January 7, 2015

Gospel-Centered Counseling: A Review

 There comes a moment in every believer's life when someone that they care about approaches them in the midst of suffering and sorrow for advice. If you haven't experienced this yet, you will.

Perhaps a "picture perfect" marriage is crumbling, they are dealing with a wayward teen, the company is downsizing and they're about to go under financially, or depression and anxiety is robbing them of sleep. Situations and circumstances vary but one truth is universal. We live in a fallen world--and sometimes it falls on us.

Most of us know how to provide comfort at some level. We validate the pain, offer our prayers, give advice or exchange stories, and when all else fails we give hugs. Lots of hugs.

But what about after the hug?

Bob Kellemen's latest book, which I would give ten stars if  possible, addresses this issue in a way that no other book on biblical counseling has ever done before. At least not any that I've read, and there have been dozens.

This book is written for anyone who wants to know what to do "after the hug."

Gospel-Centered Counseling, which is book one in a two part series that will include Gospel Conversations, offers a "comprehensive and compassionate approach to one-another ministry--to using God's Word in your personal ministry to God's people."

And yes, if you are a Christian than you have a ministry to God's people.

The very first thing that this book does is shine a light on the very important realization that if you are a believer then you have the tools at your disposal to offer biblical counsel to other Christians. Some people don't know this. That includes people in the pulpit as well as the pew. Many aren't comfortable with the thought. Most struggle with what to do after the hug.

It's as if we've got this treasure chest sitting in front of us that holds the answers to life's questions and we are unsure if we should open the lid.

What I love about Gospel-Centered Counseling is that not only does Bob Kellemen encourage readers to open the treasure chest, he helps them to carefully unpack many precious nuggets of truth. First they examine them as it relates to their lives. This is of vital importance because we first must be able to see and understand what we possess through Christ before adequately sharing it with others.

Then very systematically, the author begins sharing insight regarding how the treasure can help others.

I've had the pleasure of reading other books written by Bob Kellemen. His approach is one of wisdom and grace. Reading his work is very much like having deep and thoughtful conversations with a friend. I found this book to be warm and inviting even in light of the seriousness of the subject matter.

The author's years of experience and study have led him to conclude that there are Eight Ultimate Life Questions. They are universal to every person on the planet no matter their age, race, or social status. At some moment or another, often times while under duress, each one of us asks these questions:

1. “Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?” (The Word)

2. “What comes into our mind when we think about God?” “Whose view of God will we believe— Christ’s or Satan’s?” (The Trinity/Community)

3. “Whose are we?” “In what story do we find ourselves?” (Creation)

4. “What’s the root source of our problem?” “What went wrong?” (Fall)

5. “How does Christ bring us peace with God?” “How does Christ change people?” (Redemption)

6. “Where can we find a place to belong and become?” (Church)

7. “How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference in our lives today as saints who struggle against suffering and sin?” (Consummation)

8. “Why are we here?” “How do we become like Jesus?” How can our inner life increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ?” (Sanctification)

Perhaps we haven't phrased the questions exactly like this but we've asked them. "How do I handle my failing marriage?" "Why can't I kick this habit?" "If God loves me why do I hurt so bad?" All of these inquires are found within the author's Eight Ultimate Life Questions.

The great news is that for every single one of these questions there are answers in the Bible.

I felt that Bob did a brilliant job of addressing each one of these questions in a biblical manner. Using examples from "real life" situations that we all can relate to he also lays out a method for dealing with them. It isn't a quick 5 step program, or a "take two Scriptures and call me in a week" approach.

This book is about understanding the Bible's grand narrative and connecting it with wisdom to our daily lives not just on Sunday but every single hour and day of the week. That's something every believer needs help with.

It is obvious, that Bob has spent decades pondering what a "gospel-centered" counseling approach would look like and a great deal of time mapping it out in a way that anyone who picks up this book would benefit from. It isn't a weighty textbook but rather a manual of sorts that rolls out a very usable "model for biblical counseling built solely upon Christ's gospel of grace."

Here are the chapter titles:

1: Mining The Richness of God's Word: God's Treasures of Wisdom
2: Discovering Wisdom for Life in a Broken World: Our Treasure Hunt for Wisdom
3: Knowing the Creator of the Soul: Our Great Soul Physician
4: Recognizing the Most Important Fact about Us: Our View of God
5: Engaging the Battle for Our Soul: Our spiritual Warfare in Spiritual Friendship
6: Examining the Spiritual Anatomy of the Soul: Our View of People
7: Journeying into the Heart: Our Role as Soul Physicians and Biblical Cardiologists
8. Exploring Serpentine Seduction to Sin: Our Spiritual Adultery
9. Diagnosing the Fallen Condition of the Soul: Our Fallen Heart
10. Applying the Gospel to Suffering: Our Gospel-Centered Self-Counsel
11. Prescribing God's Cure for the Soul: Part 1--Our New Nurture
12. Prescribing God's Cure for the Soul: Part 2--Our New Nature
13. Finding a Place to Belong and Become: Our Growth in Grace is a Community Journey
14. Remembering the Future: Our Eternal Perspective
15. Dispensing Grace: Our Gospel-Centered Growth in Grace
16. Putting Off and Putting On: God's Heart Change Model of Progressive Sanctification
Conclusion: How Christ Changes Lives
Bibliography: Works Cited And Consulted
Author And Subject Index
Scripture Index

It was very helpful that at the end of each chapter a tweet-sized summary was provided. I also found the "Where We've Been and Where We're Headed" section at the end of each chapter to be very beneficial for quick review.

This book is an excellent resource for anyone who would like to better help other Christians. It would be ideal as Christian education material. It is also the perfect tool for group studies.

I can't imagine anyone who picks this book up not benefiting from it in some way. It is packed full of life-changing truths that have the power to transform people's hearts and lives.

I can say this with confidence because this book has significantly impacted my life. Prior to reading it, I was planning to leave ministry altogether. That's a ridiculous notion, I realize. Every believer has a ministry. We don't just walk off the field when things get tough. However a series of difficulties, unlike anything I'd ever before experienced, left me feeling depleted and extremely discouraged. What once had been a passion for "coming alongside others" had all but disappeared.

While not easy to admit in the context of a review, I must say that this book was a god-send for me.  Not only did it serve to remind me of Whose I am, it helped me to recall why I embarked on the mission of "helping people" in the first place. I found my hope being stirred while reading, over and over again.

Every believer needs sound biblical counsel. You will find it in this book.

There has been a disconnect between the pulpit and the pew for years. I've personally witnessed and experienced it. Many in the church are ill equipped to help people going through difficult times. This ought not be the case, but sadly it too often is. This is why we need people like Bob Kellemen to write the books that he does. And, this is why a book like Gospel-Centered Counseling is something that we need to read, implement, and use to teach other believers to do the same.

I can't recommend Gospel-Centered Counseling highly enough. I am looking forward to it's companion Gospel Centered Conversations as well.

For more information and to access the free resources available for this book you can check out my recent interview with Bob Kellemen or visit his website.

(My thanks for Zondervan for providing me with a copy of this book.)

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