Dr. Frame,I was surprised to see that you endorsed Heath Lambert’s new book, A Theology of Biblical Counseling, when in fact you reject Heath’s approach to counseling in your own approach to ethics. In The Doctrine of God you say,
A fully Christian ethic accepts only God’s Word as final. That word is found preeminently in Scripture, the covenant constitution of the people of God (Deut. 6:6-9; Matt. 5:17-20; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:21), but is also revealed in the world (Ps. 19:1ff.; Rom. 1:18ff.) and in the self (Gen. 1:27ff.; 9:6; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). A Christian will study these three realms, presupposing their coherence and therefore seeking at each point to integrate each source of knowledge with the other two…
For ethical judgments involve exegetical, empirical, and psychological knowledge, which in turn involves logic and other skills. Since different Christians have different gifts, we need to work together…
Yes, the scriptural word is primary as the covenant constitution of the people of God. Yes, we cannot properly use the Scriptures without the subjective illumination of God’s Spirit. Yes, Scripture is meaningless unless it is applicable to situations, so we must indeed understand the times in which we are living. No, none of these perspectives, rightly understood, takes precedence over the other two, because each includes the other two… (p. 194-197)
So you espouse the primacy of Scripture (normative perspective) in ethical decision making, but also embrace, and deem necessary, the knowledge that is revealed in the self (subjective) and the world (situational). But it’s these latter two perspectives on knowledge that Heath’s approach (and so much of traditional biblical counseling) is deeming unnecessary. Heath will often admit that situational and subjective knowledge is true and perhaps even helpful for counseling (though at other times he contradicts this), but Heath is adamant that situational and subjective knowledge is not necessary for addressing counseling issues. Heath’s unwillingness to embrace situational and subjective knowledge does not match your own willingness to embrace them and label them necessary for ethical issues, so I’m surprised and discouraged that you would so heartily endorse his book. And I hope you’ll reconsider.
Dear Mr. L.,
In the first place, remember that counseling is not an academic specialization of mine. Through the years I have had good relationships with counseling instructors of different schools of thought. Jay Adams was a very good friend in my Philadelphia and California days. Today I am colleagues with counseling professors of a more integrationist sort. I have appreciated various aspects of both approaches and have seen good and bad examples of counseling under each banner. So I cannot guarantee that I am 100% consistent in this area.
Nevertheless, certain points need to be made in reply to your critique. I have, as you know, a strong view of Scripture (see Doctrine of the Word of God) and also a triperspectival view of epistemology. These make different sorts of points, but I think they are consistent with one another.
Keep in mind that the normative perspective is not Scripture. The normative perspective includes ALL of God’s revelation, and that of course is universal. So theologians distinguish “special revelation,” “general revelation,” and the revelation in man as the image of God, what I call “existential revelation.” In the triperspectival understanding, each of these perspectives includes the other two. So the normative perspective includes everything. It sees God and his entire creation as supplying norms for human decisions.
Scripture is not the normative perspective. It is a part of the normative perspective, but also part of the situational and existential perspectives. It is a book which is normative, but also a fact of the objective world (situational) and a fact of human experience (existential).
What is distinctive about Scripture is that it is the covenant document that God inspired to govern his people and ultimately to govern mankind. In that respect, Scripture is different from other “norms.” We describe it as necessary, authoritative, clear, and sufficient. Winnie the Pooh is also part of the normative perspective (since everything is part of the normative perspective), but it has a very different function from Scripture within the normative perspective. Scripture is inerrant; Winnie is not.
Again, I don’t think there is any inconsistency between my doctrine of Scripture and my triperspectival epistemology. Scripture is a very special kind of norm, ruling all the other norms in the normative perspective. It is also part of the situational perspective, the fact that illumines all the other facts. And it is part of my subjective experience, the experience that governs all my other experiences.
As I say, it fits together nicely. But of course it is possible for Christians to misunderstand this and to set up an illegitimate dichotomy between Scripture and the three perspectives, as when someone says “Scripture is our rule, not the normative perspective.” Of course Scripture is our rule, our ultimate authority. But everyone understands that we USE Scripture by APPLYING it to situations outside of Scripture. So to use Scripture, we must understand things beyond Scripture. That is, to use this norm, we must understand situations and persons. So to use our authoritative Scripture, we must understand its relation (as ultimate norm) to the situational and existential perspectives.
Now in counseling theory, the nouthetic/“biblical” school focuses on the authority, especially the sufficiency, of Scripture. The “integrationists” focus on the need to correlate Scripture with extra-biblical data. In my terms, they focus on the balance of the three perspectives.
In an important sense, both are right. Christian counselors must hold firmly to the sufficiency of Scripture. But of course if they have ONLY Scripture, and refuse to apply Scripture to situations and people, then their counseling can’t get off the ground. So the integrationists are right too; but they need to be reminded that Scripture is the covenant book: when extra-biblical data seems to point in a different direction, we must adhere to Scripture, even Scriptura SOLA.
For the most part, I would like to see a less polemical relation between these two schools. Conceptually there is no need for it. The sufficiency of Scripture is compatible with the need to integrate Scripture with extrabiblical data. And the extrabiblical data must be understood in the light of Scripture. Neither can function without the other.
The nouthetic/biblical group has acknowledged the value of triperspectival epistemology. Dave Powlison has written to me about that in a very encouraging fashion. On the other hand, my colleagues here have not questioned my doctrine of sola Scriptura. My old friend Jim Hurley said to me some time ago that “Jay Adams gave us back the Bible.” So what is left to argue about? Perhaps some of the problem is partisanship, team-rivalry.
But when I read a book like Lambert, I see him as focusing on the sola Scriptura principle. He does not, as I see him, renounce our responsibility to relate Scripture to extra-scriptural data. The book assumes that responsibility, but it argues the necessity of reading extra-scriptural data according to the sola Scriptura principle. As such, I think it is a good book.
If Hurley or Coffield were to argue that we can drop the doctrine of sola Scriptura, I would oppose them. But I don’t see them arguing that.
The argument, perhaps, is about relative emphasis on either side. And about relative emphasis I have no strong opinions. Let the two schools contend with one another on that. I don’t much care about it. We should emphasize whichever principle is being challenged. Sometimes we should emphasize the one, sometimes the other. At times, I may think that a book is overbalanced on one side, or that another book is unbalanced on the other side. I have no criticism of Lambert’s balance, but I might be equally favorable toward a book with the opposite focus, as long as it accepts the sufficiency of Scripture. I disagree with your statement that Lambert “deems the [situational and existential] perspectives unnecessary.” Nor do I agree with you that “Heath is adamant that situational and subjective knowledge is not necessary for addressing counseling issues.” He would say, I think, that these are not “necessary” as Scripture is necessary (“necessity” being one of the Reformation attributes of Scripture), but I don’t think he teaches the absurdity that when you are counseling with someone it is sufficient to know the Bible and you don’t need to know ANYTHING about the client.
More could be said about all this, but I would prefer that counselors discuss these matters among themselves.
Hope that some of this is helpful to you.
Blessings in the Lord,
Dr. John Frame