A Review of “Gospel Centered Counseling” by Robert Kelleman

GCCI really appreciate Dr. Kelleman. I appreciate him in particular because he is first and foremost a theologian. Yes, he’s a leading scholar in the area of Biblical counseling, a college professor, and Executive Director of The Biblical Counseling Coalition. But, foundationally he is a theologian. As such his work is never purely about counseling methodologies and practices. Gospel-Centered Counseling is another fine piece in that vein of work. This book represents a new kind of counseling textbook, one with a comprehensive philosophy set in a deep theological framework.

This book might be one of the most complete philosophies of counseling I have ever read. For some the book will feel a bit frustrating, no doubt. After all there is a great deal of content and since it covers so much ground it may read, at times, more like a systematic theology than a counseling textbook. That is by design, of course. For Dr. Kelleman believes that to truly be helpful in the counseling session we must know deep theological truths. These truths impact the way we counsel and the way our counselees live. This volume, Kelleman says, “will especially help you to develop the biblical content – wisdom applied to life – necessary to counsel effectively. It offers theology for life” (17).

To hep us develop a theology of life, he introduces readers to a host of doctrines. Across the sixteen chapters you will read about bibliology, theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, pneumatology, and ecclesiology. The doctrines are not presented in typical systematic fashion. Kelleman wraps these doctrines into the fabric of personal application and counseling. One should not assume, however, that this means Kelleman is any less a systematician than others. He interacts well with some of the dominant voices in theology, including Kevin Vanhoozer, John Frame, and Michael Horton. His goal, however, is not merely to interact with them, but to borrow from their insights and apply them directly to a philosophy of Biblical counseling.

The title of the work finds its grounding early in the work as Kelleman seeks to explain how the gospel story is related to our counseling methodology. To be a distinctly Christian counselor is to view all your counseling situations through the lens of the transforming power of the gospel. He writes:

We first understand the gospel story, then we seek to understand our friend’s story, then we journey together to intersect God’s eternal story and their ¬†temporal story. (28)

Part of Kelleman’s desire is to help us look beyond the eternal consequences of our salvation in the gospel. That is to say, the gospel is bigger than just “I get to go to heaven when I die.” It has consequences for our lives in the here and now. So, his approach to counseling will seek to apply the gospel to the most pressing questions of our daily lives. “Our role,” he writes, “is to help one another re-narrate our lives in light of the good news of Jesus Christ” (36).

Such an approach should not be taken to mean that we simply give people Biblical principles and a hand-full of Bible verses. This volume is intended to present a comprehensive picture of Biblical counseling, and that involves respecting “all dimensions of personhood created by God in the full context of the Bible’s grand narrative” (49). Holistic treatment, then, may include “psychotropic medication and neurological psychology.” These cannot be the only measures taking in treatment, nor even the most significant, but they may be part of a whole-person approach to care. Such comments are encouraging and represent a huge shift in the Nouthetic movement which has long been ardently opposed to even the scent of such treatments. Dr. Kelleman, along with many others in the movement, however, recognize their legitimacy and proper place.

Overall this is a phenomenal work. That some will grow frustrated by its length and depth only further assures us of its importance. Counseling philosophy not grounded in solid Biblical doctrine are not really Christian. To attempt to counsel apart from this framework will inevitably lead to reductionist and syncretistic answers that stunt the potential for real help. Dr. Kelleman has written a wonderful resource in Gospel-Centered Counseling. It is a textbook that I trust will be used by many institutions and training programs for years to come. I know I will be using it in the future of our counseling training program here at CBC. I highly recommend this work.

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