A Life of Reading: A Christian Perspective

Introduction

My pastor today made a point about how Christians should surround themselves with good books. I couldn’t agree more. Since my early twenties back in my college days, I have developed somewhat the good habit of reading. I say somewhat because one, I could read much more than I do. Two, I’ve fallen on the bad habit at times of reading works that I wish I hadn’t wasted my time pursuing.

This is the fourth of a series of articles in which I explore working as a counselor who holds a Christian worldview. In the first two articles I explored what a Christian worldview entails. In the third article, I discussed my preference for working with Christian clients although I work with clients who hold a variety of worldviews.

I end this series addressing a life of reading, and why I think it is important for Christians to be avid and good readers. With that in mind, I also offer a list of books I’ve read, mostly written by Christians that I think other believers might find useful in developing their thoughts about how we engage this world and what it throws at us everyday. Anytime we discuss reading various authors, it is important to note that our first attention must aim at reading God’s Word, the Scriptures, everyday. The Bible becomes our standard to which we measure and compare anything else we read and study.

Christians as Avid Readers and Thinkers

Why? Why should Christians become energetic readers and thinkers? Do not the Scriptures warn us not to succumb to the philosophies of the world? Did not the Apostle Paul claim that knowledge puffs up? Does not the Word of God challenge us that although we are in the world, we are not to be part of the world? The short answer to all these questions is yes. It is for this reason, however, that I believe it is important that believers become avid students and critical thinkers regarding the worldviews that surround them and can so easily capture them if they are not careful.

The Technological Age

As Christians we live in a world inundated by social media. We are all engaged on a daily basis not only with television, but also the Internet, alternative podcasts, and various websites that proffer readers and listeners to consider. We are surrounded by what is touted as Information Age. How are Christians to navigate the flowing rivers of information with which they face everyday?

I believe it is important that we engage this age of excess information with a well-honed critical eye. We take in information nearly every hour of everyday, whether or not we realize it. We surf the Web. We listen to various podcast lectures. We view a plethora of YouTube channels that flood us with a variety of worldviews, opinions, and sales pitches, touching on anything from for whom we should vote, what we should value, how we should spend our time, or what we should purchase. Our minds are constantly assaulted by the tons of airwave information bytes that flood over us like ocean waves.

Jesus Christ answered a young man’s question regarding what is the greatest commandment claiming we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul. Note in that statement, all our mind. God created our mind. We are supposed to use to his glory. That means we are supposed to use it in the best way we possibly can, not wasting it on things that are unimportant. A well-honed mind is a critical mind, meaning we should develop the ability to weigh things and discern rightly about them.

I would not make this a legalistic rule, but I personally believe that the less time we spend on social media and television, the better. Turn off the television, shut down the computer, and open a good book. Good books are ones that are going to make us think about how we should live in this fallen world, as Christians believe it to be. Well written essays, treatises, and other forms of non-fiction should lead us to reflect upon our worldviews, beliefs, and values. Simultaneously, we bring to those works our thoughts and beliefs that we have already worked out as Christians to see how an author’s thought aligns or misaligns with what we believe spiritually. This is not to say that the only works we should read are ones with which we are fairly certain that we already agree. For sure, take on challenging works, never forgetting who is our foundation. We should engage the thought of the day, while making sure of our principles so that we can face the ideas that might counter what we believe.

Sharpening our minds begins, I believe, by drastically reducing the time we spend on social media.

Centuries of Works at Our Fingertips

One of the things the Information Age has going for it is the cataloguing of works that have been written over several centuries. As believers in Christ, we have the early Church Fathers who wrote theological treatises, early Church histories, and Christian devotionals, all of which we can engage for our personal edification. We can read about how early Christian churches developed their ideas around the great creeds. We can plumb the histories regarding how early Christians dealt with heresies, theological error, and outright false teachings. We can learn about saints from early Church history and how they dealt with persecution and attacks due to their faith. We can study the philosophical battles that Church practitioners had to face across the centuries. We have a plethora of works we can read and study, beginning right after the time of Christ, moving on into the Middle Ages, and into our modern era regarding the history of the Church, doctrine, and specific individuals that have impacted our faith in various ways.

We have no excuses when it comes to what is available for us to ready and study. The issue becomes is what and how we prioritize our time.

Where We Spend Our Time

When it comes to the specific works we read, we will get various opinions from the many solid believers out there as to what should be the focus of our time and study. If I wanted, I could create another series of articles about all the things we could read that would edify us as believers, including works that would challenge us in many ways.

Instead what I will do is simply list some authors that I think any believer will find helpful in the development of his or her faith. In so doing, I am just dipping a toe in water that contains fathoms more that I could discuss.

The Early Church Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers could keep one busy for some time to come. One couldn’t do much better than picking up some works by Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, or Origen of Alexandria. All of these authors contribute a Mother Lode to the history of the Church. The one early writer that one does not want to miss, however, is Augustine of Hippo, who authored The City of God, and Confessions. Augustine is foundational to what would eventually take place in the Reformation, and saints of Christ still read his works to this day. There are numerous others besides these that one can explore.

