A Critical Review of The Masterís College & Seminary Biblical Counseling Program
by Martin & Deidre Bobgan
The Masterís College & Seminary is touted as "one of the leading schools for undergrad and graduate level training in biblical counseling." In fact, The Masterís College and Seminary (TMC&S) conducted a survey of "all the Christian counseling programs that are accredited graduate level throughout the United States" and found that, as far as could be determined from the research, TMC&S "had the largest graduate program in the country." They also reported that, whereas "the average Christian counseling accredited graduate programs has about 40 to 50 students in it," TMC&S has 270 students.1 In addition to having a very large biblical counseling program, TMC&S, with its association with Grace Community Church, wields a tremendous influence in the biblical counseling movement (BMC) nationally and internationally, especially because of the leadership of Dr. John MacArthur. Because of its popularity and great world-wide influence, we will be answering this critical question: Is the highly touted, popular, and widely influential biblical counseling program at The Masterís College and Seminary truly biblical?
In this series of articles we will demonstrate that the head of the biblical counseling program at TMC&S models sinful speaking, eisegetes Scripture to justify his counseling, and teaches two egregious ideas. All of this is not only taught to the students at TMC&S, but also spread worldwide. We conclude the series with recommendations for correction. To determine whether or not the programs at TMC&S are biblical, it is necessary to put to the test primarily what they do and say during counseling, not just what they say about counseling. We all know the saying, "What you do speaks so loudly I canít hear what you say." We have often said that one must evaluate biblical counselors by what they do in the counseling room, rather than by what they hope to do based upon what they say and write.
In order to find out what they do, it is necessary to find actual live counseling sessions on video, audio, or print and compare what is seen and heard with the Bible. Compared to the plethora of counseling materials that merely talk about the various facets of counseling, there are very few that present literal live counseling. The ones we have examined demonstrate very clearly that the most popular approaches are actually unbiblical. This includes the approaches promoted by the National Association of Biblical Counselors (NANC), the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF), and the Biblical Counseling Foundation (BCF).2
We have said for years that the major error of the biblical counseling movement is that they are problem-centered, just like the psychological counseling movement. We have proved repeatedly in our writings that problem-centered counseling inevitably leads to sinful communication. Some time back, to expose this issue in the biblical counseling movement (BCM), we presented the following challenge:
With the thousands of individuals claiming to do biblical counseling and the Bible colleges and seminaries that teach it, one should be able to find a biblical counseling session (or a series of sessions) in writing or on audio or video that is truly biblical and therefore having no sinful speaking. We challenge biblical counselors to provide a word-for-word counseling session or a detailed description of one to demonstrate that they are truly biblical.
To date no one in the BCM has answered that challenge.
Until recently we have had no literal counseling sessions to evaluate the counseling program at TMC&S. However, we found a web site that does have two audios, which include live biblical counseling sessions in addition to a number of lectures by biblical counselors about biblical counseling.3 The actual counseling is conducted by Dr. John Street, who chairs the graduate program in Biblical Counseling (MABC) at TMC&S.4 Obviously what Street does in his biblical counseling is what he teaches his students and what he promotes through his numerous contacts worldwide and through NANC, of which he serves as president.
Streetís Videos and Audios
We have now listened to all of Streetís audios and videos available from the Biblical Counseling and Discipleship Association, So. Cal. (BCDASoCal), Fall 2011 Training Conference.5 We also read the PDFs of his talks. Using Streetís videos, audios, and PDFs, we will now evaluate what Street does in his biblical counseling and demonstrate that he, like other biblical counselors, is contrary to the Bible, because in the context of problem-centered counseling he expects and encourages responses that necessarily involve sinful speaking.
Joe and Julie
There are two audio sessions that include Street counseling Joe and Julie, a married couple.6 We learned that there were three DVDs with parts of ten counseling sessions on them. We attempted to obtain the three DVDs but were prevented from doing so even by a web site that at first sold us the three DVDs, but then, prior to filling the order, returned our payment and removed the three DVDs from the site.
