Paul's Passing Thoughts

A Thought for Good Friday: What Is The “It”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on April 14, 2017

“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” ~ John 19:30

τετελεσται (teh-tel-es-tai) – verb; indicative mood, perfect tense, passive voice, 3rd person singular. It is derived from the Greek noun telos which is used to refer to something set out as a goal or an aim, or the conclusion of an act or state.

All Churchians most likely at some point in their life have heard the explanation that when Jesus uttered these words that He meant that he had finished what He had come to earth to accomplish. And what was it that Jesus accomplished? The orthodox interpretation of that would be that Jesus accomplished the forgiveness of sins. Moreover, it would be that Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience. Now having demonstrated perfect obedience to the Law, Jesus could fulfill his purpose as the perfect sacrifice for sin. His job was done.

It is true that Jesus did accomplish the forgiveness of sin with His death on the cross. But how exactly did this happen? Furthermore, Reformed orthodoxy would have us believe that Christians need to preach the gospel to themselves every day. They must daily return to the cross to continually have Jesus’ obedience imputed to their lives as a covering. This is accomplished by “faith alone” works through the “means of grace” administered by the local church. If Christians need an ongoing imputation of righteousness from Christ through His obeying the law for us in our stead, how exactly can one say that Jesus’ work is “finished”?

Lest I be accused of setting up a “straw man” argument, consider that after almost nine years of research here at TANC ministries, all of the problems with Protestant orthodoxy and the institutional church can be boiled down to one thing: a misunderstanding of the Law. Reformed orthodoxy keeps Christians “under law” (the Biblical definition of an unsaved person) by making perfect law-keeping the standard for righteousness. Because Protestantism’s metaphysical assumption of man is “total depravity”, man cannot keep the law, so he must rely on Jesus to keep the law for him.

But the Bible says that righteousness is apart from the law (Romans 3:21, 28). If Jesus must keep the law for us, not only does that make Jesus’ work not “finished”, but it is also not a righteousness apart from the law. What could Jesus have possibly meant when He said, “It is finished”?

It is important to note the grammar of that phase, which is only one single word in Greek. First of all, it is in the “passive voice”. That means the subject is the recipient of the action. Jesus did not say I have finished something. Some subject “it” received the action of being finished, and Jesus’ death accomplished that.

Second, the word “tetelestai” is in the “perfect” tense. The perfect tense is a verb form that indicates that an action or circumstance occurred earlier than the time under consideration, often focusing attention on the resulting state rather than on the occurrence itself. Although this gives information about a prior action, the focus is likely to be on the present consequences of that action.  In fact, the King James rendering of this verb is incorrect.  The correct rendering of this phrase in the perfect tense would be, “It has been finished.”  Jesus declared that His death produced a resulting state of something that now exists that is different from an earlier state.

Third, “tetelestai” is in the singular third person. The subject is not Jesus and something He did. The focus is on some third party subject that was the recipient of some action being performed upon it. Therefore, the statement, “It is finished” could not be a reference to Jesus finishing His work of perfect obedience to the Law. Something else had the action of “finished” performed upon it.

The question then remains, when Jesus said, “It is finished”, what exactly then is the “it”?

For one thing, the Law was actually a living will or “testament”, a covenant made between God and Israel that was ratified with Moses by the sprinkling of blood (Hebrews 9:18-21). This covenant of the Law acted as a guardian until the promise made to Abraham and his “seed” was fulfilled. (Galatians 3:16, 22-24). The Law took Old Testament saints into protective custody, protecting them from the Law’s condemnation upon their death. All sin was imputed to the Law. This was the “atoning” or “covering” aspect of the Law.

The Law’s testament pointed to the coming “promise” to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed. There would come one who would “take away” sin once and for all. This was so clearly symbolized by the picture of the “scapegoat” in Leviticus 16. The high priest would lay his hands on the head of a goat, signifying the imputation of sin to the Law. The goat would then be delivered into the hands of a strong man who would carry that goat into the wilderness and release it, signifying the taking away of sin as far as the east is from the west.

Jesus was the promised “seed” of Abraham. He was the “testator” of which the Law’s covenant spoke. Just as with any will, it could not be in force until after the death of the testator (Hebrews 9:16-17). It would seem reasonable then that the perfect tense of the verb “tetelestai” would put focus on the Law, its testament, and its role as guardian. The initiating of the Law was an event or circumstance of the past, but Jesus’ death now causes us to focus on its resulting change of state. The passive voice indicates that the Law is the recipient of this change of state. What is now changed?

  • The testament of the Law is finished. Jesus’ death now allowed its promises to be fulfilled; that is, sin would be ended because the Law was ended. All sin that was imputed to the Law would be taken away forever. The Law can no longer condemn.
  • The Law’s role as a guardian is finished. Since the “promise” had been fulfilled, believers are now the righteous offspring of the Father. There is no Law to condemn them, and where there is no law there is no sin. And since there is no sin there is no longer any need of a guardian. The covering aspect of the Law is ended.
  • The distinction between Jew and Gentile is finished. Now every born again child of God would be baptized into one Body. This is the mystery that Paul spoke of in Ephesians. He called it the New Man. Every person who is a member of the Body is given a gift to exercise to the edification of the Body and to demonstrate love to God and others. The Law is the means by which believers show love through obedience.

One could say that because of Jesus’ death to end the Law, there is now a new relationship to the Law.  There is a change of state; not only of the law but the state of the believer as well!

It was God’s plan to reconcile every man to Himself by putting to death the “old man” who is “under law” and replacing him with a new creature who is the literal offspring of the Father. In this way sin is ended because the Law is ended for those who are born again. The Law is fulfilled in us, every believer, each time we show love to another.

On this “Good Friday”, take time to consider this: Sin sought to bring death by condemnation and alienate man from God. God defeated Sin by providing a way to make man part of His own family!

Andy

Dear Reformed Brother, Was Jesus Righteous Before He Kept the Law?
Wait, Believers Fulfill The Law?

Do You Believe a False Gospel?

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Do you Misrepresent the Pharisees? Well Then, You Just Might Be an Antinomian

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on April 25, 2016

Originally published September 7, 2010

I heard it again yesterday in a Sunday morning message: the Pharisees were really, really good at keeping the Law, but at the end of the day Jesus said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees.  Alas, proof that we can’t be justified by keeping the Law (which no one would argue with). The pastor, in this message that is one of many in his series on The Sermon on the Mount, even said something like this: “The Pharisees’ efforts at keeping the Law wasn’t the issue, they were good at keeping the Law.” But is that true? And by the way, considering who the audience was at that church (primarily saints gathered for worship and the hearing of the word), and the fact that his topic was the role of the Law in Christian living, why was he even discussing justification in that context? Based on his view of the Pharisees and their supposed efforts to be justified by keeping the Law, one of his statements to *us* was “you don’t keep the Law by trying to keep the Law.” Hmmm, really?

We certainly are not justified by “trying” to keep the Law, but should we try to keep the Law in order to please and obey our Lord? Yes, I think so. Now, I don’t know this pastor very well, but I know him well enough to know that he wouldn’t dream of synthesizing justification and sanctification, but due to the fact that our present church culture is awash in an antinomian doctrine that does just that, are pastors propagating such a synthesis unawares? Yes, I think so. In his sermon notes, the top of the page has statements like ”Things Jesus wants us (“us” would presumably be Christians) to know about the Law.” The top part of the notes are also replete with “we” in regard to the Law, but the bottom part has statements like: “We live in the Age of Grace; salvation is not of works,” but yet, the whole message clearly regards the role of the Law in the life of a Christian. Therefore, whether unawares or otherwise, he clearly extended the relationship of the Law in regard to Justification into the realm of sanctification.

Here is where we must call on our good friend Jeff Foxworthy who developed a program for helping people who may be rednecks but don’t know it. He presents several different questions from different angles of thought, and depending on the answers to the questions, “you just might be a redneck.” Likewise, if you misrepresent the Pharisees, you just might be an antinomian without knowing it.

First of all, we can see from the very same proof text used to demonstrate the idea above that the Pharisees were not guilty of attempting to keep the Law in order to be justified:

[9] “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19,20).

So, as the reasoning goes, verse 19 indicates that “we” should revere God’s Law, but since the Pharisees were really, really good at keeping the Law (an assumed interpretive criteria) we shouldn’t “try” to keep the Law because that’s what they tried to do, and our righteousness must surpass theirs because you can’t be saved by keeping the Law (and again, why are we discussing salvation in this context to begin with?). But we can see just from this text alone that this interpretation is not true. In every literal English translation that I could find, the coordinating conjunction “for” links verses 19 and 20. As we know, coordinating conjunctions join two complete ideas together and indicates the connection between the two. In all cases, the translators saw fit to translate the conjunction “for” from the Greek texts. If Jesus was contrasting the two ideas, a different conjunction would have been used like “but,” ie., the Pharisees do verse 19 really well, “but” not perfectly, therefore you need a righteousness that is perfect (this is true, but not what Christ is referring to here). No, the conjunction used is “for” which indicates “reason”(reason why): because the Pharisees were guilty of verse 19, they (the audience) were not going to enter the kingdom of heaven if they where like the Pharisees in regard to habitually breaking the Law of God and teaching others to do so. Also, I think the Lord’s reference to being the least or the greatest “in the kingdom” (verse 19) is in reference to degree and set against the example of the Pharisees who were guilty of doing (breaking the Law and teaching others to do so) habitually which was an indication that their souls were in peril. Therefore, even if the assumption regarding the Pharisees ability to obey the Law outwardly is true, it’s the wrong transition; a better transition would be “but” and would read something like this: “Christians should obey the Law ‘but’ even if you keep the law as good as the Pharisees do, it will not get you into the kingdom, so you need a righteousness that surpasses theirs.”

