What Sovereign Grace Ministries Teaches Pastors About Counseling – Part 2

May 13, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Here is a transcription of the second portion of the full text of a talk given at the 2009 Sovereign Grace Pastors’ Conference.  This particular teaching was limited to an audience of men only.   If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read Part 1.  You can access the handout for this teaching here.  I have numbered the paragraphs to assist us in our discussion.  My commentary will be in blue  (And no, I did not make any commentary within the first part of the transcript, but I’ve received a few emails suggesting that I do so for the rest of the transcript, so we’ll try it out and see what y’all think.)


[Beginning part 2 of The Pastor and the Counseling Process]

[1] And then, um, gaining Biblical perspective.  What is the function of the preached and taught Word?  One of the questions you’re trying to get an idea of is how much do they connect what they’re hearing on Sunday mornings with their real life?  One of the things I find, one of the challenges we find in an iPod age, is people are tremendously affected by preaching outside the church.  You know, so, and even – they’ll go hear eight John Piper sermons a week and forget what was preached to them on Sunday morning.  What was preached to them on Sunday morning is God’s Word to them.  It’s great to have access to Piper and everybody else.  And C.J.!  But C.J.’s not their local church pastor.  Their local church pastor is a guy you know, where pass – possibly you highly relate to that.  That’s how God feeds them.  Everything else is supplemental.  It’s helpful, but – but if they’re, if they’re being more affected by John Piper – or C.J. Mahaney! – than they are by the local church preaching and the – and the series that God has for them, you gotta help them with that connection. 

[2] Um, we – you need to bib – biblically identify with them in suffering.  Again, that means we need to have – have a doctrine of suffering that doesn’t take SELF-INFLICTED suffering outside of the c – camp of compassion.  Many times we’re counseling people, and the suffering that they’re experiencing is self-inflicted.  We still must be able to identify with them in their suffering and to show compassion, to be merciful.  Peter, as – as – as – C.J. talked about last night, was a man who understood compassion for self-inflicted suffering.  [Unintelligible] himself.  So we must be compassionate people no matter what they have done in their suffering.  [Kris says:  I’m glad that Mr. Farmer gives that reminder.  That’s a good sign.]

[3] Um.  So it’s a great time for our own Biblical self-examination.  How do I relate to this?  What – what idols is this provoking in me?  When I’m in this situation and – and – and  anger starts to rise up, why is that?  When I find I’d rather not be here, um, a great exercise is to say, “What types of people yank my chain?”  [Kris says:  I appreciate that Mr. Farmer is acknowledging that anger is not an appropriate counseling response when someone is sharing his or her troubles.  But I cannot help but wonder, for all you counseling types out there, is this a TYPICAL response for the average Christian?  Let’s take a little informal poll here – how many of us find ourselves angered as someone tells us their problems?]   And if you can identify the types of people that yank your chain, you’ll have a good sense of how to – how to prepare for people who yank your chain.  So – in fact, the people who yank my chain – is a couple of types.  One is sort of a mosaic talker, somebody who sorta talks but doesn’t seem to have a point.  [Kris says:  Again, I appreciate his honesty.  But…wouldn’t common sense tell us that the vast majority of people seeking pastoral counseling might be doing so because they simply need help sorting out what’s really bothering them?  Do troubled and/or confused people typically speak in a logical, linear fashion?  If Mr. Farmer knows his own weakness in this area, is it even advisable for him to be doing so much counseling when “mosaic talkers” are more the norm than the exception among people troubled enough to seek counseling?]   And I find – you know, you kinda go – you’re trying to take notes, and you end up just scribbling circles cuz you have no idea where they’re going with this, and – and – cuz I like people who [unintelligible slurred words] “Here’s my problem, help me out.”  OK, great, boom.  Let’s do it.  So I have challenges with those people.  Um, I have challenges with people who, uh, who – who SEEM to me to be proud.  And I define pride as those who don’t think what I’m saying is very good.  [Crowd laughs heartily.]  So those people, those proud people, I have a problem with.  

[4] So, but it’s also a good opportunity to offer some general Biblical counsel.  Um, I am not a kind of guy who says you gotta wait and finally drop in that wonderful world – word of truth after you’ve – you’ve set them up and prepared them, and NOW, here is your life-giving truth.  No, I think in the first – the first – the first encounter, you can give them some Biblical counsel.  Now, I think one of the mistakes pastors make is we think that’s what we’ve gotta do.  You come in, I hear your problem, I give you Biblical counsel, you go out and do it.  Next.  And we – we pastor like that.  And, and we realize how difficult it is to apply even one small thing.  We know that in our own lives, you know – we don’t apply very well.  And so, so I think you can – you can sort of have extremes.  [Kris says:  I commend Mr. Farmer for acknowledging that this can be a tendency among pastors.  Good for him.]  Sometimes when I’ve observed formal counseling, it feels like I, you know, I even talked to Ed about it one time, I was like, we were in class, and I – I – I – we – he went through, like, six sessions of like an hour and a half, and he was yet to really give them anything,  and I was like, “Ed, will you tell them something?”  And – and – you know – he was very wise, he said, “In your world” – it was very funny, he said, “In your world, that would work.  In my world, that won’t work.  Because in my world, they don’t have to come back.  In my world, they can disappear.” 

