man’s problems can be explained biblically without using anything more than scripture. However, modern observational science (including observational psychology) can provide us with additional help. For example, observational psychology provides us with helpful information about sleep, sleep patterns and the importance of sleep. Because the Bible presents man as a united whole, the body can effect the soul and the soul the body.

However, even when modern science is helpful for diagnosis of certain conditions, scripture is authoritative regarding how to live with those conditions. No medical condition can be said to be an excuse for sin (1 Cor 10:13). Therefore, scripture is sufficient to teach people how to live with suffering, or how to turn from their self-destructive behavior (all sin is self-destructive), or how to live uprightly and please God (2 Cor 5:9).

Every pastor in New Zealand needs to know the sufficiency of scripture to solve man’s problems and to understand how to walk worthy of our Lord. Every Christian in New Zealand needs to know the sufficiency of scripture to solve their problems. A PhD in biblical counselling provides the depth of training necessary to defend the Word of God not only before the church, but also before academic authorities who disagree. We need to provide better answers to the challenges of psychology so that people in churches in New Zealand can again have confidence in what God has said.

I want to see churches strengthened in New Zealand. This will happen when the Word of God is recognized as having the authority of its omniscient and authoritative author. The only way to do this is to train people and pastors to recognize the inerrancy, sufficiency and authority of the Word of God, and the necessity of these truths due to the nature of God.

I believe the Lord has provided me with the opportunity to prepare to provide a level of training in biblical counselling that is otherwise not available in New Zealand. Being based at the Shepherd’s Bible College provides an opportunity to teach that other colleges do not offer.

If you are interested in seeing churches in New Zealand strengthened by reinstating the authority and sufficiency of scripture in pastors and lay people, please consider supporting us. If you are in a willing position to do so, please help particularly with tuition costs.

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