Granted, depending on how you diagram the sentence, you might be able to make a case either way, but is it true that the Pharisees were experts at keeping the Law outwardly? No. From other Scriptures we know that the Pharisees were guilty of verse nineteen; specifically, they replaced the Law with their own traditions. That’s why Jesus immediately launches into the whole “you have heard that it was said….but I tell you”starting in the following sentence (verse21). Not only that, Jesus says specifically in Matthew 15:1-9 that His contention with the Pharisees (and the teachers of the law as exactly referred to in verse 20) was the fact that they twisted the Scriptures according to their traditions:

[1] Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, [2]”Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”[3] Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? [4] For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ [5] But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ [6] he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. [7] You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: [8] ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. [9] They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

The Pharisees were not proficient at keeping God’s law outwardly. In fact, they didn’t do so at all, but rather propagated teachings that were “rules taught by men.” Therefore, the Pharisees were guilty of neglecting the true Law and teaching others to do so (Matthew 5:19). They were not the poster-children for some campaign to demonstrate the futility of Law-keeping, especially in regard to believers. In fact, Christ said their lax attitude toward the Law was indicative of those who will not enter the kingdom. For this reason the Pharisees were not the greatest in heaven as the masses supposed, but the least, if they were even in the kingdom at all. Therefore, when Christ told the crowd that their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, He wasn’t talking about the imputed righteousness of Christ that the Pharisees were supposedly trying to obtain themselves for salvation (besides, they were not attempting to do that to begin with as I have demonstrated), but rather the true righteous behavior demanded of kingdom citizens. If Christ was talking about an imputed righteousness (for sanctification), why would He have not simply said so? For example: “Your righteousness must not only exceed that of the Pharisees (which wouldn’t have been hard to do anyway, and therefore by no means a profound statement by Christ), but ( a contrast conjunction) must be a righteousness that comes from God alone”…for sanctification.

If you misrepresent the Pharisees as the first century poster-children for “let go and let God theology” because they supposedly tried to keep the Law, you just might be an antinomian. But in part two, we discuss another question that may give credence to the possibility: Do you misrepresent obedience as outward alone? Well then, you just may be an antinomian.

paul

Calvinists: Going to Hell and Proud of It

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 23, 2016

Originally published January 5, 2015

“[T]he Bible is absolutely clear that ALL of those who will supposedly bark triumphantly at that judgment are among those already damned by virtue of the fact that they are standing at that judgment. That judgment is called the “second death” in Scripture; all who stand there are already damned. Yet, Calvinists constantly boast that they will stand in that judgment.”

I hear it often, but I think this is the first time I have really parked on it and pondered; this whole thing with Calvinists being proud of the fact that they will “stand in the final judgment with no righteousness of their own.”

PPT logged a comment yesterday from “Frank” that once again proffers this idea with all of the delight of a newborn’s arrival into the world.

The Gospel very simple: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.

The great misconception in our day is this: that God isn’t concerned to protect His own integrity. He’s a kind of wishy-washy deity, who just waves a wand of forgiveness over everybody. No. For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So the Gospel is something objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did. And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated to us? How do I get it? The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.

That’s the simplicity of the gospel.

This is why we should in no wise be surprised that an Adventist theologian rediscovered the real Protestant gospel in 1970 which is predicated on this idea.

The SDA gospel focuses on being able to “stand in the final judgment.” So, the “Christian” life focuses on that; the endeavor of sanctification is to prepare for this one final judgment. For years, the mainline SDA take followed: beginning salvation takes care of past sin, and then the new “believer” labors with the Holy Spirit to become good enough to stand in the final judgment. Some substitution by Christ to achieve perfectionism was involved, but it required the best efforts possible by “believers” in order to warrant Christ topping off the difference with His own righteousness. The doctrine, known as the “investigative judgment” is extremely complex and downright confusing, but what I have stated here is the gist:

While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon earth.

Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.

           Ellen White ~ The Great Controversy, chapter 24.

The understandable angst among the SDA faithful peaked in the 1950’s which spawned the Progressive Adventist movement. One of the major players in that movement was an Adventist theologian named Robert Brinsmead. Due to his intellectual prowess, he was able to plow through the writings of the Reformers and understand what their take was on the final judgment. Not only that, Brinsmead was, and I assume still is, a master communicator of ideas.

The message he brought to the SDA faithful follows: one is able to stand in the final judgment if they live their Christian life by the same gospel that saved them; i.e., by faith alone. If you do that, Christ will continue to cover you with His righteousness. If you disavow any righteousness of your own, and believe in being covered by the alien righteousness of Christ as depicted in the wearing of a white robe, you will be able to stand in the judgment.

So, let’s be clear: formally, the SDA as a whole advocated a do your best to keep the law and if you do that well enough Christ will completely cleanse you and declare you righteous. Then you will be able to stand in the judgment. What is the problem with that other than its fundamental falsehood? The SDA faithful had no way of knowing until the final judgment whether or not they did that well enough to warrant Christ’s complete cleansing.

Brinsmead traded that for what the Reformers advocated: rather than partaking in the heavy burden of law keeping, if one only lives by faith alone apart from the law, Christ will stand in the judgment for us. The one who lives their Christian life by faith alone will stand in the judgment covered by the righteousness of Christ apart from any righteousness of their own.

This spawned the Awakening movement which turned the SDA completely on its head. But not only that, it also spawned a return to the authentic Reformation gospel by evangelicals worldwide who had drifted away from it through a more literal interpretation of the Bible because literal interpretation is intuitive. In other words, that’s our natural bent.

The Reformers saw the Bible as a tool for continually returning to the same gospel that saved us by faith alone in order to keep oneself covered by the righteousness of Christ, and therefore making one able to stand in the final judgment.

A literal interpretation of the Bible suggests that God’s people are to work in sanctification, or the Christian life. That’s a problem because the Reformers saw the Christian life as the progression of salvation to a final salvation determined at a one, final judgment. Therefore, biblical imperatives must be interpreted in their “gospel context,” viz, God commands us to do things in order to show us we are not able to obey perfectly. Hence, many of the Reformed in our day suggest that a literal interpretation of the Bible is tantamount to works righteousness.

Again, let’s pause for some clarification: The SDA and the Reformers BOTH saw the Christian life as part of salvation culminating in a final determinative judgment. Both define justification, the state required to be saved, as an ability to keep the law perfectly. Both believe that a means of obtaining a perfect law-keeping as something accredited to our account for standing in the final judgment is paramount. The SDA believed that best effort law-keeping resulted in Christ topping off our account at the judgment. The Reformers believed that effortless living by faith alone resulted in being covered by the righteousness of Christ alone at the judgment. For example, John Calvin believed that the Christian life is the Old Testament Sabbath rest.

Luther described the believer’s “triumphant” declaration to God at the final judgment as, we have NO righteousness but Christ’s. This motif was once again echoed by Frank on PPT.

But there is only one problem; the Bible is absolutely clear that ALL of those who will supposedly bark triumphantly at that judgment are among those already damned by virtue of the fact that they are standing at that judgment. That judgment is called the “second death” in Scripture; all who stand there are already damned. Yet, Calvinists constantly boast that they will stand in that judgment.

Revelation 20:4 – Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

In the Bible, there are multiple resurrections and judgments. Believers, who are already deemed righteous because they are in fact righteous, will be judged for rewards, not righteousness, because they are already righteous. They are resurrected to determine rewards, not righteousness. In the passage cited here, it is obvious that these are two different resurrections and two different judgments. One judgment has multiple thrones, while the other only has one throne and one judge. The latter judgment is the second death, and those who partake in the first resurrection are blessed. And, the latter judgment is identified as the one Calvinists say they will attend because it judges righteousness, and Calvinists, generally speaking, advocate a one judgment only position. Said another way, this is the only judgment they could possibly be talking about because there is only one according to them.

Why do they advocate a one judgment only when there is obviously more than one? Well, because that matches their gospel of beginning salvation, progressive salvation, and final salvation. It also matches the idea that perfect law-keeping is the required standard for being saved. If salvation is a settled issue that takes place for each individual in a moment of time, why would there be a need to finalize salvation at any other time? Also, there is only a future need to judge righteousness if perfect law-keeping remains the standard for Christians. If perfect law-keeping is not a determinative standard for Christians, the judge at the final judgment is without a law in which to judge righteousness. The judgment is without any law to judge.

In contrast, this is the case with the true gospel: the believer is made righteous through the new birth, and the law is ended for righteousness. The new birth is a gift, but like any gift, once you receive it, it belongs to you. This whole “righteousness of our own” business is a red herring. It’s like looking at someone living and besmirching them for believing they have a life of their own because they were born. We are righteous because we have the seed of God within our very being because of the new birth (1Jn 3:9). We still sin because the flesh is weak while our righteous soul is willing. It is sin against our Father, not our righteousness because Christ ended the law for that purpose.

This happened through the new birth. We were once under the law and its power to condemn us. Because we were unregenerate, sin within us used the law to provoke us to sin. When we died with Christ, it was like the death of a spouse—we are no longer obligated to that marriage covenant (law).

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7).

So, we now “serve” in the “new way of the Spirit.” What’s that? That’s sanctification which is the use of Scripture to love God and others (Jn 17:17, Rom 8:4, Rom 8:7, Matt 4:4, Ps 1:1-6, Ps 119). Perfect law-keeping is not the standard for being justified—there is no law in justification, we are justified apart from the law (Rom 3:21). It would be futile for real Christians to stand in a judgment where Calvinists are present, the law they will be judged by doesn’t pertain to us:

Romans 3:19 – Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 4:15 – For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Calvinists say it’s alright to still be under the law because Jesus keeps the law for us if we live by faith alone, and that is the definition of being under grace: we are under grace if we live by faith alone and the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to our account. But that’s being under law and under grace at the same time; the Bible is clear that we are either under one or the other (Rom 6:14). Calvinism advocates the idea that the unregenerate are only under law, but are under both law and grace if they are saved. Hence, this is why they cannot advocate separate judgments, but only one. If under law and under grace are separate, any judgment regarding law for the believer is an anomaly regardless of who keeps it—the question of perfect law-keeping is the reason for the judgment in the first place.

