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Nouthetic counseling represents itself as the ultimate in Christian counseling (see footnote 1. for a definition of nouthetic counseling). My first essay, "The Sufficiency of Scripture," questions this assertion. But as I point out in that essay, I too believe in the sufficiency of scripture--but not as the nouthetic counselor does. The scripture is sufficient to teach the Christian counselor what he needs to know about the theology of counseling. But because of the faulty theology of nouthetic counseling, that theory of counseling is faulty. The fundamental flaw is their view of the unbeliever's knowledge of God, the issue I wish to deal with in this essay.
While the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors say that they believe in natural revelation and common grace, they eliminate these doctrines from their theology of counseling. To me this contradicts their view of the sufficiency of scripture. If we are to have a correct theology of counseling, we cannot eliminate any biblical doctrine. The doctrines of natural revelation and common grace are essential to understanding the unbeliever's knowledge of God.
Before I go further, I must caution the reader not to reach a conclusion to this essay before I do. Indeed, it may sound like I'm drifting in the direction of Arminianism. Let me stomp on that brake right now. To the dismay of the Arminian reader, I still believe in unconditional election (see footnote 2.). Don't think that this essay is about the unbeliever reasoning his way to salvation.
Pauline theology is rich in its teaching of man's knowledge of God. In dealing with factionalism at the church of Corinth, Paul makes clear the limit of human wisdom. Though the following quote is from the NIV, I must insert meanings from the Greek text not evident in the English translation.
. . . the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved (see footnote 3. on "being saved"), it is
the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; and the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God [the God--ton theon] made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God [the God] the world through its wisdom did know him [the God]. God [the God] was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those [who are the called], both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (see footnote 4.). For the foolishness of God [the God] is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God [the God] is stronger than man's strength.
I shall explain "the God" insertions shortly. But before I do, let me point out from the context that Paul is talking about a saving knowledge of God in Christ. It does not come by man's wisdom but by faith in the work of Christ on the cross. Human wisdom finds this foolish. But, there is such a thing as human wisdom. Verse 21 makes this clear:
For in the wisdom of God [the God] the world by wisdom did not know him [the God, as the author of salvation] . . .
God has to let the world know Him as the author of salvation through the foolishness of preaching. Human wisdom only grasps His existence.
The reason why I insert the article, "the," is that in Greek it has a specific meaning. Whenever the article is used, it stresses identity. Paul is saying quite clearly that human wisdom does know the God of creation--the true God. As Thayer says, "ton theon--the one, true, God in contrast to the polytheism of the Gentiles" (Joseph Thayer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 117).
Human reason will never grasp salvation through the cross of Christ, but human reason does know the difference between the true God and idols.
While I agree with the nouthetic counselor that salvation is by grace through faith, I must say that the nouthetic counselor does not understand that there is such a thing as human reason that does know there is one true God, Jehovah. This is forcefully proclaimed by Paul in Romans.
It is true that human wisdom or knowledge is not enough to save the lost. But it is enough to justify God's condemnation and the imputation of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:12-21). When the Arminian claims that it is not fair of God to condemn the whole human race for the sin of Adam, he does not understand Romans 1.
Adam knew the God, Jehovah, who created him. But Adam chose to repress that truth and close his mind to what he knew of God in his decision to eat of the tree. What Paul is showing us in Romans 1 is that every unbeliever since Adam is guilty of the same sin--knowing the God; but closing his mind to what he knows, he suffers condemnation for it. The unbeliever demonstrates that he would have done the same as Adam if he had been created first instead of Adam.
Let's look, first of all, at Romans 1:18-23. Again, I'm going to insert the meanings of the Greek text that are not evident in English. When the Greek article, "the," is present, Paul is talking about the identity of Jehovah, the true God.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God [the God--ton theon] is
plain to them, because God [the God] has made it plain to them. For since
the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and
divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been
made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God [the God], they neither glorified him as God [His eternal power and Godhead, the quality of God] nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God [the God] for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles (Rom. 1:18-23).
Let me point out three important truths of Romans 1.
The True God. The first one I mentioned already in the previous section in 1 Corinthians 1:21. Though the world, through human wisdom, cannot be saved, it can through human wisdom know the one true God.
This is what Paul is saying in Romans 1:21. They knew the God. As Thayer says, "ton theon, the one, true, God in contrast to the polytheism of the Gentiles" (Ibid.).
Knowing and Understanding. The second thing to notice is the use of the words "known" in verse 19 and "understand" in verse 20.
The word translated "known" is the Greek noun gnosis. Thayer translates this, "To become acquainted with" (p. 117).
The word translated "understood," Robertson translates, "Being perceived (nooumena) . . ., to use the nous (intellect) (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, p. 329).
Take note of the difference between what Paul is saying in First Corinthians 1 and in Romans 1. While it is true that the wisdom of man, or, to use the human intellect, will never save a soul, the stifling of the human intellect is enough to justify God's condemnation of the unbeliever.
