Review: Counsel From the Cross

counsel-from-the-cross

 

I’m reading and reviewing this book per request from Mari. We’ll be attending SBTS this fall where my focus will be in Biblical and Theological Studies and Mari’s will be in Biblical Counseling. This should be a good duo as we can both rely on the other’s fuller knowledge of study as we work in ministry. As you likely already know, I tend to read books that are less applicational and which are more focused on the literary-ness of the Bible (what the biblical authors are saying, the connections they’re making in the text, and some overflow into practical application). But equally important is the “application,” as John Frame has said, 

Imagine someone saying that he understands the meaning of a passage of Scripture but doesn’t know at all how to apply it. Taking that claim literally would mean that he could answer no questions about the text, recommend no translations into other languages, draw no implications from it, or explain none of its terms in his own words. Could we seriously accept such a claim? When one lacks knowledge of how to ‘apply’ a text, his claim to know the ‘meaning’ becomes and empty—meaningless—claim. Knowing the meaning, then, is knowing how to apply. The meaning of Scripture is its application. (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 67).

And if John Frame, author of a few thick, dense books on God, the knowledge of God, and systematic theology, says that knowing the Bible means knowing how to apply Scripture to the everyday person, then it’s clearly important.

Mari read this book some time ago and really enjoyed it. She asked me if I would read and review it, and I agreed to do it once I finished my other reviews. I finished this back in April or May, and I have to say that it’s a fantastic book. While they don’t claim “that medical expertise never has a role in addressing certain personal problems,” this book is about applying Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and his righteousness to our every day lives (48). That means every day. Every single fun, boring, hard, lazy, rainy, sunny, allergy-filled, kid-filled days. From family gatherings to funerals, from dinner with friends to hospital visits, from school bills to late night ice cream runs, Christians are to apply what Christ has done for us on any and every day of the week.

When I (Elyse) asked a friend of mine how the resurrection should impact troubles she was facing, she replied, ‘I suppose that it should but I just don’t know how.’ We’ve written this book for everyone who can echo that thought, for those who say, ‘We know that Jesus should matter more than he does; we just don’t know how to make that happen’ (20).

I can certainly relate to this. Up until recently I barely knew the importance of the ascension. Yes, I knew it meant Jesus was our heavenly Mediator and his ascension brought the Spirit’s descension, but until I read Michael Morales’ book I was clueless as to most of the what’s and why’s of the ascension. But besides looking at the biblical rationale behind the aspects of Jesus’ life, how does the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior make a difference to our every day?

We focus on gospel truths for the sake of Christians involved in helping ministries who want to see how the Bible and, in particular, the gospel of Jesus Christ can help others who are suffering. For instance, does the Bible address the blight of pornography or the darkness of depression? If so, how? Does the gospel speak to men and women with broken hearts and broken marriages? What does Jesus’ sinless life mean when your friend discovers that her husband has filed for divorce? (20)

Summary

Chapter One begins by looking at a “white-noise” verse, one we often skim over as we nod our head in agreement while probably not thinking about its significance. Ephesians 5.1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” We skim over Ephesians 4.32 where Paul tells us that “God in Christ forgave” us, therefore we are to imitate God as beloved children because we are his beloved children. The way we think about this affects how we think about ourselves and others.

Chapter Two, As children of God we get to experience the glory of God in the presence of Christ. It is a glory that doesn’t fade, but it only grows larger as we are continually transformed through the means of God’s grace: the preached Word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and fellowship with believers. We don’t need to keep the Law perfectly to experience God’s glory. Christ kept it for us, and we are to imitate him.

Chapter Three, God loves us, but how much does he really love us? Does our sin decrease his love for us? Surely not! Not only are our sins are gone(!), not only are they not remembered(!), but God delights in us! Yet, in chapter four, losing this gospel message can turn us into either the Happy Moralist or the Sad Moralist. We either drown in pride thinking we’re doing better than the rest and that there is a God on the throne who is fully satisfied with our holy actions, or we drown in pride because we try to do prove we are worthy of God’s love to calm our uncalmable conscience. The authors turn our attention back to God and his endless love for us.

The next four chapters focus on the gospel and counseling (ch 5), sanctification (ch 6), our emotions (ch 7), and our relationships (ch 8).

Chapter Nine brings us to our glory story, the sort of thinking that says we don’t need a crucified Savior. We simply need a helping hand (or a kick in the pants) every once in a while. Yet like Peter in Matthew 26.75, “The unavoidable end of the glory story is always utter despair; there is no other possibility” (173). What is counsel from the cross? It’s knowing nothing except Christ and him crucified. “The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done” (181).

There are four appendices. The first defends biblical counseling over against secular psychology. The second provides Scriptural passages on various topics (e.g., bitterness, envy, grief, laziness, etc) to use when counseling. The third is an overview of the gospel, and the fourth is the text of Psalm 78 which reviews Israel’s history of constant rejection toward God’s love and God’s history of patience and love toward Israel.

Recommended?

Why should you read this book over any other counseling book? This isn’t the be-all and end-all of all Christian counseling books, but this book is one that is centered on the Gospel. While some chapters were more basic than others, it beautifully shows the gospel, and is a book I would have loved to have owned years ago, but I’m happy to have it now.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway; Redesign edition (April 30, 2012)

Buy it on Amazon or from Crossway

(Special thanks to my wife for having me read this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book, though maybe for food).

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