The couple used their first names and identified the husband, Joe, as being a pastor at Faith Community Church. We wanted to contact them for an interview, because, as reported in a professional journal, "Controlled outcome studies show that only about half of couples improve with treatment. And even among those who do make progress a disheartening chunk, 30 to 50 percent, relapse within two years."7
Therefore, we contacted Pastor Bruce Groves, Vice President of BCDASoCal, and after several email exchanges learned that the Joe and Julie counseling sessions were actually re-enactments, meaning that these were not truly original live counseling , but re-enactments of what was supposed to have happened in the counseling sessions. We asked Groves if the Joe and Julie in the ten counseling sessions were the original counselees. He said that the Joe and Julie in the DVD counseling sessions "were re-enacting the counseling scenario of another couple."8 (Bold Added.)
Think about it! The real Joe and Julie are not available for us to contact and confirm what happened; the Joe and Julie actors were apparently following a made-up script; the dialog leads to a fabulously successful tenth meeting conclusion; and none of this is verifiable! We all know the old adage: "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is." We suspect that this Joe and Julie scenario is tailored to a fabulous conclusion that might be discredited by the original Joe and Julie if we were to contact them. As we add up all the concerns we have about this wonderfully successful ten sessions of counseling by Street with the faux Joe and Julie, we conclude that there would likely be a great discrepancy between what originally happened and the acted out "re-enactment."
Next, let us look at the apparent success of the counseling sessions. We say "apparent" because, as we said, there is no way to follow up with Joe and Julie to see if the happy ending continued on or deteriorated after the final session. In other words, were the weeks and months after the counseling ended as successful as it seemed in the last session of the re-enacted counseling.
The outstandingly successful Joe and Julie counseling touted by Street could unfortunately be the very reason for the popularity and interest in the TMC&S biblical counseling major. However, our past research has revealed that counselors regularly use successful counseling stories to promote their approaches.9 Providing literal counseling sessions in biblical counseling not only shows people how to do it, but provides a platform to promote the methodology by showing how well that approach works. Do not be intimidated by such demonstrations of biblical counseling that appear to prove an approach or point of view of the biblical counselor or are used to demonstrate how to counsel, whether presented in writing or given verbally at conferences.
Observing demonstrations of counseling can actually get in the way of personally ministering to fellow believers. Two people could have exactly the same external problem, but only God knows the specifics of what and how for a particular person. This is why we say that those who minister to one another need to get in the way and out of the way. They need to be available, but they need to let God work rather than push their own agenda.
We have never seen a literal failed counseling approach revealed in all the biblical counseling writings we have examined. We have seen biblical counselors blame their counselees for failures or give examples of poor counseling on the part of others, but none that have displayed their own failures. Revealing only the successes gives the false impression that if you follow the method displayed, you too will find success.
The truth is that counselors and especially counselors with an agenda (their particular approach) too often take credit for successes and attribute failures to the counselees. The trumping truth is that success is primarily in the hands of the counselees,10 and those who counsel must not take credit for success or use the success to promote their point of view as a result. Otherwise, they are bound in fairness to take the blame for their failures and to reveal their methodology that failed.
As we asked at the beginning, "Is the biblical counseling program at TMC&S truly biblical?" It is not even how successful it may appear to be, but rather how biblical it is that counts. Street begins the counseling session in a manner quite similar to other nouthetic counselors when he says, "I want to be able to address everything that we can in order to be of help to you." (Bold added.) Street elsewhere refers to Proverbs 18:13: "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him."11 This verse sets the stage for Street to ask Joe and Julie personal questions and to encourage them to hold nothing back that may be helpful, thereby pressing them beyond biblical limitations to sinful speaking.
