Promoting PErsonal Change, Centered on the PErson of Christ through the PErsonal Ministry of the Word
Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

How Do We Know Whether People Are Truly Changing?

How Do We Know Whether People Are Truly Changing

The Goal of the Counselor

One of my goals as a pastor and biblical counselor is to assess the progress of those I am counseling.  This is the goal of any counselor. Counselors have chosen this line of work because they are interested in seeing people change. And because they desire to see people change, they are trying to evaluate the progress of those they are counseling; they are looking for evidence of progress and change.

Unique to our role as biblical counselors is the fact that we do not simply want to see them only change in their behavior. We have a specific and unique goal in mind. We want to see if there is any measurable difference in their walk with Christ and their relationship with others since they began the counseling process. We deeply care about the impact and transformation that God’s Word is having on them.

The Proverbs Assessment: Wise or Foolish?

Now, there are many tools and methods that are being used by those outside of biblical counseling to measure the success and growth of those to whom they are offering help. And within the biblical counseling arena we have been given plenty of good tools and resources to help us evaluate the progress of those we are counseling. I’ve used those resources and found them to be of great help over the years.

However, what I’ve recently begun using to help me measure whether change in the right direction is taking place is the book of Proverbs. As I think about each of my counselees, I want to observe, by using the language of the Proverbs, if they are moving in the direction of becoming “wise” or are they remaining “foolish.” Are they just learning more truths, even sound and theologically accurate truths, but still not becoming wise? Are they developing new and biblical methods and techniques, but still continuing to be “foolish?”

The Rise of Knowledge

So, how would I recognize, based on the book of Proverbs, if the right growth and solid steps of change are taking place in the life of the person I am counseling? From the book of Proverbs, it is very clear that it definitely is not based on the “knowledge” they have obtained. Even the hearing of good and sound truth from God’s Word will not change a person. The message of Proverbs is clear:

“Knowledge does not make you a better person.”

The reality that knowledge alone does not change your life is not hard to see. Years of research and statistics have observed that the rate of knowledge in the world is rapidly increasing. Until the 1900’s, knowledge doubled every one-hundred years. By the end of World War II, knowledge began to double every twenty-five years. In 1955, sheer factual knowledge began to double every five years. In 2007, technical knowledge alone started doubling every two years. The most recent studies have shown that “nanotechnology” (the study of extremely small things such as atoms and molecules) is now changing every two years and “clinical knowledge” every eighteen months. Some observers have said that on average human knowledge is doubling every thirteen months.

The obvious conclusions:

  • We are becoming smarter in many ways while at the same time never learning how to do life.  
  • It would be safe to say that we are surrounded by the rise of knowledge and at the same time a bumper crop of brilliant failures.
  • Knowledge may rapidly change the conditions of the human experience and life, but it can never change the condition of the human heart.

This is why a person can graduate at the top of their class and be at the bottom on the issues related to life. The problem is not mental, but spiritual.  As Paul reminded Timothy, they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

Distinguishing Between a Wise and Foolish Counselee

So from God’s Word, and specifically from the book of Proverbs, let me encourage you to think of how you measure the progress and growth of those you counsel by thinking of the contrast between the “wise” and “foolish” counselee.

A foolish counselee:

  1. Is unaccountable and arrogantly answers to no one (Proverbs 12:15).
  1. Is unruly and has no control over what he says (Proverbs 12:16).
  1. Is unteachable and cannot imagine being mistaken (Proverbs 15:5).
  1. Is uncontainable in his emotions and loves to argue and set others straight (Proverbs 15:18; 20:3).
  1. Is incorrigible and his foolishness cannot even be pounded out of him (Proverbs 27:22).
  1. Is unholy as he takes lightly and even mocks at sin (Proverbs 14:9; cf. Psalm 14:1).

A wise counselee:

  1. “Fears” the Lord by highly valuing what God has to say (Proverbs 1:7).
  1. Shows he values God’s Word as he “joyfully” delights in reading and loving it (Psalms 112:1).
  1. “Passionately” applies what he reads and loves from the Word (Proverbs 14:2; cf. Psalm 128:1).
  1. “Confidently” depends on the promises of God (Psalm 147:11).

Developing a Wise Counselee

Consider a few ways we can encourage our counselees to grow and change and how we can evaluate if they are developing the type of “fear” that Proverbs says is the beginning of true “knowledge” and “wisdom”:

  • If “fearing the Lord” is what brings true “knowledge” and “wisdom”, we should evaluate how consistently our counselee is being exposed to the Word of God through individual Bible reading, group Bible study, and weekly congregational worship. If they are not around the Word of God, they will not experience consistent change in their life (Psalm 119:38).
  • In addition to a consistent exposure to the Word of God, we should help them evaluate their prayer life (Psalm 119:33-40). If they are praying this type of consuming prayer, they will develop a deep fear of the Lord and growth will be evident.
  • Added to a constant exposure to the Word and consuming prayer, we should help them evaluate their commitment to pursue wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14). Who our counselee listens to after they leave their session is critical. Growth is either helped or hindered depending on who they listen to after they end their counseling session with you.

The Proverbs have become helpful to me in my pastoral counseling ministry and insightful when determining if those I’m counseling are headed in the right direction.

Join the Conversation

How has today’s post challenged you to better evaluate those you are counseling?

What are some of the practical ways you could apply these principles from Proverbs to your assessment of counselee growth in grace?

Topics: Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Sanctification | Tags: , , , ,

BCC Weekend Resource: Helping People with a Difficult Financial Past

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource audio from the 2014 IBCD Summer Institute. For a complete list of speakers and messages, visit the IBCD Summer Institute 2014 home page.

In this resource, Jim Newheiser addresses the issue of Helping People with a Difficult Financial Past. We live in challenging economic times. How do we counsel people who can’t make ends meet, have lost their jobs, or are overwhelmed with debt? Is it ever right to borrow money? Is it ever justified to not repay a loan? What preparations should we make for the future? How can we deal with the tension between spending/lifestyle, saving and giving?

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Topics: Audio, Biblical Counseling, Christian Living, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

2 Fruits of True Forgiveness

Pastor J.D. Greear explains that:

“What makes forgiveness so life changing isn’t simply that it makes us ‘guilt-free.’ It’s that forgiveness reconciles us to God. The world’s best imitation of forgiveness can only say, ‘You may go.’ But God’s forgiveness says, ‘Please come near.’ The gospel is a message of reconciliation, releasing us from our sin so that we can come close to God, the sole source of all joy, once again.”

Read the rest of Pastor Greear’s perspective in 2 Fruits of True Forgiveness.

The Big God in Your Small Group

At the Desiring God site, Marshall Segal asks, “What do you want from your small group?” He suggests that Acts 2:42-47 provides an outline of what every small group should be focused on. Enjoy his thoughts at The Big God in Your Small Group.

The Dangerous Deceptions of the Heart

Julie Ganschow begins her post by quoting John Calvin.

“The human heart has so many crannies where vanity hides, so many holes where falsehood lurks, is so decked out with deceiving hypocrisy, that it often dupes itself” (John Calvin).

Read the rest of Julie’s thoughts on The Dangerous Deceptions of the Heart.

Pastoral Integrity in Sermon Prep and Blog Writing

Randy Alcorn candidly, compassionately, and comprehensively addresses the growing issue of pastors plagiarizing large parts of their sermons or blog posts from the messages and writings of others. His thoughts are worthy of reflection, which you can read in The Problem of Plagiarizing by Pastors.

More Evidence That Scripture Is of Divine Origin

Ed Welch of CCEF shares More Evidence That Scripture Is of Divine Origin.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One?

How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One

BCC Staff Note: This blog was first posted at the ACBC’s blog site and is re-posted with the permission of the ACBC and Heath Lambert. You can also read the original post here.

I respond to this question in two ways.

First, God made human beings with the two constituent parts of body and soul.  That means it is just as “Christian” to go to the doctor for a medical problem as it is to go to a pastor for a marriage problem.  Christians embrace medical science and medical treatment as a mark of God’s common grace to care for bodies, which God made good.  Because of this theological reality my personal creed is, “When in doubt, check it out.”  That means I encourage a physical evaluation from anyone who is manifesting symptoms that could be interpreted in any way as an organic medical problem.  The physical findings of a competent medical professional are our ally in caring well for people.

