Details About “Nouthetic” Christian Counseling

The counseling term “Nouthetic” is from the NT Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be translated as “admonish,” “warn,” “correct,” “exhort,” or “instruct” from the Bible as used in Colossians 1:28 “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

The main goal of Biblical Nouthetic Christian Counseling is to promote love in the counselee toward God and with his fellow man. Other goals that flow from this goal of love are:

  • Teach the requirements of Scripture to be applied to everyday life
  • Admonish counselee that their thoughts, attitudes, and actions must conform to the Scriptures in order for their problems to be solved
  • Help counselee to implement Biblical principles into their lives so that their lives can change for the glory of God

Nouthetic Counseling helps by confronting sin, praying for encouraging repentance, renewing the mind, identifying idols, pointing them to the sufficient Scriptures. Lastly, Nouthetic counseling helps to battle against the current Christian counseling movement that seeks to rename sin, omit sorrow/repentance, remain man-centered and felt needs oriented.

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5).

Nouthetic Counseling Defined

What commitments and practices mark one as a biblical counselor? What are the common and essential commitments of biblical counseling? Here are seven core elements of Biblical Counseling:

1. God is at the center of counseling.
2. Commitment to God has epistemological consequences.
3. Sin, in all its dimensions is the primary problem counselors must deal with.
4. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.
5. The change process counseling must aim at is progressive sanctification.
6. The situational difficulties people face are not the random cause of problems in living.
7. Counseling is fundamentally a pastoral activity and must be church-based.

1. God is at the center of counseling. God is sovereign, active, speaking, merciful, commanding, powerful. The Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the central focus of counseling and the exemplar of the Wonderful Counselor. The Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit are foundational to all significant and lasting life change. The Word of God is about counseling, giving both understanding of people and methods of ministering to people. The Bible is authoritative, relevant, and comprehensively sufficient for counseling. God has spoken truly to every basic issue of human nature and to the problems in living. His Word establishes the goal of counseling, how people can change, the role of the counselor, counseling methods, and so forth. Christians have the only authoritative source for counseling wisdom: the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and wisdom is the only worthy goal of counseling.


2. Commitment to God has epistemological consequences. First, other sources of knowledge must be submitted to the authority of Scripture. The sciences, personal experience, literature, and so forth may be useful, but may not play a constitutive role in counseling. Second, there is a conflict of counsel built into human life. Genesis 3, Psalm 1, and Jeremiah 23 are paradigmatic. Counsel that contradicts God’s counsel has existed since the garden of Eden, challenging God’s counsel and building from other presuppositions and towards other goals. Such false counsel must be noted and opposed. In particular, in our time and place, secular psychology has intruded into the domain of biblical truth and practice. Secular theories and therapies substitute for biblical wisdom and deceive people both inside and outside the Church. The false claimants to authority must be exposed and opposed.

3. Sin, in all its dimensions (e.g., both motive and behavior; both the sins we do and the sins done against us; both the consequences of personal sin and the consequences of Adam’s sin) is the primary problem counselors must deal with. Sin includes wrong behavior, distorted thinking, an orientation to follow personal desires, and bad attitudes. Sin is habitual and deceptive, and much of the difficulty of counseling consists in bringing specific sin to awareness and breaking its hold. The problems in living that necessitate counseling are not matters of unmet psychological needs, indwelling demons of sin, poor socialization, inborn temperament, genetic predisposition, or anything else that removes attention from the responsible human being. The problem in believers is remnant sin; the problem in unbelievers is reigning sin. Sin is the problem.

4. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer. Forgiveness for sin and power to change into Christ’s image are the greatest needs of mankind. The orthodox gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to the problem. Christ deals with sin: the guilt, the power, the deception, and the misery of sin. He was crucified for sinners, He reigns over hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, and He will return to complete the redemption of His people from their sins and sufferings. These core truths must infuse the counseling process.