Reformation Writers

When it comes to the Protestant Reformation, believers for sure want to engage the writings of both Martin Luther and John Calvin. I know of a set that comprises fifty-five volumes of Martin Luther’s works alone. Don’t let this fact overwhelm you. The editors of these Luther’s massive works are Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. Anyone interested in reading some of Luther’s works can access this collection and choose the particular works one would like to read and study. His Freedom of the Christian is an excellent short work to read and a good solid beginning regarding his thought.

When it comes to John Calvin, the work in which to delve is his Institutes of the Christian Religion. One can find this work in a two-volume set, edited by John T. McNeill and published by Westminster Press. The Institutes is basically Calvin’s systematic theology, covering major theological subjects that are important to believers who want to be on sound footing regarding their theology.

Modern Writers

The theological treatises of the Early Church Fathers and the Reformation Fathers represent some intense reading indeed. I encourage any believer, however, not to shy away from delving into those works. You can glean from them if you put in the effort and time.

Works that reach back to the more modern era, say from the 17th to the present century are also available for our edification. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield come to mind. Hodge’s Systematic Theology is a wonderful work to study regarding Reformed theology.

When it comes to the 20th century, personally, I would begin with writers such as Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and C. S. Lewis. Both Schaffer’s and Lewis’ works can now be obtained in Collected Works sets. They are worth owning, and readers can survey them in terms of what they want to read. Both Schaffer and Lewis shaped my thinking as a young believer, helping me understand that being a Christian is a thinking individual’s life. We don’t turn off our mind when we become Christians. Lewis’s fictional works too are fun to read.

James Sire is a Christian author who for most of his life has written for Intervarsity Press (IVP). As a Christian thinker he explores philosophical avenues that deal with various worldviews. His work The Universe Next Door was instrumental in shaping my thinking about worldviews and how to think about and critiques various philosophical frameworks to which people might hold and try to live out. Another work by Sire, Habits of the Mind, impacted my thinking heavily, especially as a believer who is interested in the place of scholarship in the Christian life. I have probably read just about everything Sire has written, so I highly recommend him for any believer who is interested in how we fulfill the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God with all our mind.

Os Guinness is another IVP writer who has branched out over the years who I highly recommend as well. His early work, The Dust of Death, is one I strongly suggest, even though it surveys the decade of the tumultuous 1960’s. I don’t think it’s dated, and it can be critically studied to think about what is happening today in our postmodern era. A work by Guinness that I passionately recommend is his book The Call. In this book, Guinness discusses how we come to understand our calling before God. It is not a work that sets out to answer specific questions, such as what my career should be as a Christian. It provides a framework, however, for us as believers to think and pray about such questions along with a host of other questions we may want to explore regarding our lives.

There are so many others I could list, but this short blog article cannot possibly cover them all. Garry Friesen, Mark A. Noll, John Lennox, Gene Edward Veith all come to mind. Readers can easily build a reading list, drawing from James Sire’s bibliography from his work, Habits of the Mind.

Conclusion

The main issue, believer, is that you should challenge yourself to read deeply, study thoroughly, and use your mind to God’s glory. This will look different for each believer, but the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our mind, is not a relative one. It is not one to be shirked.

For those believers, like myself, who are therapists, it is important that we engage our clients, particularly Christian clients, on a deep level that helps them build their Biblical knowledge, their theological study, and their personal relationship with God so as to navigate a postmodern world that is anything but friendly to a Christian worldview.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/September 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Counseling Christian Clients

Introduction

The last two articles on this blog focused on my worldview as a Christian, and how that worldview informs my work as a counselor. In this third article, I look at why I prefer to work with clients who are Christian. Although I enjoy working with anyone, helping individuals from all walks of life work through any concerns they may have, working with someone who holds the same or a similar worldview is highly satisfying work.

A Christian client and I stand on common ground when it comes to major core beliefs about life. We have a common view regarding morality and what is right and wrong, or good and evil. We have a common foundation as to who God is and what our need for a Savior entails. We have a common experience of the fact that we cannot set our lives right via our own will and power. Indeed, apart from Christ, we lack any power to change in ways that we would otherwise prefer. A Christian client and I will speak a common language. We have a common source for our understanding of God and his Son, which is Biblical Scripture. We share the necessity we have for prayer. Different and antithetical worldviews collide and in some cases do not mesh at all. Working with believers in Christ proves to be work that can be highly gratifying because a common worldview provides us with an approach to life that gives meaning to the struggles we face.

What are some of the struggles that Christians might bring into the counseling room?

Problems That Christian Clients Encounter

So what can a Christian client expect when he or she enters my office? One of the first things that I hope Christian clients experience is that they are stepping onto ground that is safe. Their Christian beliefs are not only welcomed in my counseling office, but they should know my office as a place where their faith in Christ can become front and center for our work. Unfortunately, many people hold Christianity and therapy to be antithetical. In many cases, no doubt the counseling field has placed itself at odds with a Judeo-Christian worldview. In my office, one’s Christian worldview and faith will form the foundation for our work together.

Struggling with Their Faith

For whatever reasons, right or wrong, some believers in Christ find it difficult to voice their doubts and struggles with their faith to other believers who make up their local church. My counseling office is a place where they can bring the doubts they might hold and open them up for exploration. Perhaps they have encountered some difficult times that have led them to question what they believe about God. Such doubts and questioning is not something to squelch, but an experience to explore so that things can be cleared up. As believers in Christ, we are children of God, members of the household, who can approach God as Abba Father, and enter into his rest (Hebrews 4:1).