A second response is to make a distinction that Ed Welch discusses in his book, Blame it on the Brain.  Welch encourages us to evaluate symptoms according to biblical categories of morality.  If a person is having a problem that the Bible defines in moral terms (like repeated lying, for example) we say they need spiritual care and the grace of Jesus to address that problem.  If a person is experiencing a problem that is not a moral or spiritual issue in any way (like the hallucinations of a Parkinson’s patient) then we say they have a medical problem that requires treatment.

Things get even more complicated when we realize that some spiritual issues have a biological basis.  For example, if your body fails to produce enough thyroid hormone you will be depressed.  This underlines my point above about relying on physicians as our ally in understanding what is wrong with people who are struggling with serious problems.

As we evaluate these complexities we need to do it humbly, understanding that our grasp of both medical and spiritual problems are incomplete.  There are issues we do not understand and problems we do not yet grasp.  Christians need to pray for wisdom and charity as we seek to sort through these matters.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Medication, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Psychology and Christianity | Tags: , ,



Many Christians, when making decisions or wanting to follow a model for living, ask, “What would Jesus do (WWJD)?” I’ve done the same many times.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself another question: “HWJR?”

That’s: “How would Jesus relate?”

I’ve taken this question from Philippians 2:1-5.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

One translation of the last verse reads, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

And what was the attitude of Christ in His relationships?

“He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

How would Jesus relate (HWJR)? We answer that question by answering the question, “How did Jesus relate?”

He made Himself nothing.

He was a servant.

He humbled Himself.

He was obedient to the Father.

He died to self.

He died for us.

Join the Conversation 

How would our relationships change if we sought God’s power to live an HWJR life—“How would Jesus relate?”

Topics: Christian Living, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Theology | Tags: , , ,

Instrumentos En Las Manos Del Redentor

Instrumentos En Las Manos Del Redentor

In August of 2011, I had the privilege of traveling to LaPaz, Bolivia, to teach “How People Change” (Como Cambia La Gente) to 250 church leaders and workers. This past August, I was able to return to LaPaz and teach the follow-up course, “Helping Others Change” (Instrumentos En Las Manos Del Redentor) to a similar group of people looking to receive more training in how to care for people. After LaPaz, I traveled to Santa Cruz, the country’s largest city, to teach the first course, How People Change.

Like most ministry trips overseas, I believe I learned more than I taught. I was blessed more than I, Lord willing, was able to bless others. Flying back home, many thoughts flooded my heart and mind two of which I’ll share below.

The Kindness of Others

I was blown away by the kindness and hospitality of the people during my stay. Everywhere I went people were eager to serve, love, and meet any needs I might have. Far from me coming to serve them, they were eager to open up the doors of their homes and churches. Despite language barriers, they sought to communicate when possible, ask questions, and offer encouragement.

It reminded me of Paul’s words in Romans 12:11 and 13, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord…Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”

Their kindness and hospitality reminded me as a counselor of how I come across to those I counsel. Am I seeking to fervently show them honor as a fellow image bearer of Christ, or am I treating them as just another “case” or “client”? The warmth and hospitality of the people I encountered was engaging and inviting, much like I would imagine Christ would be to those seeking help and hope. What a wonderful way to communicate our Savior’s priorities and person.

The Similarity of Our Problems

Before I flew down, I asked the local missionary’s wife to write out some case studies for us to use in our breakout sessions. As she emailed them to me, I was reminded of how common the struggles of the human heart manifest themselves. Abuse, depression, pornography, anxiety, disappointment and anger…these issues know no cultural boundaries. Sure, the way they play out in a foreign context will look differently than our experience, but at the end of the day we are much more alike than we are different.

This is good news for counselors, because while we might need to contextualize our methodology of counseling for various cultures, our theology of change remains the same: personal change centered on the person of Jesus Christ through the personal ministry of the Word.

Join the Conversation

How do you contextualize your methodology of counseling for various cultures?

Topics: Cross-Cultural Ministry, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: ,

Wisdom for Abused Women

Wisdom for Abused Women

BCC Note: Today’s blog was first posted at Julie Ganschow’s Biblical Counseling for Women blog site. The BCC is re-posting it with Julie’s permission. You can also read the original post here.

