The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context

David Powlison
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In principle, Christians believe 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 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 PhD 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.


David Powlison, MDiv, PhD, (1949–2019) was a teacher, counselor, and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He wrote many books and minibooks, including Speaking Truth in Love; Seeing with New EyesPower Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual WarfareThe Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context; Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness; Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken; and God’s Grace in Your Suffering. David was also the editor of The Journal of Biblical Counseling. 

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"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, PhD, 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, PhD, author of Soul PhysiciansSpiritual FriendsBeyond the Suffering, and Sacred Friendships

"David Powlison has written the definitive account of a biblical counseling movement that arose in the 1960s and continues to influence the field of Christian counseling today. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the rapid and turbulent growth occurring in faith-based counseling in the latter part of the twentieth century."
Ian F. Jones, PhD, Director, Society for Christian Psychology; Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of The Counsel of Heaven on Earth

"The definitive and reflective examination of biblical counseling’s origins in the story and work of its founder, Jay Adams, provides the necessary context to appreciate its important contributions to the Christian counseling world from a second-generation leader in the movement."
Eric L. Johnson, PhD, Director, Society for Christian Psychology; Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of Foundations for Soul Care

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