Typically the fears and doubts a believer in Christ experiences are based on wrong information and understanding about God. I have a jaded past. Has God really forgiven me? The work we do can be about getting a right understanding of God and on what and whom forgiveness is based. A person who doubts whether or not God has forgiven him commonly is looking to himself to garner God’s forgiveness rather than God’s forgiveness standing on whom one believes. Our forgiveness is not based on what we do to get at God’s grace. It is based on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This passage indicates that if God doesn’t forgive those of us who confess their sins as believers in Christ, he would be unfaithful and unrighteous. This is a rock bottom foundational truth because forgiveness is not based on us but on Jesus Christ. Many believers have a difficult time embracing the richness of God’s love and grace that awaits those who have placed their faith in his Son. It is something we must step into and hold onto because it’s easy to want to earn something before God.

Hurtful acts toward others in the past prove to be a common weight that believers in Christ carry on their shoulders. Again the richness of God’s grace is something to which we cling in faith. There are also truths about life that God has built into existence. Although God readily forgives those who are in Christ, other people might not be so forgiving. We simply may have to live with the fact that our actions have an impact on others in ways that we may not ever in this lifetime experience their forgiveness. The question becomes whether or not we value God’s grace more than what others may think and feel about us. We can ask them to forgive us. Whether or not they do is up to them, not up to us. What we do know is that God has forgiven us.

The world today holds an antagonistic view toward our faith in Christ. Christianity and the world do not mix. We are told this in Scripture over and over. We are in the world, but we are not to be of the world (John 17). Sometimes Christians have to face how difficult and tough it is to live out their faith in a world that is an enemy of Christ. Some clients will enter the counseling room because they have found that they lack the courage at times to live as God would want them to live. The heaviest pressure that anyone faces, believer or otherwise, is the call to conform to other’s beliefs rather than our own. Simply put in many cases, we liked to be liked. We want people to accept us. Nothing feels worse than rejection from others. Christ knows what that rejection feels like. He came to his own and those who were his own did not receive him (John 1:11). There is neither a temptation nor a pain that we face that Jesus Christ did not face. We have God’s promise that he will give us the courage, and even the words to say, when we face the antagonisms of the world. When we do fall short in that battle, God’s forgiveness is still there. The battle is not easy at all; but we have the panoply (Ephesians 6:11) to carry it out.

Living Out Our Christian Faith

From my perspective, some of the most satisfying work as a counselor is helping clients tap into their local churches so as to jump start their sanctification. How does a believer grow in his or her faith? Although therapists and clients can touch on the beginnings of this process in the counseling room, sanctification must take shape via one’s relationship to God and the body of Christ. The counseling room can never replace the fellowship that believers need with other believers. Nor was it intended to do so. I inform my believing clients that if they are not plugged into a solid Bible-believing local church, their struggles will continue to weigh them down.

It is equally true that unless believers find time for prayer, their struggles will continue to come at them in ways they don’t understand. We have the right to approach God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We have the greatest gift of all in Christ to be considered children of God. That means we can talk to him, which is exactly what prayer is. Just as the counseling room is not meant to replace a local church, neither is it meant to replace one’s relationship to God as Father and the power of prayer that comes with that relationship. God gives us promises regarding prayers we place before him, promises that we need to understand on levels that come only in time of relating to him. It is easy to think of prayer as simply our wanting God to give us things to make us happy in the moment. I fall into that trap time and time again. Prayer, however, carries with it the power of knowing God on a deep level, which simply put, takes time. Although forgiveness is always there, and God is ready to take us places no matter what, we have to realize that if we’re not careful, we can waste the valuable resource of time that we can spend with God. Hours go by in flashes that turn into days that turn into years that turn into a lifetime. Don’t let the reality of being allowed to know God slip away.

The counseling office is not a replacement for fellowship with other believers within a local church. No form of therapy is a replacement for prayer and knowing God. Additionally, counseling though it can help us gain insight into our selves and struggles that we face, it is not a replacement for our study of the Word or God, or Scripture. In addition to prayer, one of the ways we come to know God and his will for our lives is through his Word. Just as I tell believing clients about the necessity of church as the Body of Christ and prayer, I also tell them that if they are not reading and studying the Word of God, their struggles will continue to kick them in the rear. It is interesting and fulfilling work in counseling to help a believer develop some understanding of how to read and study God’s word. However, such work only begins in the counseling room. It must be developed in a local church setting with other believers who are trained to teach others how to study God’s Word.

These three truths help ground our faith into an ever growing and strengthening foundation: the Body of Christ, prayer, and Scripture. They are the foundation to how we should live out our Christian faith. I firmly believe that many of the doubts and struggles that Christian clients bring into the counseling room stem from their lacking in or neglect of these three areas.

The Upper and Lower Stories

One of my favorite Christian authors to read is Francis Schaeffer. He penned several works that I like to review at different times. One in particular always hits home for me, How Should We Then Live? (In The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 5, Crossway Books, 1982) In this work and others, Schaeffer described some faulty Christian thinking that he calls living in two stories. What many Christians tend to do is think of their Christian lives in some kind of upper spiritual story, while other aspects of their lives, e.g. finances, work, family, etc., are experienced in some kind of earthy lower story. Such upper/lower story divisions lead Christians to separate their spiritual beliefs from what some might call real-world beliefs, as though the two have no connection whatsoever. The upper and lower story division is a false one, and it can lead Christians into some dynamics that weigh them down.

