Gospel Centered Counseling – Book Review

Book Review of GOSPEL CENTERED COUNSELING by Robert W. Kellemen and Deepak Reju

Oh Please, Stop Your Lame Advice

In his book, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, Dr. Bob Kellemen explains that:

“Our counseling is sterile and dead if we see the Bible as an academic text-book. But if we view and use the Bible as the story—the gospel-centered drama—of the battle to win our hearts, then our biblical counseling ministry comes alive.”

What a shocking statement; no one wants to give lame dead advice. They want to provide advice that contains substance. Most believers want to move beyond Christian clichés’, but many do not know where to turn. They want to offer hope in a grace-filled way in their small group settings and one-on-one conversations.

Bob Kellemen’s latest book, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives, addresses these areas and many more. While Dr. Kellemen focuses on equipping biblical counselors, the content provides wide application since it includes how to understand people, diagnose problems, and provide biblically-based solutions. If that peaks your interest, then Kellemen’s book is right up your alley.

Answering Life’s Ultimate Questions

This is where Gospel-Centered Counseling shines. It walks readers through eight of life’s ultimate questions. This is not counseling light; it does not shy away from difficulties, but brings Scripture to bear on problems. It tackles situations headlong and offers hope rooted in the gospel by walking through a number of real life struggles. Many biblical counselors aim at the heart, but Kellemen pays special attention when communicating heart change by including relational, rational, volitional, and emotional aspects. This heart-focused approach is where the battleground for ministry resides. Here is the overall book layout:

  • The Word: “What is truth?” “Where can we find answers?”
  • The Trinity: “Who is God?” “How can we know him personally?”
  • Creation/Understanding People: “Who are we?” “What makes people tick?”
  • Fall/Diagnosing Problems: “What went wrong?” “Why do we do the things we do?”
  • Redemption/Prescribing God’s Soul-u-tion: “How do we find peace with God?” “How do people change?”
  • Sanctification: “How does the change process occur?” “How does change happen? ”The Church: “What is God doing in the world today through his people?” “How can we help one another to change?”
  • Consummation: “Where are we headed?” “How does our future destiny impact our present reality?”

Don’t get it twisted, there are a myriad of counseling voices volleying for your affection, these questions will help you arrive at a robust Gospel-Centered approach. It also provides you a grid to think through other counseling models and see where common grace overlaps in addition to where they fall short.

As Kellemen wrestles through these life questions, he considers the storyline of the Bible, systematic theology, and arrives at practical application. That may seem like weighty language, but this is no pie-in-the-sky topic. Kellemen writes about real life struggles, such as an eleven-year old who was sexually abused by a family member and the emotional depression, suicidal thoughts, fear, anxiety, and shame that accompanied it. This is one of many struggles that he helps the reader see the hope and grace found only in the gospel.

Turning to the Great Physician

In Gospel-Centered Counseling, you will not find pat answers or a five-step approach, but you will find deep truths and wisdom rooted in a person—Christ. You will find truths to challenge your thinking of theology, your perspective of the Trinity, and your overall approach toward people.

One of the repeating themes was the eternal fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the eternal other-centered perspective of the Godhead. This is encouraging for any believer who becomes overwhelmed and thinks they need to have all the answers. As God Himself lives in eternal community, your counseling should live within the community of the church. As you live in community and receive mercy and grace from Christ, you should minister to others through that same grace. Or as Dr. Kelleman says:

“We must know the Trinitarian Soul Physician personally to be a powerful soul physician.”

Out With the Old and in With the New

The final chapters contain wisdom regarding progressive sanctification (continual growth in Christ) that any counselors would benefit from. Everyone knows it is easy to see all the sins in others and to tell them to put off their old self (mortification). On the other side of the coin, many will tiptoe through putting on the new (vivification).

Kellemen covers both sides and outlines each point in a side-by-side chart with twelve examples. He unpacks each area and passes along practical, tangible ways to grow in grace and transfer the knowledge to others. Chapter 16 is worth the price of the book alone.

This repeated practical side of Gospel-Centered Counseling is one of the many rewards of this book. It is easy to tell a person to stop a behavior, but it is quite another thing to aim at the heart and wisely instruct them how to put on Christ.

Practical Advice for All Believers

While geared toward counselors, pastors, and for equipping upcoming counselors, Gospel-Centered Counseling is also a book for the whole church. This single resource will help you become competent to counsel, and could easily become a foundational springboard for the care of souls in the local church. Since counseling and discipleship are united by the gospel, this book is for any believer looking for hope rooted in Christ.

You can learn more about the book through Dr. Kellemen’s RPM Ministries site at the Gospel-Centered Counseling Page. You’ll find a free copy of the Foreword and Introduction, along with tweet-size summaries of every chapter, in addition to several other free resources.

by Mike Parks
Member at Veritas Community Church