Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Greek is Only for Scholars

"Greek is only for scholars, and university folks. I'm a busy pastor!"

If you feel this way, you're not alone. Judging by the degree requirements of most modern seminaries, there is a wholesale abandonment of the original languages. It seems many schools don't see such study as necessary or as relevant as, say, additional courses in business management and team vision building.

But if indeed all Scripture is breathed out by God, and sufficient to make us competent, equipped for every good work, then our ability to understand Scripture is the most necessary and relevant training we can have!

John Newton, who entered into his ministry after being an illiterate slave trader, promises:

The original Scriptures well deserve your pains, and will richly repay them.

And George Mueller, who cared for over 100,000 orphans over his lifetime (can any of us claim to be busier than he?), and who was not primarily a pastor but an evangelist and organizer, talked about the importance of the original languages to his own life:

I studied much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew ... [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did in prayer, often falling on my knees. ... I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary.

Not convinced yet? How about the testimony of George Whitfield? He made 7 trips between the US and Europe (by ship, not plane!), preached over 16,000 sermons over his lifetime, speaking to up to 30,000 people at a time, with neither microphone nor PowerPoint. In his last days, he was quite ill, and would eventually die from overwork and asthma. But in his final years, what was one of his great comforts? You guessed it: Greek!

Though weak, I often spent two hours in my evening retirements and prayed over my Greek Testament, and Bishop Hall's most excellent Contemplations, every hour that my health would permit.

Dear reader, listen to the urging of John Newton, George Mueller and George Whitefield. And as a final word of encouragement, Martin Luther challenges us:

As dear as the gospel is to us all, let us contend with its language.

(All quotations are taken from John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Biblical Counseling: Truth and Lies

Counseling. I had come to hate that term. My previous school taught courses in counseling, in fact you could do an entire M.Div. in it. And even though there is always a lack of good pastors, the counseling major was always full.

Why did I hate the term? Because, in my experience, it was through "counseling" that so much corrupt teaching, deception and outright heresy was sneaking into the church. I was absolutely aghast at some of what went under the umbrella of counseling, both in seminary and in previous churches.

I listened to people teaching that making casual inward promises to ourselves can bind us in crippling "inner vows", that experiences in the womb can become spiritual strongholds enabling demons to control us, that other people's sinful attitudes toward us can be "bitter roots" that twist our own lives in mystical ways, and that the path to freedom is through instantaneous divine revelation and the binding of demonic powers.

Garbage, swill, tripe and foolishness!! What irreverent babble! Warmed-over pseudo-Jungian fantasies lightly baptized with irrelevant Bible verses.

So, I was pretty soured on "counseling". Until I had a chance to sign up for such a course in my new seminary. I haven't even started the course yet, but I'm reading the texts in advance.

And I am thrilled, delighted and profoundly encouraged to see what truly biblical counseling looks like. Jay Adams, David Powlinson, Ed Welch, John MacArthur ... how sweet to see men who take Scripture seriously and trust God when he says that he has provided in his Book all that we need to counsel (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Here are seven core elements that Powlinson and Adams lay out as central to truly Biblical counseling (from Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, John MacArthur et al):
  1. God is at the center of counseling. God is sovereign, active, speaking, merciful, commanding and powerful. ... The Bible is authoritative, relevant, and comprehensively sufficient for counseling. God has spoken truly to every basic issue of humn nature and to the problems in living.
  2. Commitment to God has epistemological consequences. First, other sources of knowledge must be submitted to the authority of Scripture. The sciences, personal experience, literature, and so forth may be useful, but may not play a constitutive role in counseling. ... false counsel must be noted and opposed ... The false claimants to authority must be exposed and opposed.
  3. Sin, in all its dimensions is the primary problem counselors must deal with. Sin includes wrong behavior, distorted thinking, an orientation to follow personal desires, and bad attitudes. Sin is habitual and deceptive, and much of the difficult in counseling consists in bringing specific sin to awareness and breaking its hold.
  4. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.
  5. The biblical change process which counseling must aim at is progressive sanctification.
  6. The situational difficulties people face are not the random cause of problems in living. These difficulties operate within the sovereign design of God.
  7. Counseling is fundamentally a pastoral activity and must be church-based. It must be regulated under the authority of God's appointed undershepherds.
Amen and amen. May this truly Scriptural counseling increase, and may the deceptive lies currently plaguing much of the Church be finally repented of and forsaken!