This is why in fact there is a separate resurrection for the saved: because their judgment concerns rewards, not a just standing that has already been determined. This is why Jesus called it the “resurrection of the just” because they are already just, only their rewards need to be determined:

Luke 14:12 – He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[b] or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Salvation is earned by no one—it is a gift, but rewards are earned by those who are born again. In fact, God would be unjust not to reward them for what they have earned:

Hebrews 6:10 – For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

If Calvinists are under grace and not under law, why do they need Jesus to keep the law for them? The only possible reason that they could need Jesus to keep the law for them is if they are still under law. This is why they find themselves at a one final judgment that is the “second death.” That is where they will be judged by a law that has “nothing to say” to the born again.

One can only surmise that when they triumphantly claim that they have no righteousness of their own, God will respond with something like…

“You were never born of me, and those born of me are righteous even as I am righteous. My Son died to end the law for condemnation so that you could obey the law in order to love me and your neighbors. You see me as a hard god that reaps where I have not sown, and now present to me the same gospel that I originally gave. You are a lazy wicked servant and confess that you have no love towards me or others. Now your fear of being righteous is your condemnation.”

paul

Why Christians Cannot Trust the Biblical Counseling Movement: Its True History and Doctrine

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on March 18, 2016

Originally published December 29, 2014

Introduction

    The contemporary biblical counseling movement has brought counseling back to the church. Prior, the average evangelical congregation supplied comfort as much as they could while the experts were called on to treat whatever serious problem was at hand. Church was there to get people into heaven; the experts make people as comfortable as possible until they get there.

    That has changed dramatically. In-house counseling addresses every imaginable life problem within the church. Biblical counseling organizations abound and their networks have inundated the institutional church. At the top of the biblical counseling empire is the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF) and its offspring: Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Together, these organizations hold sway over at least 90% of all biblical counseling taking place in the evangelical church.

    Who are they? How did they get here? What do they believe? And are they a help to God’s people, or a detriment? It is important to answer these questions because of the following fact: the present-day biblical counseling movement is the biggest scam ever perpetrated on God’s people, and the harm it will continue to inflict on souls is beyond measure.

    The information in this booklet is far from complicated. The present-day biblical counseling movement has an easily defined history, doctrine, and track record regarding results. Are God’s people being helped, or hurt? And if the biblical counseling movement is a detriment to God’s people, what are the viable alternatives?

    The biblical counseling movement is like clouds without water. That was Jude’s description of false teachers in his letter to the saints. Clouds offer hope that life-giving rain to a thirsty land is coming, but these clouds are merely a mist of empty promises and hopelessness. The goal of this booklet is to warn God’s people, and point to the only true hope of Jesus Christ and His truth.

Because only truth sanctifies (John 17:17),

Paul M. Dohse Sr.

The Beginning of the Biblical Counseling Movement

    In circa 1960, a middle aged Presbyterian pastor named Jay E. Adams had a life transforming experience:

Like many other pastors, I learned little about counseling in seminary, so I began with virtually no knowledge of what to do. Soon I was in difficulty. Early in my first pastorate, following an evening service, a man lingered after everyone else had left. I chatted with him awkwardly, wondering what he wanted. He broke into tears, but could not speak. I simply did not know what to do. I was helpless. He went home that night without unburdening his heart or receiving any genuine help from his pastor. Less than one month later he died. I now suspect that his doctor had told him of his impending death and that he had come for counsel. But I failed him. That night I asked God to help me to become an effective counselor (Jay E. Adams: Competent To Counsel; Zondervan 1970, Introduction xi).

    Therefore, it would be fair to say that whoever that gentleman was, he sparked the beginning of the most significant movement in recent church history. The experience must have profoundly impacted Adams because he was relentless in pursuing counseling knowledge in the years following. Then,

…suddenly, I was forced to face the whole problem in a much more definitive way. I was asked to teach practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. One of the courses I was assigned was Poimenics (the shepherding work of the pastor). As part of the course, I was expected to teach the basic theory of pastoral counseling. I had less than a year to think through the problem and prepare my lectures. Where would I begin? (Ibid).

How Did the Church Get There?

    To say that Christians, some 2000 years after the birth of the church, had come to live by biblical generalities, and were farming serious problems out to religious and secular experts is far from painting the church of that time with a wide brush. It’s not oversimplification; it’s the simple fact of the matter. The testimony of a mainstream respected pastor like Jay Adams is sufficient.

    But how did the church come to function that way? The answer is profoundly simple; the functionality of the church was a direct result from the gospel it adopted in the 16th century. The construct mentioned in the introduction of this booklet, church gets us to heaven, experts help us cope until we get there, was a direct effect caused by the Reformation gospel. So, what was that gospel?

The Reformation Gospel

    The Reformation gospel was predicated on the idea that salvation was a process, or progression. In other words, the justification of a believer had a starting point, a progression, and then finality. This is sometimes referred to as beginning justification experienced subjectively followed by final justification.

    So, instead of salvation, or justification being a finished work with the Christian life progressing in complete separation from justification, the Christian life is part of the progression of justification according to the Reformers. In fact, one of the primary Reformers and the father of the Presbyterian Church, John Calvin, titled one of the chapters in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive” (book 3, chapter 14).

    In that chapter, Calvin explains the crux of the Reformation gospel: beginning justification only covers past sins, but because Christians continue to sin, they must revisit the same gospel that saved them in order to receive continued forgiveness for new sins committed in the Christian life (section 11). Further clarification on this position can be seen in other sections of the Calvin Institutes:

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them” (4.1.21).

    On the flip side, Calvin went to great lengths in 3.14.9,10 to emphasize the idea that Christians cannot do any work that is pleasing to God because perfect law-keeping is the prerequisite for any ability to please God in any way. Therefore, Christians must continually seek repentance so that the righteousness of Christ will be perpetually imputed to our account in what we would refer to as sanctification, or the Christian life (3.14.11). Therefore, Calvin stated that the Christian life had to be a passive affair focused on perpetual repentance for new sins committed in the Christian life in order to remain justified. This meant a perpetual return to the same gospel that saved us. To Calvin, the Christian life was the Old Testament Sabbath rest if one would progress in justification:

And this emptying out of self must proceed so far that the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own; for rightly does Augustine remark in the last chapter of the 22nd book, De Civitate Dei, ‘For even our good works themselves, since they are understood to be rather His than ours, are thus imputed to us for the attaining of that Sabbath, when we are still and see that He is God; for, if we attribute them to ourselves, they will be servile, whereas we are told as to the Sabbath, “Thou shalt not do any servile work in it.”

The Complete Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis: Jean Calvin; translated by Charles William Bingham ,1844-1856. The Harmony of the Law: Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses | Its Repetition—Deuteronomy 5:12-15. ¶2.

    Note that the Christian must attain the Sabbath (final justification) by the continued “emptying out of self” which results in the continued imputation of righteousness not our own. It is a perpetual “meditation” on the Sabbath to attain the Sabbath:

It may seem, therefore, that the seventh day the Lord delineated to his people the future perfection of his sabbath on the last day, that by continual meditation on the sabbath, they might throughout their whole lives aspire to this perfection (The Calvin Institutes 2.8.30).

Spiritual rest is the mortification of the flesh; so that the sons of God should no longer live to themselves, or indulge their own inclination. So far as the Sabbath was a figure of this rest, I say, it was but for a season; but insomuch as it was commanded to men from the beginning that they might employ themselves in the worship of God, it is right that it should continue to the end of the world.

The Complete Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis: Jean Calvin; translated by John King, 1844-1856. Genesis 2:1-15, section 3.

    Why then did Christians live by biblical generalities, and find themselves inept in regard to helping people? Because the Protestant gospel called for a retaining of salvation through rest and a singular meditation on the same repentance that originally saved us. Since that occurs during the Christian life, and justification is by faith alone, the Christian life must be lived by faith alone, or again, according to the Sabbath rest. Obviously, a diligent study of biblical wisdom and its application to life would not only be a very low priority, but is antithetical to the authentic Protestant gospel. This made weak sanctification in Christian living a longstanding tradition. Church became all about salvation and little else.

History

    Dr. Jay E. Adams was not alone in misunderstanding the true gospel of the Reformation which led to the self-described dilemma he found himself in. Protestantism had become a soft version of the original article. Martin Luther’s alien righteousness was thought to pertain to justification only and not the Christian life as well. In other words, Luther didn’t believe Christians inherit any of God’s righteousness that becomes a part of them. Christians are only declared righteous positionally, but do not actually possess any righteousness in their being. John Calvin concurred throughout his institutes; e.g., 3.14.11.

    Protestantism and its entire offspring heavily emphasized justification only because that is the very premise of its gospel though the causality became very blurred with time. According to the authentic article, sanctification is the manifestation of Christ’s life for the purpose of moving justification forward to final justification.

    The “believers” role is to colabor with Christ by faith alone in order to keep things moving forward, and frankly, an endeavor to keep ourselves saved by faith alone. This requires a redefinition of what is a work in sanctification, and what is not a work in sanctification so that the obedience of Christ would continue to be imputed to us for the purpose of keeping us justified. In this way, according to the Reformers, we are “kept” by Christ because justification is not finished—it’s a process.