Millions of us watched the video in horror of a national football player punching his then-girlfriend in an elevator, rendering her unconscious. We watched him drag her limp body halfway out of the elevator and drop her on the floor before someone else appeared in the video, hopefully to come to her aid.

The two married the day after he was indicted on an aggravated assault charge in this case.

The new video was expanded footage from what had previously been released. The first video earned the football player a suspension. The most recent expanded video ended his football career.

His wife released the following statement regarding the recent events, “I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend,” (she) wrote. “If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is!”[i]

I do not know this woman, but I have met many like her over the years through my biblical counseling ministry. Women in abusive relationships don’t want to believe the man they love is really the monster other people tell her he is. Women in abusive relationships tell themselves it is unusual to be slapped, punched or harmed by their husband or boyfriend, even when it happens all the time. Women in abusive relationships will often support their abuser, standing up for him against the flood of criticism that comes his way. Women in abusive relationships will accept the blame for his actions against them while justifying and rationalizing his abuse.

Abuse in a relationship has often been going on for quite some time before it is exposed and the woman has grown accustomed to covering and making excuses for her bumps and bruises. She has learned the signs of impending violence, and has become skilled at “walking on eggshells” around her man. She tries to soothe him, pacify him, keep him happy and content, all vain attempts at preventing the next beating.

She says he loves her. She says she loves him. She says he is a good man with a good heart. Here is truth: An abuser does not love the person he is abusing. Regardless of any words that come out of his mouth, this is not love.

Here are some things you need to know:

Abusers are manipulative, and use guilt, shame, and fear to control their victims. It is a common practice of an abuser to shift the blame for their actions onto their victim saying things like, “If you would have kept your mouth shut I wouldn’t have slapped you.” “If you were a better wife you wouldn’t need to be put in your place all the time.”

Abusers will shame their victims, and be highly critical of their physical appearance, intelligence, and abilities. They may tell their wife or girlfriend how “lucky” she is to have a man like him, one who “loves” and cares for her despite her numerous flaws. Fear is a typical tactic used in all abuse situations. Intimidation is one method of keeping her silent about his abuse. Warning her if she tells anyone the beating will be worse next time, that no one would believe her anyway, and that he will divorce her and leave her with nothing are common threats of an abuser.

Abusers understand power, control, and anger. Men who abuse their girlfriends or wives will often limit their access to money, friends, and other family members. They have to have control over virtually every area of her life. Any questions about these issues are considered challenges and are met with anger, threats, or emotional manipulation.

Abusers are selfish and self-focused. The abuser wants all of his desires met all of the time. He does not usually care about what she wants or needs in the relationship. It is all about him. He thinks very highly of himself and expects his girlfriend or wife to cater to his every perceived need.

Abusers believe they have a “right” to abuse another. Any challenge to his authority is perceived as giving him the right to dominate. When he beats on his woman, he is exercising what he believes is his right to get her in line, and force obedience. Some men will abuse their wife or girlfriend if he thinks she is not demonstrating proper worship and gratitude for him.

Abusers love themselves. Secular sources promote the false idea that an abusive person has low self-esteem but nothing could be further from the truth. Any person who is willing to treat another human being with such hatefulness and callous regard for the purpose of meeting their own wants, needs, and desires thinks very highly of themselves already. He loves himself and his expectation is you will love him as much as he does.

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself…” (Ephesians 5:33).

I am sad to say emotional and physical abuse also takes place in Christian marriages, including those of pastors and other church leaders. While all abuse is unacceptable, abuse in Christian marriage is a special kind of heinous considering marriage is to exemplify the relationship of Christ and the Church.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32, NASB).

Abusers will often use headship as an acceptable reason for abuse. This is a tragic way for a man to use the leadership position God has given to him. Male leadership in the home is not intended to be a benevolent dictatorship. A wife has the responsibility to voice her thoughts and opinions on matters relating to the marriage and family. She is a God-given gift to her husband in this way and this is part of her role as his helpmeet. A husband who refuses to listen to his wife and abuses her for challenging his authority (i.e., speaking to a situation) is an ungodly fool.

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7, ESV).

