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What Biblical Counseling Taught Me that Seminary Never Did

Sep 8, 2017

I have almost seven years of seminary education–most of it excellent; none of it regretted. I learned truths about God and His Word for which I will be eternally grateful. Seminary can be, at times, more content delivery than wise counsel. Please allow me to illustrate.

As a seminary student we were introduced to the complexities of divorce and remarriage. Many of us went on to write full-length research papers on the subject. We argued eloquently for one position over against the others (there are generally speaking, four evangelical views). We studied words, we studied words in context, we traced arguments, and many of us reached convictions (some more firm than others; personally, I am less than absolutely convinced). Hence, I thought I was prepared to solve most divorce and remarriage concerns upon entering the ministry.

How wrong I was.

…until biblical counseling taught me.

What I learned through biblical counseling is that God is working in the problem. People would come as though the problem was whether or not they had grounds for divorce and remarriage. I thought I had those answers. What neither of us realized was that God was working. You see, in all divorce and remarriage there is “hardness” of heart” (Matt 19:8). Thus there is more to be solved than justification for courses of action. There is sin–in both people–that God wants removed. There was the need for sanctification in both fighting, hurting, and exhausted spouses. In giving them justifications either for or against divorce alone, we miss the opportunity to draw out the heart (the desires, the cravings, the longings) of each spouse.

Proverbs 20:5
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

“Any view of divorce and remarriage (taught in either Testament) that sees the problem only in terms of what may or may not be done has already overlooked a basic fact—divorce is never to be thought of as a God-ordained, morally neutral option but as evidence of sin, of hardness of heart” (D. A. Carson, Matthew, EBC, 413).

“Divorce always represents a failure to achieve God’s ideal….A divorce is, rather, cause for mourning, a symptom of failure….Divorce is not a blessing that we should seek by meeting various conditions” (Frame, DCL, 770).

Now when people come to me to ask about divorce and remarriage, I no longer solve the decision tree…I seek to draw out the purposes of each one’s heart. I want to know where God is working to conform each person more into the image of Jesus (assuming them to be believers; cf. Rom 8:28-29). I want to be working where God is working. I want to be an instrument for more than tempral alleviation of pain. I want to help each person forsake the kingdom of self for the greater joy of living for the kingdom of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Biblical counseling has taught me to be more than merely an adjudicator; it has taught me to be a pastor.

10,000 Blessings in The Soul Physician,
Jim