    Hence, the Reformers classified what activities in the Christian life are of faith alone. The writings of Luther and Calvin primarily concern a formula for living the Christian life by faith alone. The crux of the formula was a perpetual return to the same gospel that saved us originally for the atonement of “present sin.” That sin is not only covered, but one also continues to be covered by the righteousness of Christ alone and NOT any righteousness inherited by us via the new birth.   This is nothing new, and is what James sought to refute in his letter to the 12 tribes of Israel.

    What is important to establish at this point is the fact that the Reformed community at large began to realize in 1970 that they had drifted away from the authentic Reformed gospel, and stated such emphatically. And ironically, the discovery was made by an Adventist theologian named Robert Brinsmead. This Adventist theologian turned said religion completely upside down with what was known as the Awakening Movement. Many took note, and Brinsmead was joined by two Anglicans, Geoffrey Paxton and Graeme Goldsworthy in the forming of a project named The Australian Forum. The purpose of the project was to awake Christianity to the fact that it had drifted away from the true Reformation gospel resulting in a separation of justification from sanctification, and the idea that Christians inherit a righteous state of being through the new birth.

    And they were exactly correct which resulted in the Reformed community holding their noses and listening to what Brinsmead had to say. Brinsmead, Paxton, and Goldsworthy published a theological journal named Present Truth which had a massive impact on the evangelical world at large. The publication, for all practical purposes, was a contemporary rendering of the Calvin Institutes and was an astonishing articulation of authentic Reformed soteriology.

    Remember, Jay Adams had been called to Westminster Theological Seminary sometime during the mid-sixties, and was buried in developing a counseling construct for the purposes of training pastors. Running parallel to his activities was the Awakening Movement which he probably paid little attention to. That is, until Westminster invited the Australian Forum to meet with the Westminster brain trust. Though it has not been established positively, the legendary Reformed theologian Edmund Clowney, who was president of Westminster at that time, was more than likely present at the meeting. Adams was not happy about the meeting because of Brinsmead, and sarcastically suggested that pork be served for lunch which in fact ended up being the case (The Truth About New Calvinism: TANC Publishing 2011; pp. 59-65).

    After several years of hammering out a counseling construct for the institutional church, Adams published his counseling treatise titled, Competent To Counsel. This was a landmark publication and highly controversial. The theses of the book suggested that Christians, armed with the word of God, were competent to counsel each other and bring about changed lives. Said another way, Christianity is more than Redemption alone, but is also about changed lives for the glory of God. Adams even published another book that makes the same point: More Than Redemption. And yet another book, How To Help People Change. Adams is rightly known as the father of the biblical counseling movement, but he may better be described as the father of aggressive sanctification.

The Perfect Storm of Conflict: 1970

    Ordinarily, this Christian living revolution would have dramatically changed Christianity until the second coming, but remember something else happened the same year that Adams unveiled his counseling treatise in 1970: the advent of the Australian Forum. Therefore, you had two antithetical movements growing side by side in the Protestant community, especially in the halls of Westminster: the resurgence of authentic Protestantism and the biblical counseling movement. One emphasized the fusion of justification and sanctification, and the other emphasized the separation of the two.

    Early in Adams’ tenor at Westminster, a counseling wing of Westminster was established named, The Christian Counseling & Education Foundation, or CCEF. This was a biblical counseling think tank of sorts, and the academic counseling wing of Westminster as well. Its embodiment included proponents of both movements. Later, an accreditation organization was formed known as The Association of Nouthetic Counselors, or NANC.  The purpose of the organization was to certify biblical counselors. This organization was also embodied with proponents of both movements.

    Be advised that it is unlikely that many were conscious of the historical distinctions between the two movements. All in all, the differences were chalked up to disagreement in regard to application, but not anything that pointed to any questions regarding the Reformation gospel itself.

    That would change when a contemporary of Jay Adams at Westminster, Professor John “Jack” Miller developed the Sonship Discipleship program. Clearly, the program was based on the authentic Reformed gospel recovery movement. As the movement grew, Adams, who was gaining significant notoriety as the father of the biblical counseling movement, was called on more and more to weigh-in on the movement.

    This resulted in a contention between Miller and Adams which consummated into Adams writing a book published by Timeless Texts that contended against the program: Biblical Sonship; An Evaluation of the Sonship Discipleship Course. Adams published the book in 1999, the movement began circa 1986, or about 16 years after the resurgence began in 1970.

    Take note: though the program was based on the Reformation principle of fusing justification and sanctification together, it was wreaking havoc on the Protestant church during this time, and that is why Adams jumped into the fray. The point being that Presbyterianism was functioning according to Calvinism Light, and when the original article began to emerge, many Presbyterians, including Adams claimed the Sonship program was not according to the Reformed tradition. Several of these like confrontations pepper church history—usually in the form of antinomian controversies.

    It is important to pause here and establish the fact that these controversies arise because Calvinists often misunderstand what Calvin really believed, and this misunderstanding is most prevalent among Bible scholars and Christian academia at large. This is because seminaries rarely teach anything new, but are merely institutions that regurgitate the traditions of men.

    This is established by the fact that at the beginning of the 1970 resurgence, the Reformed community themselves admitted that the original gospel of the Reformation had been lost. Also, the very nomenclature of their ministries admit it as well; i.e., “The Resurgence,” “Modern Reformation,” etc.

    More to the point, Reformed scholar John H. Armstrong, who co-authored a book with John MacArthur Jr., stated the following in an article titled Death of a Friend on August 31, 2010:

One summer, in the late 1970s I believe, I attended a small gathering associated with the ministry of a popular magazine of the time called Present Truth. The magazine actually opened my eyes to the need for recovering gospel truths in an age that was fast losing its grasp on the grace of God. Two teachers were leading this small gathering and there could not have been more than 75 people in the room. One of those in the audience, and sharing insights only as a humble participant, was Dr. Don Bloesch. I was impressed that a man of such profound scholarship would take the time to share in a small event where he was not a featured speaker. Don believed something important was going on in that room and wanted to interact with it. So did I.

    Why was Armstrong impressed with Bloesch’s willingness to participate in a small Australian Forum Bible study using their theological journal Present Truth? First, because Bloesch was a Reformed heavyweight, but back to the main point: this is one of a myriad of open admissions that the Reformed community at large misunderstood the authentic Reformation gospel. Nevertheless, Jay Adams misunderstood Calvin for the better, and in a big way.

    Yet another example of this can be seen in Dr. John Macarthur Jr.’s keynote address at the 2007 Shepherd’s Conference: Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist.  One blogger aptly described the fallout this way:

John MacArthur’s first message at the Shepherds’ Conference set off shock waves throughout the reformed evangelical church by upholding Premillennialism as being the only consistent position for any person who holds to the doctrine of sovereign electing grace.

online source: faithbyhearing.wordpress.com/2007/03/15/macarthur-why-every-self-respecting-calvinist-should-be-a-premillenialist/

    Amillennialism posits the idea that Israel lost its election (Supersessionism or Replacement Theology) because of rebellion, and this was MacArthur’s contention. If God sovereignly elected Israel, how could they lose their election? However, that idea is in fact perfectly consistent with John Calvin’s theology. He separated election into three categories of people, the non-elect, the called, and those who persevere until the end. The called, are in-fact temporarily illumined but then fall away at some point (The Calvin Inst. 3.24.7,8). Moreover, the massive Reformed pushback against this assertion by MacArthur was completely void in regard to this fact, viz, according to Calvinism, one can lose their election. Calvin stated such in no uncertain terms. In the final analysis, most Calvinists have no idea what Calvin believed.

Meanwhile, back to Westminster  

    Let’s now resume our place in contemporary history at Westminster Theological Seminary. We have two notable Calvinists teaching at the same seminary representing two different Calvinist gospel camps, and teachers from both camps are participating in CCEF and NANC. This is where Jay Adams began to come under serious attack within Reformed ranks, mostly from two mentorees of Dr. Miller, David Powlison and Paul David Tripp. These two men are key figures because they were working hard to develop a counseling version of the Reformed resurgence gospel to answer Adams’ counseling construct that heavily emphasized learn and do. In fact, one of the mantra’s among Adams counselors was, “the power is in the doing.”

    At any rate, the counseling construct developed by Powlison and Tripp while at Westminster is known as Theology of the Heart, and was heavily predicated on Miller’s deep repentance model that aligned well with Luther and Calvin’s ideology and practical application of gospel contemplationism. Their pilot program was operational from circa 2003 to 2005, and culminated in an impressive treatise in 2006 titled How People Change authored by Tripp and another former student of Powlison’s at Westminster.

    During the pilot program with the same name as the book, Powlison listed himself as a “contributor.” This was for the express purpose of plausible deniability because these men knew that the counseling construct they were promoting was counter intuitive to most evangelicals. The pilot program “tested” the material in hundreds of local churches between 2003 and 2005.

    In the introduction to the book (Punch Press 2006), Tripp in essence states that if anyone has a problem with the book, they should blame him, but Powlison should get credit for anything they agree with (the earliest literature from the program named Powlison as the actual “developer” of the curriculum). This was/is a ploy to make the book disagreement proof and protect the face of Theology of the Heart, David Powlison. This good cop—bad cop ploy has been utilized several times to defer criticism of the book.

    Consequently, the 2006 NANC conference was fraught with plenary session addresses and workshops that presented a host of contradictory views. Clearly, the civil war between the generally accepted relationship between justification and sanctification (the two are separate), and the gospel recovery movement was in full swing. During a biblical counseling seminar at John Piper’s church, Powlison stated outright that the difference between “first generation” biblical counseling and “second generation” biblical counseling was two different gospels. However, this was the elephant in the biblical counseling room that no one wanted to talk about:

This might be quite a controversy, but I think it’s worth putting in. Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion. And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification.  And actually even came out and attacked my mentor, Jack Miller, my pastor that I’ve been speaking of through the day, for saying that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves.  I think Jay was wrong on that (David Powlison speaking at John Piper’s church May 8, 2010).