God’s Calling

All Christians are gifted and called to do various forms of work and labor in this life. The upper/lower story division tends to place those who are in what is considered full time Christian work on a pedestal. Obviously, we think, pastors, evangelists, and other full-time Christian ministers are doing more important work than the rest of us. But think about for a second. Perhaps it’s easy to think that way about bankers, accountants, business owners, and those that do similar work of service. But would we think that way about doctors, surgeons, airplane pilots, and engineers who build things?

Many times Christians enter counseling because they think that what they’re interested and skilled in doing is not important to God. They truly, perhaps secretly, don’t have an iota of interest or desire to enter seminary, do full-time evangelism, or become a pastor. For various reasons, they may desire to talk to a counselor because they feel guilty about the kind of work they want to do. I enjoy working with Christian clients who need to explore these thoughts. I like having the upper/lower story conversation with them. God has gifted us all to do and enjoy certain types of work, whether that entails pursuing the pastorate, becoming a teacher, working in a medical field, or training for certain types of business endeavors. Would anyone truly believe that a local church doesn’t need an accountant? The body of Christ should not disparage any of these fields of endeavor. The important task for all of us is to make sure of our calling before God, and then pursue that calling. As a believer in Christ, you should feel no guilt because you do not want to work in some full time ministerial capacity. Simultaneously, regardless of how we make a living, all believers are priests, and we’re called to serve the body of Christ in some capacity. Serving God can take place through any type of work we do, regardless of what it is.

As believers in Christ, we are also to pursue what Scripture calls the spiritual gifts. We utilize these gifts to serve the body of Christ. It is important to remember that we are all members of the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean we all do the same thing and serve the same way. Analogous to the physical body, Paul claims that the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of you (I Corinthians 12:21). Every member of the body of Christ has a place in the church. It is not the same place as all other believers. Other forms of work I enjoy doing with Christian clients is exploring how they might fit into the body of Christ. It is important, however, for them to do this work in relation to their local church as well.

There are a lot of traps that believers can fall into when trying to decide what God has called them to do. It is not the purpose of this particular blog article to delve into that topic. It is, however, an important topic that believers need to explore. Such work is fulfilling work for me when I can help other believers work through these concerns.

Relationships

As believers in Christ, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ are of the utmost importance. Although I’m not a pre-marital or marriage counselor, I can help individuals work through their concerns with various kinds of interpersonal relationships. I firmly believe that our understanding of how our relationships to others should work begins with our relationship with Triune God. If we are not developing our relationship with Christ who allows us to approach the throne of grace before the Father, then our interpersonal relationships can and will suffer.

As I stated above, forgiveness of and from others is one the main sources of personal pain we may suffer. Consequently, I work with believers to focus on what forgiveness means, and how it serves us. Others may withhold their forgiveness of us, but it is key to our wellbeing that we learn to forgive others, whether or not that leads to a restoration of friendships.

The ultimate foundation on which we all stand is grace. We must learn to develop and apply that notion to every area of our lives, including how we relate to others.

Conclusion

Sometimes believers can find it difficult to talk with others in their church about any concerns they are trying to navigate. The counseling room is a safe place where Christians can explore such navigations. My aim is not that counseling replace what they should find in the body of Christ. Instead I want to support what the body of Christ offers all its members. Working with other Christians who face the difficulties that life can and will throw at us is fulfilling work. I hope that any believer in Christ can enter my office and find the grace, safety, and encouragement to take on whatever challenges that life offers. 

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D, LPC-S/August 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Part II: A Christian Worldview Encounters the Counseling Profession

Introduction

This month’s blog article continues with the second part of a four-part series I am writing about how our worldview informs the way we work as counselors. In this series I explore worldview from a Christian perspective.

On last month’s blog post, I opened this series discussing James Sire’s definition of a worldview from his book, The Universe Next Door. I broke down the various components of his definition, and then highlighted how our worldview enters the counseling room, whether or not we are aware of its presence. Sire writes from an evangelical Christian perspective with which I’m in alignment. I practice my faith from a Reformed theological perspective. We should be aware of how our worldview shapes everything we approach in life. Moreover, as counselors, we do not check our worldview at the door as though we can detach ourselves from it or operate without it.

On this month’s blog I continue to explore what a worldview comprises, again drawing on Sire’s work, which he calls a catalogue of different worldviews. Sire proposes that a worldview, as he defines it, should answer seven foundational questions. I will discuss each question, and how he answers each one from a Christian theistic worldview, and how those answers might shape my counseling practice.

Sire’s 7 Questions

Let’s review James Sire’s definition of worldview:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which my be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. [p. 17]

Building on his definition, Sire believes that a worldview should seek to answer seven basic questions, answers to which should provide a foundational understanding for why and how we live the way we do.

The seven questions are:

1) What is prime reality – the really real?

2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

3) What is a human being?

4) What happens to a person at death?

5) Why is it possible to know anything at all?

6) How do we know what is right and wrong?

7) What is the meaning of human history?

