Paul's Passing Thoughts

Ultimately, Intentional Active Obedience Cannot Be Denied As Curative in Counseling

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on March 12, 2011

Some weeks ago, I was sent a webinar clip of a presentation by a NANC fellow (as in membership status, National Association of Nouthetic Counselers). The individual presented a counseling model that focused on showing the counselee the magnificence of the gospel. Supposedly, wowing the counselee or “amazing” the counselee with the gospel is curative (whether the counselee is a Christian or otherwise). Furthermore, the other side of this model proffered the idea that intentional obedience or instruction to change behavior was not only ant-curative, but legalism and works righteousness. A focus, or as some (other than the webinar presenter) call it, “moving deeper into the gospel” or “contemplation of the gospel,” results in “reasonable service” or what is known as new obedience. New obedience displays itself as a joyful “mere natural flow” which supposedly identifies the quality of obedience as being pure in motive. Duty no longer stands on its own as a virtue, but must be purified by joy and lack of our effort in the midst.


The NANC minion also referred to a behavioral emphasis in counseling as works righteousness, even when counseling a believer. So, emphasis on behavior in counseling is actually the same as beckoning the counselee to abandon the true gospel for a false one. Of course, this is counseling based on Sonship theology—“the same gospel that saved you also sanctifies you” and “we must preach the gospel to ourselves everyday.” Though I am in the midst of researching this and I’m compiling a list of people I want to interview in regard to Sonship’s history, it looks like the doctrine was contrived by a former prof. of theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and further developed by one of his understudies, David Powlison, a prof. at Westminster’s counseling wing: CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation). Unfortunately, Powlison and other associates such as Paul David Tripp were allowed unfettered involvement in NANC as instructors and board members who also infected NANC with said doctrine. Roughly eleven years ago, I witnessed the takeover of  a NANC training center by Sonship advocates firsthand (though I did not know what the doctrine was at the time), and a pastor friend of mine was in NANC training taught by a Sonship advocate in Lafayette, Indiana. Hence, the webinar per my introduction.


Therefore, there is an important Sonship mantra that all counselors and Christians alike should understand: “The imperative command is grounded in the indicative event.” Stop being lazy and start thinking—this is why two counseling organizations have become unwitting (I’m being tentative) partners with the kingdom of darkness, and it’s time Christians start paying attention to this stuff. The indicative event refers to the finished work of Christ on the cross. Therefore, all biblical commands that we would obey flow from Christ’s atoning work and not ours, or, “The imperative command….” Proponents of Sonship and gospel sanctification (what Sonship has morphed into of late) will often cite Bible verses where this is true—Christians obey because of what Christ has already done (you do this because Christ did that), but then they insist that this is the only biblical pattern in Scripture. Conclusion: All present, past, and future real-time active obedience was secured and imputed to us from the atonement just like righteousness. In the same way all of our righteousness comes from Christ, all of our obedience also comes from Christ. In other words, Christ obeys for us. Any effort on our part to obey is works righteousness in the same way we would try to earn our own righteousness with no distinction between justification and sanctification—they are treated as being the same thing. As Francis Chan says: if we work, “it feels like work,” but if Christ is the one working, “it feels like love.” Hence, when Christ is obeying for us (they say “through,” but that doesn’t fit what they really believe and makes it sound synergistic), it’s a joyful “mere natural flow.” This is why the teachings of John Piper are a staple in GS/Sonship circles. Piper’s Christian hedonism answers the, “How do we know when it’s us trying to obey or Christ obeying for us?


