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Developments in Biblical Counseling

By J. Cameron Fraser
November 2015 | Review by Matthew Cox
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-60178-385-1
  • Pages: 124
  • Price: 3.39
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Book Review

J. Cameron Fraser has provided an interesting introduction to the biblical, or ‘nouthetic’, counselling movement since its inception in the early 1970s. He gives much attention to Jay E. Adams’s influential publication, Competent to counsel, which argued that personal problems should be dealt with through the application of God’s Word and obedience to his commands, rather than looking to ‘godless’ secular psychology to effect change in people’s lives.

The author describes how this idea developed rapidly into a movement. Educational establishments, journals and associations of counsellors began and continue to this day. Fraser also outlines recurring criticisms of this approach.

Allegations are made that it fails to recognise the genuine insights of psychology and wrongly assumes that most problems result directly from sin. Nouthetic counselling is also said to emphasise external, behavioural change without addressing deeper issues of the heart.

Fraser believes that the ‘second and third generations’ of biblical counsellors have refined their positions in response to these concerns. Authors such as David Powlison and Edward T. Welsh have been more open to insights from psychology and have cautiously allowed more room for physical causes, such as chemical imbalances and brain disorders.

They have also developed the ‘idols of the heart’ motif which has been popularised by Tim Keller, exploring the damage of the Fall on inner motivations. They seek to remedy it through gracious application of the gospel of Christ. Fraser welcomes this move as reminiscent of the Puritans’ expertise in the care of souls.

This book is short, neatly structured and relatively easy to read. Occasionally it can be a little disorientating in its citations of various publications. Its appeal may be limited in the UK, as it describes a very American phenomenon.

It could be of help to church leaders for whom this is a relevant issue or to anybody with a special interest in the subject. They would need to read more widely to get a fuller understanding of the debate, but would find Fraser’s introduction a good starting point for their studies.

Matthew Cox


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