Truth in Counseling

What is the “Truth” We Should be Counseling Our Congregations With?

By Scott Stephens

The concept that “all truth is God’s truth” is used by many well-meaning Christians who have determined that God’s truth can be empirically discovered in general revelation and applied to the sciences; specifically, in the realm of psychology and counseling. As a result, there are pastors who consider this as justification for allowing secular psychology to be used in their church counseling programs. Ultimately, any source we rely on as truth impacts the way we as Christ-followers interact with other’s inside and outside of the church family. It is important that we thoughtfully consider the implications of general revelation being used as a primary source of truth while counseling a Christian.

As evangelical Christians we acknowledge “true truth”[1] to be that which God reveals. Furthermore, we believe that what He reveals to us corresponds with His comprehensive knowledge of all things. Therefore, the information we recognize and declare as truth is in conformity with what God claims is true in His revelation.[2]

God’s true revelation is provided for mankind in two ways: in special revelation and in general revelation. God’s special revelation is His written Word and is inspired directly by Him to be “useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so the man of God is complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17).[3] God’s general revelation is provided to us through His creation. In Psalm 19:1-4 we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”

Author R.C. Sproul writes that there are two types of general revelation; one which is communicated to us through an intermediary (mediate), and another which is communicated directly to us (immediate). The fact that the heavens declare the glory of God shows us His mediate general revelation. Through immediate revelation God reveals himself directly to the human mind (Romans 2:15).[4] General revelation does not come to man in words, but it consists of those active manifestations to the perception and consciousness of the human mind, in the whole framework of nature, and in the course of God’s providential government, all which have the purpose of pointing back to Him.[5]

In his book Effective Biblical Counseling, Dr. Larry Crabb writes, “The doctrine of general revelation provides warrant for going beyond the propositional revelation into the secular world of scientific study expecting to find true and usable concepts.” Crabb, a respected advocate for utilizing general revelation in counseling, adds this comment: “Psychology deals largely with unobservable or hypothetical constructs. Although ingenious strategies have been designed to measure these unobservable concepts, a strict empirical approach has robbed unseen reality of much of its common sense meaning. Logical positivism and dust bowl empiricism are positions which demand that every meaningful term be defined exhaustively in terms of an empirical, observable referent.”[6] If the truth that is revealed from general revelation is shaped by empirical thought, those ideas should be considered with caution and discernment. Why? Because that knowledge is derived from sensation and reflection; it is based on subjective experience.[7] Crabb explains that the “truths” which are formulated from general revelation and applied to psychology are actually a mixture of accumulated data and personal interpretation. Since the interpretations reflect presuppositions, he cautions that the presuppositions may to some degree oppose what is taught in the Scriptures and therefore be in opposition to what Christians believe to be true.[8] It is for this reason that the concept of “all truth is God’s truth” must be clearly explained to pastors who are considering relinquishing, or have already relinquished their authority for soul-care to a secular source. It is imperative they understand that the primary “truth” that should be relied on for soul-care is the revelation provided to us in the Scriptures.

Although general revelation does show us some truth, the Scriptures are clear that all “true truth” is found in Jesus Christ and His special revelation. In John we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). From the beginning of time, Jesus existed. Since Jesus existed before creation, He did not obtain His knowledge of truth from creation; the truth already existed in Him. Therefore, “truth” originated in Jesus.[9] Because of this we can have confidence that the information that God has revealed to us in special revelation is the foundational truth we should use to counsel people within the church.

Scott Stephens is the founder and director of Covenant Counseling Center. He is also a counselor at Pendleton Street’s, West End Counseling, a board member of Redeemer Biblical Counseling Training Institute and a PhD student in the Biblical Counseling program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

[1] This is a phrase used by Francis Schaeffer that I believe gives an adequate differentiation between the truths that man has determined true and truth that God reveals is true.

[2] Jay E. Adams. Is All Truth God’s Truth? (Timeless Texts: Stanley SC, 2003), 1.

[3] I have used the ESV translation throughout this paper, unless otherwise noted.

[4] R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton IL: Tyndale House,1992), 11-12.

[5] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 128-29.

[6] Lawrence J. Crabb Jr., Effective Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1997), 36-37.

[7] W. Andrew Hoffecker, ed., Revolutions in Worldview, (Phillipsburg NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 364.

[8] Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling, 37.

[9] Adams, Is All Truth God’s Truth?, 2.