Southern Seminary launches new vision for biblical counseling

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is taking its Christian counseling department in a new direction, one built upon the sufficiency of Scripture and designed to train pastors to deal biblically with the needs of hurting people.

The new vision was approved overwhelmingly by the faculty on Feb. 2, distinguishing the seminary’s counseling philosophy from its former “pastoral care” model that seeks to prepare therapists for state licensure by “integrating” secular psychology and biblical training. According to Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration, the seminary’s vision for counseling embraces a Gospel-centered and church-focused approach.

“This new vision for biblical counseling is historic and groundbreaking in Southern Baptist life,” Moore said. “It will mean moving beyond the clinical professionalism of what historically has been dubbed ‘pastoral care’ in the therapeutic guild, but it will mean recovering true ‘pastoral care’ as defined by the Scriptures.

“The ramifications of this course correction will be felt in congregations throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and the evangelical world. It ultimately is not about curricular changes or faculty additions, but about the love of Christ for hurting people in the church and in the world.”

The new direction is not a new degree program. Rather, it is a wholesale change of emphasis built upon the view that Scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart, Moore said. Its aim is to equip pastors and counselors to work in local churches, he said.

“Our churches need pastors and leaders who understand depravity and the Fall to the degree that they are able to see the ways in which fallen human self-interest often masquerades as objective ‘science’ -- especially when this ‘science’ seeks to explain and prescribe a cure for the fallen condition of humanity,” Moore said.

“This means that Southern Seminary must maintain a commitment to Sola Scriptura [‘Scripture alone’] in our counseling department no less than in our biblical studies, systematic theology and evangelism departments. After all, Scripture claims its own authority and sufficiency in ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness.’ It claims that through the power of the oracles of God the man of God is ‘competent, equipped for every good work.’”

Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said the program will center on teaching pastors and other church leaders how to apply the truths of Scripture comprehensively to the concerns and crises of everyday life.

“In this psycho-therapeutic age," he said, "it is really important that we think as Christians -- that we employ authentically Christian thinking, biblical thinking to human life, and that we do this in a way that, without apology, confronts and critiques the wisdom of the age and seeks the wisdom that can come only from God and from God’s Word.

“I think perhaps the biggest revolution in all this is our understanding that it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ that should be the location of true biblical counseling. We recognize that other schools, other programs and the larger world have a very different approach to counseling. But this is an institution that serves the church and, as such, our responsibility is to make sure that pastors and other Christian ministers know how to be effective biblical counselors.”

The counseling curriculum will undergo a wholesale revision as well, Moore said. The master of divinity degree with an emphasis in pastoral counseling has been renamed the master of divinity degree with an emphasis in biblical counseling.

The master of arts in Christian counseling is now called the master of arts in biblical counseling. Students will take courses that deal with such topics as biblical and theological foundations for counseling, the care of souls in a congregation, gender, marriage, and sexuality, parenting and family, and biblical foundations for the nature of personhood.

The program will seek to equip pastors as well as church- and parachurch-based biblical counselors. Moore said that the need is great not only in local congregations, but in associational and other ministries, for counselors who can apply biblical principles to hurting people. He said Southern also would emphasize the Titus 2 role of women in counseling other women.

Southern has appointed two new professors to help carry out its renewed vision of biblical counseling: Stuart Scott will serve as professor of biblical counseling at both the seminary and in its undergraduate program, Boyce College, while Randy Stinson will serve as assistant professor of gender and family studies.

Currently, Scott is professor of biblical counseling at The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, Calif., and is a former pastor of counseling at Grace Community Church, where he served under Pastor John MacArthur. He is the author of the recent book “The Exemplary Husband: A Biblical Perspective.”

Stinson has served since 2000 as executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is located on the campus of Southern Seminary. Stinson will complete a Ph.D. at Southern in the spring and will also continue as the leader of CBMW.

“Stuart Scott and Randy Stinson are two of the most recognized names in American evangelicalism when it comes to the hard questions of applying the Scripture both to the human heart and to hurting marriages and families,” Moore said. “Both of them are prolific writers, natural leaders and experienced pastors.”

While the changes within the program begin in the fall semester, the seminary will assist current counseling students in completing their degree programs, Moore said. In the days following the faculty vote, Moore met with counseling students and others in the School of Theology to explain the new emphasis.

David Powlison, lecturer in practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa., and editor of the “Journal of Biblical Counseling,” is a recognized leader in the biblical counseling movement within American evangelicalism. Powlison served as the featured speaker for the annual Norton Lectures at Southern and applauded the seminary’s renewed counseling emphasis.

“I am tremendously pleased with Southern’s direction,” Powlison said. “[Southern joins] a small number of seminaries that are committed to a more pastoral rather than a therapeutic vision of counseling and is one of a few schools that is willing to say, ‘Here is where we stand ... we’re not going to allow counseling to be the Joker in the pack; We want it to be under the same biblical and theological oversight and infusions we would expect in our other programs.’”

Moore said the seminary already has had visits and telephone calls and emails from prospective students in biblical counseling, eager to study under the new emphasis.


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