[5] So, I understood.  In my world, they don’t disappear.  They’re there the next week.  And so I can speak a little more forthrightly, a little more clearly, into their situation.  [Kris says:  If such bluntness would be enough to make the counselee disappear in a non-SGM setting, is it really a good idea to be “a little more forthright” just because you know the person is a captive audience, so to speak, and feels compelled to come back or lose his standing in the church?]  But, I cannot simply throw Bible verses at ’em, and I can’t simply say, “Here’s Biblical wisdom, go and do.”  What I do know is I like to drop something in there for a couple reasons.  One is it helps me to understand how they relate to Biblical counsel.  If – if I say, “You know what, the Scriptures say this, and, so, you know what you might wanna do, you might wanna consider this, and it might mean that you need to do blank.”  Well, if they quickly dismiss that as irrelevant, that tells me volumes about the functional authority and sufficiency of Scripture in their lives.  [Kris says:  Does it REALLY speak volumes?  Or does it tell the pastor more about how capable the person is at that moment of implementing change, or how the person is reacting to the pastor himself?  Does Mr. Farmer TELL the counselees that he will be putting them to this sort of test?  Is he forthright about this?  Or is this just a way to judge them?  Is this kind of behavior (using this type of undisclosed “test”) FAIR when used on someone seeking counseling within the context of the pastoral relationship?]  So, I’m not – I’m gonna have to build a case somehow for the centrality of the, of the Word of God.  I can’t presume that in their lives because they took what I said and dismissed it and said, “But I need this.”  

[6] The other thing you can do, can be very helpful, is you can just see, uh, you can just see how intent on they are on pursuing change.  If the next time you meet they forgot what you said and they haven’t done it and you’re talking about the same thing over and over again, see, you have an idea, OK, you know what, this person doesn’t take things and work with them.  I’m gonna have to find a different way.  And so – and so I think it’s good to drop Biblical counsel in to see how they relate to it, to see what it says about them, don’t count on it at this point in the process, don’t count on it liberating them from whatever they’re in.  But it’s a great time to do it.  [Kris says:  Again, it seems to me that Mr. Farmer is revealing a lack of insight into the nature of many types of problems.  Probably for your garden variety mild-to-moderate situations, it’s perfectly reasonable to give someone a suggestion and expect to see that they’ve implemented it by their next visit, or have at least remembered it.  But when dealing with SERIOUS or SEVERE mental health problems, I believe it’s unreasonable and unfair for a counselor to expect that the counselee will be thinking clearly enough to change anything much within the first couple of meetings.  What do you think?]

[7] So – so – the first thing is, you’re establishing a common purpose.  All of this is with a goal of, “Do we – do we both know why we’re here and what we’re trying to accomplish?”  Um, second one, number two, is getting rooted in the Gospel.  Never presume the Gospel.  The one thing C.J. says, “Pastoral ministry never presumes the Gospel.”  Not everybody you counsel who’s a member of your church is a believer, frankly.  Um, kids who grow up in the church, they may pass through all the tests we put before them and something happens and you start to realize they’re not – 

[8] Church discipline itself is a test of true believerhood.  [Kris says:  Really?  Scripture, please.  It would have been very helpful, given what we know about some of SGM’s behavior in previous disciplinary situations, to have this statement explained and supported with some Bible passages.]  And so – so – we – uh, we – we – we – believe in our churches, hopefully, that people are truly regenerate, but sometimes it takes trial to reveal that.  [Kris says:  So am I hearing this right, that Mr. Farmer is suggesting that a counseling situation can provide a pastor with definitive evidence of whether or not someone who professes to be a believer is “truly” saved?]  Sometimes we’re meeting with people who are new to the church, who are in some process of getting involved.  They may not even know themselves, and – and we have an opportunity to do evangelism.  So we’re try – one of the questions we ask in counseling is, are we doing, are we doing, are we working in the realm of sanctification, or are we working in the realm of evangelism?  And we do need to know that, we need to openly reference that.  If it appears that – that they are, uh, that there may be questions about someone’s regenerated state, whether they are truly born again, then that becomes by default the focus of our counseling.  [Kris says:  Again, I’d be interested in some Scriptural backing for this sort of statement…how would Mr. Farmer define what “truly born again” behavior would look like in situations where someone is seeking counseling?  What sort of behavior would lead him to make a judgment in the opposite direction, of “not truly born again”?  Is it desirable or appropriate for a pastor to be so concerned about making such assessments about a counselee’s salvation status at this point?]  Though it may not become the focus of our words, it sticks in here, and it plays in everything we say and do.  The goal becomes, “How am I gonna make sure this person knows whether or not they’re right with God?”  [Kris says:  This is more of a random question than real commentary, but in the SGM world, can anyone truly “know whether or not they’re right with God”?  From the way Mr. Farmer makes it sound, if a person doesn’t hop to and make changes immediately, or express agreement with the “Biblical” counsel he is given, the pastor could then call his salvation into question. ]  I may still work with their problem as the presenting issue, but my agenda has changed.  Now I need to make sure they know where they stand with – with – the living God, the God who – who – who is their judge if they are not righteous in Christ. 

