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Biblical Counseling: The Reformed (Covenant) Approach vs. The Dispensational Approach (Part Six).

In the last article, we examined the difference between Reformed (Covenant) counseling, Dispensational counseling, and their overall goal for the counselee in each approach. In respect to Reformed (Covenant) counseling, they will counsel from the perspective of what they would call the “moral law,” or the ten commandments. Their particular goal would be to transform the counselee’s behavior to these commandments. In contrast to the Reformed (Covenant) counselor, the Dispensational counselor observes to counsel and transform their behaviors and attitudes, not to the “moral law,” (i.e., the Ten Commandments) but under the grace of God.

Let us now turn our attention to the subject of idolatry and what this means for both approaches. The Reformed (Covenant) counselor sees this as a major issue for people who come into Biblical Counseling seeking to resolve their own internal, and external conflicts. Most who take this position believe that idolatry is at the heart of every issue a person faces. For instance, there are Biblical counselors that are convinced that eating disorders are due to a direct result of an idolatrous heart. There are some Biblical counselors who teach that being dependent upon a spouse is considered idolatry.  As previously stated, the Biblical counselor may believe that idolatry is fundamental to most problems in Biblical counseling.

This idea of idols being fundamental in the human being was emphasized from the Reformer John Calvin in his book titled The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Concerning idolatry and the heart of man he writes the following:

In regard to the origin of idols, the statement contained in the Book of Wisdom has been received with almost universal consent—viz. that they originated with those who bestowed this honour on the dead, from a superstitious regard to their memory. I admit that this perverse practice is of very high antiquity, and I deny not that  it was a kind of torch by which the infatuated proneness of mankind to idolatry was kindled into a greater blaze. I do not, however, admit that it was the first origin of the practice. That idols were in use before the prevalence of that ambitious consecration of the images of the dead, frequently adverted to by profane writers, is evident from the words of Moses (Gen. 31:19). When he relates that Rachel stole her father’s images, he speaks of the use of idols as a common vice. Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. There was a kind of renewal of the world at the deluge, but before many years elapse, men are forging gods at will. There is reason to believe, that in the holy Patriarch’s lifetime his grandchildren were given to idolatry: so that he must with his own eyes, not without the deepest grief, have seen the earth polluted with idols—that earth whose iniquities God had lately purged with so fearful a Judgment. For Joshua testifies (Josh. 24:2), that Torah and Nachor, even before the birth of Abraham, were the worshipers of false gods. The progeny of Shem having so speedily revolted, what are we to think of the posterity of Ham, who had been cursed long before in their father? Thus, indeed, it is. The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited, appears from the example of the Israelites: “Up,” said they, “make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wet not what is become of him,” (Exod. 22:1). They knew, indeed, that there was a God whose mighty power they had experienced in so many miracles, but they had no confidence of his being near to them, if they did not with their eyes behold a corporeal symbol of his presence, as an attestation to his actual government. John Calvin. Institutes of The Christian Religion. Book I: Chapter XI. Retrieved from: Emphasis mine.

In context, the entire chapter is John Calvin’s thoughts and reasoning on the importance of the second commandment God gave to the nation of Israel. He explained idolatry is at the core of mankind’s nature. As a result, the creation of idols by man is just as natural as breathing. This same concept John Calvin wrote in these paragraphs is found throughout Reformed (Covenant) Biblical counseling in this contemporary age. The prevailing thought among Biblical counselors seems to be that because idols are found in the thoughts and heart of man, every problem man deals with is idol-centered. The idea that idolatry is the fundamental problem that is addressed in Biblical counseling finds its origin from a Reformed (Covenant) sanctification approach.

Most Biblical counselors, even those who hold to a Dispensational approach in their Biblical counseling, may find they subscribe to this belief that idolatry is at the heart of every counseling problem. However, is this approach to every problem a counselee faces Biblical?

The New Testament does speak of idols and idolatry. Paul addresses the churches of Corinth and told them to flee from idolatry warning them that those who were Christians and involved in the practices of sacrificing something to an idol were sacrificing to demons (1 Cor. 10:14-21). In addition, Paul also wrote more broadly about idolatry to the saints in Colossae in this manner:

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.Colossians 3:5 NASB; emphasis mine

In the Scripture above, the Greek word for “amounts” is singular, not plural. This means that the verb is describing the nearest noun, which is “greed.” The word “greed” in this context comes from two Greek words literally meaning to “hold/have more.” This “greed” carries with it the reality of one hoarding and boasting in their physical possessions. The same word is used in Ephesians 5:5 below: 

For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (NASB emphasis mine).

This type of idolatry is what Jesus underscored when He discussed the issue of money being one’s master, and how this conflicts with one serving God (Matt. 6:24). In addition, Jesus tells the parable of the man who had an abundance of grain and decided to build a larger barn to hold all of his grain. The man, with his covetous attitude, was not aware that he would pass away that very day without all his possessions (Lk. 12:13-21).

A Biblical counselor, using the Dispensational approach will observe idolatry very specifically, based on how Scripture describes the word in its specific context. For example, a person with an eating disorder would not be considered struggling with idolatry according to the description of idolatry sacred Scripture gives. However, a person who is having problems being generous with their resources, and harbors jealousy because they do not possess what others have is clearly, according to Scripture considered idolatry. In addition, if one comes into a biblical counseling office, and says they are Christian, and it is discovered they are a Mormon, this is also considered idolatry because they are worshipping a false god.

Let us continue as biblical counselors looking to the Scriptures, rather to the theologians of old, observing the definitions that they give us. For when we do we are serving our neighbor well, and we glorify God and His eternal word. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

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