Book review: Speaking Truth in Love

David Powlison is one of the key leaders in the second generation of a movement that was pioneered by Jay Adams. About ten years ago he set out to publish a trilogy, outlining his vision of biblical counseling. The first (Seeing with New Eyes) was published in 2003 and we await the third. Speaking Truth in Love (2005) is the second.

Powlison situates this book in the series by saying that while Seeing was about ‘counsel’, i.e. content, Speaking is about ‘counseling’, i.e. the process. He divides the book into two parts.

Part 1Speaking Truth in Love – consists of nine chapters (which he classifies as samples rather than sections of a text book) that deal with ‘the counseling conversation.’ Chapter 1 is based on Psalm 119 (‘the most extensive I-to-you conversation in the Bible). In chapter 2 Powlison explores our resistance to knowing ourselves. Chapter 3 introduces the theme of grace: ‘Biblical counsling is the ministry of God’s grace to individuals.’ The next three chapters tackle more detailed issues. Chapter 4 looks at a counselor’s preparation; chapter 5 at the questions that should be asked, both about what the person is facing and about what God has to say about it; and chapter 6 is a case study which aims to illustrate the use of Scripture. Chapter 7 describes the art of illustrative counseling: “Ministry to individuals thrives on story, picture and incarnation, just like ministry to crowds.’ Chapter 8 offers a strategy for dealing with people who talk incessantly, and chapter 9 examines how to help someone who has been helped by well-intentioned, but misguided counselors.

Part 2We Grow up Together – shifts from the methodology explored in Part 1 to the setting in which counseling happens: the church. Powlison’s vision for the church is that it would waken up to its role in counseling. There are eight chapters. Chapter 10 talks about what we understand by ‘the ministry of the word’ and argues that the public ministry of the word (preaching) and private ministry of the word (personal devotions) need to be supplemented by interpersonal ministry of the word. Chapter 11 looks at what institutional structures need to be addressed for the church to function in its counseling role. Chapter 12 looks at how we pray as a starting point for a ministry of biblical counseling. We need to ‘pray beyond the sick list’ and practice three kinds of biblical prayer: circumstantial, wisdom and kingdom. In chapter 13 Powlison makes some suggestions for pastors about their involvement in counseling: every pastor should be devoting at least some percentage of his time to counseling, and every pastor should be meeting with some people who are ‘slow movers.’ In chapter 14 he makes some observations about women and biblical counseling. Chapter 15 deals with the issue of referrals and chapter 16 talks about counseling and seminary training. Chapter 17 provides the reader with a form of biblical counseling creed or manifesto, outlining a series of affirmations and denials that mark out the territory.

The book concludes with an essay called Companions on the Long March: it is David Powlison’s vision and rallying call for the movement.

This book will have a special interest to anyone wanting to understand what the biblical counseling movement stands for. It will be of value to pastors and church leaders who are eager to see their churches move beyond programmes and events and towards meaningful, thoughtful and helpful fellowship (in the genuine sense of that word) in which the church is built up as its members speak truth to one another in love.

Speaking Truth in Love seeks to recapture how the dynamics of fruitful mutual counseling characterize a church that functions as a community.

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