[9] But more often what we deal with is Gospel clarity.  Whenever someone goes through trials, suffering, self-inflicted or not, the Gospel comes under attack.  The Gospel’s always under attack in our culture.  [Kris says:  Is the Gospel really under attack?  Or are Christians actually the ones under attack?  Doesn’t the Bible promise us that ultimately, the Gospel is already settled in the heavens and Jesus is victorious?]  In our people, the Gospel’s under attack.  It’s under attack by our own cravings and hearts, which – who want to create our own gospels, our own good newses for ourselves.  It’s, uh, it’s certainly – the devil is there, um, lying, and we have a culture that is – that – that – that is anti-Gospel culture.  And so we have to presume, when someone goes into trial, though they may be believers, there’s probably an attack on the Gospel in their lives.  [Kris says:  Why must we presume this?  Scripture, please?]  And so part of what we’re doing is we’re just in conversation, just getting them to talk a little bit about the Gospel.  And I don’t necessarily believe you always hit this head-on and say, “Now we need to talk about the Gospel.”  [Kris says:  Why NOT hit it “head on”?  Why not just be open and honest?  Why do I keep getting this feeling that these pastors are being taught to hide their true agendas from their counselees?]  But in my conversation in getting to know and framing out the issue and things like that, I’m listening for where there might be Gospel deficiencies.  Is somebody – is somebody is living in a guilt they don’t need to live in?  Is somebody seeking to do things in their own flesh that only God can do?  Is – again, one sidelight, particularly when someone is going through a trial that they’re having to endure – we’ve gotta be careful how we relate to folks.  Because we can present God in a way that makes it difficult for them.  For example we talk about the sovereignty of God.  We have to make sure we don’t talk about the sovereignty of God to a person who is experiencing trial in such a way that they see the sovereignty of God as that which is pressing down on them and driving them into the dust.  And so we have to think about the Gospel ourselves.   [Kris says:  I personally think that this is one of the strongest paragraphs of this whole teaching.  If Mr. Farmer had just elaborated a whole lot more here, with Scriptural backing, and then STOPPED, I’d think that SGM had taken some huge steps toward solving their counseling problems.  But you’ll notice that he gives no elaboration on what this conversation might look like.  He doesn’t bother to give direct, detailed instruction to the men listening to him.  These SGM guys are all aware of the stories on this site, where this sort of pastoral behavior did NOT take place in the way that it needed to take place.  Why won’t he give this more air time, since this is obviously a huge area of deficiency?]

[10] How do I – how can I make the Gospel fit into counseling situations in a way that’s winsome and meets them at their point of need?  We’ve gotta be able to do that, because if the Gospel isn’t there, frankly, one of the – maybe THE most – distinguishing characteristics of what we do is all we’ve got is the Gospel.  You know.  Everything else, whatever practical help, whatever Biblical advice we give, if it isn’t rooted and – and tethered to the Gospel, it is ludicrous.  If they gain the whole world but lose their soul, it’s ludicrous.  So we – that’s all we have.  And so sometimes, we will stand there and say, “You know what, you’ve got all these issues.  I only have one thing.  Now, I think that what I have is sufficient for you.”  But that’s essentially what pastoral counseling is.  Pastoral, biblical counseling is creative ways to say, “I have one answer, and this is it.”  And we’ve gotta find ways to do that so that we don’t say the same way to everybody else.  What that means to an addict is different than what it means to a depressed person.  What it means in a marriage conflict is different than what it means in a parenting conflict.  So we must be able – it’s our job to be so continually filled and familiar with the Gospel that we can articulate it to people in their real-world experiences.   [Kris says:  Again, great words.  But what does the “Gospel” really mean here, specifically?  With the way that SGM has in the past sometimes confused “the Gospel” with “getting totally assimilated into SGM’s particular culture,” why is Mr. Farmer doing the very thing he tells the pastors not to do, which is “assume the Gospel”?]

[11] Um, so, third marker, though – but you gotta – those are things that you have to – that’s an important one – the third – I think I just skipped one…look at my notes here… 

[12] Um [shuffling papers], just a second.  I’m missing one, but that’s OK, I can do it from my head. 

[13] Um, so the third is building community.  That means that we know where they stand in relationship to the church.  Um, again, our advice should make no sense at all to someone who’s not in some sense moving toward or involved in the local church community.  If you can give advice and counsel people in a way that doesn’t require them to walk it out in Biblical community, it’s not truly Biblical advice.  [Kris says:  I find this statement rather troubling for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, SGM defines involvement in the “local church community” in a very specific, particular way.  SGM’s kind of community means devoting a very significant amount of time to church activities and small-group get-togethers, where one is supposed to form relationships that become “closer than family.”  These relationships often involve boundary-less, in-your-face, confrontational openness with anyone who is wanting to “bring an observation.”  And anything less than an apparently “humble,” receptive response to correction can be categorized as pride. 