However, in Scripture, the imperative often precedes the indicative (if you do this, God will do that). Many Scriptures that emphasize rewards in this present life (Eph 6:1-3), and in the future would be good examples of this. Also, some imperatives are grounded in indicatives that God hasn’t even done yet! (Heb 10:19-25 2Pet 3:11,12 [do this because this is what God is going to do in the future]). By the way, so what if it’s us doing it, and regardless of the difficulty?—we  recognize we are acting by faith because we believe that God will really do what he says He will do, and (that) faith is a gift from Him, but that doesn’t exclude our effort! This is no trite matter—this is two schools of thought that teach Christians what our role in sanctification is, and how it will be experienced in real life! The reality of this hits one in the face when we hear Michael Horton say that biblical imperatives are not “promises.” Sure, doing everything we do for the sole purpose of pleasing God is honorable, but that’s not how God Himself approaches us in every circumstance with His word. This whole subject is also paramount in regard to giving hope in counseling as well. Moreover, the folly of Sonship is exposed when advocates implement a literal hermeneutic when the IND >IMP is present, but switch to a Christocentric / gospel hermeneutic (prism) when the IMP>IND or IMP> future IND is present, aping one of Paul David Tripp’s profundities: “Well, that verse has to be considered in its gospel context.”


But, there is one more thing that exposes the folly of this Sonship/GS element; namely, a denial of intentional active obedience on the part of the counselee, and that is: real life. On this point, the advocates themselves confess. In the ebook entitled, “Treating Delight as Duty is Controversial” (chapter 3, can viewed on his website), John piper concedes the following:


“It is true that our hearts are often sluggish. We do not feel the depth or intensity of affections that are appropriate for God or His cause. It is true that at those times we must exert our wills and make decisions that we hope will rekindle our joy. Even though joyless love is not our aim (“God loves a cheerful giver!” 2 Corinthians 9:7; “[Show] mercy with cheerfulness,” Romans 12:8), nevertheless it is better to do a joyless duty than not to do it, provided that there is a spirit of repentance that we have not done all of our duty because of the sluggishness of our hearts.”


Is obeying whether we feel like it or not really sin?—or a deeper form of  self-sacrifice? After all, self doesn’t want to do what God wants, right? But my main point here is that the reality of intentional active obedience cannot ultimately be rejected because real life comes knocking, as Piper himself concedes, though by writing that it is better to sin in obedience than not to obey. Uh, I think that’s what he’s saying, right?  However, the most striking concession was from a CCEF counselor named Robyn Huck in an article she recently wrote about the passing of her father. Regarding the quality of her parent’s marriage, she wrote:


“My folks were married for almost 52 years. I’m the oldest of their five children and was born in their first year of marriage, so I got to witness a lot of their life together. It was not a picture of paradise all those years, but somewhere around year 20 or so, there was tremendous growth in their relationship, and since then, they have been a wonderful example of a really good Christian marriage. I know it wasn’t always easy and I know it took a lot of work. But over and over in little day-to-day moments, they intentionally gave up self and embraced the oneness God called them to. And they were very happy.”


I think it is a good reminder to many that Christians developed good marriages by applying biblical concepts like self-sacrifice long before CCEF was around, or for that matter, NANC as well. But Paul Tripp’s answer to that would be along the lines of the fellow in the webinar, and also echoed by Larry Crabb in “Inside Out”; even if your walk with Christ is strong, it can be even better when you realize that “you no longer live, but Christ lives in you! We [him and Timothy S, Lane, both prof.’s at CCEF] welcome you to a lifestyle of celebrating just what that means” (“How People Change” p.19). Well, I read the book; it means you are spiritually dead so Christ has to obey for you. You doubt that he wrote that? Here is what he also wrote on page 171: “ It is not enough for Paul to say that the death of Christ made him new. He says that when he died, the old Paul was not replaced with a new and improved version of Paul [being born again isn’t an improved version?!], but with Christ Himself!” [this isn’t true, it’s not one or the other—it’s both].


That’s why these other comments by Huck are surprising as well:


“This ‘path’ through the woods was cleared a long time ago, but it’s still the right path, and can still be found and followed in these wintery times. What I’m trying to say is that God’s provision for my mother began thousands of years ago when he provided these lessons in Scripture. With God’s help, my parents followed that path to the best of their ability, and now my mother is reaping the fine reward of wise, godly living.”




“They also intentionally nurtured their faith, with habits of daily scripture reading and prayer. In each of these areas, my folks sought to live godly lives, and it was good for them. The process was good and now the product is good. God created the provision of Christian community, adequate finances, and strong living faith through their acts of obedience. My folks did not live perfectly, but for the most part, they stayed on the path.”




