When it comes to counseling others, “Many people know what it’s like to care deeply, but do not know what to do after the hug.” However, Bob Kellemen seeks to change that in his book Gospel-Centered Counseling. “God calls us to love well and wisely. That’s why, in biblical counseling, we must weave together truth and love—comprehensive biblical wisdom and compassionate Christlike care.” Too often we have forgotten this critical balance in ministry, which should be modeled after our Lord Jesus Christ who was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). This is what Bob sets out to do and accomplishes his goal.
8 Ultimate Life Questions
Kellemen sets out to answer 8 questions every biblical counselor must ask and answer. Each question concerns an area of theology.
1. The Word: “Where do we find wisdom for life in a broken world?”
2. The Trinity/Community: “What comes into our mind when we think about God? “Whose view of God will we believe—Christ’s or Satan’s?”
3. Creation: “Whose are we?” “In what story do we find ourselves?”
4. Fall: “What’s the root source of our problem?” “What went wrong?”
5. Redemption: “How does Christ bring us peace with God?” How does Christ change people?”
6. Church: “Where can we find a place to belong and become?”
7. Consummation: “How does our future destiny with Christ make a difference in our lives today as saints who struggle against suffering and sin?”
8. Sanctification: “Why are we here?” “How do we become like Jesus?” “How can our inner life increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ?”
The point of asking and answering these questions is to lay a theological foundation for counseling.
For the Local Church
Kellemen believes biblical counseling functions best when it is part of the natural body function of the local church, and he is passionate about equipping believers to speak the truth to one another in love. Gospel-Centered Counseling is for the local church, though colleges and training centers will also find it useful.
One unique and valuable contribution this book makes is its emphasis on developing well-rounded, well-equipped counselors. Though the book is immensely practical, it is not a how-to book that counselors can open to search through a topical index; it is not a ready-reference tool. The biblical counseling world is already blessed to have several counseling “encyclopedias.” Instead, Kellemen’s book aims at equipping the counselor as a person—as a fellow struggler on the road to Christian maturity who is constantly growing in knowledge, competency, and brotherly love. His “4Cs equipping map” looks like this:
- Christlike Character: The counselor is one who is full of goodness; he demonstrates spiritual maturity. This is being.
- Biblical Content: The counselor is one who is complete in knowledge. Of course, this does not mean the counselor is done growing, but he is one who is striving to consistently apply biblical wisdom to every area of life. This is knowing.
- Counseling Competence: The counselor is one who is competent to instruct others; he is involved in Christlike ministry. This is doing.
- Christian Community: The “counselor” and the “counselee” are brothers and sisters in a spiritual family. Truly biblical counseling is caring for one another in the body of Christ; it is sanctification taking place in biblical community. This is loving.
Applying the Grace of the Gospel to Everything
Kellemen applies Christ-centered grace to every aspect of our spiritual need. The wisdom we all need is found in the Word of Christ. There we find the Redeemer who restores our relationship with the wise and good Creator by dealing with the problem of our sin. Our new creature status then changes our view about everything: God, ourselves, Satan, the anatomy of the soul, sin, the wellspring of the heart, and our perspective of suffering in a fallen world. What accomplishes all of this, and more? It is God’s grace toward sinners that provides the cure for our souls and then places us into a grace-filled community of fellow sinner-saints where we have the freedom and privilege to grow in grace and truth—all for the glory of the Redeemer.
Another strength of the book (a particular strength in all of Bob Kellemen’s writings, by the way) is the abundance of real-life illustrations of how the gospel “works” in counseling. As a result, the reader is not left to wonder how to apply detached theory to the hard realities of many counseling situations. Case studies abound. It is one thing to talk about how the gospel speaks into our lives, but it is another thing to show how it works. Kellemen does this.
A Structural Weakness
In the mind of this reviewer, more structure would have been helpful. I found it difficult to remember where I was in the book, argument wise, each time I picked it up. If the 16 chapters were grouped into parts that logically built on each other, the table of contents would serve as a more useful aid in following the logical progression of thought and serve as a memory trigger for slow readers.
Kellemen’s book is a valuable addition to the biblical counseling “textbooks” currently available and fits a niche that is not overly occupied already. It should also be mentioned that Gospel-Centered Counseling is the first of two volumes in the Equipping Biblical Counselor series from Zondervan. The second volume, Gospel Conversations, is being released soon.
Paul Tautges is senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church (Cleveland, Ohio), biblical counselor, and review editor for counseling here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives