[Our blogger for May is Mike Wilkerson. Mike is a pastor and director of Biblical Counseling at Mars Hill Church. He leads the Redemption Groups ministry, wrote Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry, and co-authored a chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in counseling in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. (The chapter is available as free download.)]
So far in this series, I’ve suggested that triperspectivalism is a helpful way to approach the question: What does it mean to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in counseling? Then we looked at the question from the normative perspective and asked: What has God revealed about the kind of work the Spirit does, and how might that shed light on what the Spirit may be up to in a given counseling moment? In this post, we’ll look at the question from the situational perspective and ask: How does the Spirit relate to human situations involving realities like embodiment (including, for example, the brain), and social embeddedness (including, for example, many social influences past and present)?
Here’s the big idea: the Holy Spirit is wise and loves creation. The wisdom in which he guides is not limited to “religious” categories. We should follow his lead and grow in his wisdom, gaining an ever deeper understanding of creation and how the creation has been damaged since the Fall, especially with regard to human functioning, dysfunction, and healing.
There’s an aberrant way of thinking that undermines this basic insight about the Spirit’s wisdom and concern for creation. Eric L. Johnson, in his Foundations for Soul Care calls it “religious dualism.”
Religious dualists focus on the highest order of human life—the spiritual—and see it as so much more important than the other orders of the creation that the latter are neglected or seen as unworthy of serious attention, or, in the most extreme versions, are interpreted as being antithetical to the spiritual realm.1
One way this error might hinder a counselor when trying to follow the Spirit’s lead in counseling is by first separating religious or spiritual categories from material or physical ones, and then proceeding as if the Spirit cares only about the spiritual ones. As a result, a counselor who is trying to be “spiritual” might therefore pay too little attention to the “other orders of creation” that the Spirit cares very much about.
A particular form of religious dualism that might give rise to such an error is what Johnson calls “fall-redemption dualism.” This religious dualist “tends to so emphasize the impact of the Fall that the creation is basically swallowed up by sin, so that the created order (and culture, and in some cases, technology and science—like the science of psychology) is perceived purely from the standpoint of the Fall.”2 The tragic result of such thinking threatens to skew one’s perception of the Spirit’s leading in counseling:
Without a robust doctrine of creation grace…this form of dualism functionally pits God’s grace in redemption against God’s grace in creation, undermining their unity in God’s purposes.3
Our whole goal in asking the question about following the Spirit’s lead in counseling has to do with discerning his purposes in a given moment. But if we pit the Spirit’s purposes against one another, then we’re sure to be fundamentally misaligned with him from the outset.
Here again you can see how important the normative perspective is for tuning our understanding of everything. After all, it’s not science that tells us that God cares about his creation; it’s the Bible that tells us that (cf. Psalm 104).
So far, this is not an argument for integrating theology with secular psychology; it’s an argument that “biblical counseling must be comprehensive in understanding,”4 because the Spirit is comprehensive in his understanding of how people actually work, and he leads us in the direction of reality: truth, not error.
So, how do we know how the Spirit is leading in a given moment? He’s probably doing something that addresses how people actually work, how they are actually broken, and how they actually get better. If we’re following the Spirit of wisdom (Eph. 1:17), we’ll be continually growing in love for and wisdom pertaining to people and all that affects them.
1 Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 357.
2 Ibid., 357–358.
3 Ibid., 358.
4 See the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement, under the heading with this phrase.