In what follows it appears that some of the information was gleaned from Joe and Julie each completing the Personal Data Inventory (PDI). The PDI requires one to list "Identification Data (Personal), "Health Information," and "Marriage and Family Information." At the end of the PDI are the following six questions:
1. What is the main problem, as you see it? (Why are you here?)
2. What have you done about it?
3. What can we do?
4. Describe your spouseís personality in a few words (selfish, loving, etc.)
5. As you see yourself, what kind of person are you? Describe yourself.
6. Is there any other information we should know?12
The use of the PDI amplifies the problem centeredness of the counseling because many more problem are brought up than necessary with more to talk about unnecessarily. The PDI also opens many doors to sinful, unbiblical speaking, which is amplified by putting such thoughts in writing.
Those who minister must bring the ones in need of help into a daily walk with God, in which they will seek Him in His Word, pray, and open themselves to the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, as they respond to God they will know what to do by trusting and obeying Him. As God does the inner work and they respond, the glory goes to God and not to man. Personal ministry must be done without sinful, unbiblical conversations that regularly occur through the use of the PDI and other means of digging deeper into the lives of those in need.
Many problem-centered counselors consider the PDI, which only recently arrived in the history of the church, and other such inventories to be valuable, but they are often a detriment when ministering biblically. The PDI is just one more look-alike from the psychological counseling movement. Also, using the PDI is entirely unnecessary as thousands of individuals who call themselves biblical counselors and others who minister biblically have never used one and could claim equally successful cases as the one presented by Street. Prior to the creation and use of the PDI Christians throughout the history of the church ministered to one another and they were in no way hampered or restricted by the absence of anything like the PDI. Actually the PDI with its possible long list of problems could focus on the flesh and divert the counseling away from what the person truly needs: a growing daily spiritual walk with God.
Biblical Standards of Communication
The bottom line is whether or not the words spoken by Street, Joe, and Julie meet the biblical standards. The counseling stands or falls on whether or not they meet biblical standards in practice. Joe and Julie are members at Faith Community Church and Joe is a pastor there. Julie teaches school and is pregnant. They are in counseling because they are having marital problems.
In this counseling session Joe does most of the talking, which is unusual for most marital counseling.13 Although Joe makes some self-effacing comments, he primarily complains about his wife, is highly critical of her, and exposes what he considers to be her faults to a third party, who is probably only an acquaintance or a stranger, all of which are expected as part of the usual biblical counseling process, with Street encouraging unbiblical remarks along the way.
The following are a few of the many questions Street asks in the process of digging for problems and their details:
Can you tell me a little more about that?
Are there any other areas?
Is there anything you want to add to that to help me understand it?
So what else would you like to add to that?
How are you dealing with that?
Street further advances openness and exposure of the couple by saying, "But what youíre sharing with me is helpful." With Streetís encouragement, support, and expectation, Joe makes a number of clearly unkind, unbiblical remarks.
Street asks Joe, "Can you tell me a little more about that? What do you mean by anxiety?" Joeís answers:
I have expectations of her and she seems to always fail at meeting those expectations as far as being the pastorís wife that I think she should be in the local church where weíre serving. We have wonderful opportunities for ladies ministries and whether it be calling on the phone or sending little notes of encouragement or sharing with the ladies in Bible studiesóare things thatósheís just not rising up to meet those expectations at all, or even the responsibilities that some of the other ladies think she should be involved in. (Bold added.)
There is no cautioning Joe with such passages of Scripture as in Ephesians 5:22-33, James 5:20, and 1 Peter 3:7 about how he is to love his wife by not complaining about her or giving a bad impression of her to others. Instead, Street asks, "Are there any other areas that you believe are kind of a source of your anxiety?"
In response to Street, Joe continues to spiritually slander his wife by saying:
Maybe some of my background growing up in a pastorís home I saw things one particular way as a pastorís wife should handle things and she doesnít live up to that right now and I want to get her there as fast as I can. And sheís slow and hasnít had that same background and so part of it is just impatience I think.
After assuring Joe that they will work together on this problem, Street broaches another subject by saying, "Now, you also mark down here Ďcommunication,í" and then asking, "What do you mean by communication? Whatís going on there?"
Joe explains and then says, "Her life is not participating in the life of the ministry in the church where I am." While Joe takes some of the blame, he nonetheless says of Julie:
She doesnít feel like I care or understand about where she is in the home. And at the same time I feel like she has no idea of what Iím experiencing in the church. And so we communicate in different terms, and thereís times where I just come home and donít even want to say anything to her because she wonít understand. And sheís thinking so much about the home front and her needs and I think thereís just a lot of selfishness there and maybe even some blindness on my part of failing to understand the different trials and the different circumstances that are troubling her. (Bold added.)
Full Exposure Required
While Street makes a few brief remarks after each exposure, these problems are not addressed beyond asking for more details. The NANC process calls for every problem to be laid out on the table and described in as much detail as possible during the sessions. As Randy Patten, the executive director of NANC, says, it is necessary to "understand completely what is going on" before giving any advice so that the counselor wonít be "a fool in Godís eyes" or give "lousy advice."14 (Bold added.)
Street then continues to probe into another subject. Evidently in reference to Joeís answers on the PDI, Street says, "You also talk about your physical relationship in marriageóyour sexual relationship." (Bold added.) He then ventures into this highly sensitive area by asking, "And why did you mark that as part of the problem here?" Street is obviously fishing for details about their sex life. We cover this same subject elsewhere in which Patten pursues a couple whose husband says, "Iím very dissatisfied with our sex life."15 We mention this to show that such excursions into this sensitive and biblically sacred area of marriage by biblical counselors are not unusual. Street is only doing what is standard for many and what he teaches others to do.
As we say about such needless excursions: This reveals how deeply worldly this counseling is and the extent to which psychological problem-centered counseling has been emulated and embraced by the church. As much as prying for details is expected and practiced in biblical counseling, details about a coupleís intimacy should not be shared with a third party in counseling. Nevertheless problem-centered counseling depends on such details even in these intimate areas. There are ways to minister to couples without invading their bedrooms and physical intimacy through unnecessary sinful communication.
In response to Streetís question about the lack of sexual intimacy, Joe describes his frustration, which includes the following words:
Well, I think just a desire that obviously itís probably more apparent in the man versus a woman as far as for that sexual need to be met. Where thereís that desire to be met even on a weekly basis at times, or a couple times a week.
Joe criticizes Julie, who is pregnant and teaches school all day, for not being available for sexual intimacy! He then says, "I want to enjoy her," and, "Sheís too tired to really enjoy any times like that." Joe "generously" confesses that he doesnít "have to have this all the time."! Then he uses the Bible to justify his complaint:
Itís a biblical desire that God has given to both of us to love to have, and we want to meet that in one another, but I think just the way our lives are going in two different directions, itís just hard to meet at that time to where this can happen on a consistent basis. And, because of that, I have a hard time getting to sleep. Sometimes weíll just go to bed and I canít get to sleep because I know Iíve been denied the satisfaction and sheís just gone to sleep on me.
Joe then says that, as a result, "Anger sets in and just frustration at why she is unwilling to do this."
Street responds by affirming, "Okay, what youíre saying is really helpful." Helpful? Perhaps as far as getting as much information as possible, which is the NANC method. However, the marriage bed is holy and for Joe to expose his wife in the way he does is sinful! This kind of talk in real counseling would surely make a woman feel she has been betrayed both by her husband and their counselor. This excursion by Street into the privacy of Joe and Julieís sexual intimacy is a reflection of worldly counseling rather than a biblical need.
While the topic of sex is clearly dealt with in Scripture, Paul was no doubt answering general questions in 1 Corinthians 7 rather than having private sessions with couples during which they expose one another! One does not need to hear the complaints or the details to teach about marriage. Biblical counselors would do well to skip the preliminaries (the digging and prying) and teach the doctrines and principles from Scripture, thereby trusting the Holy Spirit to do the convicting and the inner work for outer obedience.
The very fact that a couple would return for the next session after the counselor has usurped the spiritual headship of the husband and led him into betraying his wife shows how the ways of the world have deceived even those who think they are being biblical into making such a mockery of the biblical one-flesh principle.
