On Robert W. Kellemen’s “Gospel-Centered Counseling.”
A prevailing conundrum among Christians of all stripes is the apparent disconnect between what is announced in the gospel of Jesus Christ and what that announcement means for one’s everyday life. The frustrating marathon of dilemmas and dogmas in bygone centuries have not only created a bevy of misinformed saints, but also a moderate level of distrust in the aggregate for institutionalized counseling methods. It is, then, the conundrum of bringing the ivory dogmas of the Christian faith into the common dilemmas of ordinary life to which Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., is called to speak and minister. This he accomplishes primarily through his role with RPM Ministries, an organization he founded in order to furnish Christians in a myriad of arenas and callings with Christ-saturated counseling resources. Dr. Kellemen has also authored twenty books and published nearly fives times as many articles, each with a proclivity for applying the incalculable truths of the gospel into the familiar, unexceptional, and even dismal seasons of life.
In Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, Kellemen grapples with the monotony and mania of human existence and how the magnificence of God’s Word is primed to speak into both. Kellemen compiles his manual of local church counseling into a familiar format more akin to systematic theology than modern psychology, to delightful results. What culminates is a comprehensive work that is both theologically rich and practically accessible. From the outset, Kellemen is decisive about Scripture’s role in the ministry of a counselor. In the opening two chapters, he contends not only for the futility of the world’s philosophies but also for the sufficiency of God’s Word as the foundation upon which all counseling is derived.
With a starting point articulated, he spends three chapters considering God, the “Great Soul Physician,” and weighing one’s struggle to seize in faith God’s apparent care and control over their lives. This conversation segues into two chapters that discuss one’s role as a “biblical cardiologist” in light of one’s anthropology. Kellemen then spends five sinewy chapters treating the soul-troubles with which the counselee is afflicted and the unequivocal remedy the gospel prescribes. He closes with a sterling consideration of the “spiritual time travel” of the gospel that incessantly buoys the hope of the weary soul. This is encompassed by three chapters spent discussing one’s growth as a result of the gospel.
Fittingly, Dr. Kellemen’s passion for the gospel is evident on every page of Gospel-Centered Counseling. His treatment of the gospel’s impact on one’s life is neither reductive or contrived. Indeed, rather than rudimentarily roaring “Gospel!” for paragraphs on end, Kellemen maintains a crisp focus on Scripture’s grand story and one’s place in it. This, he asserts, earns the biblical counselor the right to bring to bear what the gospel says into the life of those being counseled. “We first understand the gospel story,” Kellemen writes, “then we seek to understand our friend’s story, then we journey together to intersect God’s eternal story and their temporal story.”It is only when the redemptive meta-narrative of God’s Word is kept in view that the biblical counselor is able to effectively communicate both the truths of Jesus’s blood-bought redemption of one’s soul and the ramifications of that redemption in one’s life. “Gospel-centered counseling means,” Kellemen continues, “that together with our counselees we derive our understanding of earthly life from heaven’s viewpoint.”
This theme crescendos in a discussion regarding the end of all things and how one’s eternal perspective fundamentally alters how one perceives and responds to the present. “The end of the story,” he says, “should guide every chapter of our life story today . . . The triumphant Christ who wins the war and weds his bride guides our every interaction in our personal ministry of the Word.”The gospel-centered counselor, then, is less interested in pinpointing a blamable party in one’s past that accounts for the way things are, and instead, focuses on pointing the counselee to future that is sure and is gifted to them in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the quintessential burden of gospel-centered counseling is evincing the eschatological certainty of Jesus’s passion and death as the primary source of comfort and confidence through every headache, hurt, and heartbreak.
This recasts the biblical counselor as a “soul physician,” to use Kellemen’s apt terminology. In concert with the Holy Spirit, as his faithful instrument, the gospel-centered counselor tends not merely to salient problems but to hidden messes that only a refreshed view of the gospel can cure. Such is what forms the primary thrust of Gospel-Centered Counseling, as Kellemen “seeks to equip you to become a wise physician of the soul who understands people, diagnoses problems, and prescribes God’s soul-u-tions — biblically.”Gospel-Centered Counseling is not only robust enough to divine every constituent concerns of the counselee but is also reasonable enough for pastors and lay-ministers alike to utilize.
Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 28.