    Ironically, Adams’ primarily criticism of secular psychology has always been the lack of continuity plus the various and sundry theories of change that number over 200 within the discipline, but even though the biblical counseling movement doesn’t have that many varying theories, they are split on the issue that makes the whole discussion worthwhile, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    This is the first reason the biblical counseling movement must be utterly rejected out of hand—because no one in the movement will draw a deep line in the sand in defense of the gospel. These difference are treated as matters of opinion concerning method instead of what it really is, a contention between two different gospels with heaven and hell in the balance.

    The one thing both camps unwittingly agree on is that the biblical counseling industrial complex must be preserved at the expense of the gospel. In the final analysis, those who function in this way cannot help people change, and will most likely do more harm than good. The movement is pregnant with counselors who lack conviction and love for the truth. They are best avoided at all cost.

    The issue concerning these two different gospels is far from complicated: if one must preach the gospel to themselves every day, that must mean they still need the same gospel that originally saved them, which means their salvation is not a finished work, which also means that they must play some role in finishing their salvation—this would seem evident. If Justification is not finished, works salvation is unavoidable on every wise, and a gospel contemplationism dubbed as a faith-alone work by no means changes this reality.

    And incredibly, this is verbally conceded often. Consider what John Piper said in his three part series, How Does The Gospel Save Believers? 

We are asking the question, How does the gospel save believers?, not: How does the gospel get people to be believers? When spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel does have power to open people’s eyes and change their hearts and draw them to faith, and save them. That’s what is happening on Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights this summer. People are being drawn to Christ through the power and beauty of the gospel. But I am stressing what Paul says here in verses 16 and 17, namely, that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Believers need to be saved. The gospel is the instrument of God’s power to save us. And we need to know how the gospel saves us believers so that we make proper use of it (August 16, 1998, part 2).

    This is the very essence of the Reformation gospel: the idea that salvation is a process in which the “believer” is gradually drawn to Christ for a final salvation. The only way that this process towards final salvation can continue is if we continually return to the same gospel that saved us. This is egregious heresy perpetrated in broad daylight.

    Eventually, Jay Adams was driven out of any association with CCEF and NANC and started The Institute of Nouthetic Studies (INS) with Baptist pastor Donn Arms. INS experiences a significant contention with CCEF and NANC until this day, but unfortunately, the contention primarily focuses on sanctification issues, viz, heart theology, and not the truthfulness of the true gospel. The CCEF/NANC camp applied its latest slap in the face to Adams by changing the name of NANC to The Association Of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

    INS has two individuals on their staff that also have close relations to CCEF and ACBC. Adams and Arms are to be commended for their confrontation regarding the application of Theology of the Heart to counseling people, but unfortunately, they have not yet made it a salvific gospel issue.

The Big Lie

    Primarily, people go to counseling for one reason: because they see a need for change in their lives. The brain trust of the CCEF counseling empire and their aforementioned affiliates know that they do NOT believe that people change. The magnum opus of heart theology, How People Change, is a misrepresentation of its counseling construct and they know it. As we have seen, the authentic Reformation gospel rejects the idea that people can change in totality.

    Therefore, the goal of biblical counseling is to teach people to see life differently. If they merely see life differently, wellbeing occurs regardless of what is happening in the material world. What happens in the material world is entirely God’s business and not yours. Right seeing is the goal, not right doing, the doing is God’s job—not yours.

    In fact, according to the construct that has taken over the biblical counseling culture, any counseling that emphasizes doing is a false gospel. We, as John Piper often likes to say, must practice a “beholding as a way of becoming.” But remember, the “becoming” speaks to a progression of mere seeing while God himself manifests the doing in the material realm. This booklet will not explore all of the metaphysical constructs that may be applied, but one example comes from page 215 of How People Change:

When we think, desire, speak, or act in a right way, it isn’t time to pat ourselves on the back or cross it off our To Do List. Each time we do what is right, we are experiencing what Christ has supplied for us.

    In other words, we are only experiencing the works of Christ and not actually doing the work ourselves. There are many philosophical applications for this approach including subjective Idealism.  This is the idea that reality is defined by how it is perceived. In other words, there is really no material world per se; it only exists in the minds of individuals. Therefore, change a person’s thinking and you change their reality.

    Another approach is realm manifestation. The invisible world manifests reality in the visible world by whatever means, but those who dwell in the material realm are only experiencing what the invisible realm is manifesting. For the most part, the Reformers, particularly Martin Luther and his spiritual mentor Saint Augustine seemed to believe something along these lines.

    Luther stated in the Heidelberg disputation that the Christian life is lived subjectively; i.e., we really don’t know when we are doing a work or when God is doing the work. However, to believe that whatever we do is evil, and whatever good is done is only experienced by us, but not us doing it, is saving faith. To believe that we can actually do a good work, according to Luther, is mortal sin. To experience a good work as us doing it is only venial sin if we disavow our ability to do any good work and attribute the work to God only:

He, however, who has emptied himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) through suffering no longer does works but knows that God works and does all things in him. For this reason, whether God does works or not, it is all the same to him. He neither boasts if he does good works, nor is he disturbed if God does not do good works through him. He knows that it is sufficient if he suffers and is brought low by the cross in order to be annihilated all the more. It is this that Christ says in John 3:7, »You must be born anew.« To be born anew, one must consequently first die and then be raised up with the Son of Man. To die, I say, means to feel death at hand (Theses 24).

    This is also how Luther defined the new birth. Since we, even as “Christians,” can only do evil, we only seek to live a perpetual “lifestyle of repentance” as Paul Tripp et al call it resulting in a resurrection experience. But remember, we are never sure when these experiences are actually from God, but joy may be an indication, though we are never certain. Remember, this connects us back to “justification experienced subjectively.”

    Hence, we get ourselves to heaven with an ability to “stand in the judgment by faith alone” by revisiting our original salvation. THIS IS KEY, the new birth is not a onetime event which makes us a new creature, the new birth is redefined as a perpetual death and rebirth experience, or a perpetual repeating of our original salvation in order to keep ourselves saved by this living by faith alone formula. Simply stated, it is daily resalvation. We must be resaved or rejustified daily by “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.”

    There is actually a formal doctrine from the Reformed tradition that defines the new birth in this way, it is called mortification and vivification. It is a perpetual reliving of our original baptism in order to keep ourselves saved.  It is returning to the same gospel that saved us daily in order to remain saved. We focus on our need for repentance (mortification, or death), and we then experience perpetual resurrection (vivification, or a joy experience) in ever-increasing levels.

    Though identified with the Reformed tradition, the father of contemporary biblical counseling, Jay Adams, believes the new birth to be a onetime event and would reject a proper understanding of mortification and vivification. In the same year that he unveiled his biblical approach to a more aggressive sanctification, the Australian Forum began to awaken the Reformed community to the fact that they had lost their way. Roughly sixteen years later, the original article began to be integrated into the biblical counseling movement which put the movement at odds with the very man who started It.

    Jay Adams believes that Christians can change because they are born again. They don’t merely experience a subjective justification; their changed behavior is proof of the new creature. Adams stated in no uncertain terms in the aforementioned treatise against Sonship Theology that justification is a declaration, and sanctification is NOT powered by it. In contrast, sanctification is powered by regeneration, or the new birth. The Christian can change through obedience to biblical wisdom and is helped in doing so by the Holy Spirit.

    But this clearly puts Adams at odds with the true Reformation gospel, and his hesitancy to completely break ties with CCEF et al will only continue to muddy the waters while Adams is accused of propagating a “behavioral model.”

Yet, a behavioral approach to change is hollow because it ignores the need for Christ and his power to change first the heart and then the behavior. Instead, even the Christian version of the approach [Adams] separates the commands of Scripture from their Christ-centered, gospel context (How People Change 2006, p. 26).

    This is egregiously disingenuous. On pages 64 and 65 of the same book, Tripp describes Christians the same way Luther would: “alienated enemies” who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and “dead,” and “When you are dead, you cannot do anything.” Tripp goes on to say on page 65 that denying we are unchanged is to deny Christ. The key to change is not getting better, but seeing ourselves for who we really are. This entails a peeling away of layers to see the “sin beneath the sin” as their mentor Dr. John Miller put it. So-called “heart change” is really just an ability to see or perceive, NOT an ever-increasing ability to do anything.

Conclusion

    The biblical counseling movement as it now stands is not about change. Unfortunately, the movement’s willingness to knowingly state otherwise is indicative of its character. It is predicated on this lie and a false gospel. It cannot help people, and must be utterly rejected in totality.

    Moreover, in our endeavor to find real change via the Scriptures, Christian academia must be held at arm’s length and viewed with suspicion in all respects. The very character of every Christian academic must be questioned, and their gospel assumed false. Why? Because after 2000 years and trillions of dollars, what do we have? Nothing more than those who proudly call themselves Calvinists while having no idea what Calvin really believed! We are not obligated to follow their zeal not according to knowledge resulting in our own demise.

    Secondly, Christians need to educate themselves in regard to full-orbed reality. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge in the area of world philosophy, a discipline we are often told we do not need, is essential in understanding the foundations and functioning of traditional Protestantism. Clearly, the Reformers forced the Bible into their own philosophical presuppositions. The Bible must be perceived grammatically, literally unless stated otherwise, and according to its historical backdrop.

    Thirdly, Christians must discern who we are! Are we merely declared righteous because Jesus obeys for us, or are we actually recreated as righteous beings through the new birth? And what is our relationship to the law accordingly?

    Fourthly, we need to take up Jesus Christ on His promise to lead us in all truth if we seek it. We ourselves need to seek this truth while ceasing to listen to a Christian academia that has failed miserably. They have done little more than  create mass confusion, and have charged us trillions of dollars for the privilege of doing so.

