In the previous article, we examined the difference between the Reformed and Dispensational approach to Biblical counseling concerning the word nouthetic (or admonish). It was seen that the Reformed approach of nouthetic was appropriate in one aspect of Biblical counseling, and that was instructing a person out of active sin. However, it was too narrow because it did not cover all of the ways a person can admonish as seen in Scripture. In addition, the Reformed position was not broad enough to cover all of the ways a person can be cared for in terms of counseling. By contrast, the Dispensational, due to their Biblical hermeneutic, observes a diverse range of addressing problems based on the context of the problem the counselee is experiencing.
Next, we examine the overarching perspective for the counselee in Biblical counseling. What is the overall aspect of both the Reformed (Covenant) approach and the Dispensational approach?
The founder of nouthetic counseling comes from a man by the name of Jay Adams, who is a devoted Presbyterian, which roots originate from 5-point, or “classical,” Calvinism. The broader Presbyterian tradition instructs from the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism. In the catechism, it defines the 10 Commandments as the “moral laws” that govern men, and specifically Christians. These are found in Questions 40-42 in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism:
Quest. 40. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
Ans. 40. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.(1)
Quest. 41. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?
Ans. 41. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.
Quest. 42. What is the sum of the ten commandments?
Ans. 42. The sum of the ten commandments is, To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.
These three particular points found Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism are the goal of Reformed (Covenant) Counseling: to change behaviors so that they are in the confines of the moral law. Jay Adams underscores this in his book Competent To Counsel:
The overarching purpose of preaching and counseling is God’s glory. But the underneath side of that splendid rainbow is love. A simple biblical definition of love is: The fulfillment of God’s commandments. Love is a relationship conditioned upon responsibility, that is, responsible observance of the commandments of God…Thus the goal of nouthetic counseling is set forth plainly in the Scriptures: to bring men into loving conformity to the law of God (Adams, 55 emphasis mine).
However, the Dispensational counselor has a different goal in mind in counseling Biblically, which is set forth in the Scriptures. Paul writes in his letter to Titus and stated the following:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…
Titus 2:11-12 NASB
Paul, addressing the churches in Rome, also writes:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Rom. 6:12-14 NASB
The Dispensational counselor, unlike the Reformed (Covenant) counselor, does not attempt to alter behaviors and attitudes to conform to the “moral law” (i.e., the Ten Commandments) because the church age saint is not under the Ten Commandments. Instead, the Dispensational counselor seeks to give counsel others from a perspective of grace, and this is the perspective that the Dispensational counselor works from. In fact, the Dispensational counselor would strongly assert there would be no way a counselee could conform to the “moral law” because of the very purpose of the Law, which Paul highlighted in his letter to the Romans:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
Rom. 2:19-20 NASB
The Counselor who works from a Dispensational view sees that the “moral law” (i.e., the Ten Commandments) give one an awareness of sin, and how they fall short. To attempt to conform a counselee under the “moral law” would be to place a person under a great burden. When a Dispensational counselor works with a counselee their consistent perspective is to work from a position of grace.
This is also not to say that the Dispensational counselor avoids confronting active sin with a counselee. Referring to Paul in his letter to Titus it is the grace of God that instructs the Christian in a two-fold manner: 1. To deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and 2. To live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age (Titus 2:11-12). Paul even repeats this in his letter to the Roman believers in which he makes the case they were not under (i.e., to be subject to) the Law but under grace (Rom. 6:12-14)!
Once more this underscores the “one size fits all ” approach Reformed (Covenant) counselors take. Because they are attempting to conform one to the “moral law” by intrinsic design they have to look at all problems as a result of active sin because this is what the Law is designed to observe. At the same time, the very “moral law” they attempt to use to conform a counselee’s behavior is the same Law that condemns the counselee, because no one can conform themselves to the Law perfectly (which question 82 of the Catechisms also recognize)!
To sum up: The Reformed (Covenant) counselor uses what is known as the “moral law” to guide their counselees. This belief comes from the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism which teaches the “moral law” is the Ten Commandments. The Dispensational counselor, in contrast to the Reformed (Covenant) counselor, looks not to the “moral law,” but to the grace of God (i.e., Jesus Christ) to instruct the counselee to deny and throw off their active sin and to seek to live a godly life that pleases God. This approach comes not from a catechism, but from a plain consistent literal-grammatical reading of the sacred Scripture.
Let us continue as biblical counselors not to look to models that are built on creeds, confessions, or catechisms. Let us continue to apply secondary applications from a proper Bibliology that come from the truth of the sacred Scriptures.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!