Paul is saying, Human intellect does see the truth of the one, true God, even His eternal power and divine nature. But man sins once again by subverting and perverting his knowledge of God. The point I'm making is that the unbeliever does know some important things about God. In order for God to condemn man today as he did Adam, this knowledge must be real.
Now the nouthetic counselor may say, So what? It doesn't save and transform the lost by the new birth.
The answer to "so what" is, Read Acts 17:22-33. This knowledge of the true God is the basis of Paul's sermon on Mars Hill and results in the salvation of a high Greek official, Dionysius, a woman names Damaris "and a number of others" (Acts 17:34).
Natural revelation and common grace must be part of our theology of counseling. Sometimes, as in the case of Paul's sermon, God will use these doctrines to bring the lost to Him.
Wanting To Know And Understand More. This brings me to my third observation. While Romans 1 condemns those who subvert and pervert what they know of the true God, Paul in Acts 17 and Romans 1, shows us that there are unbelievers who may or may not want to know and understand more about the one true God than human wisdom permits.
Paul continues his condemnation of the unbeliever by saying:
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:28).
The word for "knowledge" here is not the gnosis which we saw they already have. The word for knowledge here is epignosis. The prefix to this word gives it an intensive meaning.
Not only do the unbelievers subvert and pervert the knowledge they already have, the last thing they want is more knowledge of God, a closer look at God. Trench artfully describes the difference between the two words gnosis and epignosis. He points out that epi, prefixed to gnosis, being intensive, ". . . is bringing me better acquainted with a thing I knew before, a more exacting view of an object that I saw before afar off" (Richard Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, p. 269).
My point is this.
In addition to the condemnation Paul speaks of in Romans 1:18-27, there is a further condemnation in verse 28. Not only does the unbeliever want to
subdue the truth of his gnosis, he wants nothing to do with epignosis--more enlightenment about God. So God hands him over to depravity.
. . . God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:28).
He then lists seventeen sins of the depraved mind! The unbeliever deserves death--eternal separation from God in hell. Here we have a repeat of Adam's sin-he knows but subdues what he knows and hates the idea that he might know more!
But there is an upside to this also. It is Paul's sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Not every unbeliever who has a gnosis of God will stifle it. When faced with the truth of natural revelation and common grace, the unbeliever may find God using these truths to bring him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The reader may wonder if this view indicates a drift toward Arminianism--that the unbeliever may not have a hardened heart toward the gospel, that he may understand it through human wisdom.
Not in the least. The issue of the hardened/unhardened heart demands careful examination. But First Corinthians 1 makes it clear that human wisdom declares the cross foolishness.
What I am getting at is for the Christian counselor to have a proper attitude toward the lost client. Let him take the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 and point out that Christianity is a reasonable faith. Human reason may not save, but our attitude might be used by God to touch the heart of the unbeliever.
For a Christian counselor to do this, he must include natural revelation and common grace in his theology of counseling. This is why I say that the nouthetic counselor is not a biblical counselor.
With this I close with my own testimony.
I was seventeen, a senior in high school, ready to graduate. One February evening I decided to go to the movies. The film was terrible. I don't remember anything about it except that I came away from the theater feeling very depressed.
It was night as I walked home. The sky was brilliant with stars. I remember looking up, seeing the magnificence of God in His creation, and, thinking of the movie, I said, God, there must be more to life than just this.
A month later, March 28, 1948, a young college boy named Tal McNutt, asked me if I was ready for eternity. I was stunned. I knew I wasn't. I asked him what the Bible had to say about it. He quoted John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
It hit me like a light coming on in a dark room. I knew that Christ died on the cross for sinners. But for the first time in my life I realized that he did it for me. With tears running down my cheeks, I opened my heart to the saving work of Christ.
God is still speaking to unbelievers. Some will confirm God's justification in turning them over to a depraved mind. But there will be others who are not satisfied with gnosis. They want epinosis-a closer look at the true God and His son, Jesus Christ, as in Acts 17. May our attitude toward the lost be that of God's to us in our lost estate-longsuffering and mercy.
1. "Nouthetic comes from the Greek word nouthesia, which implies Scriptural direction. In nouthetic counseling God's word is used as a standard guide-line, not any secular textbook or Christian textbook with the author's opinion. Neither the use of psychotherapy, nor the personal point of view of the counselor" (sic) (quote from Dr. Trudy Veerman's website). Back
2. Unconditional election: God's choice from eternity of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on forseen virtue, merit or faith in those people. Rather, it's unconditionally grounded in God's mercy (Winipedia Encyclopedia).Back
3. First Corinthians 1:18 in the KJV says, We are saved. The NIV says, We are being saved. Both are correct. We are saved now, and we are being saved, which will be finalized when we meet Jesus. The Greek present participle expresses a quality or state of being, not an independent expression of time.Back
4. The observant reader will ask why, in the phrase, "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God," that the article "the" was not inserted as before-[the God]. It is because the absence of the article stresses quality. Paul is saying, "Christ has the same quality of power and wisdom as God the Father."Back
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