Book Review: Counsel from the Cross, by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson
It will probably come as no surprise to many of you that much of what is passed off these days as biblical counseling is actually nothing but modern, godless, popular psychology dressed up with a few bible verses. But I am very pleased to inform you that Counsel from the Cross, by Fitzpatrick and Johnson, contains nothing of the sort. It is counseling, yes: but true to its title, it is always most eminently counsel from nowhere but the cross of Jesus Christ. Highly recommended for counselors, counselees, and all those Christians who simply have a hard time remembering the gospel when life gets hard.
The basic underlying presupposition of Counsel from the Cross is only the rigorous and all-inclusive Law/Gospel distinction that so thoroughly characterized the mature Covenant Theology hammered out in the legacy of the Reformation; all of our problems may be adequately addressed by either the Law or the Gospel, that is, by the imperatives or the declarations of the bible, which may be found in the Old and New Testaments, and contain the whole sum of divine revelation. To the extent that one is proud and self-sufficient he must be broken down by the Law and to the extent that he is despairing and troubled he must be bound up by the free Gospel. Even biblical counseling texts that rely on truly biblical commands and teachings, if they miss this point, can only bring the counselee to despair. The declarations of the gospel must ever be foremost, or there is no hope for any suffering saint or desperate sinner.
Fitzpatrick and Johnson are astute in portraying two classes of moralists, the Happy Moralist, who says in his heart, â€œOf course God loves me, why wouldn't he?â€, and the Sad Moralist, who says, â€œI can't believe God would love someone like me, I must afflict myself and improve myself to prepare myself for his loveâ€. As different as these two classes appear on the outside, they both have the same root problem, and they desperately need the twofold teaching of the Law of the Gospel, that they are more flawed than they could possible imagine, but more freely and immeasurably loved than they could ever fathom. This is the basis of truly biblical counseling, and governs the way in which we must approach any situation, no matter what it may be.
Happily, the authors do not keep only to the realm of the theoretical, but give clear and practical application of these fundamental principles to many different areas and situations. Their observations on the interplay between our emotions, physical bodies, understanding of the gospel, and so on, is insightful and thought-provoking, and their application of the principles of Law and Gospel to relationships and parenting is priceless. Their concluding chapter on the â€œglory storyâ€ so rampant in modern Evangelicalism hits the nail on the head, and discovers the gospel-less nature of so much Christianity and counseling in the Church today.
This is a book I would heartily recommend for Christian counselors, struggling parents, spouses in conflict, and more generally, all those Christians who recognize in theory that the gospel must be the central means of our sanctification, but struggle with how to put that concept to work in the nitty-gritty of daily life.
Counsel from the Cross: available at Monergism Books