What the Puritans Can Teach Us about Counselling

Justin Taylor:

Nearly 25 years ago, Tim Keller argued that the works of the Puritans are a rich resource for biblical counseling for the following six reasons:

  1. The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing.
  6. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used in both repentance and the development of proper self-understanding.

To see each of these points unpacked in some depth, see Tim Keller, “Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling,” The Journal of Pastoral Practice, vol. 9, no. 3 (1988): 11-44. (The journal is now named The Journal for Biblical Counseling.)

See also the book by Mark Deckard, Helpful Truth in Past Places: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Counseling (Christians Focus, 2010). The introduction, “New Is Not Necessarily Better,” can be read online for free. Deckard takes six questions that people struggle with, and uses a classic Puritan work to help us answer it:

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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