    We live in an information age, and it is time for a new movement by those who originally made up the church:

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

    In the same way the Corinthian church was vexed by the bondage of academia as if God chose the haughty things of the world rather than the meek, we find ourselves in the same tyranny and bondage to aristocratic lords. Let us break free and break bread together as noble first century Bereans, and let us change for the glory of God, and help others to do the same.

    We will close, perhaps ironically, with the verse of Scripture that Jay Adams chose as the thesis of his groundbreaking work, Competent To Counsel:

“As far as I am concerned about you, my brothers, I am convinced that you especially are abounding in the highest goodness, richly supplied with perfect knowledge and competent to counsel one another”

~ Romans 15:14  (Williams)

Why Christians Cannot Trust the Biblical Counseling Movement: Its True History and Doctrine

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on December 14, 2015

Originally posted December 29, 2014

Introduction

    The contemporary biblical counseling movement has brought counseling back to the church. Prior, the average evangelical congregation supplied comfort as much as they could while the experts were called on to treat whatever serious problem was at hand. Church was there to get people into heaven; the experts make people as comfortable as possible until they get there.

    That has changed dramatically. In-house counseling addresses every imaginable life problem within the church. Biblical counseling organizations abound and their networks have inundated the institutional church. At the top of the biblical counseling empire is the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF) and its offspring: Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and the Biblical Counseling Coalition. Together, these organizations hold sway over at least 90% of all biblical counseling taking place in the evangelical church.

    Who are they? How did they get here? What do they believe? And are they a help to God’s people, or a detriment? It is important to answer these questions because of the following fact: the present-day biblical counseling movement is the biggest scam ever perpetrated on God’s people, and the harm it will continue to inflict on souls is beyond measure.

    The information in this booklet is far from complicated. The present-day biblical counseling movement has an easily defined history, doctrine, and track record regarding results. Are God’s people being helped, or hurt? And if the biblical counseling movement is a detriment to God’s people, what are the viable alternatives?

    The biblical counseling movement is like clouds without water. That was Jude’s description of false teachers in his letter to the saints. Clouds offer hope that life-giving rain to a thirsty land is coming, but these clouds are merely a mist of empty promises and hopelessness. The goal of this booklet is to warn God’s people, and point to the only true hope of Jesus Christ and His truth.

Because only truth sanctifies (John 17:17),

Paul M. Dohse Sr.

The Beginning of the Biblical Counseling Movement

    In circa 1960, a middle aged Presbyterian pastor named Jay E. Adams had a life transforming experience:

Like many other pastors, I learned little about counseling in seminary, so I began with virtually no knowledge of what to do. Soon I was in difficulty. Early in my first pastorate, following an evening service, a man lingered after everyone else had left. I chatted with him awkwardly, wondering what he wanted. He broke into tears, but could not speak. I simply did not know what to do. I was helpless. He went home that night without unburdening his heart or receiving any genuine help from his pastor. Less than one month later he died. I now suspect that his doctor had told him of his impending death and that he had come for counsel. But I failed him. That night I asked God to help me to become an effective counselor (Jay E. Adams: Competent To Counsel; Zondervan 1970, Introduction xi).

    Therefore, it would be fair to say that whoever that gentleman was, he sparked the beginning of the most significant movement in recent church history. The experience must have profoundly impacted Adams because he was relentless in pursuing counseling knowledge in the years following. Then,

…suddenly, I was forced to face the whole problem in a much more definitive way. I was asked to teach practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. One of the courses I was assigned was Poimenics (the shepherding work of the pastor). As part of the course, I was expected to teach the basic theory of pastoral counseling. I had less than a year to think through the problem and prepare my lectures. Where would I begin? (Ibid).

How Did the Church Get There?

    To say that Christians, some 2000 years after the birth of the church, had come to live by biblical generalities, and were farming serious problems out to religious and secular experts is far from painting the church of that time with a wide brush. It’s not oversimplification; it’s the simple fact of the matter. The testimony of a mainstream respected pastor like Jay Adams is sufficient.

    But how did the church come to function that way? The answer is profoundly simple; the functionality of the church was a direct result from the gospel it adopted in the 16th century. The construct mentioned in the introduction of this booklet, church gets us to heaven, experts help us cope until we get there, was a direct effect caused by the Reformation gospel. So, what was that gospel?

The Reformation Gospel

    The Reformation gospel was predicated on the idea that salvation was a process, or progression. In other words, the justification of a believer had a starting point, a progression, and then finality. This is sometimes referred to as beginning justification experienced subjectively followed by final justification.

    So, instead of salvation, or justification being a finished work with the Christian life progressing in complete separation from justification, the Christian life is part of the progression of justification according to the Reformers. In fact, one of the primary Reformers and the father of the Presbyterian Church, John Calvin, titled one of the chapters in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive” (book 3, chapter 14).

    In that chapter, Calvin explains the crux of the Reformation gospel: beginning justification only covers past sins, but because Christians continue to sin, they must revisit the same gospel that saved them in order to receive continued forgiveness for new sins committed in the Christian life (section 11). Further clarification on this position can be seen in other sections of the Calvin Institutes:

Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them” (4.1.21).

    On the flip side, Calvin went to great lengths in 3.14.9,10 to emphasize the idea that Christians cannot do any work that is pleasing to God because perfect law-keeping is the prerequisite for any ability to please God in any way. Therefore, Christians must continually seek repentance so that the righteousness of Christ will be perpetually imputed to our account in what we would refer to as sanctification, or the Christian life (3.14.11). Therefore, Calvin stated that the Christian life had to be a passive affair focused on perpetual repentance for new sins committed in the Christian life in order to remain justified. This meant a perpetual return to the same gospel that saved us. To Calvin, the Christian life was the Old Testament Sabbath rest if one would progress in justification:

And this emptying out of self must proceed so far that the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own; for rightly does Augustine remark in the last chapter of the 22nd book, De Civitate Dei, ‘For even our good works themselves, since they are understood to be rather His than ours, are thus imputed to us for the attaining of that Sabbath, when we are still and see that He is God; for, if we attribute them to ourselves, they will be servile, whereas we are told as to the Sabbath, “Thou shalt not do any servile work in it.”

The Complete Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis: Jean Calvin; translated by Charles William Bingham ,1844-1856. The Harmony of the Law: Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses | Its Repetition—Deuteronomy 5:12-15. ¶2.

    Note that the Christian must attain the Sabbath (final justification) by the continued “emptying out of self” which results in the continued imputation of righteousness not our own. It is a perpetual “meditation” on the Sabbath to attain the Sabbath:

It may seem, therefore, that the seventh day the Lord delineated to his people the future perfection of his sabbath on the last day, that by continual meditation on the sabbath, they might throughout their whole lives aspire to this perfection (The Calvin Institutes 2.8.30).

Spiritual rest is the mortification of the flesh; so that the sons of God should no longer live to themselves, or indulge their own inclination. So far as the Sabbath was a figure of this rest, I say, it was but for a season; but insomuch as it was commanded to men from the beginning that they might employ themselves in the worship of God, it is right that it should continue to the end of the world.

The Complete Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis: Jean Calvin; translated by John King, 1844-1856. Genesis 2:1-15, section 3.

    Why then did Christians live by biblical generalities, and find themselves inept in regard to helping people? Because the Protestant gospel called for a retaining of salvation through rest and a singular meditation on the same repentance that originally saved us. Since that occurs during the Christian life, and justification is by faith alone, the Christian life must be lived by faith alone, or again, according to the Sabbath rest. Obviously, a diligent study of biblical wisdom and its application to life would not only be a very low priority, but is antithetical to the authentic Protestant gospel. This made weak sanctification in Christian living a longstanding tradition. Church became all about salvation and little else.

History

    Dr. Jay E. Adams was not alone in misunderstanding the true gospel of the Reformation which led to the self-described dilemma he found himself in. Protestantism had become a soft version of the original article. Martin Luther’s alien righteousness was thought to pertain to justification only and not the Christian life as well. In other words, Luther didn’t believe Christians inherit any of God’s righteousness that becomes a part of them. Christians are only declared righteous positionally, but do not actually possess any righteousness in their being. John Calvin concurred throughout his institutes; e.g., 3.14.11.

    Protestantism and its entire offspring heavily emphasized justification only because that is the very premise of its gospel though the causality became very blurred with time. According to the authentic article, sanctification is the manifestation of Christ’s life for the purpose of moving justification forward to final justification.

    The “believers” role is to colabor with Christ by faith alone in order to keep things moving forward, and frankly, an endeavor to keep ourselves saved by faith alone. This requires a redefinition of what is a work in sanctification, and what is not a work in sanctification so that the obedience of Christ would continue to be imputed to us for the purpose of keeping us justified. In this way, according to the Reformers, we are “kept” by Christ because justification is not finished—it’s a process.

    Hence, the Reformers classified what activities in the Christian life are of faith alone. The writings of Luther and Calvin primarily concern a formula for living the Christian life by faith alone. The crux of the formula was a perpetual return to the same gospel that saved us originally for the atonement of “present sin.” That sin is not only covered, but one also continues to be covered by the righteousness of Christ alone and NOT any righteousness inherited by us via the new birth.   This is nothing new, and is what James sought to refute in his letter to the 12 tribes of Israel.

    What is important to establish at this point is the fact that the Reformed community at large began to realize in 1970 that they had drifted away from the authentic Reformed gospel, and stated such emphatically. And ironically, the discovery was made by an Adventist theologian named Robert Brinsmead. This Adventist theologian turned said religion completely upside down with what was known as the Awakening Movement. Many took note, and Brinsmead was joined by two Anglicans, Geoffrey Paxton and Graeme Goldsworthy in the forming of a project named The Australian Forum. The purpose of the project was to awake Christianity to the fact that it had drifted away from the true Reformation gospel resulting in a separation of justification from sanctification, and the idea that Christians inherit a righteous state of being through the new birth.