Abusers will use submission as reason to allow abuse to continue. I have been told a wife cannot expose abuse because it is not submissive. Submission does not mean doormat. It does not mean subject yourself to being hurt. Submission does not mean accept being hit, kicked, punched, threatened or assaulted. A husband has no biblical standing to use a failure to submit as justification for abusing his wife. A wife is not to submit to her husband if he asks her to sin, her primary honor and obedience is to God. No man’s authority supersedes Gods authority. A man is sinning when he tells his wife to remain silent about abusing her.

“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:18-19, ESV).

Abusers do not love their wives as Christ loves the Church. “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:28-30, ESV).

It is common for an abuser to be remorseful after he has beaten his wife or girlfriend. He may cry and beg forgiveness, he may promise never to do it again. Unless he is truly repentant and experiences changes within the cycle will continue and most likely escalate over time.

Women, you do not have to stay in an abusive relationship. It is not ungodly or unsubmissive to seek help, no matter what you have been told by your abuser or anyone else!

If a man physically assaults his wife or his girlfriend she is obligated by law and by the Bible to call the police, have him arrested, and press charges. Christians are required to work within the framework of the law of the land, and arrest is the provision that has been made for physical abuse. It can be a frightening step to take, but it is necessary!

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (Romans 13:1-5, ESV).

During his absence, collect all the important information and documents you can find (Social Security cards, birth certificates, bank information), access enough money to hold you over for a while, and line up a safe and secure place to stay. Purchase a different cell phone and leave your old one behind so he cannot track you. Leave him a note telling him you are safe and will contact him when you think it is safe. Take these steps for your protection as he will likely be enraged when he is released from jail.

There are numerous other precautions you will need to take before contacting him, so I also recommend you meet with a counselor who understands abuse as soon as possible.

I strongly urge informing the leadership of your church about the abuse as one of the next things you do. If he is a Christian, the church has an obligation to intervene in your husband’s life and attempt to help him repent and change (Matthew 18:15-20; James 5:19-20).

So much of what we share on social media is silly and unimportant, but abuse can be an issue of life and death. Therefore, I am asking you to share this post with every woman you know. Because abuse is a hidden sin in many families, you have no idea whose life you will touch or save by sharing this information.

[i] accessed 09-09-2014


Topics: Anger, Men/Husbands, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers, Violence/Physical Abuse, Women/Wives | Tags: , ,

BCC Weekend Resource: Handling Evangelism Opportunities in Counseling

The BCC Weekend Resource

BCC Staff Note: On weekends we like to highlight for you one of our growing list of free resources. This weekend we highlight a resource audio from the 2014 IBCD Summer Institute. For a complete list of speakers and messages, visit the IBCD Summer Institute 2014 home page.

In this resource, Steve Viars addresses the topic of Handling Evangelism Opportunities in Counseling. One of the great delights of being a biblical counselor is the opportunity to explain the gospel to someone who has never heard. This session will discuss strategies to move from initial presentation problems to appropriate discussions of the cross and the possibility of establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Topics: Audio, Biblical Counseling, Faith, Gospel-Centered Ministry, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One?

Heath Lambert of the ACBC addresses perhaps one of the most important questions in biblical counseling: How Can Christians Tell the Difference Between a Spiritual Issue and a Physical One? 

8 Ultimate Life Questions for Biblical Counselors

Bob Kellemen addresses the question: “What would a model of biblical counseling look like that was built solely upon Christ’s gospel of grace?” In answering that vital question, he follows up with 8 Ultimate Life Questions.

The Father Who Never Fails

In Fatherlessness and the Father Who Never Fails, Trevin Wax explains that “the gospel becomes all the sweeter when it gains a foothold in the heart of someone longing for a Father who never fails.”

5 Lessons

Evan Welcher at Gospel-Centered Discipleship shares 5 Lessons from C.S. Lewis’ Grief Observed.

Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology

At the Reformation 21 site, Donald Macleod compares and contrasts Biblical Theology Versus Systematic Theology.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Learning to Read…Again

Learning to Read…Again

I came to Christ as a college student. One of the first things I noticed as I ventured into the new world of Christian community on campus was how much reading was taking place. And this was not just Bible reading. Contrary to my own tendencies, which were to read as little as possible beyond what was required of me, my new brothers and sisters seemed to love reading for spiritual growth. I soon picked up the practice and it has stayed with me ever since.

