Friday, July 06, 2007

Larry Crabb on Hermeneutics and Christian Counseling

I've followed with great interest Larry Crabb's movement toward a more intentionally and explicitly theological approach to understanding people and how to help them in distinctively Christian ways. I'm hopeful that he will be influential in provoking more of his professional peers, and the body of Christ at large, to give more serious thought to the conceptual frameworks functionally governing our evaluation of what is wrong with people as well as our efforts to help them change.

The latest issue of Edification, a publication of the Society for Christian Psychology, contains an interview with Crabb in which he offers the following thoughts concerning the role of the Bible in counseling:

...I think my essential contribution to the counseling discussion is in hermeneutics. You can't go to the Bible and find verses about anorexia. As a result, people who want to stay biblical -- and I do -- but who have a limited hermeneutic, become very narrow when they find some application of the Bible to deal with problems that the Bible doesn't seem to directly address. I think that if we have a rich anthropology [doctrine of man], a rich hamartiology [doctrine of sin], a rich pneumatology [doctrine of the Holy Spirit and His work], then we will know how to "hermeneut." We will know how to interpret scriptures so that we discover ways of thinking, and categories for understanding. When I deal with a homosexual, my concern is not only to say homosexuality is sinful, so stop it, and let me hold you accountable until you don't do it anymore. Certainly that must be said. It is a sin, so it shouldn't continue any more than adultery should, or pornography, or any thing else that is obviously sin. But these are not the root sin. So my concern is to say to the homosexual, "What did God have in mind when he created them man and female?" And, "Let's explore the essence of masculinity. Let's find where your terror of not feeling alive as a man has resulted in your clenched-fisted determination to find some kind of satisfaction as a man without taking the risk of manhood, which then makes you vulnerable to homosexuality." Let's explore these deeper issues, which in my mind are not "psychology," but are very biblical, because God made them male and female.

God wants us to unpack and to interpret scripture in a way that does not result in a proof text, and not in a bunch of principle - do this, and don't do that - but in an enriched, deep understanding of what is happening in the human soul that has gone profoundly wrong that leads to all these difficult and sinful problems. You can apply it to homosexuality, eating disorders, panic attacks, whatever else. What is going on in the human soul, and how does the Bible give us categories for understanding this? So I think my major contribution is a hermeneutic that allows me to develop categories for understanding that don't come across as proof-texting or merely exhortational, but as liberating and releasing.
Crabb goes on to describe the idolatry underlying homosexual (and all other sinful) behavior:
It [homosexual behavior] is sinful, but the core sin is turning to God and saying, "You are not the source of joy, you are not the essence of goodness. There's a greater good than you." This is the sin of Adam and Eve, who decided that there was a greater good than God. So we have to get down to the essential sin in dealing with all of these problems, and I think my hermeneutic, which is very nonlinear and categorical, allows for a richer understanding of the human condition. It remains biblical, but in the minds of some looks like it's forgetting the Bible and going towards psychology. But my understanding of homosexuality, of anorexia, or multiple personality, is dependent on biblical categories and not upon psychological research, even though I find secular research to be very analytic and the secular thinkers to be very provocative. They make me think and ask questions that I wouldn't otherwise ask, but never would I regard them as authoritative.
Crabb is right to point out the vital necessity of having our thinking about the nature of human problems and their resolution substantively formed by the doctrines and storyline of Scripture. I find it alarming how frequently the explanations offered by Christians about what motivates people to do what they do sounds virtually identical to secular accounts which have no category for the activity of the heart with reference to God. When pressed, we'll acknowledge in some vague, generic sense that "we're all sinners," so as not to be thought of as unorthodox. But listen carefully to how believers talk among themselves or read some of the bestselling Christian pop psychology (frequently marketed under the heading of "personal development") and you'll find that we don't really expect the Bible's teaching on sin to be of much practical value in helping us get to the meat of the matter of our intra- and interpersonal problems. Consequently, as I've stated before, the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ is marginalized to that nebulous (not to mention, narrow) region of our lives designated as "spiritual." The gospel becomes icing on the cake of "real life" whose primary ingredients must be acquired at the mental health market.

I'm also glad to see Crabb drawing attention to the fact that how we answer the question "What is the Bible and how does God communicate through it?" has great consequence for the conclusions we draw concerning its relevance and the scope of that relevance for counseling issues. One of the main reasons that assertions about the Bible's sufficiency for understanding and addressing counseling issues is dismissed as being naive and simplistic is that people assume that the Bible is a compilation of atomistic verses (a view revealed by the frequently encountered request, "Show me a verse for....") rather than as a comprehensive lens through which all of life is to be interpreted. Crabb's reflection on this point resembles that of David Powlison who, in the current issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling notes, "The writers of the Bible intend to provide eyeglasses that enable all seeing, not an encyclopedia that contains all facts."

Given the place of prominence that American evangelicalism has afforded psychologists, perhaps an affirmation of the Bible's sufficiency for counseling matters from someone like Crabb will persuade more believers to take it seriously.


rambling rosemarie said...

Sorry I didn't see this sooner, Keith. It gives me hope of other "Christian Psychologists" rethinking their low opinion of the Word.

Doc. K. said...

Nicely done review and commentary. Crabb is not alone in developing a biblically-founded, historically-based, culturally-relevant approach to biblical counseling and spiritual formation. God has called many on this same journey. Bob Kellemen (

Gillian said...

Do you know which article this was in the Edification???

KP said...

I'm sorry, Gillian, but I don't recall which issue it was. All I remember is that it was in the early days of the Society, prior to the publication of the current full-blown journal format. I'm sure if you were to contact the Society, they'd be able to give you the reference.

KP said...

Gillian, if you haven't already located it, just today I ran across the information you had requested. Here it is: Collins, Nate. "A Humble Hermeneutic for Counseling: An Interview with Larry Crabb." Edification Newsletter 2, no. 4 (2006): 6-9.

Gillian said...

KP--Thank you so much! I had tried contacting the Society and had not heard back yet. I am so grateful that you found it!