Wherein a misreading of Sola Scriptura gets you into trouble

A friend of mine passed along a book on counseling for me to read and critique. On the surface, it appears to be a Bible-centered approach to counseling which made it attractive to me. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize the author espoused a view of Scripture, and knowledge in general, that is problematic, both for how we counsel and for how we read the Bible. Here was my response to my friend after reading about a third of the way through the book:


I am only a little way into How to Counsel God’s Way but I already want to respond to one of Hoekstra’s fundamental assumptions. First, I really like what he affirms – God is the counselor, counseling is about discipleship, and counseling has to be about the process of sanctification. I also like that he emphasizes the central importance of the Bible in counseling. I agree with him on those points.


However, I am not comfortable with what he condemns. He regularly states that counselors should “exclusively” and “wholly” use the Word and should disregard so-called “human wisdom” or “psychological theories.” He regularly states that the Bible has everything counselors should use in counseling.


I think I know what he’s worried about. He’s worried that the psychological theories – many of them based on naturalistic and humanistic assumptions – are “replacing” the Bible. Many of these theories are counter-Biblical. They say the opposite of what the Bible teaches or simply rest of faulty assumptions. If that’s all that he’s against then again, I agree. But, his problem seems to be more theological in nature, particularly his view of God’s revelation and the nature of Scripture.


I think there is a common misunderstanding about the Bible which Hoekstra picks up on. Echoing in his words is the call of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone. But, he means something different by Scripture Alone then what the reformation means. He seems to mean, “The Bible is our sole source of knowledge” (at least when it comes to counseling). More accurately, though, the doctrine of Scripture Alone means that “the Bible is our sole source of authoritative knowledge.” That key word “authority” makes all the difference. We don’t learn everything in the Bible, but what we do learn is authoritative. It affirms or denies other sources of knowledge. This is true in any field of knowledge – from science to psychology, ministry to engineering. There is a lot we know that we have learned from a source other than Scripture. That doesn’t demean Scripture in any way or make it “less than.” Scripture still plays the role it is intended to play – it allows us to filter other sources of knowledge to be able to discern clearly what is right and wrong.


Furthermore, it acknowledges the breadth of God’s revelation. Theologians think of God’s revelation as either “General Revelation” or “Special Revelation.” Special revelation is God’s Word. It is authoritative and specific. It is “everything we need for life and godliness.” Theologians also understand Jesus as part of God’s special revelation. God’s general revelation is His creation. This revelation truly speaks about God (see Psalm 19:1). Through it we can see that God is God and that He is glorious. But, it’s not sufficient for our knowledge about God. You can’t know Jesus just by looking at God’s Creation. You need God’s special revelation for that.


However, just because God’s general revelation isn’t authoritative or sufficient (because it needs to be interpreted through the lens of Scripture) doesn’t mean it’s not useful or beneficial. Under God’s general revelation fall many areas of knowledge – science, technology, history, medicine, mathematics, economics, and, I might add, psychology. All of these things need to be filtered through the lens of Scripture, but they all also teach us things not taught specifically in Scripture. They provide us knowledge on their own. Again, this doesn’t reduce the role of Scripture in our lives.


The field of counseling/psychology is no different. The Bible gives us authoritative instruction on counseling. It gives us the basis for leading people in discipleship. It forms the basis and foundation for our thinking. However, God has also given us insights through his general revelation – knowledge of the brain, insights into the nature of addictions, etc. (From a Christian counseling perspective, think “The Five Love Languages,” something taught nowhere in Scripture but something that is by no means unbiblical.) It would be unwise (and unbiblical!) to throw out knowledge received from God’s general revelation. Likewise, it would be unwise and unbiblical to accept theories of that knowledge uncritically. It needs to be evaluated through Scripture and then either accepted or rejected on the basis of Scripture, but not rejected simply because that knowledge is not found in Scripture. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything, but what it does tell us is all together true and authoritative.


I’m going to keep reading the book, and it’s possible I am misreading him, so my opinion might change. But, in general, while I like what he affirms, I am cautious that he is condemning things that ought not be condemned.


Update: I continued to read the book after sending the email and the author does nuance his position a little in regards to general revelation, which he specifically addresses, but he still presents a radical distrust of it, particularly in regards to counseling, and he maintains his position that only the Bible should be used in counseling, and no other sources.