So “walking out advice in a Biblical community” carries a huge amount of extra baggage for the SGM person.  To someone in a Sovereign Grace church, “walking in a Biblical community” means that one will fully participate in all care group meetings, serve wherever and however they’re asked, be a total open book to correction from anyone, and be fully submitted and obedient to one’s pastors. 

Honestly, this sounds more like an in-house defense of some of the bad advice that SGM pastors have been known to dispense over the years.  “Display total and instantaneous forgiveness toward your toddler’s rapist” DOES make a twisted kind of sense in light of the way that SGM defines “Biblical community.”  But it strikes Christians in the real world as the insensitive idiocy that it is.

Yet the SGM pastor listening to this presentation will now have a comforting reason (excuse?) with which to soothe himself and others for the sorts of situations where pastoral advice seemed (and quite often was) CRAZY.  If someone outside of SGM questions or criticizes counseling advice given by a Sovereign Grace pastor, their criticisms can just be written off as, “Well, of course it wouldn’t make sense to them.  After all, they don’t understand what it means to walk in real Biblical community like we do here in SGM!”


[14] Sanctification, as Piper says, is a community project.  Never done in isolation.  [Kris says:  Scripture, please?  I’m not saying I disagree with this concept, but this is such a sweeping statement and forms such a huge part of SGM’s assumptions about the Christian life that it seems odd to support it with just a quote from John Piper.]  And so we always find ourselves wrestling with where are they standing in – in – in – the community?  And many times, people who are troubled, that’s one of the issues we face.  What we don’t wanna do is find ourselves, uh, creating – uh, uh, a – a back-door professional counseling arrangement.  Where they come to us and receive from us and have no meaningful fellowship with other people.  Any engagement with God will ultimately have to have implications in – in their world at large, around other believers.  And so one of the very important things, and we, we have to be careful with this, is we have to make sure that our counsel, and our willingness to counsel, is tied to their meaningful participation in the fellowship of the church. 

[15] Now I’ll meet with people, um, even for a season of time, but pretty close to the outset of that, I’m saying, “Now listen,” and I’ll tell them up front, “Here’s the problem.  I think you could benefit greatly from a professional counselor, because you don’t seem to want the church, and I can’t help you.  Cuz that’s all I’ve got, I’ve got the Gospel, and I’ve got the church.  I’ve got the Gospel that’s truth, I got the church to live it out.  And so if you want me to help you, we have to do this in such a way, that the – the – the resources I have, I can make available to you.”  And so, again, that doesn’t mean that I’ll just shut somebody down, but it means that I’ll begin to corral them, and there are people who have said, “You know, I don’t think I can meet with you anymore.  Because I think our goal right now, you’re – you’re a Christian, I know that [Kris says:  How does Mr. Farmer “know that”?  He’s already said that there are occasions when a counselee’s salvation can be called into question, even if this person is a church member who has (by implication) already professed faith in Christ convincingly enough to be granted membership in his or her SGM church.  Plus, Mr. Farmer has stated in paragraph 8 that willingness to be disciplined by one’s church is a “test of true believerhood.”  How can he tell someone he knows they’re a Christian if they’re not even connected with a church, let alone at the place to embrace church discipline (which by his own words he counts as an important “test” of whether or not one is a true believer)?] – but I think our goal right now is to get you connected with a local church.  And it doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be this one.  So my counsel for you now is to help you find another local church where you can receive care.  [Kris says:  This sounds refreshingly open-minded.  But I do wonder how many times this has happened in Mr. Farmer’s pastoral counseling career?]

[16] Because we just live – we live in an – an expertise-driven culture, where people come to us because they think we’re experts, when we’re not, and people come thinking that they need to have individual conversations and not relate in fellowship with other believers.  They want to handle it in private.  We live in an individualistic culture.  They handle it in private.  So, so um.  In fact, that’s where I’m at with one couple right now.  They desperately need help.  But it’s very clear that the husband is a very independent man and he – he’s already burned through one community group.  I would call ours community groups.  He’s already burned through one community group, the guys, he’s just sort of rejected.  They don’t, you know, they don’t, they’re not helping me.  But he’s really independent.  So I’ve basically said, “Listen, I would love to help you, but you guys, you gotta resolve your community group issue first, you gotta find a place and get plugged in.  And I can’t help you till you do it.  Cuz nothing I say makes sense if you’re just living in isolation.”  [Kris says:  Nothing Mr. Farmer says makes sense without this man’s full participation and openness in his care group?  He just said earlier that “the Gospel” is all he has.  But what sort of “Gospel” is he giving people, if in order for it to be helpful and “make sense,” it hinges on their participation in their care group?]

[17] Um, so, that’s marker three.  Marker four?  Um, “Discerning Wisdom and Foolishness.”  This is something I’ve been more recently thinking about, this amazing Biblical category of wisdom and foolishness and how does it fit into what we do.  So I don’t hold this out as – as definitive, but I – I have been thinking about it.  Um.  In two areas, particularly.  One is the area of pride.  And one is the area of unbelief.  As I look through the Scriptures, particularly as you do sort of a Biblical theology of counseling, you see the issue of unbelief and the issue of pride emerge significantly, from the Old Testament into the New.  As – as – life-shaping challenges, um, pride simply being…I think the way, or the way I would say it, is, pride is, “I can, I trust myself.”  Unbelief being, “I don’t trust God.”  And so, I think, in any kind of a challenge, if you look at your own life, and you get down to the real basic issues of what’s going on, you’re battling with, “I trust myself,” or, “I don’t trust God.”  Trusting in ourselves is pride.  It was pride in the Old Testament, carries through, um, and unbelief is – unbelief is one of those things – in our culture, we’ve talked about pride before, unbelief is a massive issue with people.  It isn’t – there’s hardly – [unintelligible] – they don’t understand, they don’t see it.  They treat not trusting in God like a small thing.  But, uh, Watson says it – it – it brings into question the most important things about God.  And when you do that, there is no hope.  [Kris says:  Me, personally?  I wish these SGM pastors would quote fewer authors and more of the Author Himself.]

[18] And so, so we must in our counseling have these categories of pride and unbelief.  Now here’s the point I’m making.  I like to bring them in before I have to confront them.  In other words, I like – sometimes – and I’ll do this with people, I’ll say, you know, I’ll be in a counseling session, and I’ll just say, “You know what?  I wanna talk about something that has nothing – that probably has no relevance at all to what we’re talking about. [Kris says:  This is yet another thing that seems rather disingenuous.  Why are SGM pastors being taught to sort of slyly introduce the concepts of “pride” and “unbelief,” even going so far as to sneakily suggest – untruthfully, or why bring them up? – that the topics “probably have no relevance at all” to the subject being discussed?  Considering the big deal that Mr. Farmer made earlier about the level of “lifelong relationship” that would exist between the pastor and the member/counselee, which supposedly distinguishes pastoral counseling from other kinds of “formal” counseling, shouldn’t the pastor and the counselee be relating to one another first of all as brothers in Christ, equal in God’s sight?  What sort of pastor-member relationship needs this sort of craftiness in order to introduce a topic for consideration?  Why…LIE?  (Really, there’s no other word for it.  Mr. Farmer is suggesting that these pastors lie to their counselees by introducing topics they DEFINITELY believe are applicable, even as they sneakily suggest that the topics “probably don’t have anything to do with what we’re talking about.”)]   

[19] In the Bible there’s this idea of the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness.  And the way of wisdom is what we’re called to walk.  And that’s what you want, right?  You wanna walk the way of wisdom.”  “Yes, I do, I do, I wanna walk the way of wisdom.”  And I’ll even take them to Proverbs and I’ll show them the way of wisdom.  Proverbs 2 is a great text for that, and then I’ll say, “But you know what, the challenge is, we tend to walk the way of foolishness, don’t we.”  And then we’ll talk about the way of foolishness.  Then I’ll talk about what makes the difference.  Well, the fool in his heart says there is no God.  Now it’s interesting, in – in – in Psalms, and I haven’t done a lot of study on this, sometimes the tone of that in Psalms when it’s talked about is – is a – the fool says there is no God in a sense of desperation.  There is no God for me.  Sometimes it seems “There is no God” is defiant, there is no God that controls me.  And so, and so, it gives me a great chance to say, “So, so I think one of the things we may find ourselves talking about at some point in the process here is pride and unbelief.”  And I’ll talk to them about it in sort of a theoretical way.  

[20] So if you got a guy, you think, “OK, man, I -” you know – sometimes you can – you just wonder – is this pride?  I find if you wait and confront it, if – if – if you go through all this, you try to help with idols, and you still see, boy he just seems to resist anything that ultimately puts him responsible, and you just wanna say, “You’re just proud.”  If you do that at that point, do you think that’s gonna help people?  Will that help a guy – “Y’know brother, I just think you’re proud.”  You know, that’s basically the last bullet in your gun at that point.  [Crowd chuckles.]  Bam!  OK, I’m out of bullets.  You win.  [Kris says:  This statement, along with the crowd’s chuckling reaction, is to me quite troubling, as it appears to indicate how SGM pastors view their counseling role – as some sort of competition between pastor and counselee, some sort of contest or game to be “won.”  Like the pastor wins some freakish sort of “victory” when he introduces a sin topic and the person is receptive?  I’m sorry, but I’m really boggled by this one.]  Um, no, I think – the way I try to do it is I try to introduce these ideas, these big categories, particularly life-defining wisdom and foolishness issues, as – as, uh, as ideas that we might explore later on.  Get ’em to buy into it conceptually so that then later on you can come around and say, “You know what?  Remember we talked back before about this issue of pride?  I’m startin’ to wonder if that might be what we’re dealing with here.  What do you think?” 