5. The change process counseling must aim at is progressive sanctification. While there are many ways of changing people, biblical counseling aims for nothing less than transformation into the image of Jesus Christ amid the rough and tumble of daily life. Change is not instantaneous, but progresses throughout life. This progressive view of sanctification has many implications. For example, the process of change is only metaphorically, not actually, healing. The metaphor is meant to capture the process of sanctification: ongoing repentance, renewal of mind unto biblical truth, and obedience in the power of the Spirit.

6. The situational difficulties people face are not the random cause of problems in living. These difficulties operate within the sovereign design of God. They are the context in which hearts are revealed, and faith and obedience are purified through the battle between the Spirit and the flesh. Influential aspects of one’s life situation do not cause sin. Heredity, temperament, personality, culture, oppression and evil, bereavement, handicaps, old age, Satan, physical illness, and so forth are significant for counseling but are not ultimately causative of sin.

7. Counseling is fundamentally a pastoral activity and must be church-based. It must be regulated under the authority of God’s appointed under-shepherds. Counseling is connected both structurally and in content to other aspects of the pastoral task: teaching, preaching, prayer, church discipline, use of gifts, missions, worship, and so forth. Counseling is the private ministry of the Word of God, tailored specifically to the individuals involved. The differences between preaching and counseling are not conceptual but only methodological. The same truths are applied in diverse ways.

These seven commitments have unified the biblical counseling movement. They have provided a framework within which many secondary differences—of Bible interpretation, of theological commitment, of setting for counseling, of personality—have been able to exist constructively rather than destructively. But there are numerous other issues that demand clear biblical thinking and firm commitment: the place of the past, the place of feelings, the biblical view of human motivation, the relationship of biblical truth to secular psychology, the place of suffering, how to apply various aspects of biblical truth and methods of biblical ministry to different kinds of problems, etc. Will biblical counselors draw the boundaries in the right places? Or will the lines be drawn too narrowly, creating a sectarian party spirit? Or will the lines be drawn too widely, inviting compromise and drift? Only within properly drawn creedal boundaries can energies for edification and evangelization be guided and released.Defining the boundaries is important for three reasons.

First, the content of an allegiance to the biblical counseling vision and cause must be more precisely defined. Creedal definition and consolidation is a necessary phase of any healthy movement of reformation in the Church.

Second, the integration movement of Christian psychotherapists increasingly employs the adjective “biblical” and calls for theological renewal within their point of view. While we applaud any genuine increase of biblical consciousness and practice among integrationists, it remains to be seen whether the increase in Bible talk, God talk, and Jesus talk represents a substantive shift. In the meantime, the higher degree of verbal similarity between integrationist and biblical counseling has the potential to confuse many. Defining core biblical commitments will help weed out the theories and practices that claim to be biblical but deviate substantively from the Bible’s teachings about people, about change, and about ministry.

Third, the biblical counseling movement from the beginning has pulled together an otherwise diverse group of Christians. We have never been monolithic, but have embraced Bible-believers of many shades: reformed, fundamentalist, evangelical. The founders and developers of biblical counseling have held diverse opinions on many specific counseling issues, as well as wider theological issues. What has held the movement together has been the judgment that these differences were secondary differences of application or emphasis, not matters of core commitment. Nailing down the primary areas of agreement becomes increasingly important as the movement expands. One way to phrase the boundary question is, “What is the size of the teapot within which there are allowable tempests?” Defining primary areas of agreement creates the freedom for the iron-sharpening-iron discussion of differences. The alternatives are either fragmentation or drift.[1]

Adpated from Introduction to Biblical Counseling 2005 Updated page 55ff Chapter 2 by MacArthur[1]MacArthur, J., F., Jr, Mack, W. A., & Master’s College. (1997, c1994). Introduction to biblical counseling : Basic guide to the principles and practice of counseling (Electronic ed.) (55). Dallas, TX: Word Pub.

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