Delineated as such, these seven questions are indeed mind-boggling. They are questions that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with for millennia. My responses here will necessarily be short, but in being so I don’t mean to trivialize the questions with over simplifications. My best response to the far-reaching effects of how we seek to answer these questions is to say simply, read Sire’s book.

Prime Reality

Sire explores various worldviews and how they might answer each of these questions.  I am drawing on his chapter where he examines the worldview of Christian theism. The answer to the first question regarding prime reality sets the boundaries for how we will answer the other six questions. Given this question’s foundational nature, I will explore Sire’s discussion of this question more in depth, and build on it to discuss the other six questions.

A Christian worldview can be understood in terms of basic Christian theism, or what is also called a theistic worldview, or simply theism. In response to the first question, prime reality is found in the nature of God. Sire states it in the following manner: God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good (p. 26). From a Christian theistic perspective, God is the only self-existent being. He is like no other. He is I Am That I Am.

God is personal, not some intangible force in the universe. He is someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession – personality (p. 27). As a personal God, believers in Christ can relate to him on a personal level. Hence, I can pray to him, ask him for guidance, comfort, healing, and forgiveness. I can also petition him to guide, comfort, heal, and forgive others.

God’s communal nature is seen in that he is triune, personal but comprising the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence God is personal and communal, so we can relate to him in a personal way. When a Christian says he knows God, such a statement is not merely about God’s existence, but the believer knows God on a personal level, as our own father.

God is not merely a part of the world, like pantheism, but he is transcendent, beyond our world. Hence he is otherly. He is separate from us and his creation. Simultaneously, he is immanent, meaning he is present, with us, and with us now. Immanence doesn’t mean that God is in a rock or a tree as pantheism or primitivism might understand it. His presence is with us constantly in a way that we can depend on and rest in it. God actually holds the world together through his Son, Jesus Christ.

God is omniscient, sovereign, and good. For the Christian, this means we can rely on God’s sovereignty, even in, and especially in, situations where we don’t have a clue as to how and where our lives might be heading. This is the rest that Christians can find in a personal God who not only knows and controls all things, but who also is good, having our well being in hand. His goodness means that there is an absolute standard of what is right and wrong. It also means that human beings have hope in a world that at times may appear and feel chaotic, dangerous, and hopeless.

When we think of what is real and important to us, experiences such as love, friendship, joy, pain, dreams, aspiration, and a meaningful life, such experiences are of prime important to us because God exists as a personal, infinite, and loving God. These are not merely concepts. They are real.

External Reality

Given God’s omnipotent and omniscient nature, external reality, or what we call the universe or cosmos, is God’s ex nihilo creation, created to operate with uniformity of cause and effect in an open system.

External reality is there. It’s not a creation of human beings’ minds. We bump up against it. If you don’t buy that, then try closing your eyes and walking around your home for a few minutes. The old adage that toes exist to find things we didn’t know were there is a stark reminder to the fact that we do not create external reality as many subjectivists and radical postmodernists believe. The beauty of God’s creation can be observed, explored, studied, and learned in exquisite detail. God’s creation is not programmed, but open. God’s constantly involved in its operation. And so are we human beings. We can alter it for the good or the bad. Hence, we are stewards of its care. I reflect on the times I’ve driven to Colorado or Glacier National Park in Montana and the breathtaking beauty that unfolds right before one’s eyes. David’s Psalm 19 addresses how the heavens declare the glory of God.

Human Beings

The epithet Imago Dei explains the relationship of all human beings to the Creator God. Not only did he create the external universe, but also he created human beings in his image. Hence, the Image of God is stamped on our being. We are personal because God is personal. We are self-conscious because God is self-conscious. We act according to our own character as God created us to be. We are like God in a limited sense. We each possess a unique character and we can choose to act. We are not God’s robots. In as much as we are created in the image of God, we therefore have intrinsic value. Our lives hold sanctity. Hence we possess a unique personality, we aspire to self-transcendent values, and we are intelligent in that we are capable of reason, knowledge, and wisdom.

Life and Death

We are also fallen human beings. The Christian theistic message is one not welcomed so much in our culture today when it speaks to life and death. Naturalism teaches that death is a normal process in the life and death cycle. Christian theism teaches that physical death is abnormal, contrary to God’s purpose for us. It was not meant to be. The Fall brought death to humankind. Hence, death is a portal, either to a life with God, or a life separate from God. I get how difficult it is to embrace this notion. Sire quotes G. K. Chesterton as stating death is a monument to human freedom (p. 40). He didn’t mean that in a disparaging sense. It means that our decisions have eternal significance. People must answer individually whether or not they accept this Christian claim.

Knowledge

Sire states, the foundation of human knowledge is the character of God as Creator (p. 34). Because we are made in his image, we can know, reason, and pursue wisdom. To put it more succinctly, God created our minds. Hence he takes an active role in communicating with us via two channels, the natural universe or general revelation and through his Word or Scripture, special revelation. Human beings can explore, study, and come to know the external world around them, and they can come to know God himself. God’s omniscient knowledge is the foundation for our knowledge and intelligence. Because God is both Creator and personal, we can know him personally and what he created. Indeed he granted and gifted us with the stewardship we have over God’s creation. Christ addressing the Old Testament stated that the greatest commandment is You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). Hence, your mind matters, as John Stott’s pamphlet of the same title states. We were given a mind and we should not let it go to waste.

