An Alternative to Slapping a Verse on a Problem

We as Christians sometimes have a tendency to refer to the same handful of verses for an astounding variety of problems. There is something good about this (i.e. the word of God is infinitely relevant and can be applied in innumerable ways), but there is also something bad about this. The bad thing about having only a handful of all-weather, all-terrain verses, is that  God gave more than a few verses to the church. He gave the whole Bible. When all we use to minster to those around us is the same handful of verses that we have been using for every other situation under the sun for the past ten years, we can give the wrong impression that the word of God is stale and dated. More often than not, the people we are ministering to walk away with the “been-there-done-that” feeling.

David Powlison makes some helpful observations in this area. He says: “Ministry of the word of God doesn’t talk in boilerplate. Living truth is always adorned with the particulars of person and situation.” He goes on to say that the configuration of our faith looks different in different circumstance and different times. For instance:

“Obedience for Abraham meant waiting in hope and then faithfully circumcising as an act of dedication; for Samson it meant smiting Philistines and not drinking wine;

for David it meant not building a temple but writing psalms; for Solomon it meant building the temple and writing proverbs;

for Hezekiah it meant fighting Assyria; for Jeremiah it meant surrendering to Babylon;

 for Nehemiah it meant shunning Gentiles; for Peter it meant mingling.

Yet through all this one can learn how abiding principles (e.g., the Lord acts mercifully to redeem; faith works through love) take a different shape as new conditions arise. Scripture isn’t a compendium of timeless truths and general principles referring abstractly to generic homo sapiens. In fact, most Scripture was occasioned by a brand-new need, problem, situation or threat. Scripture comes with the details because redemption is the timely speaking and working of God to fix the very things that most need fixing.”

David Powlison, “Is the ‘Adonis Complex’ in Your Bible?” (Journal of Biblical Counseling, 22:2, 2004), pp. 42-58.

Just to be clear, Powlison is not diminishing the role of the Bible in counseling at all. Rather, he is urging us to handle the word well; to “rightly divide” it. What Powlison is advocating here is that Christians should apply truth from the Bible carefully and thoughtfully, sensitive to the nuances of Scripture and also sensitive to the details of a person’s life. In individual relationships or counseling situations, we ought to apply Scripture with a paintbrush not a fire hose. There are common experiences and common redemptive truths that underlie all of our human experience (1 Cor. 10:12-13), yet at some point these truths always need to be personally engaged and individually applied. In the case of individual counseling, that sensitivity to personal situation needs to be there right from the start.

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