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How Do You Counsel an Unbeliever?
QUESTION: How do you apply this model of biblical counseling with people who do not want to hear anything about the Bible or Jesus? Knowing what people need to hear is often very simple (i.e., God’s love, our heavenly reward, etc.). Should we still speak biblical truth in these instances?
How do you turn the corner in the conversation so that a biblical understanding of reality becomes overtly biblical? In both conversations I was speaking with a person who was willing to hear, and so Proverbs 29:29 and Isaiah 53:6 could be tailored and adapted so they spoke relevantly to the need, problem, and struggle at hand.
What if someone simply doesn’t want to hear it? Depending on the situation,
• you say nothing
(“Don’t cast your pearls to the pigs”; “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you”);
• or you say it creatively
(“Will you commit to cleaning out your own garbage can before you rummage in your spouse’s garbage can? Are you willing to trust me to pay equal attention to both of you?,” adaptating Matthew 7:1–5, looking to build a foundation for more explicit orientation to Scripture);
• or you say it anyway
(“Admonish the unruly”; “Rebuke a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes”),
• or you let your actions speak love
(“If your enemy is hungry, feed him”; “… that he may be won without a word”; “be patient with them all”)
I think I gave the example of how differently the conversations unfold when Paul speaks in Acts 13 (unpacking Bible, Bible, Bible), in Acts 14 (pointing out weather, crops, creational blessings, false ideas), and in Acts 17 (quoting their respected cultural authorities, their poets and philosophers; pointing out blind instincts after God and goodness).
Wisdom needed. But, bottom line, of course you can “counsel biblically” with those who are ignorant of or hostile to “The Bible.”
Finally, do check out the article by Alasdair Groves in the latest issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling.
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