Good and Evil

From the perspective of Christian theism, human beings were created good, but through the Fall, the Imago Dei within us became defaced. Looking across cultures and societies, human beings for millennial have codified rules of law. Our nature as human beings leads us to search out ethics, morality, and an understanding of good and evil. The ultimate reason, however, for any understanding of right and wrong, is grounded in the nature of God himself. Moreover, we are not left alone in the Fall. God has provided redemption through the work of Christ. To get a clear picture of what is good, we look to Christ for that understanding. We listen to his words and we see his actions. Sire states, ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good, holy, and loving (p. 41). Everyone lives according to some moral code, whether one realizes it or not. Theism says to us that there is an absolute standard for right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus Christ is the fullest embodiment of the good. He is the complete man, both man and God. We live in a postmodern world where the idea of an absolute moral standard is no longer acceptable. The problem comes when one tries to live consistently with the notion everything is relative. When evil comes people’s way, they tend to suddenly want what is right.

History

From a theistic perspective, history is linear. It is heading someplace. Sire states it this way: Human history can be summed up in four words – creation, Fall, redemption, and glorification (p. 37). Christian theism does not see history as cyclical, reversible, repeatable, and it is for sure not meaningless. In this sense, history is a form of revelation, especially when one looks at the history of the Jewish people and the history of the church. History is heading somewhere, the Kingdom of God. History is meaningful as seen in the Divine Logos, Jesus Christ. As a Christian this means even though I cannot know nor see the beginning from the end, I can rest in God’s sovereign and providential control. We’re not merely floating around in the river of history heading into nowhere. Because history has a direction and is meaningful, we can also live meaningful lives.  

Necessarily I had to give short space to these seven challenging but substantive questions. Again, one should read Sire to get at his fullest exposition of a Christian Theistic worldview. The question becomes now, what does this mean for the counselor who, like myself, is a Christian.

Christian Theism in the Counseling Room

I want to reiterate something I said on last month’s blog. I do not believe that anyone can check their worldview at the office door before sitting down with clients in the counseling room. In fact, it is incumbent upon all of us, counseling professional or otherwise, to become aware of the worldview we hold. Then we can ascertain whether it truly informs the way we live. Not only is it impossible to set aside or worldview, but also I don’t believe it’s ethical to try to do so. Neutrality refers to the absence of coercion, not the suspension of one’s beliefs. I stated last month that I do not seek to proselytize clients to my worldview. I want to meet them at the edge of their worldview the best I can do that. In that sense, counseling involves the coming together, and possibly clash of different worldviews.

My worldview does mean that I seek to take a certain stance toward my clients. Clients who enter the counseling room are seeking help. Many times they are hurting, both psychologically, and what I believe to be spiritually. Life may be swallowing them up in various ways. They come to me hoping that I can understand what they’re going through and how their experiences impact them. From a Christian perspective, I want to treat my clients as I want to be treated if I sought counseling. I want to empathize, hold a space for them with compassion, and be a solid ground for them from which they can navigate difficulties that life has thrown at them. I see them as human beings stamped with the Imago Dei; therefore, they deserve respect, dignity, and all the support that by God’s grace I can muster. I realize that they face the difficulties they do because they live in a fallen world that can bring pain into their lives. Their struggles are real, can be hard hitting, and indeed may be tearing at them inwardly. They seek counseling to find a way to make things clear, to embrace some form of knowledge and understanding that can guide them to what they hope is a better, more fulfilling, and meaningful life. Like all human beings, they are finite in their resources, capacities, and abilities to deal with the vagaries that life throws at them. Like all of us, they are finite, their choices lead to consequences, and their timeline has an end. As a Christian, I want to provide that space for them where they can enter and find the grace they need to face whatever life throws at them.

As a Christian I hold that as finite human beings we are armed with an incomplete panoply to deal with life’s difficulties without the Spirit of God and the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. This is a truth that I fall back on, nonetheless, not seeking to proselytize any clients. I do, however, welcome any questions that clients may want to ask of me regarding my faith. I indeed hope they do so, and I relish the opportunity to have a discussion with them regarding my beliefs in Jesus Christ. Because the culture at large has a tainted view of Christianity, many times such discussions may be about what Christianity is and what it is not.

As I’ve described it here, Christian theism shapes who I am in the counseling room. My hope is that in my work, God is glorified in someway. My worldview comprises my personal beliefs in Jesus Christ and it enters the counseling room with me.

I would have it no other way, nor should anybody else.

Conclusion

As I stated on the last blog, the work I really enjoy doing entails working with those clients who hold the same worldview as mine. Next month’s blog article, the third of four blog posts in this series, will explore what Christian clients should expect if they want to engage a counseling relationship with me.

Until then.

References

Sire, J.W. (2004). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.(Originally published in 1973). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Stott, J. R. (1972). Your Mind Matters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph. D., LPC-S/July 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW

Part I: A Christian Worldview Encounters the Counseling Profession

Introduction

Bringing my thoughts together about Christian counseling is no easy task; nor should it be. Of course, some of the obvious questions include: How does Christian counseling differ from any other type of professional counseling? Do Christian counselors work with clients only within the faith? If Christian counselors work with those outside of the faith, do counselors seek to proselytize their clients? What happens in the counseling room with Christian counselors?