    And they were exactly correct which resulted in the Reformed community holding their noses and listening to what Brinsmead had to say. Brinsmead, Paxton, and Goldsworthy published a theological journal named Present Truth which had a massive impact on the evangelical world at large. The publication, for all practical purposes, was a contemporary rendering of the Calvin Institutes and was an astonishing articulation of authentic Reformed soteriology.

    Remember, Jay Adams had been called to Westminster Theological Seminary sometime during the mid-sixties, and was buried in developing a counseling construct for the purposes of training pastors. Running parallel to his activities was the Awakening Movement which he probably paid little attention to. That is, until Westminster invited the Australian Forum to meet with the Westminster brain trust. Though it has not been established positively, the legendary Reformed theologian Edmund Clowney, who was president of Westminster at that time, was more than likely present at the meeting. Adams was not happy about the meeting because of Brinsmead, and sarcastically suggested that pork be served for lunch which in fact ended up being the case (The Truth About New Calvinism: TANC Publishing 2011; pp. 59-65).

    After several years of hammering out a counseling construct for the institutional church, Adams published his counseling treatise titled, Competent To Counsel. This was a landmark publication and highly controversial. The theses of the book suggested that Christians, armed with the word of God, were competent to counsel each other and bring about changed lives. Said another way, Christianity is more than Redemption alone, but is also about changed lives for the glory of God. Adams even published another book that makes the same point: More Than Redemption. And yet another book, How To Help People Change. Adams is rightly known as the father of the biblical counseling movement, but he may better be described as the father of aggressive sanctification.

The Perfect Storm of Conflict: 1970

    Ordinarily, this Christian living revolution would have dramatically changed Christianity until the second coming, but remember something else happened the same year that Adams unveiled his counseling treatise in 1970: the advent of the Australian Forum. Therefore, you had two antithetical movements growing side by side in the Protestant community, especially in the halls of Westminster: the resurgence of authentic Protestantism and the biblical counseling movement. One emphasized the fusion of justification and sanctification, and the other emphasized the separation of the two.

    Early in Adams’ tenor at Westminster, a counseling wing of Westminster was established named, The Christian Counseling & Education Foundation, or CCEF. This was a biblical counseling think tank of sorts, and the academic counseling wing of Westminster as well. Its embodiment included proponents of both movements. Later, an accreditation organization was formed known as The Association of Nouthetic Counselors, or NANC.  The purpose of the organization was to certify biblical counselors. This organization was also embodied with proponents of both movements.

    Be advised that it is unlikely that many were conscious of the historical distinctions between the two movements. All in all, the differences were chalked up to disagreement in regard to application, but not anything that pointed to any questions regarding the Reformation gospel itself.

    That would change when a contemporary of Jay Adams at Westminster, Professor John “Jack” Miller developed the Sonship Discipleship program. Clearly, the program was based on the authentic Reformed gospel recovery movement. As the movement grew, Adams, who was gaining significant notoriety as the father of the biblical counseling movement, was called on more and more to weigh-in on the movement.

    This resulted in a contention between Miller and Adams which consummated into Adams writing a book published by Timeless Texts that contended against the program: Biblical Sonship; An Evaluation of the Sonship Discipleship Course. Adams published the book in 1999, the movement began circa 1986, or about 16 years after the resurgence began in 1970.

    Take note: though the program was based on the Reformation principle of fusing justification and sanctification together, it was wreaking havoc on the Protestant church during this time, and that is why Adams jumped into the fray. The point being that Presbyterianism was functioning according to Calvinism Light, and when the original article began to emerge, many Presbyterians, including Adams claimed the Sonship program was not according to the Reformed tradition. Several of these like confrontations pepper church history—usually in the form of antinomian controversies.

    It is important to pause here and establish the fact that these controversies arise because Calvinists often misunderstand what Calvin really believed, and this misunderstanding is most prevalent among Bible scholars and Christian academia at large. This is because seminaries rarely teach anything new, but are merely institutions that regurgitate the traditions of men.

    This is established by the fact that at the beginning of the 1970 resurgence, the Reformed community themselves admitted that the original gospel of the Reformation had been lost. Also, the very nomenclature of their ministries admit it as well; i.e., “The Resurgence,” “Modern Reformation,” etc.

    More to the point, Reformed scholar John H. Armstrong, who co-authored a book with John MacArthur Jr., stated the following in an article titled Death of a Friend on August 31, 2010:

One summer, in the late 1970s I believe, I attended a small gathering associated with the ministry of a popular magazine of the time called Present Truth. The magazine actually opened my eyes to the need for recovering gospel truths in an age that was fast losing its grasp on the grace of God. Two teachers were leading this small gathering and there could not have been more than 75 people in the room. One of those in the audience, and sharing insights only as a humble participant, was Dr. Don Bloesch. I was impressed that a man of such profound scholarship would take the time to share in a small event where he was not a featured speaker. Don believed something important was going on in that room and wanted to interact with it. So did I.

    Why was Armstrong impressed with Bloesch’s willingness to participate in a small Australian Forum Bible study using their theological journal Present Truth? First, because Bloesch was a Reformed heavyweight, but back to the main point: this is one of a myriad of open admissions that the Reformed community at large misunderstood the authentic Reformation gospel. Nevertheless, Jay Adams misunderstood Calvin for the better, and in a big way.

    Yet another example of this can be seen in Dr. John Macarthur Jr.’s keynote address at the 2007 Shepherd’s Conference: Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist.  One blogger aptly described the fallout this way:

John MacArthur’s first message at the Shepherds’ Conference set off shock waves throughout the reformed evangelical church by upholding Premillennialism as being the only consistent position for any person who holds to the doctrine of sovereign electing grace.

online source: faithbyhearing.wordpress.com/2007/03/15/macarthur-why-every-self-respecting-calvinist-should-be-a-premillenialist/

    Amillennialism posits the idea that Israel lost its election (Supersessionism or Replacement Theology) because of rebellion, and this was MacArthur’s contention. If God sovereignly elected Israel, how could they lose their election? However, that idea is in fact perfectly consistent with John Calvin’s theology. He separated election into three categories of people, the non-elect, the called, and those who persevere until the end. The called, are in-fact temporarily illumined but then fall away at some point (The Calvin Inst. 3.24.7,8). Moreover, the massive Reformed pushback against this assertion by MacArthur was completely void in regard to this fact, viz, according to Calvinism, one can lose their election. Calvin stated such in no uncertain terms. In the final analysis, most Calvinists have no idea what Calvin believed.

Meanwhile, back to Westminster  

    Let’s now resume our place in contemporary history at Westminster Theological Seminary. We have two notable Calvinists teaching at the same seminary representing two different Calvinist gospel camps, and teachers from both camps are participating in CCEF and NANC. This is where Jay Adams began to come under serious attack within Reformed ranks, mostly from two mentorees of Dr. Miller, David Powlison and Paul David Tripp. These two men are key figures because they were working hard to develop a counseling version of the Reformed resurgence gospel to answer Adams’ counseling construct that heavily emphasized learn and do. In fact, one of the mantra’s among Adams counselors was, “the power is in the doing.”

    At any rate, the counseling construct developed by Powlison and Tripp while at Westminster is known as Theology of the Heart, and was heavily predicated on Miller’s deep repentance model that aligned well with Luther and Calvin’s ideology and practical application of gospel contemplationism. Their pilot program was operational from circa 2003 to 2005, and culminated in an impressive treatise in 2006 titled How People Change authored by Tripp and another former student of Powlison’s at Westminster.

    During the pilot program with the same name as the book, Powlison listed himself as a “contributor.” This was for the express purpose of plausible deniability because these men knew that the counseling construct they were promoting was counter intuitive to most evangelicals. The pilot program “tested” the material in hundreds of local churches between 2003 and 2005.

    In the introduction to the book (Punch Press 2006), Tripp in essence states that if anyone has a problem with the book, they should blame him, but Powlison should get credit for anything they agree with (the earliest literature from the program named Powlison as the actual “developer” of the curriculum). This was/is a ploy to make the book disagreement proof and protect the face of Theology of the Heart, David Powlison. This good cop—bad cop ploy has been utilized several times to defer criticism of the book.

    Consequently, the 2006 NANC conference was fraught with plenary session addresses and workshops that presented a host of contradictory views. Clearly, the civil war between the generally accepted relationship between justification and sanctification (the two are separate), and the gospel recovery movement was in full swing. During a biblical counseling seminar at John Piper’s church, Powlison stated outright that the difference between “first generation” biblical counseling and “second generation” biblical counseling was two different gospels. However, this was the elephant in the biblical counseling room that no one wanted to talk about:

This might be quite a controversy, but I think it’s worth putting in. Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion. And the Holy Spirit was for sanctification.  And actually even came out and attacked my mentor, Jack Miller, my pastor that I’ve been speaking of through the day, for saying that Christians should preach the gospel to themselves.  I think Jay was wrong on that (David Powlison speaking at John Piper’s church May 8, 2010).

    Ironically, Adams’ primarily criticism of secular psychology has always been the lack of continuity plus the various and sundry theories of change that number over 200 within the discipline, but even though the biblical counseling movement doesn’t have that many varying theories, they are split on the issue that makes the whole discussion worthwhile, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    This is the first reason the biblical counseling movement must be utterly rejected out of hand—because no one in the movement will draw a deep line in the sand in defense of the gospel. These difference are treated as matters of opinion concerning method instead of what it really is, a contention between two different gospels with heaven and hell in the balance.

    The one thing both camps unwittingly agree on is that the biblical counseling industrial complex must be preserved at the expense of the gospel. In the final analysis, those who function in this way cannot help people change, and will most likely do more harm than good. The movement is pregnant with counselors who lack conviction and love for the truth. They are best avoided at all cost.

    The issue concerning these two different gospels is far from complicated: if one must preach the gospel to themselves every day, that must mean they still need the same gospel that originally saved them, which means their salvation is not a finished work, which also means that they must play some role in finishing their salvation—this would seem evident. If Justification is not finished, works salvation is unavoidable on every wise, and a gospel contemplationism dubbed as a faith-alone work by no means changes this reality.

    And incredibly, this is verbally conceded often. Consider what John Piper said in his three part series, How Does The Gospel Save Believers? 

We are asking the question, How does the gospel save believers?, not: How does the gospel get people to be believers? When spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel does have power to open people’s eyes and change their hearts and draw them to faith, and save them. That’s what is happening on Tuesday nights and Wednesday nights this summer. People are being drawn to Christ through the power and beauty of the gospel. But I am stressing what Paul says here in verses 16 and 17, namely, that “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Believers need to be saved. The gospel is the instrument of God’s power to save us. And we need to know how the gospel saves us believers so that we make proper use of it (August 16, 1998, part 2).

    This is the very essence of the Reformation gospel: the idea that salvation is a process in which the “believer” is gradually drawn to Christ for a final salvation. The only way that this process towards final salvation can continue is if we continually return to the same gospel that saved us. This is egregious heresy perpetrated in broad daylight.

    Eventually, Jay Adams was driven out of any association with CCEF and NANC and started The Institute of Nouthetic Studies (INS) with Baptist pastor Donn Arms. INS experiences a significant contention with CCEF and NANC until this day, but unfortunately, the contention primarily focuses on sanctification issues, viz, heart theology, and not the truthfulness of the true gospel. The CCEF/NANC camp applied its latest slap in the face to Adams by changing the name of NANC to The Association Of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

    INS has two individuals on their staff that also have close relations to CCEF and ACBC. Adams and Arms are to be commended for their confrontation regarding the application of Theology of the Heart to counseling people, but unfortunately, they have not yet made it a salvific gospel issue.

The Big Lie

    Primarily, people go to counseling for one reason: because they see a need for change in their lives. The brain trust of the CCEF counseling empire and their aforementioned affiliates know that they do NOT believe that people change. The magnum opus of heart theology, How People Change, is a misrepresentation of its counseling construct and they know it. As we have seen, the authentic Reformation gospel rejects the idea that people can change in totality.

    Therefore, the goal of biblical counseling is to teach people to see life differently. If they merely see life differently, wellbeing occurs regardless of what is happening in the material world. What happens in the material world is entirely God’s business and not yours. Right seeing is the goal, not right doing, the doing is God’s job—not yours.

    In fact, according to the construct that has taken over the biblical counseling culture, any counseling that emphasizes doing is a false gospel. We, as John Piper often likes to say, must practice a “beholding as a way of becoming.” But remember, the “becoming” speaks to a progression of mere seeing while God himself manifests the doing in the material realm. This booklet will not explore all of the metaphysical constructs that may be applied, but one example comes from page 215 of How People Change:

When we think, desire, speak, or act in a right way, it isn’t time to pat ourselves on the back or cross it off our To Do List. Each time we do what is right, we are experiencing what Christ has supplied for us.

    In other words, we are only experiencing the works of Christ and not actually doing the work ourselves. There are many philosophical applications for this approach including subjective Idealism.  This is the idea that reality is defined by how it is perceived. In other words, there is really no material world per se; it only exists in the minds of individuals. Therefore, change a person’s thinking and you change their reality.

    Another approach is realm manifestation. The invisible world manifests reality in the visible world by whatever means, but those who dwell in the material realm are only experiencing what the invisible realm is manifesting. For the most part, the Reformers, particularly Martin Luther and his spiritual mentor Saint Augustine seemed to believe something along these lines.

    Luther stated in the Heidelberg disputation that the Christian life is lived subjectively; i.e., we really don’t know when we are doing a work or when God is doing the work. However, to believe that whatever we do is evil, and whatever good is done is only experienced by us, but not us doing it, is saving faith. To believe that we can actually do a good work, according to Luther, is mortal sin. To experience a good work as us doing it is only venial sin if we disavow our ability to do any good work and attribute the work to God only:

He, however, who has emptied himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) through suffering no longer does works but knows that God works and does all things in him. For this reason, whether God does works or not, it is all the same to him. He neither boasts if he does good works, nor is he disturbed if God does not do good works through him. He knows that it is sufficient if he suffers and is brought low by the cross in order to be annihilated all the more. It is this that Christ says in John 3:7, »You must be born anew.« To be born anew, one must consequently first die and then be raised up with the Son of Man. To die, I say, means to feel death at hand (Theses 24).

    This is also how Luther defined the new birth. Since we, even as “Christians,” can only do evil, we only seek to live a perpetual “lifestyle of repentance” as Paul Tripp et al call it resulting in a resurrection experience. But remember, we are never sure when these experiences are actually from God, but joy may be an indication, though we are never certain. Remember, this connects us back to “justification experienced subjectively.”

    Hence, we get ourselves to heaven with an ability to “stand in the judgment by faith alone” by revisiting our original salvation. THIS IS KEY, the new birth is not a onetime event which makes us a new creature, the new birth is redefined as a perpetual death and rebirth experience, or a perpetual repeating of our original salvation in order to keep ourselves saved by this living by faith alone formula. Simply stated, it is daily resalvation. We must be resaved or rejustified daily by “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day.”

    There is actually a formal doctrine from the Reformed tradition that defines the new birth in this way, it is called mortification and vivification. It is a perpetual reliving of our original baptism in order to keep ourselves saved.  It is returning to the same gospel that saved us daily in order to remain saved. We focus on our need for repentance (mortification, or death), and we then experience perpetual resurrection (vivification, or a joy experience) in ever-increasing levels.

    Though identified with the Reformed tradition, the father of contemporary biblical counseling, Jay Adams, believes the new birth to be a onetime event and would reject a proper understanding of mortification and vivification. In the same year that he unveiled his biblical approach to a more aggressive sanctification, the Australian Forum began to awaken the Reformed community to the fact that they had lost their way. Roughly sixteen years later, the original article began to be integrated into the biblical counseling movement which put the movement at odds with the very man who started It.

    Jay Adams believes that Christians can change because they are born again. They don’t merely experience a subjective justification; their changed behavior is proof of the new creature. Adams stated in no uncertain terms in the aforementioned treatise against Sonship Theology that justification is a declaration, and sanctification is NOT powered by it. In contrast, sanctification is powered by regeneration, or the new birth. The Christian can change through obedience to biblical wisdom and is helped in doing so by the Holy Spirit.

    But this clearly puts Adams at odds with the true Reformation gospel, and his hesitancy to completely break ties with CCEF et al will only continue to muddy the waters while Adams is accused of propagating a “behavioral model.”

Yet, a behavioral approach to change is hollow because it ignores the need for Christ and his power to change first the heart and then the behavior. Instead, even the Christian version of the approach [Adams] separates the commands of Scripture from their Christ-centered, gospel context (How People Change 2006, p. 26).

    This is egregiously disingenuous. On pages 64 and 65 of the same book, Tripp describes Christians the same way Luther would: “alienated enemies” who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and “dead,” and “When you are dead, you cannot do anything.” Tripp goes on to say on page 65 that denying we are unchanged is to deny Christ. The key to change is not getting better, but seeing ourselves for who we really are. This entails a peeling away of layers to see the “sin beneath the sin” as their mentor Dr. John Miller put it. So-called “heart change” is really just an ability to see or perceive, NOT an ever-increasing ability to do anything.

Conclusion

    The biblical counseling movement as it now stands is not about change. Unfortunately, the movement’s willingness to knowingly state otherwise is indicative of its character. It is predicated on this lie and a false gospel. It cannot help people, and must be utterly rejected in totality.

    Moreover, in our endeavor to find real change via the Scriptures, Christian academia must be held at arm’s length and viewed with suspicion in all respects. The very character of every Christian academic must be questioned, and their gospel assumed false. Why? Because after 2000 years and trillions of dollars, what do we have? Nothing more than those who proudly call themselves Calvinists while having no idea what Calvin really believed! We are not obligated to follow their zeal not according to knowledge resulting in our own demise.

    Secondly, Christians need to educate themselves in regard to full-orbed reality. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge in the area of world philosophy, a discipline we are often told we do not need, is essential in understanding the foundations and functioning of traditional Protestantism. Clearly, the Reformers forced the Bible into their own philosophical presuppositions. The Bible must be perceived grammatically, literally unless stated otherwise, and according to its historical backdrop.

    Thirdly, Christians must discern who we are! Are we merely declared righteous because Jesus obeys for us, or are we actually recreated as righteous beings through the new birth? And what is our relationship to the law accordingly?

    Fourthly, we need to take up Jesus Christ on His promise to lead us in all truth if we seek it. We ourselves need to seek this truth while ceasing to listen to a Christian academia that has failed miserably. They have done little more than  create mass confusion, and have charged us trillions of dollars for the privilege of doing so.

    We live in an information age, and it is time for a new movement by those who originally made up the church:

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

    In the same way the Corinthian church was vexed by the bondage of academia as if God chose the haughty things of the world rather than the meek, we find ourselves in the same tyranny and bondage to aristocratic lords. Let us break free and break bread together as noble first century Bereans, and let us change for the glory of God, and help others to do the same.

    We will close, perhaps ironically, with the verse of Scripture that Jay Adams chose as the thesis of his groundbreaking work, Competent To Counsel:

“As far as I am concerned about you, my brothers, I am convinced that you especially are abounding in the highest goodness, richly supplied with perfect knowledge and competent to counsel one another”

~ Romans 15:14  (Williams)

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