I still find that Christians are unusually committed to reading for spiritual growth. But in my pastoral counseling role, I’ve seen some reading tendencies among believers in recent years that give me some concern. It’s not hard to see the cultural trends that are shaping our reading habits. We are people inundated with immediate, consumable information options that crowd into our busy lives through social media, blogs, electronic publishing, and 24-hour news and opinion services. These days if I ask counselees what they’re reading I’ll tend to get responses like, “I’m following so and so’s blog and my twitter feed keeps me up on everything else.” Or, they’ll give me a list of six books currently on their night table that they’ve started but can’t seem to finish.

Reading quality Christian books will never replace the reading and preaching of God’s Word, but it could help you hear, understand, and apply that Word with greater maturity. A good book will challenge your thinking and motivate your heart. It will dislodge error and give you an appetite for truth.

This post isn’t a rant on bad reading habits. It is an appeal and some advice on learning to read well. If you feel like you are missing something in your experience of reading—the sense of wrestling with challenging ideas, the heart impact of a penetrating insight, the satisfaction of immersing yourself in a book that could mark your life—here are some practical suggestions on how to build productive habits with the written word.

  • Always be reading something. But try to limit the number of books you’re reading for spiritual growth to around three. Commit to finishing every book you read. Two things discourage good reading—having no idea what to read next and never finishing anything you start.
  • Limit yourself to reading one book at a time on your present life experience or challenges. Don’t try to read three marriage books or books on marriage, parenting, and time management all at one time. You just don’t need that much advice.
  • Learn to read “out of your time.” Every year there are excellent books being published. And we should read the best of them. But there is an old Irish proverb that is good to keep in mind. “Whatever is good is not necessarily new; and whatever is new is not necessarily good.” Older books that are still in print have stood the test of time. And they help us think about our faith in timeless ways. Also, I tend to recommend reading deceased authors on a regular basis. Not that there are no good living writers, or that dying instantly makes bad writers into good ones. It’s just that how someone finishes their race tells me a lot about the value of what they had to say while they were running it.
  • Here’s a practical plan for Christian reading. Always be reading one book from each of the following categories: devotional theology, practical theology, and theology proper.
    1. Devotional Theology books are written to help people with their personal experience with God. They tend to be written in a very inspirational way—sometimes they are selections from a well-published author or preacher. They are often bite-sized reflections that are ideal for daily meditation. An older example of a devotional theology might be Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. A more contemporary option would be something like Randy Alcorn’s Seeing the Unseen.
    1. Practical Theology is a very broad category of resources that seek to take biblical truth and apply it to issues of life. Marriage and parenting books, books on worry, on financial management, etc., are all practical theology. We should have a regular diet of good practical theology to help us walk in a manner worthy of our calling as believers. The challenge with practical theology is that some books can deal with the practical very well, but lack in the theology department. Or, they may be theologically sound but miss the mark where we really live. When selecting a practical theology book don’t just look at the subject matter. More gets published than you can possibly read, so be a good consumer. Read reviews, consult friends whose perspectives you value, invest your time and attention wisely. And read both current and older books. For example, if you wanted to stir yourself toward holiness you could go back in time to J. C. Ryle’s Holiness, or pick up Kevin DeYoung’s The Hole in Our Holiness.
    1. The books that can intimidate us are ones we might call Theology Proper. Theology is ‘the study of God.’ Theology books wrestle with ideas, particularly about God and our relationship to Him. They address what should be believed, and why it should be believed. The best theology proper will mentally stretch us while at the same time pressing us toward the truth of God in Jesus Christ. While we often think of theology books as big dusty, musty, crusty tomes guaranteed to cure insomnia, there are wonderfully accessible but deeply profound theology works from both the past and the present that any thoughtful follower of Christ can engage. You may find the works of someone like J. I. Packer as rich in their own way as the classics of the faith from earlier centuries.

C. S. Lewis sums up my goals in reading—to learn wisdom from those who are wise:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.

Join the Conversation

What are you reading right now? Is it what you want to read? Do you have a plan to finish it? How does your intake of other media affect your desire and attention in reading? What books are on your plan for the next year or so?

Topics: Christian Living, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: ,

About the BCC

The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.