Biblical Counseling: The Reformed (Covenant) Approach Vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part One)
During my time, counseling from a Biblical worldview, I have heard many people say something similar to this statement: “As long as a counselor is a Christian, and is using the word of God, what difference does it make what approach they use?” Although it is understandable why one would express such a view, one may fail to observe the conclusions a counselor may come to when a specific approach is used. What one believes about sacred Scripture in terms of the philosophy of history, will ultimately influence how one will assist a person in Biblical Counseling.
It is in this light, I present two perspectives one may use in terms of Biblical counseling: The Reformed approach, and the Dispensational approach.
The Reformed approach to Biblical counseling finds its origin from the Reformed theological view, which is defined below:
Reformed theology is generally considered synonymous with Calvinism and most often, in the U.S. and the UK, is specifically associated with the theology of the historic church confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Three Forms of Unity.Reformed Theology. Theopedia.com. Retrieved February 15 2017 from; https://www.theopedia.com/reformed-theology
By contrast, a Dispensational approach to Biblical counseling supports a Dispensational theological view, which is explained as follows:
Dispensational theology can be defined, very simply, as a system of theology which attempts to develop the Bible’s philosophy of history on the basis of the sovereign rule of God. It represents the whole of Scripture and history as being covered by several dispensations of God’s rule.Charles Ryrie. Dispensationalism. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute,1995). 40.
Even within the definitions themselves, there are some clear differences. Reformed theology establishes a philosophy of history with the Bible and the historic church confessions, specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the “Three Forms of Unity” (i.e., The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canon of Dort). By comparison, the Dispensational position observes the philosophy of history through the pages of God’s word.
When it comes to Biblical counseling and these theological systems, there are qualities Reformed and Dispensational counselors share. Some of these qualities are examined below:
Reformed and Dispensational counselors believe in the authority of God’s word: Both counselors believe the Bible is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20; 3:16), and because the Bible is inspired by God, the Scriptures are the ultimate source of authority for life, instruction and practice for the Christian.
Reformed and Dispensational counselors believe the secular humanistic worldview is destructive: The secular humanistic worldview believes in embracing human reason, and values, from a perspective of personal experience, while at the same time rejecting religious beliefs and practices. Paul Kurtz defines secular humanism when he writes:
[Secular Humanism is] a body of principles suitable for orienting a complete human life. As a secular lifestance, secular humanism incorporates the Enlightenment principle of individualism, which celebrates emancipating the individual from traditional controls by family, church, and state, increasingly empowering each of us to set the terms of his or her own life.Council of Secular Humanism. Retrieved February 15, 2017 fromhttps://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/3260
Reformed, and Dispensational, counselors believe the secular humanistic worldview is in opposition to the Biblical worldview. As mentioned above both Covenant and Dispensational counselors promote that God is the highest authority, and God, as the ultimate Authority, sets the terms for how mankind should conduct themselves in the world.
Reformed and Dispensational counselors believe counseling is the glory of God: Both counselors recognize their counseling is to ultimately please and magnify, one Person: God (However there is a difference between the two theological systems in how the glory of God is seen). The Reformed counselor would point to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism to highlight this truth, which is described below:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.Westminster Shorter Catechism. Retreived February 16, 2017 from: http://www.westminsterconfession.org/confessional-standards/the-westminster-shorter-catechism.php.
The Dispensational perspective of the glory of God is described by what Dr. Charles Ryrie referred to as the sine qua non, which he writes:
A third aspect of the sine qua non of dispensationalism…concerns the underlying purpose of God in the world… the dispensationalist says the purpose is…namely the glory of God.Charles Ryrie. Dispensationalism. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute,1995). 40.
There are many points Reformed and Dispensational counselors would agree on concerning their theology. However, despite some of the commonalities between both theological systems, there are distinct contrasts between them. These differences affect the way one approaches how problems in mankind develop, and how the counselor would assist them in addressing these problems.
Dispensational counselors work from the Biblical worldview, while Reformed counselors work from and Biblical worldview and the historic church confessions: Those who counsel from a Reformed worldview counsel from a place of the Scriptures and the confessions of the Reformed church. Consequently, this will result in a narrow view in counseling, because the Reformed counselor will diagnose the problem, and solution, in light of a confessional worldview, not an exclusively Biblical worldview. For example, in the case of a negative mental state, such as depression, a counselor, working from a Reformed theological system, may observe this mental state as an excuse one may use to cover up their sin, which may, or may not, be the case. The solution they may give is to just repent publicly from their sin, and walk in the Lord’s commandments. This is due, in part, to the Reformed counselor’s confessional belief that God’s glory is only found in the eternal salvation of mankind, as Ryrie notes when he comments:
The covenant theologian in practice believes the [underlying purpose of God] to be salvation [of man].Charles Ryrie. Dispensationalism. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute,1995). 40.
In essence, due to their confessional worldview, all problems are a “one size fits all” problem (i.e., active sin), and their solution is a “one size fits all solution” (i.e., personal/public confession of sin, and walk in His commandments).
A Dispensational counselor, because they observe the Scriptures from a historical literal-grammatical hermeneutic, and not from a confession, or a group of confessions, will examine a negative mental state, such as depression, more broadly. Depression could be due to one who is failing to admit their active sin, such as the case of King David (Psalm 32:1-4). However, depression can occur in a person who is overwhelmed with a series of external events that are hostile, like in the case of the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 7:5). These types of depression are in different contexts, and the Dispensational counselor knows these types of depression, from a Biblical worldview, must be handled differently, depending on what caused a person to become depressed. This perspective of counseling ultimately brings God glory.
Although there are many doctrines a Reformed and Dispensational counselor agree with, there are distinct differences between the two. These slight differences, make a big difference in the perspective of the diagnosis of a problem, and the goals one has when each one counsels. The Reformed counselor works from a worldview, which is highlighted in the historic confessions. As a result, a Reformed counselor has a narrow view of a problem, and the solution, in relation to human experience. The Dispensational counselor operates from a Biblical worldview. As a result of this theological system this counselor is able to give a broader explanation of a problem, and the solution, in relation to the human experience.
As Biblical counselors, who hold to a Dispensational theology, let us not counsel from the confessions (or models that are sympathetic to a Reformed/Covenant theology) resulting in a “one size fits all” problem, and solution. Let us seek to observe to assist people with sacred Scripture, using techniques and methods that emphasize to the truth of God’s word, and God’s word alone. Amen.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!