You all know me, so please take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to consider a matter that is important to me. I think you’ll find it is important to many of you, too.
As president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige Patterson has recently made a decision to radically change the counseling programs there. You may want to visit the press release related to this matter.
A very brief summary of Christian counseling approaches may be helpful here. There is one camp of folks who believe that the only way to do Christian counseling is through using Scripture and addressing sin directly. These types of counselors do not believe that any resource is appropriate for studying or conducting counseling other than the Bible. Counselors should only be trained in learning God’s word. There is no need for learning other counseling theories or techniques and there is no need for being licensed. There is another camp of folks who wholeheartedly agree that it is critical for counselors to study and apply God’s word in counseling but also see the benefit of studying and using other resources that do not contradict God’s word. In the language of my field, the first camp is often referred to as “Biblical Counseling” (or “Nouthetic Counseling”) while the second camp is often referred to as “Christian Counseling.”
For years, SWBTS has maintained courses and programs representing both camps. They have often been at odds with each other, but they have coexisted. Patterson has always been sympathetic to the Biblical Counseling perspective, but he seemed to make room for the Christian Counseling perspective and program. Until recently.
Patterson has decided now is the time to eliminate the counseling program at Southwestern that equips students for licensure. As a SWBTS alum, I cannot express my disappointment in this decision enough. Licensure is a critical part of ministering to people outside of a church setting and is of growing importance within a church setting. Removing a program that equips students for licensure is a retreat from the seminary’s mission, not an advancement. Christian counselors will be less prepared, not better.
In his press release dated January 20, 2010, Patterson offered “financial realities” as a rationale for eliminating the support for two approaches to counseling. You might be interested to know, however, that the Biblical Counseling approach is supported by two professors and about a dozen students. The Christian Counseling approach is supported by five professors and over two hundred students. If the decision were solely a financial one, it would seem prudent to eliminate a program that is not thriving rather than one that is highly successful and drawing students from all over the world.
In this press release, the president also suggested it was appropriate to eliminate the licensure program because SWBTS is “church-related” and was “created by and for the local churches that support it.” The implication is that students pursuing licensure in the Christian Counseling program are not engaged in ministry within local churches. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is quite a large number of graduates that are working and serving in churches and in missions. And it certainly seems to me that when churches seek candidates to minister as a counselor, they are increasingly looking for counselors with a license. This reduces the church’s liability in an age of litigation and demonstrates to their congregation and potential members that they have a qualified minister/counselor. Licensed counselors also often carry their own insurance – a significant advantage over non-licensed counselors.
When the president states, “We want to develop a program of counseling that is distinctively for the churches,” he is implying that current students and alumni of the licensure program are not equipped for working in churches. In reality, SWBTS alumni are already ministering and serving in churches all over the world and are more successful in their ministries than those without licensure.
Of the modified counseling program, the president states it should “introduce the student to all of the findings, history and theories of psychology and counseling.” The current licensure program already does that. The president states it should also “emphasize biblical principles set in the context of developing a biblical worldview and perspective on life.” Again, the program already does this AND it equips students for licensure at the same time. The Christian Counseling program at SWBTS is already distinctively Christian, preparing students to counseling from a thoroughly Biblical perspective. His statements mislead others to believe otherwise. Apparently, Patterson believes that a program designed to equip students for state (“secular”) licensure can’t be biblical enough. But this is also untrue. This program has been built on a solid biblical worldview for years while simultaneously preparing students for licensure.
The president needs to reconsider his decision to eliminate the counseling program that prepares students for state licensure. It is a thriving program built on a solid Biblical perspective. Eliminating it is a step backward, not forward, in assisting our churches and furthering the gospel.
You might find it interesting to know that Patterson did not consult any counseling faculty members or board members before making this change. It was a sudden and shocking development to the faculty at SWBTS. They were only given a few days notice before the press release. Several of them have invested many years of their lives in building the counseling program there and I’m certain they feel betrayed by these recent actions.
Here is my appeal to you. Please make your voice known. A small but vocal handful of pastors in the “Biblical Counseling” camp have expressed to Patterson that they do not see the need for nor do they want Christian counselors who are licensed. But it seems he has not heard from many pastors and ministers who believe otherwise. Patterson’s focus for the seminary is to train, equip, and support pastors and local churches, so I believe that if he heard a different perspective from a number of pastors and ministers, he may be more inclined to reconsider his position.
If you believe there is value in churches having access to and utilizing counselors that are both biblically trained and licensed, please make your opinion known to him. He needs to hear from you.
The changes that Patterson has announced are not official yet. The board of trustees must approve any degree and curriculum changes. There is nothing they can take action on right now, but they will be meeting this spring to consider these changes and they also need to know what pastors and ministers want in their counselors.
If I may be specific, please write Dr. Paige Patterson to express your concerns in this area. Please copy your letter to Dr. Waylon Owens, the chair of the new committee mentioned in the press release and to Dr. Ian Jones, professor and director of the counseling center. In addition, please copy your letter to any and all trustees. Finally, please consider passing word along to other pastors and ministers that may be interested and willing to make their opinions known.
Dr. Patterson, Dr. Owens, and Dr. Jones can be reached at this address:
P.O. Box 22000
Fort Worth, TX 76122
I can provide you with a list of trustees with their addresses if you’d like.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. As you can tell, this is a matter that hits close to home for me. But I think the outcome of this situation could impact you and other churches in very significant ways, too.
The Response of Aaron New, Ph.D., to the Proposed Removal of the Counseling Licensure Program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
I continue to become acquainted with many wonderful men and women in the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of these individuals are not well known by the vast number of Southern Baptists, but their leadership skills, spiritual acumen, and cogent thinking is needed by us all. One such individual is Aaron A. New, Ph.D., the Associate Professor of Psychology and Counseling Chair of Behavioral Sciences Department at Central Baptist College in Conway, Arkansas. Dr. New has written a letter to friends throughout the SBC, articulating in as fine a fashion as I have read the problems associated with the proposed removal of the licensed counseling program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. All Southern Baptists should pay careful attention to New's views regarding the ideological reasons behind administration's decision to remove the licensure program from SWBTS. In addition, Southern Baptists should follow New's recommendations as to what one can do to prevent the proposal from being implemented at SWBTS. If we Southern Baptists don't do something soon to stop the attempts to make a specific ideology the sole ideology of the Southern Baptist Convention, we will soon see the particular brand of ideology promoted by SWBTS leadership suffocate SBC cooperation like kudzu stifles Atlanta's trees. Read on ...