What Is Biblical Counseling? A Brief Overview

What is biblical counseling?[1] Let me describe it by unpacking both key terms.

First, biblical counseling is counseling. It helps specific individuals, couples, or families in their specific situations to know Christ better and handle life in God-pleasing ways. It is conversational—interactive and person-specific in ways that go beyond public preaching or teaching. In this sense, it is simply personal ministry, the ministry by one person to another person. We might also simply call it discipleship, or intensive, remedial, or problem-oriented discipleship. More broadly, it is nothing short of true biblical friendship or “intentionally helpful conversations” (David Powlison), as pictured in passages like these:

  • Proverbs 20:5, The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.
  • Romans 15:14, I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
  • Galatians 6:1-2, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. . . . Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:15, Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
  • Colossians 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. . . .
  • James 5:19-20, My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

As a process of personal ministry, it shares with secular counseling approaches basic concerns about relational dynamics, interviewing, listening skills, personal warmth and care, empathy, confidentiality, etc. But it does not necessarily share their limitations of clinical detachment, dual relationship avoidance, state-licensure, and other professional trappings (even when biblical counseling is done by specially trained professionals). While biblical counseling is the task of pastors, it is also the domain of all of God’s people—wise parents, spouses, roommates, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in your church.

Second, biblical counseling is biblical. Its truth source is God’s inerrant, inspired Word, and its focus is on the central theme of the Bible, namely, Jesus Christ and his life-changing, redeeming work for us and in us. In that sense, biblical counseling is Christ-centered. [2] In true biblical counseling the Bible is more than a grid, filter, or standard (all passive images); the Bible actively drives both our counseling theory and practice. The concepts and methods are not merely consistent with or proof-texted from the Bible; they emerge from the Bible itself as we interpret Scripture accurately and apply it wisely. We build our counseling on a biblical view of such key matters as these:

  • The triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and his character, ways, commands, and promises
  • People and their problems, including their beliefs and motives as well as their behavior
  • How people change and God’s provisions for such change in the gospel
  • The centrality of the church and of God’s equipped leaders and members in the change process

At least four convictions underlie the practice of biblical counseling:

1) We present the Lord Jesus Christ—the crucified, risen, reigning, and returning Savior—who through his Word and his Spirit can help us handle our personal and relational problems. Jesus alone provides the forgiving mercy (through his saving death and resurrection), the practical wisdom (in Scripture), and the enabling power (through his Spirit) that we need to know and please God in our daily living. Biblical counseling is eminently Christ-focused and Christ-driven, exalting the Christ of the Bible.

2) We use the Bible as our God-given tool to diagnose, explain, and solve people’s problems. As God’s Word, the Bible alone provides true, authoritative, and sufficient wisdom for every life situation, bringing people renewal, wisdom, joy, and light (Psalm 19:7–8). It is richly superior to all human wisdom and competing systems of secular and Christian integrationist counseling, while also enabling us to reframe valid insights that might come from medical or social science research.

3) We reflect the love, concern, and compassion of Jesus our Shepherd and Counselor. Biblical counseling is a caring process of Christlike love for struggling sheep. Qualities like compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience mark our ministry of God’s Word.

4) We address both the outward and the inward aspects of our problems to bring thorough and lasting godly change. Biblical counseling is not shallow, superficial, or simplistic. Scripture alone uncovers and solves our heart (beliefs and motives) and behavior (words and actions) struggles.

In one sense, biblical counseling is simply the intentional, consistent application of orthodox evangelical Christian truth—the gospel—to the realm of personal ministry and human problems. Whether the recipients are unbelievers who need to know Christ initially or believers who need to know Christ increasingly, a biblical counselor enter a person’s world, understand that person’s felt and true needs, and brings him Christ in wise, caring ways.

In our day we are witnessing a growing literature of books and articles that reflect the theory and practice of biblical counseling. A useful starter volume is Psychology & Christianity: Five Views (IVP, 2010), in which David Powlison presents the Biblical Counseling position in contrast to competing views. Powlison also edits the Journal of Biblical Counseling (www.ccef.org) and has assembled two collections of his essays in Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture and Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community. Popular books by Paul David Tripp [3] , Ed Welch[4] , and others[5] show how the Bible speaks profoundly to the complexity of human problems.

Institutionally, we see an increasing number of churches of all sizes biblically counseling their own members and also reaching their communities this way. We can look at biblical counseling seminaries like mine (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, www.sbts.edu), plus networking, training, or certifying organizations like the Biblical Counseling Coalition (www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org), the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (www.ccef.org) and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (www.biblicalcounseling.com).

It is an exciting day for biblical counselors. As other evangelical Christians come to see the bankruptcy of integrating the pure wisdom of God’s life-changing Word with other human notions, we are finding a new openness among God’s people to the power of Scripture to speak richly and robustly to our human struggles.


[1] As a founding Council Board member, I recommend the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement (https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/confessional-statement/) as a summative definition of biblical counseling.

[2] Unfortunately, some people use the adjective “Christian” to denote counseling approaches that are not truly Christian (thus, not biblical) in their understanding of Christ and his person, work, teaching, etc.

[3] Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide for Parenting Teenagers; War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles; Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change; Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God; How People Change (with Timothy Lane); and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (with Timothy Lane).

[4] Blame It on the Brain? Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience; When People Are Big and God Is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man; Addictions – A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel; Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; Shame Interrupted; and Side by Side.

[5] I have sought to do so in my Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem and Pursuing Peace in All Your Relationships books and my other published mini-books and articles. See the below Biblical Counseling Coalition, CCEF, and ACBC websites for other recommended books, conferences, training, etc. The Biblical Counseling Coalition board members have produced three multi-author volumes to which I have contributed chapters: Christ-centered Biblical Counseling; Scripture and Counseling; and Biblical Counseling and the Church.


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