The Love of God in Biblical Counseling calls for a new theological and practical emphasis in biblical counseling that embraces a much deeper concept of the love of God than is currently proposed in the field's literature. Such a concept, as proposed by the author, contributes to the field by increasing the understanding of the dynamics of the human heart in the context of the outpouring of the divine love in the individual believer. The book includes a brief review of the theory and practice of biblical counseling from the days of Jay Adams to today, which points out the need to expand the current emphasis on motives and idols to address more directly the human heart. It then concentrates on the theological foundation of the divine love as the motive behind God's creation, self-revelation, incarnation, redemption, and ultimate purpose for all humanity. Relying on the work of major theologians such as Karl Barth, Thomas F. Torrance, and Michael Jinkins, among others, the book explores the meaning and implications of the expression of the love of God in and through the believer for the practice of biblical counseling.
At a time when evangelical pastoral care in America was defined with accurate insight by O. Hobart Mowrer as having sold its birthright for "a mess of psychological pottage," Jay Adams, a young Presbyterian pastor, seemed to echo the frustration of many pastors when he published his book Competent to Counsel in 1970. Conservative Protestants did not have many options. They either applied the secular methodologies promoted by mainline pastoral theologians or reverted to "the primitive means that characterized their own versions of pastoral care: 'prayer-and-Bible-verse prescriptions,' rationalistic persuasion, moral condemnation, or casting out demons." Adams seemed to relate to their struggles and boldly challenged the establishment reclaiming the role of counseling as a ministry of the Christian church.
Since the early days of Jay Adams, modern biblical counseling has been advanced by new generations of practitioners and scholars both in its methodology as well as in its theological and presuppositional basis. The first generation of modern biblical counselors ministered from a perspective of sin that was based on patterns of behavior that needed to be modified through a process of dehabituation and rehabituation. The goal of biblical counseling during this period was primarily one of behavioral modification. References to matters like motives, worship and love were often made, but almost exclusively with an emphasis on behavior as their driving element. The deeper aspects of the heart, as they were emphasized, were derivatives of practices and patterns and could be modified through changes in behavior. Love, for example, since it was commanded in Scripture, was presented as a loving behavior which would eventually form and shape a disposition of the heart as well as an emotional response.
A second generation of modern biblical counselors pointed out that this original model did not account sufficiently for the motives that tend to drive an individual. They argued that Scripture clearly shows how a correct behavior like giving alms or praying could be motivated by a selfish interest. An example would be the conduct of the hypocrites of the time of Jesus, who were driven by self-righteousness and a desire to be praised and acknowledged for their "good works." The emphasis of the new generation of biblical counselors shifted to a concept of idols of the heart that called for a restored worship of the true God as the new goal of counseling. This new emphasis certainly contributed a deeper understanding of the human problem as one of self or idol worship, and brought about a much needed improvement in the way biblical counseling has been conducted. However, it still falls short of explaining the core motivation of the human heart. This model of idolatry, in fact, has been challenged as focusing on a secondary problem. The primary issue, from which idolatry itself stems, has been defined as a self-loving heart. In the words of Heath Lambert,
...the biblical context of idolatry, [shows] how it functions to advance sinful self-interest in people's hearts. Understood in this sense, idolatry is a secondary problem flowing out of the primary problem, which is the sinful, self-exalting heart.
This being the case, the theological and practical emphasis of biblical counseling needs to be extended to embrace a deeper concept of love that would increase our understanding of the human heart and of the effects of the presence of the divine love in us. In this context, love is not just the outcome of behavior, as Adams and others implied in their practice, but it is primarily the core motive of such behavior. The problem that must be addressed, then, changes, and the question must be asked: what are the implications of a theology of the love of God for the theory and practice of biblical counseling?
LUCIANO COZZI, Ph.D. -Born in beautiful central Italy, Dr. Cozzi is the senior pastor and director of counseling at Grace Family Church of Rhode Island and an associate professor at Trinity Theological Seminary. As a pastor, counselor, and lecturer, he has acquired a long-time professional experience both in Europe as well as in the United States. Dr. Cozzi also serves as a mentor and training center director for the International Association of Biblical Counselors.