Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 12/26/2009 by Bob Kellemen.
Recommended. A concise, comprehensive, and Christ-centered summary of authentic biblical counseling.
Editor's note: This review encompasses not only Paul Tautges' book Counsel One Another, but his two other related counseling books, entitled Comfort Those Who Grieve, and Counsel Your Flock, respectively. Identical reviews to this one will soon be posted under those titles.
Since Pastor Paul Tautges' biblical counseling trilogy seamlessly moves from lay counseling for sin, to lay comforting for suffering, to pastoral counseling and shepherding, one all-inclusive review is possible. Though all published in 2009, there seems to be a logical order to the writing (and the reading).
All three volumes share in common a staunch commitment to an expository, exegetical examination of counseling as presented in God's Word. In fact, Counsel Your Flock and Comfort Those Who Grieve (to a lesser extent) are comprised of sermonic material (sermon manuscripts re-edited into book form). Fortunately, Pastor Tautges is a fine preacher, for in other hands sermons-into-books have not always resulted in readable literature.
Defining Biblical Counseling: What Makes Biblical Counseling Truly Biblical?
It is in Counsel One Another that Tautges lays the theological foundation for biblical counseling. He offers this definition:
Biblical counseling is an intensely focused and personal aspect of the discipleship process, whereby the more mature believer (counselor) comes alongside the less mature believer (counselee) for three main purposes: first, to help that person to consistently apply Scriptural theology to his or her life in order to experience victory over sin through obedience to Christ; second, by warning that person, in love, of the consequences of sinful actions; and third, by leading that person to make consistent progress in the ongoing process of biblical change in order that he or she too may become a spiritually reproductive disciple-maker (pp. 21-22).
There is much to affirm in Tautges' definition. Unlike some stereotypes of "biblical counseling," Tautges aptly emphasizes the relational nature: "intensely . . . personal," "comes alongside," "in love." He also rightly highlights that biblical counseling is discipleship, in fact, it is 2 Timothy 2:2 disciple-making. His three purposes for biblical counseling can't be quibbled with. And his stress on progressive sanctification is richly biblical and relevant.
However--and there's always a "however" since no single definition can capture everything about biblical counseling--this definition omits an important component of comprehensive and compassionate biblical counseling: dealing with suffering. Biblically and historically (church history) God's people have always offered biblical counseling for the suffering via soul care through sustaining and healing (in addition to offering biblical counseling for sin by means of spiritual direction through reconciling and guiding).
Clearly Tautges values the comforting aspect of biblical counseling. The second book in his trilogy, Comfort Those Who Grieve, provides great motivation and equipping for just such encouragement counseling. So the trilogy is not in anyway lacking this comprehensive, compassionate emphasis. Still, one might wish that Tautges had overtly stressed this element in his opening definition and ongoing descriptions of biblical counseling.
Tautges' definition follows another common conception of biblical counseling: it is from one more mature believer (counselor) to a less mature believer (counselee). While this form of counsel does indeed have biblical merit, the many "one another" passages in Scripture teach that much of biblical counseling involves a ministry of spiritual friendship among equally mature brothers and sisters in Christ.
Distinguishing Biblical Counseling from Secular Therapy
Tautges spends much time in Counsel One Another and Counsel Your Flock demonstrating from the Bible the sufficiency of Scripture. God's Word, applied to one another's lives from God's people, through the ministry of God's Spirit provides all we need for life and godliness. Graciously, yet firmly, Tautges takes to task those who would "integrate" secular theory and biblical theology.
Several times Tautges equates "Christian psychology" and "integration." There is a growing movement of "Christian psychology" led by people such as Eric Johnson, Phil Monroe, and Brian Maier that would eschew the label "integration." Instead, they seek to develop a thoroughly biblical, theological, and historical (church history) understanding of people (creation/anthropology), problems (sin/fall/hamartiology), and solutions (redemption/salvation/sanctification/soteriology). Making such distinctions and specifically (and with nuance) defining terms such as "Christian psychology" and "integration" could improve this vital discussion of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Expanding the Horizons
Throughout Comfort Those Who Grieve, Tautges expands the typical modern conception of "biblical counseling." Indeed, it is biblical counseling to minister God's grace in times of loss. With great tenderness learned from the Scriptures and through life experience (as a pastor and hospice caregiver), the author communicates the twin truths that "it's normal to hurt" and "it's possible to hope."
Tautges includes many practical helps for caregivers. One often overlooked area of care for the grieving involves extended care...long after the loss itself. Tautges sketches a very beneficial sixteen-month grieving after-care plan. Any individual and any church congregation would be wise to follow his advice.
Throughout Counsel Your Flock, Tautges further expands our thinking regarding biblical counseling. He does an excellent job showing from Scripture how the pulpit ministry of the Word (preaching) and the personal ministry of the Word (shepherding) are both means of biblical counseling and discipleship.
With depth of scriptural exegesis and extensive quotes from great pastors of the past, Tautges confronts the modern conception of the pastor as a CEO or the pastor as the aloof preacher-in-the-pulpit-only. The biblical shepherd counsels in all he does--in his preaching, in his personal ministry, in his hospital visitation, in his equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.
A Trilogy Well Worth Devouring
These three books are well worth devouring. Any pastor or lay person wanting a starting point for understanding Christ-centered, comprehensive, and compassionate biblical counseling in the local church would be wise to read and reread Counsel One Another, Comfort Those Who Grieve, and Counsel Your Flock.