Biblical Counseling: The Reformed (Covenant) Approach Vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part Four)
In the previous article, the difference between counseling from a Reformed (i.e., Covenant) approach and a Dispensational approach discussing the role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical counseling was observed. The Reformed (Covenant) approach was that the Holy Spirit works through what is known as the means of grace. The means of grace are not from a consistent literal-grammatical hermeneutic but come out of the instruction of the Westminster Confession of Faith. By contrast, the counselor working from a Dispensational approach, would not mention the means of grace in their counseling because the means of grace are not explicitly taught in sacred Scripture.
Now in this article, we turn our attention to the foundational verse of the Reformed Counselor, which is Romans 15:14:
And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another (NASB).
The word that is emphasized in this verse for the Reformed counselor focuses is the word “admonish.” This word used in the Bible is the word νουθετειν which comes from the word nouthesia (noutheteo in the verb form). This Greek word can mean to “warn,” “instruct,” or “correct.” In this passage, Paul told the believers in Rome that he was convinced they were all full of good, all knowledge and that they were able to instruct (or admonish) one another in all matters. The nouthetic (or admonish) approach is at the heart of the Reformed (Covenant) counseling model, and they are convinced it is the way that a counselor should operate in every counseling session.
There is one benefit to this particular counseling approach, which is examined below:
Admonishing one another is something that all believers should be doing: On a practical level all believers are to continually instruct, and even warn one another at certain times. This is also connected with the fact that a believer is to be filled with goodness and knowledge (Rom. 15:14a). In other words, a believer that does not have these particular qualities will not be able to admonish other believers. As a saint in Christ grows in the knowledge and goodness of the Lord, and His word, Christian should look to be instructed and to instruct others.
Noutheic counselors are correct to emphasize admonishment in their counseling model. There are times in counseling counselees are to be instructed, and warned, according to the situation shared in the counseling session. However, there are several limitations the nouthetic model does not account for:
The nouthetic model is too narrow to address all problems believers experience: Although admonishing is something that Biblical counselors can do for counselees, it is not the only way to address every issue that surfaces in counseling. Paul, who addressed the churches in Thessalonica wrote:
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 1 Thess. 5:14-15 NASB
When a Reformed counselor focuses on just the nouthetic model it is not broad enough to cover all of the other people, with different issues that need to be counseled. For example, take a person who is faint-hearted (lit. “small-soul” or “small-hearted”). A person in this state may be overwhelmed and troubled with many problems in life and may feel like they cannot carry on. These people are not to be admonished, but are to be encouraged (i.e., “strengthened”). A person who is weak (lit. “no strength”) is not to be admonished, but to be supported (lit. “to hold too firmly”). The nouthetic model does not (and this author would argue because of its specific focus cannot) make room for other problems a person may experience in their life.
The nouthetic model promotes the “active sin only” perspective underscored in Reformed (Covenant) counseling: The Reformed (Covenant) counseling model, due to its soteriological perspective, may believe that all problems a counselee faces are due to only active sin in a person’s life. This means in nouthetic counseling that all counselees, no matter what the problem, have to be admonished because it is presupposed that the problem’s origin, and present existence, is always due to the counselee’s active sin. However, this may not the case with some counselees. A person could be faint-hearted, not because they are actively sinning, but because they are experiencing the extreme burdens of life, and are emotionally weary. A person who also lacks strength may also not be participating in any sinful activity, but it could be due to the reality that they are overwhelmed with various problems that are beyond their control.
The nouthetic model leaves no room for any other option to see the problem other than this person is sinful, and the solution is they need to be instructed, or warned, and repent of their sin.
The nouthetic model does not account for all the ways the Bible recognizes how one is admonished: There are other ways that the word of God uses the word “admonish.” For instance, admonishment does not just apply to those who refuse to accept the apostle’s instruction (2 Thess. 3:15). Paul mentioned another way to admonish one another as believers:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Col. 3:16 NASB (emphasis mine)
Paul writing to the churches in Colossae did not mention anything about active sin and the attempt to admonish them. Instead, Paul tells the saints to instruct one another with music (spec. songs, hymns, and spiritual songs).
In addition, Paul also admonished the churches in Corinth when he reminded them about his own hardships as an apostle, and how this was for their benefit concerning the gospel (1 Cor. 4:8-13). The limitation with the nouthetic model is this model recognizes only one type of admonishment, and it does not recognize the diversity of how admonishment (i.e., nouthetic) is used in the sacred Scriptures.
In contrast to Reformed (Covenant) counselors, Dispensational counselors observe a consistent literal-grammatical hermeneutic in biblical counseling. They acknowledge not only the diversity of admonishing in counseling, but they see admonishment is not the only way to address the various issues of a counselee. A Dispensational counselor understands there are times when counselees come to counseling because of consequences due to their active sin, in which warning and instruction are applied. However Dispensational counselors also believe that some problems are due to living in a cursed world, in which encouragement and support are promoted.
Paul when he was suffering from depression concerning his labor from Macedonia, was not admonished. Instead, Paul and his workers were comforted by the coming of Titus with a report on how Titus was treated by the saints in Corinth (2 Cor. 7:6-7). Due to the situation of the matter, there was no need for any instruction or training (i.e., admonishment). Paul needed comfort, and this is what Paul had received from God through Titus.
The Reformed (Covenant) Counselor recognizes the importance of admonishment in Biblical counseling. However, due to its “one size fits all” approach it does not acknowledge the diversity of how admonishment is conducted according to the Scriptures. In addition, Reformed (Covenant) counselors may not observe that admonishment is not the only way to address problems in the lives of people. The Dispensational counselor, rooted in a consistent literal-grammatical hermeneutic observes the diversity of admonishment in Biblical counseling. Also, the Dispensational counselor observes the general context of the problem surrounding the individual so they know how best to approach a person’s issues in counseling from a Biblical worldview.
Let us continue to observe the sacred Scriptures from a consistent literal-grammatical way, and the diversity of how to address the issues of our counselees. In so doing we as biblical counselors will glorify God, and will serve our counselees appropriately.
Until Next Time…
Soli Deo Gloria!