B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Scripture Spectacles as Biblical Bifocals

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.

"Safety Glasses"[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.


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9 thoughts on “Scripture Spectacles as Biblical Bifocals

  1. Aaand? You’ve got me intrigued, Mr. Askins!

    • Aaand… that’s all the time I had for blogging. Sorry! If you want more insights along these lines I can’t more highly recommend a book than Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care. Cheers!

  2. What do you think of Larry Crabb?

    • Can’t comment. Haven’t read any of his work. What do you think of him?

      • Probably some of the most helpful books I’ve ever read, especially Marriage Builder. (But that may only be because that was the first one I read, and much of what he says in his books overlaps.) He agrees with Jay Adams on some things, I think, but is critical of other things. But I’ve never read Jay Adams.

        I know you had another post earlier criticizing biblical counseling; I was just wondering where Larry Crabb fell into the spectrum of Askins Opinions. 🙂

      • Well, I’m flattered to have a spectrum of opinions ascribed to me. 😉

        As I understand it, Crabb is considered an integrationist so I think the content of my post would probably apply to his work (as somewhat far-sighted), but that’s a presumption based on his methodology, not any actual details. Some scholars which I greatly respect have spoken highly of Crabb’s work, for what that might be worth.

        Tell Tom we missed him this 4th of July, but I’m sure you were glad to have him with you. Thanks for loaning him out last year though!

      • Haha, I phrased that poorly. I meant the Askins Opinion on where Larry Crabb falls in the spectrum of counseling methods. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts!

        I passed your message along to Tom, but it seems he failed to mention to you that he deployed…? He’s been gone since 2 days after Christmas. (Am I allowed to say that on the Internet??)

      • What a bum. Tell him I said, “Do push-ups” then.

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