What I’ve said here is simply a short introduction to the fact that over the next few blogs here at Contemplations, I’m going to explore what it means to work as a counselor who lives, walks in, and strives to align with a Christian worldview. What does it mean and not mean for me as a professional counselor? What does it mean and not mean for the clients who seek me out to work with me? I have laid out a plan for a series of four articles through which I will explore and present my thoughts on the topic of working as a counselor who holds an Orthodox and Reformed Christian worldview. Since this is a monthly blog, there is no telling what will change in four months, so my plans here may go the way of those so-called best laid plans that hopefully are flexible but not loosey-goosey, solidly structured but not rigid. And then again, I may decide one month to write about something totally different. After all, it is my blog.

The first and second blog articles explore the notion of worldview and why I work the way I do. The third article in this series will address working specifically with Christian clients. The fourth and concluding blog on this topic will explore various books by Christian authors I’ve read that other Christians might find helpful as they search out how to live out their faith in today’s tumultuous world.

A Christian in the Counseling Field

I have sought to conceptualize how I work and how I see my work in various ways over the years. I have tried to answer such questions as those above, as well as others. For example, do I call myself a Christian counselor? Or am I a counselor who happens to be a Christian? Or am I a Christian who happens to be a counselor?

For me, I have finally landed on the latter conceptualization. My life as a Christian includes my professional life as a counselor, not vice versa. This framework for thinking, or what I call my worldview, allows me to understand both my approach to living as well as the professional role I embody. My worldview without contradiction enables me to work with both believers and those who do not embrace the faith. What it does not mean, however, is that at one time I put on my Christian counseling hat, while at other times, I conveniently take off that hat for those who do not embrace Christianity as their faith. No, I don’t seek to proselytize clients who are not Christians; however, I’m sure not adverse to the possibility that such clients might want to discuss with me what I believe and why, thereby exploring the faith for themselves.

There is no Christian counselor hat anymore than there is simply a Christian hat that I put on and take off as it suits me or fits the people with whom I work. I have and seek to live by my worldview that I cannot help but, and purposely will, bring into the counseling room. I don’t check my worldview and values at the entrance to the building where my office is located. As a professional counselor, I also do not view counseling as proselytizing clients. Although if for whatever reason clients want explore and to know more about Christianity, not only am I not adverse to that, but also I welcome it. It is the worldview by which I seek to live and have my being.

Worldview

In an blog article sometime back, (here), I discussed several themes that at various times on this blog I will explore, seeking to develop a fuller understanding of the human experience or human condition as Hanna Arendt describes it. Those themes include, mind, meaning-making, thought and action, finitude and humility, values, and worldview. Since I am writing about my worldview today, an obvious question is, what is a worldview? No doubt, there are tons of philosophical works out there people can read and study to get at how different thinkers conceptualize the notion of worldview. One particular Christian author I like reading along these lines is James W. Sire. His well-known work, at least among Christians, regarding various worldviews is titled The Universe Next Door.

In his exploration, Sire provides a working framework for understanding what comprises one’s worldview. He proffers the following definition:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of propositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.  (p.17)

Recognize then through Sire’s definition that people can be more or less aware of what their worldviews are, how they guide them through life, and why people may act as they do. Hence, if one desires to live in full awareness of how his beliefs align with his actions, then one should desire to become aware, as best as possible, of one’s worldview. Otherwise, we are walking blindly through the universe, not fully aware, or perhaps for the most part unaware, of why we live and act as we do. Moreover, to become more fully aware of our worldview not only allows us to bring it into our consciousness, but such awareness also allows us to live out our worldview more consistently. To come to grips with our worldview allows us then to take significant steps toward self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding. If we are clear in our minds as to what we believe and why, then we will better have the ability to live in alignment with what we believe. Hence, worldview as a one of the themes that seek to describe the human condition also encompasses the theme of thought and action.

Let’s break down and explore the various components of Sire’s definition.

Worldview: As a Commitment

If we understand our worldview as a commitment of the heart, then it emerges from our deepest core that defines who we are, how we live, and the ways we desire to engage the world and other individuals. Clarifying our worldview allows us to bring together in unison our deepest and most impassioned emotions, core beliefs, spiritual experiences, and our willful actions. From a Biblical perspective, the heart is the driving force of a human being. We understand our worldview as a commitment into which we plunge so that we engage the world around us and all that populates it.

Worldview: As a Story or Set of Propositions

As we gain clarity of our worldview, then we can better articulate to others what we believe, why we believe it, and how we want to carry out our beliefs in day-to-day action. We can declare a set of propositional beliefs that conceptualize how we view the world and how we hope to navigate its existence. As a narrative, the more we understand our worldview, the more clearly we can tell our story as to how and why we exist in the world as we do. Propositional truths about the world and ourselves help us create meaning about our existence so that we know not only what we believe, but also why we believe it, and how we should then live (Francis Schaeffer). 

Worldview: Held Consciously or Unconsciously

If we are to possess all this clarity around our worldview, then we must do the exploration that brings what we believe, feel, and hope to accomplish from a position of unawareness to awareness. We all struggle to become aware of our core beliefs and values. This is an exploration we will never complete on this side of life. It is a struggle, however, about which we can continually gain clarity if we strive to do so. It is a struggle we must engage if we are find meaning in our lives.

