John Calvin famously referred to Scripture as “spectacles” through which we are able to properly interpret all of creation (Institutes I.vi.1; cf. Gen 1-11: The Reformation Commentary on Scripture, p. 13). I’d like to briefly consider and extend this metaphor to make a point about some of the VanTilian underpinnings of the biblical/nouthetic counseling movement in order to propose a more faithfully biblical and faithfully VanTilian alternative.
[Note: For those with “eyes to see,” in this post I’m essentially attempting to be more VanTilian than Van Til (which to some will seem only slightly less offensive than trying to be holier than Jesus—everyone else will have no idea what I’m talking about). I would argue that when Jay Adams developed his nouthetic approach to counseling he correctly understood Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic use of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture—however, Van Til’s doctrine is broader than his apologetic, I’d argue. Instead of developing an approach to counseling from the broad scope of Van Til’s theology and epistemology, Adams derived his approach to counseling from Van Til’s unique approach to apologetics—a much narrower foundation by the very nature of the case. As a result, it would seem more appropriate to call Adams’ approach “apologetic counseling,” rather than biblical counseling. It seems like a much better handle, since I’m not sure that Adams ever published a single major work on counseling without thoroughly criticizing every other approach to Christian soul care as sub-biblical at best. His approach to the actual task of counseling could also be fairly summarized as a very theologically-driven approach to an often confrontational sort of quasi-CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)–effectively, an extremely narrow subclass of a very limited therapeutic modality. I would argue that a counseling approach which is founded on Van Til’s theology and epistemology (rather than merely his apologetic), provides the surest footing for a more scientific and more biblical approach to soul care—Christian psychology. But enough of this stuff for those with “eyes to see.” For the rest of us, let’s get back to the spectacles.]
In context, Calvin describes the fallen sinner’s perspective on all of creation as something akin to that of old men whose vision is so poor that, when given a book they can barely tell what it is, much less read the text. But Scripture acts as spectacles, granting a clear understanding of ourselves, our situation, and God, as well as the interrelationships among the three. I’d like to extend the metaphor to recognize that the spectacles of Scripture are also necessary in order to see the spectacles themselves clearly—Scripture is its own best interpreter. So, if we look at our own reflection in a mirror (creation) while wearing the spectacles we can see the spectacles clearly, where without them we would not. General revelation is the context for special revelation.
When we closely inspect the spectacles, we see that they are, in fact, bifocals. They provide great clarity on things both “near” and “far” when looking through the correct portion of the spectacles—”near” things being the subjects which Scripture most directly, explicitly addresses (i.e., creation, fall, redemption, restoration, wisdom, ethics, theology, etc.) and the “far” things being subjects with which it deals more peripherally or only by way of implication derived by “good and necessary consequence” (i.e., linguistics, science, math, economics, medicine, etc.). Scripture is truly sufficient for all things, but not for everything in the same way.
Biblical counselors have tended to narrow the purview of their Scripture spectacles to look at everything through the merely “near-sighted” part of the bifocals, focusing upon special revelation and saving grace to the unfortunate neglect of general revelation and common grace, areas which involve reading through the far-sighted corrections of our biblical bifocals. Integrationist counselors, on the other hand, have often looked at both near and far objects through the “far-sighted” portion of the bifocals, misreading Scripture in light of presuppositions which contradict its own teaching. This leaves each in the unfortunate position of having a distorted, blurry view of one or the other aspect of divine revelation.
Christian psychology attempts to make proper use of these biblical bifocals, effectively seeing and interpreting all of creation and our Creator in light of the totality of His self-revelation. Through exegetical research and empirical research we come to see spectacles, mirror, and our own image more clearly, as God sees them.