The Biblical Counseling Movement - History and Context

New Growth


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In principle, Christians believe that knowing Jesus Christ is the original and abiding "cure of the soul." But in practice, the church's provision of personalized care and counsel has often been unthoughtful and unskillful. During the past 150 years, many other practitioners and theorists have filled the gap. Psychiatry and psychotherapy (transliterations of two Greek words for "cure of the soul") claim to offer the deep truth that explains a human being, and the final word on how we can be cured from the troubles that beset us. Secularized explanations and cures call for no recourse to the Bible or Jesus.

Beginning in the late 1960s, a biblical counseling movement sought to reclaim counseling for the church. It aimed to provide a coherently Christian alternative to mainstream psychiatry and psychotherapy. The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context is an informative and thought-provoking account of that movement. How did it begin and develop? What were the defining ideas? Where were the tension points and struggles, both internally and with evangelical psychotherapists? David Powlison's historical account combines careful scholarship with a unique, eyewitness insight.

This book is an invaluable resource for those who want to understand the biblical counseling movement. The core chapters were originally a Ph.D. dissertation in history of science and medicine (University of Pennsylvania). This new edition adds a lengthy appendix, containing articles by Dr. Powlison. These extend and deepen the history, giving a fine-grained analysis of developments within the biblical counseling movement and in its relationship to evangelical psychotherapists. The author also freely expresses his point of view and personal convictions regarding the history he has carefully described.



It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this book. The “counseling wars” of the past half-century have ignited passions often characterized by labels rather than by careful analytic thought. This is the first broadly comprehensive history of these developments. While trying to be open to truth and insight whatever their sources, Powlison faithfully argues that the Christian faith must play a constitutive role in building a robust model of Christian counseling. Amen and Amen.

-D. A. Carson, Ph.D., Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; author of The Gagging of GodChrist and Culture Revisited, and An Introduction to the New Testament

Everyone interested in the modern biblical counseling movement needs to read this well-researched and well-written book. This is a fair and balanced presentation of one of the most important movements in the evangelical church. Readers will be equipped not only with historical insight, but, more importantly, with wisdom for how to speak the truth in love.

-Bob Kellemen,  Ph.D., author of Soul PhysiciansSpiritual FriendsBeyond the Suffering, and Sacred Friendships


About the Author

David Powlison, M.Div., Ph.D. is Executive Director of Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) as well as a CCEF faculty member and Senior Editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary.

David has been counseling for over thirty years and has written numerous articles on biblical counseling and on the relationship between faith and psychology. His books include Speaking Truth in LoveSeeing with New EyesPower Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare; and The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context. His minibook titles include Facing Death with HopeHealing after AbortionRecovering from Child Abuse; and Renewing Marital Intimacy

David has taught across the United States and in Korea, India, Brazil, Europe, and Sri Lanka. He blogs periodically at CCEF and The Gospel Coalition