[21] That’s a lot more grip with guys, cuz they’ve already bought into it, they’ve already owned it conceptually. [Kris says:  Again, this sounds manipulative and sneaky and more than a bit insincere.]  Same with unbelief.  You know, yeah, I don’t know, and – someone might say, “I’m wondering if unbelief might be something that we want to eventually look at here?”  “Oh, I’m sure there’s no unbelief.  I’m having trouble trusting God.”  Sometimes I’ll stop and say, “OK – wait.  Let’s not call that unbelief.  Because the Bible says unbelief is an evil heart.  I’m not ready to say you have an evil heart yet.  So let’s – k – maybe you’re struggling with trusting God.  But let’s don’t call it unbelief yet.  Cuz if we get there, then we’re talking about pretty serious stuff.”  But it might be good to recognize… 

[22] What am I doing?  I’m helping them – I’m preserving pride and unbelief for weighty consideration later on.  Not throwing it out there and saying, “You’re proud,” or “You have unbelief,” not using them as labels.  Handling them deeper.   [Kris says:  This sounds good, and maybe being underhanded and crafty works in counseling situations to lead a person to handle the topics more deeply.  Maybe.  But…what role is the Holy Spirit supposed to be playing in this dynamic?  Couldn’t the Holy Spirit be trusted to make a pastor’s honest thoughts hold water with the counselee, without having to engage in this sneaky sort of subterfuge?]

[23] We’ll talk about – we’re gonna move here to the issue of idolatry.  The same thing applies.  We do not want to talk about idolatry as a light thing.  We don’t want to talk about any sin as a light thing.  “I think your idol is this, I think you’re out of control.”  No.  If we’re talking about idolatry, we’re talking about deadly, horrible things.  We’re talking about cancer.  You know, a doctor doesn’t come and say, “You know what, yeah, I think you may have cancer.  You ought to check that out.”  No.  He shouldn’t anyway.  No.  The same with idolatry.  Any kind of sin.  We talk about it with the weight of gravity.  [Kris says:  If idolatry is such a huge, grievous sin – and I would agree with Mr. Farmer that it is – then how likely is it that all problems, large or small, can always be boiled down to “pride” and “unbelief”?  Are the problems that would bring someone to counseling typically connected to such grievous and serious sins like idolatry?  I mean, I know that Mr. Farmer doesn’t actually SAY that “pride” and “unbelief” are at the root of everybody’s problems, but with the amount of time he spends on talking about them, and because of how frequently those charges come up in the stories of SGM survivors, it sure seems like they are getting a lot of mileage in SGM counseling situations.]

[24] We’re getting to that Marker 5.  Um.  Ah, “Pursuing Heart Transformation.”  Well, we’re talking about the gravity of sin.  The weight of sin.  [Kris says:  Always?  Are all counseling problems simplified into sin issues?  Is there ever room for full and complete victimhood, which would then drive the person to seek counsel?  If so, shouldn’t this be stated?] We cannot – sin is ultimately the heart condition we’re dealing with.  Hopefully we have – the people we’re dealing with understand that at this point, but I find people trivialize sin or they treat it – they have a difficult time making an issue of their motivation.  And they’ll have functionally a passive heart.  “Yeah, I’m sinning this, I’m doing this, I’m doing this.”  So probably what we need to do is when we talk about sin we talk about it in grave terms.  And we apply it to our own lives.  “Boy, you know, yeah, if – if I wrestle with this and” – you know, that’s one of the things I so appreciate about C.J. in particular, his – not so much his commitment to the doctrine of in, although I do, but his commitment to the gravity of sin and what it cost Jesus Christ for us.  And so, so we wanna talk about sin with gravity.  But we also want to talk about sin – fact, I’m gonna read a few of the quotes here, cuz I think in this section right here, the quotes I found very very helpful.  So if you’re in your outline, um, well, go to your outline, um.  

[25] Part of what I’m doing right now is, you could spend a whole – whole session just talking about this issue of dealing with heart transformation.  We have taught on this, it’s part of Sovereign Grace culture, I’m presuming as pastors you’re there on that.  There’s some information that can help you if you’re not.   

[26] C.J.’s quote under, um, under, uh, “The Gravity of Sin” – “In order to proclaim grace one must proclaim sin.  It doesn’t take much skill to expose sin – it takes great skill to unveil grace.”  See, that’s the purpose, we’re not after – it’s easy to identify sin.  Sin is the presenting problem.  Grace is the mystery we’re trying to s – get to.  How can God’s grace work in this situation is the goal, not identifying sin.  Sin is presenting itself freely.  Um.  

[27] “The doctrine of sin is not ultimately to convict of sin but to convince of the grace of God.”  Is to get people to see their need and cry out.  “(But) you cannot proclaim the doctrine of grace without proclaiming sin.  The message we have [never] [C.J.’s original quote contains the word “never” here, but Mr. Farmer misreads it.] been given is grace!  How do we avoid misusing the doctrine of sin?  Never lose sight of Calvary and what happened there.”  [Kris says:  Note how much more of C.J. we’re getting than Scripture…sigh…]

[28] I think on our pastoral team in the last two or three years, I guess four years or so, one of the things we’ve realized was in – in recognizing that culturally we need to hold to a strong doctrine of sin, functionally and pastorally we tended to have more trouble moving beyond that to – to what is the remedy for sin.  And so, in the last few years, that’s what we’ve put a lot of emphasis in our pastoral counseling and in our preaching.  How we – how do we the – how does the doctrine of sin point us to the greater hope of the Gospel?  And so don’t be content with your ability to assess sin.  Self-righteousness will do that for you.  Be looking for grace.  Love looks for grace.  [Kris says:  Again, a very helpful and seemingly hopeful statement for an SGM pastor/counselor to make.  But notice how there seem to be no practical examples given of how a pastor looks for grace and points people to grace.  We just had paragraphs devoted to weaseling people into acknowledging their sins of pride and unbelief.  How about some equal time for finding grace?  What would this look like?]

[29] The necessity of truth.  To help people we must accept the language they use to describe their condition.  We don’t – we’re not word police.  What we’re trying to do is let them speak and then us do the work of reorienting them to truth.  That’s our skill.  We do need to bring skills to counseling.  We don’t need to know all the different ways depression can be dealt with.  We don’t need to know, uh, how to deal with multiple personality disorders.  We do need to know how to take people’s self-descriptions and their language and lead them to Biblical reality in whatever they’re dealing with.  That is the skill we need to develop.  That’s what we need to work on.  [Kris says:  Why wouldn’t it be a good idea for a pastor, especially one who does a lot of counseling, to educate himself about the mental conditions he most commonly sees?  Especially a Sovereign Grace pastor, who (at least in times past, anyway) was set up to be the ONLY real “Biblical” source for help, since going to a mental health professional was taboo?  I don’t see why leading someone to “Biblical reality” has to be placed in some sort of artificial opposition to having a good working knowledge of mental disorders.  These things are simply NOT mutually exclusive.  Any professionally trained Biblical counselor would tell us that.]

[30] Um, Powlison says this, said this two years ago at the pastors’ conference:  “The Bible is an MRI that reveals the inner workings of our lives.  But to use that MRI for self-understanding apart from application results in an endless and ultimately pointless idol hunt.”  [Farmer interrupts the quote with:  That’s not what we’re after, we’re not – he said, I don’t know if you remember, if you were here, he said, “You can get to idols in a very short amount of time.”  That’s not where you spend your time.  You get there and then you move toward grace.]  [Kris says:  Good.  When will you tell these men how, specifically, to go about doing this?]

[31] [Continuing with the Powlison quote]  “If we leave people with the idea that they can’t move without understanding why they do what they do, they will never get beyond introspection to application.  [Farmer interrupts the quote again:  Truth is meant to be applied.]  Why does a human heart become so morbidly fascinated with itself?  The thorn bush [Farmer interjects:  He’s talking about the three trees] tends to stun us and captivate our attention.  The barren tree is in fact the least important tree, but it has the important role of point us to the other trees.  It is meant to create a revolutionary self-understanding.  Inward turning is a driving propensity of the heart.  [Farmer interjects:  Wants to turn in on itself]  The question of whether the looking bears good fruit is answered by whether or not the looking is occurring in light of the cross.” [end of Powlison quote] 

[32] And by implication, is the truth being applied for the purpose of change?  You’ll find people who love introspection.  Our job is to get them beyond introspection into application. 

[33] And finally, the sufficiency of grace.  So we – we’re pointing out in heart transformation the gravity of sin, the necessity of truth.  Truth changes, truth unlocks.  Um, er, was talking in the, uh, Steve Whittaker was talking in the, um, in the, uh, youth, ah, ministry session last – last time we were com – early this morning, about, we’ve gotta trust – Mullery says it, um, let’s let – let’s let the Word bear the weight.  Carry the load.  Let’s let the truth of God – let’s not trust our insights.  Let’s let the truth carry the load of change.  And we have to trust God, we trust God for people, that His grace is greater than sin.  Um.  Counseling success is not identifying idols, but helping people see afresh their need for Christ and His overwhelming provision to them in the Gospel.  Ed Welch says it like this:  “Maybe the question is not ‘what is the idol at work in this person,’ but ‘what is the word of Christ to this person right now?'” 

[34] OK.  Main thing you’re hearing from me is, idols are important because they are a picture of the cravings of the heart that oppose Christ.  Jesus Christ is focused on getting them to serve Him, to look to Him, to worship Him, not to become experts at how we worship false gods.  That’s for the History Channel.  What we’re looking for is change. 

[35] And then, six, Doing Biblical Change (Repentance and Faith). 

[36] I look at repentance and faith not as success.  I look at is as normal Christianity.  When someone is doing some measure of repentance and some measure of faith, I am seeing this as successful counseling.  [Kris says:  Note, here, how despite the wonderful words about grace back in paragraph 26, Mr. Farmer now reveals that SGM’s basic assumption is that anything that would lead someone into a counselor’s office is going to boil down to a sin from which they need to repent, or something for which they’re just not having enough faith.  To me, this is one of the most crucial points of this entire transcript.  Is it true that every issue that would cause someone to seek pastoral counseling can ultimately be boiled down to an issue of sin from which the person seeking the counsel needs to repent or something for which they need to have faith?] 

[37] Now, maybe they got massive problems still going on.  They’re not gonna be solved sitting in my office.  If somebody has moved from being stuck in their problems or pursuing unbiblical responses to true repentance and faith, they are now normal Christians, as Biblically defined.  The normal Christian turns toward Christ in faith with what is – with what he’s living in life.  And if you’re doing that, God can do – then all the other means of grace – and a lot of what I do, I find myself in counseling doing, is I’m – I then become one who is helping them align the various means of grace in their life.  So now where does accountability fit in?  Accountability a lot of times comes in way too early, before they’re really committed to repentance and faith.  Where does their – where – how do their spiritual disciplines work for them?  How does their fellowship work for them?  What is confession look like?  All those kind of things.  That’s what we’re after.  We’re not after problem resolution.  We’re after, “Is this someone in their life circumstances, no matter how difficult they are, finding joy in repentance and faith?  Then we have change.  Then we have done our work.  [Kris says:  Wow.  So in the end, leading people to an understanding of grace and Jesus is STILL ultimately all about what they must DO?  Every one of the supposed “means of grace” Mr. Farmer mentions is all about what a person must DO –  one must seek accountability, put forth effort and work to perform the spiritual disciplines (which I’m guessing involve Bible reading and prayer?), make effort to seek fellowship by being involved in a small group, and continually confess one’s sins and shortcomings.

Now, please note, I have no problem with any of those activities, and I’m not even going to necessarily argue with Mr. Farmer if he wants to call those things “means of grace.”  But in and of themselves, those actions simply ARE NOT GRACE.  They are WORKS.

Where is the good news of Jesus Himself, and what He has already done to procure our right standing before God?  Where is the comfort that comes from being reminded of how much God loves us?  Where is the actual GRACE?

I simply do not see it in this list of works.  It is so totally opposite from the very words of Jesus:  “Come to me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest.”]

[38] Putting off the old nature, putting on the new nature, renewing the mind, um great – great to see that in Ephesians 4.  Um. 

[39] Then, ah, just – just a caveat to that.  Pastoral considerations and doing Biblical change.  I’m not gonna dwell on these.  Um, but – let me just hit them briefly, they’re in your notes.  Um.  There are warrants we bring to this, there are things we can challenge people ineffectively on the basis of God’s Word.  There’s the warrant to the call for obedience.  No matter where someone is in their process, no matter what they are, whether they’re struggling emotionally, no matter what they’re struggling with theologically, the Bible still calls for obedience.  And because the Bible calls for obedience, we can call for obedience.  Brother, you know, I know you’re struggling with pornography, I know that you’re – you know, you feel like it’s a daily battle, um, let me make sure you understand, I’m sympathetic, I understand in some sense how difficult it is, this habit you’ve gotten into, but I want to make sure you understand that every time you do that, you sin.  That is sin, active intentional sin.  You can turn and obey cuz the Bible says turn and obey.  And so we never give people a path until they get enough courage to change.  You’ve left your wife?  You know what, I know you’re bitter, I know you’re angry, I know you’re this – you can go back to her today.  You can go do that today.  There’s nothing stopping you.  Um, so we – we hold out th – the – the Biblical requirement for obedience all the time.  We do it graciously, we recognize the trials, we don’t flippantly say, “Go do,” we recognize that comes with, you know… 

[40] But people are choosing their heat, the heat of indifference or rebellion against God, or the heat of picking up the cross and following God.  You’re simply choosing your heat.  [Kris says:  Not being familiar enough with SGMese, I have no idea what “choosing their heat” means.  I had to play this part of the tape multiple times before I concluded that Mr. Farmer was indeed even saying “heat.”  Maybe someone could enlighten me?]   So we have the responsibility to call people to obedience.  Because you’ll be surprised, people are largely ignorant of what obedience should look like.  [Kris says:  Are people REALLY that ignorant about what obedience looks like?  Really?  Or are they just ignorant of the ins and outs of SGM’s version of obedience?  

This is another of those statements that I find really troubling.  Let me explain why.

Mr. Farmer has already established that he mainly counsels other believers.   (After all, he said he won’t counsel anyone for long unless they demonstrate various qualities that he attributes to believers.)  It really sounds like Mr. Farmer has completely forgotten that these fellow believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who instructs their consciences and helps them to know right from wrong.  Therefore, if the “obedience” Mr. Farmer has in mind is true Biblical obedience, those Christians will have an understanding of what it is. 

To me, this statement reveals something of SGM’s sad presuppositions about the inferiority of the people seeking counsel.  That’s why it bothers me.] 

[41] So we never want to leave them – so even up front I’ll say, “You know what, I know you’re not gonna like me saying this right now, but you know what, I think obedience is gonna look like going back to your wife and saying, ‘I screwed up.  I’ve sinned against you.’  Confessing, humbling yourself.  I know you don’t wanna hear that right now, but when it’s all said and done, that’s where you’re gonna wind up.  It’s just a question of how we get there.  Um.  Because that’s what the Bible says.”

[Part 3 to follow.]

© 2009, Kris. All rights reserved.