“And though living in obedience to God’s word doesn’t guarantee an easy or comfortable life, it is the passageway for his promises to be fulfilled and for faith to be built. Now that trouble has come to my family, the blessings of following God’s path and living the obedient life just keep jumping out at me. My mom truly has what she needs, both to live and to get through this difficult time.”


And this last statement is totally astounding:


“This serves as a great reminder to me as I counsel. Though we are right to be focused on the hearts of the people to whom we minister, we must also remember that blessings can come from simply doing what the Word says to do. It’s true that the deepest blessings of obedience happen when it is done out of love, but any act of obedience can be instrumental in turning the heart, and can bring the positive outcomes that so many proverbs describe.”


Yikes! She is saying that “any act of obedience” can be “instrumental” in “turning the heart” and can bring “positive outcomes,” while giving CCEF’s staple doctrine (heart theology) a wimpy, honorable mention: “Though we are right to be focused on the hearts of the people to whom we minister…” This even implies that outward obedience with the right motive, but maybe not joyful, can “turn the heart.” To me, this is a glaring contradiction to the foundation of CCEF’s counseling philosophy.


Robyn Huck, like all counselors who really want to help people, and I definitely put her in that category, eventually come to the conclusion that IND>IMP and IMP>IND and IMP>future IND are all equally true.




4 Responses

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  1. Dave said, on March 12, 2011 at 8:28 AM

    Dear Paul. I have just discovered your blog. I don’t know anything about Gospel Sanctifcation. In fact I had a difficult time understanding this article and following it. Where could you lead me to learn more about this. I do not want to be lead astray. I know a little about Paul Tripp and more about John Piper and I am surprised (in this day I probably should not be surprised) to hear theological crtisisms of them. I also have just discovered NANC and would like to know more. I hope you can point me where a “beginner” can learn more on a level that is understandable to the un-indoctrinated. Thank you and Kind Regards, Dave


  2. paulspassingthoughts said, on March 12, 2011 at 12:13 PM


    I highly recommend reading a lot of Jay Adams material; anywhere from the basics to the complex. Jay has written, I think about 200 books, which is not the point, but rather that he is trustworthy and uncompromising in regard to the truth. The link to his blog is Donn Arms and Jay can hook you up. Apparently, they have a biblical counseling organization: INS.

    If you are “un-indoctrinated,” I HIGHLY recommend reading “Pleasing God” by RC Sproul, BUT, don’t assume his acquaintances can be trusted. Basically, if you want to know more about Gospel Sanctification, try to find a copy of “Biblical Sonship” by Jay Adams. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but I am hoping a reader will see this and offer you a copy. Past that, when it’s out, I can send you a copy of my book some will be in print in about 3 weeks. Jay also has a Gospel Sanctification archive

    My advice to you: prayerfully read through your Bible as much as you possibly can. Start in Genesis and Matthew and alternate moving forward, a chapter in each or more each day. You have the same Holy Spirit everyone else has and he is here to serve you!! Also read Sproul’s book. Also, as far as NANC, CCEF, Piper, Tripp, et al: turn around, run the other way as fast as you can, and don’t look back. Oh, so they teach a lot of good stuff? So what? It only takes a small amount of the right kind of poison to destroy your Christian life. Dave, we live in an age where in fact, there is a demon behind every bush. To make this point, I would also recommend “The Truth War” by John MacArthur Jr. But do what he says and don’t do what he does, ie., associate with heretics.

    God bless you Dave, my email is—-tag me anytime.



  3. Jay said, on March 14, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    Hello Paul. This is the first I have seen your site. I read through a number of your posts on the normative nature of duty. Congratulations!

    Your writing reminded me of another article that always makes me consider the part I must play in sanctification, It Is Our Battle To Fight, It Is Our Race To Run (I put the link in the “website” box above — ).

    Just when did duty become a bad thing to teach to Christians???


  4. paulspassingthoughts said, on March 25, 2011 at 4:17 AM


    Thanks for the link–looks like a good read. NOT seeing your email appearing here publicly. Let me know if I am missing something.



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