Final Thoughts -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 13:2 (Spring 2004)
Article: Final Thoughts
Author: John H. Armstrong


Final Thoughts

John H. Armstrong

The phrase “cure of souls” probably comes from the Latin term cum, from which our English word cure originates. The primary meaning of cure is care, noted John T. McNeill in his classic volume, A History of the Cure of Souls (New York: Harper, 1951). Adds McNeill, the term is “readily applied either to the tasks involved in the care of a person or thing, or to the mental experience of carefulness or solicitude concerning its object” (7). It is by this comprehensive idea that the term “cure of souls” came into common English use many centuries ago. Frankly, it is too bad that we lost the older expression and substituted the modern word “counseling” for the more comprehensive term.

The cure of souls became principally marked by systems of ecclesiastical practice that were primarily corporate until the time of the Protestant Reformation. It was Luther, deeply interested in the ministerial care of people, who restored a balance between the individual and the interests of the group. Says McNeill, Luther “had in view the integral liberation, health and enrichment of souls” (9). The Reformers substituted a voluntary confiding of sins and “griefs” to a minister, or suitable adviser, for obligatory and exhaustive confession to a priest. Their task was not to handle ecclesiastical authority, as such, but to deliver, or free, troubled consciences. The way they charted directly opened the intellectual door to the contributions of science and medicine as well as common grace and natural revelation. If the Church is to renew itself in this area of ministerial practice then a much richer understanding of this subject will be needed.

Counseling has become big business in the Church. It is also extremely divisive, especially in conservative congregations where a high view of the Bible is still regnant. Sadly, many have come to associate the view one takes of a particular approach to counseling as a litmus test for faithfulness to Holy Writ.

Take nouthetic counseling, as one approach that claims to be uniquely biblical. (There are many other popular schools of thought that claim to be the biblical one!) Sometimes called “biblical counseling,” to suggest a distinction from Christian counseling (whose proponents are called “integrationists” because they use methods not drawn from the Scripture), this nouthetic school of thought holds powerful sway in many conservative churches. It was launched by the publication of Competent to Counsel (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970), by Reformed practitioner, Jay E. Adams. Adams sets forth a good popular critique of several of the most widely-cited secular psychoth...

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