The next subject Joe brings up at the prompting of Street is "the importance of spending devotional time together." Joe says of Julie:
She doesnít want to wake up in the morning. She doesnít want to give me that time. She would much rather have her own time in bed and she wakes up justóand even kind of angry as far as why I would want to insist this upon her this early. So itís kind of like duplicitous of her to be saying that and then to not have any desire for that when itís something that we like to develop in our lives. (Bold added.)
Because they are not spending prayer time together, Joe concludes that this lack has "affected her personal devotional life with the Lord." Joe continues his complaint:
Öshe talks to me like she has never even studied the Bible recently. Just the way she acts and behaves, there doesnít seem to be any connection there of Biblical truth and how sheís living her life. (Bold added.)
Joe reveals elsewhere that "within a couple years or so things have slowly started to digress." In describing their relationship Joe says, "There havenít seemed to be any real substantial change that has been continuous." With Street being an elder at Grace Community Church and with Joe already having had two years of marital troubles, one would believe that, if Joe were a pastor there, John MacArthur would at least have called a time-out on his ministry, but Street says nothing about this.
A Few Simple Question
We have commented on only the re-enacted part of one counseling session conducted by Street with Joe and Julie and used examples from Joeís remarks to reveal the extent of the unbiblical sinful speaking that occurs in his biblical counseling. Imagine having all ten counseling sessions and how greatly compounded the sinful speaking would be, as encouraged by Street and followed by Joe and Julie. Add to that the important fact that Street is training students at The Masterís College and Seminary along with others world-wide in this sinful speaking, unbiblical approach offered as biblical help. They will surely desire to replicate what he does, especially with such a positive ten-session ending.
Now that we have revealed Streetís counseling we ask a simple question: What would you think of a man or a woman who would personally say to you the things that are revealed in Streetís counseling of the couple? Wouldnít you think it was rude, unkind, and unloving to speak about a spouse that way? Also, what would you think of Street setting such unbiblical standards for others to follow as he does in his position as head of the MABC at TMC&S? And, what would you think of broadcasting it to the whole world as Street does?
We asked at the beginning: Is the highly touted, popular, and influential biblical counseling program at The Masterís College and Seminary truly biblical? Our answer is an emphatic No! for the reasons listed in this article and the ones that follow as well as elsewhere.16
To Be Continued in the Next Issue
1 "Ministry Highlights: Biblical Counseling Programs @ The Masterís College," Biblical Counseling & Discipleship Association Southern California (BCDASoCal) Training Conference, Fall 2011, http://bcdasocal.org.
2 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Person to Person Ministry. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2009, Part Two; Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2011, Chapter 3.
5 Biblical Counseling & Discipleship Association Training Conference, Fall 2011, op. cit.
6 John Street, "Actual Counseling Session: Clinical Depression," Audio #17, and "Clinical Depression Counseling Case, Part 2," Audio #27, BCDASoCal Training Conference, Fall 2011, op. cit. The quoted dialog from the counseling session with Joe and Julie is primarily from audio #17.
7 Brent Atkinson, "Brain to Brain," Psychotherapy Networker, Vol. 26, No. 5, p. 10.
9 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Christ-Centered Ministry. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2004, pp. 42-43.
10 Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! op cit., pp. 160-162.
11 John Street, "Gathering Data/Discerning the Problems Biblically," Video Session Four, BCDASoCal Training Conference, op. cit.
12 Jay E. Adams. Competent to Minister. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1970, p. 274.
13 Bobgan. Person to Person Ministry, op. cit., pp. 66-68.
14 Randy Patten, "Biblical Counseling Observations," Faith Biblical Counseling, Faith Baptist church, Lafayette, Indiana, Session One.
15 Bobgan. Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! op cit., p. 77.
16 Bobgan, Person to Person Ministry, op cit.; Bobgan, Stop Counseling! Start Ministering! op cit.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, July-August 2012, Vol. 20, No. 4)
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