Worldview: True, Partially True, or Totally False

Worldviews can be false. This is where the friction sets in, particularly for those of us who are Christians. We simply believe that some worldviews are false and will not lead to lives of fulfillment. Additionally, simply because we are Christians does not mean we get everything right about life at one moment and have no more clarity to gain or mistakes to correct. As Christians, the more we understand and gain clarity around our worldview the main struggle then becomes how we apply what we understand to our day-to-day living. This is a constant struggle that never lets up in this life. Although not so popular in our culture today, Christians believe in a reality that is outside of us to which we must align. Hence beliefs and actions have consequences. Galatians 6:7 warns us: God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. From a Christian perspective there is objective truth that lies outside of us that we don’t create in the way that postmodernism depicts today. Although there are subjective aspects to our engaging the world, the struggle is to know reality and align with how it calls us to live. As Christians we search for truth in all things.

Worldview: Lived Consistently or Inconsistently

The more clearly our worldview shapes up for us, the more we become aware of those areas in our life where we are and are not living in alignment with what we understand to be the case. This too is a struggle. How many of us have acted in ways that we thought aligned with what we believed only to realize later due to consequences that we misstated, misunderstood, and misjudged how we went about things? The clarion call to live consistent with our worldview is one of those nagging experiences that continually haunts us to get things right. Inconsistency leaves us open to all sorts of charges, both from our own consciences and from others who observe how we live. Living our worldview consistently is not about being perfect. It is about a continual and gracious search for what is true.

Worldview: As a Foundation on Which We Live     

Our worldview forms a foundation on which we stand toward life. Everything we believe and thereby do forms either a rock or shifting sand on which we stand. If our worldview is compromised, only partially true, or largely false, then rather than a rock, we stand on shifting sand. For the believer, Jesus Christ is the rock. Again, living in a fallen world means that Christians do not have everything right, but we hold a certain worldview that we believe to be true. Our lives on this side of eternity involve living out what we believe and continually correcting where we need to our understanding of what life is made of and how we are to navigate it. From a Christian perspective constantly sharpening our worldview must entail developing our relationship with a personal God who is real, and who works in our lives on a continuous basis. We can choose to know him deeply, or like any relationship, we can choose to let it wane. If we do not fully live according to our beliefs we will face consequences of that choice.

In the Counseling Room

As I stated in the introduction, there is not Christian hat to put on and take off for the sake of some conveniences we may feel or face. Given Sire’s definition of worldview with its various components, why that is the case should be clear now. Since my worldview provides the foundation on which I stand for understanding right and wrong, morality and immorality, and the various ways I go about interacting and treating others, then the idea of changing that foundation for the sake of changing contexts makes no sense at all. Although our worldview provides us with flexibility in a multifarious world, it is not something along the lines of Proteus in Greek mythology who could change into various creatures depending on where he finds himself at the moment. Consequently, as stated, I don’t check my worldview at the office entrance. I bring it into the counseling office because it is with me everywhere I go. If it’s not, then it’s not my worldview. I think it’s only fair that clients know and understand that about me.

Additionally, clients should know that I don’t view counseling as proselytizing them to my worldview. The work of counseling entails working together with people who have different and even conflicting worldviews. Where such differences may severely impede the therapeutic relationship then therapist and client should broach that conversation. Clients should know, however, that whereas I do not ask them to desert their worldview in working with me, neither will I desert mine as I work with them. First, such desertion cannot be done unless one becomes a hypocrite. Second, people cannot become something they truly are not. The world comprises experiences of people holding various takes on the world. The counseling room is the same, sort of a microcosm of a larger reality. What’s more important is that clients wouldn’t want me to chuck my worldview in the counseling room because then they would be working with someone who is not a complete human being.

What my worldview does mean, however, is that I can work more easily with those who hold a similar worldview to mine, that is other believers. Indeed, that is one form of counseling work that I enjoy, and in this series of articles on working as a Christian who happens to be a counselor, I will explore what Christians may expect in working with me, as well as Christian Interns whom I might supervise. Suffice it to say here that given the various components of Sire’s explication of worldview, it is something serious that forms the ground on which we stand and have our being as he says. It is the lens through which I look at and understand the world, all those who populate it, and all the actions that people generate within it. It is not something I take lightly that I can put on now and then as suits me.

Conclusion

Sire goes on to say that if we want clarity regarding our worldview, then we must profoundly reflect upon how we actually behave. This truth touches on one of the themes regarding the human condition that I explore in this blog, namely thought and action. If we have questions about what our worldview entails, then we need to check how we actually live. Then we need to decide if we truly want to accept or change the way we live.

Sire goes on to explore seven questions about the universe and living in it that a worldview should answer. I will explore those questions and apply my Christian worldview to them in the second blog article of this series that delves into working as a professional counselor who is first a Christian.

Our worldview shapes how we engage life, understand ourselves, and interact with others. It forms our values and dictates how we act in the world if we are to be consistent with its precepts. My worldview is who I am. I state clearly I am in Christ, identified with him, and live and have my being in him. Hence, that reality is what I seek to bring, not only into the counseling room, but also into my entire way of living. 

Do I fall short of how my worldview calls for me to live? Suffice it to say: that’s a blog article for another day.

References:

Sire, J.W. (2004). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.(Originally published in 1973). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2020

THEMATIC/WORLDVIEW