What the Puritans Can Teach Us about Counseling
- 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.
- The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
- 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.
- The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
- 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.
- 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:
- Why is this happening to me? (John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence)
- Why am I so anxious and dissatisfied? (Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment)
- What does sin have to do with my problem? (John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin in Believers)
- Why doesn’t anyone understand my problems? (John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress)
- Don’t I need just to stop feeling? (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections)
- How can I find joy again? (William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast)