Developing A Robust Use of Scripture in Counseling

I am persuaded that far too often Christians have a bumper sticker approach to Biblical application. We tend to use the Bible as a collection of little platitudes that we plaster over our problems; or like a band-aid that we can neatly apply to a wound. The Scriptures, however, offer us so much more than bumper sticker Bible verses. Biblical Counseling needs a robust use of Scripture to help us face the myriads of problems within life.

The problem with the “bumper sticker” approach, is that it neither honors the Scriptures, nor the complexity of life’s problems. This approach tends to assign a prooftext to a problem. So, someone mentions that they are feeling anxious, and in this use of Scripture I will simply quote, “Be anxious for nothing.” Or, someone may confess to having an anger problem, and I will remind them, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” The Scriptural passages are true enough, but they lack any meaningful application. Quoting verses, slapping a Bible verse bandage on a problem, will not help people.

This simplistic use of Scripture fails to be helpful for three reasons. First, because it can ignore context. In this type of application work, we are merely looking for word associations. Discussing anger means simply that I look for Bible verses that use the word anger. But by ignoring context, I may use a passage in a way that isn’t justified. For example, Revelation 3:20 is often quoted to suggest that Jesus is knocking on the door of the unbeliever’s heart and he need only to open the door to Jesus. But the text is actually written to Christians and isn’t primarily an evangelistic text. Or consider Matthew 18:20. This is a passage often used to suggest that when multiple believers get together God shows up. But the context of this verse has to do with church discipline and has a more specific application. Ignoring context means we miss key details that explain the proper use and understanding of a passage.

Second, proof texting often means that we may oversimplify what Scripture is actually saying. Because the approach is based solely on word association, and may not pay attention to context, we may draw principles based purely on word usage and not on the actual flow of an argument or development of a thought. For example, someone using this approach may read Psalm 102:4 and conclude that all eating disorders stem from trauma. After all, the psalmist explains that he is suffering such intense anguish in his heart that he forgets to eat his bread. But just because the text uses the word “food” doesn’t mean it’s describing the experience of an eating disorder. Or, consider Luke 12:18-19 and it’s mention of having excessive possessions. A person who is looking for a Biblical bumper sticker to slap on the problem of hoarding, might use these verses and conclude that hoarders are just greedy. These uses of Scripture develop principles and frameworks for problems based solely on word association and fail to be helpful.

Thirdly, proof texting means that we can make prescriptions from descriptive texts. Not every passage of the Scriptures is offering us a direct command. When David attempts to put on Saul’s armor and finds it too big, the text is not calling us to “be ourselves.” The text is not a metaphor for pretending to be someone that we are not. The point of the passage is God’s protection of David, not David’s self-identity. We can’t make a descriptive text into a principle where there is not enough textual support to do so.

So, a bumper sticker approach to Scriptural application doesn’t honor the Scriptures, nor does it recognize the complexity of a problem. Telling someone that the “anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God,” is true. But that isn’t enough to help them learn to deal with their anger, change their desires, or properly focus justified anger. Telling someone who is worried to be “anxious for nothing,” only condemns their feelings without any help to work through them. Thankfully, Scripture gives us so much more than a list of Bible verses on various topics. It provides us with whole frameworks for facing life’s problems.

In this series, I want to explore the robust frameworks that Scripture offers for facing a number of common troubles. God’s Word is relevant for whatever problems we face, but what it offers is not a bumper sticker or a trite saying. The Word of God provides us with a multi-faceted understanding of problems and solutions and offers us real help to change, grow, and endure trouble. So, we will consider the robust use of Scripture for problems like anxiety, depression, grief, and more. God’s Word is relevant, but we must be good readers to see and properly apply Scripture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s