The Use of Old Testament Scripture in Counseling

David Murray has written a wonderful little post on his blog entitled “Counseling with the Old Testament.”  As both biblical-pastoral counseling and Old Testament studies are significant areas of focus for me, Murray’s post resonated deeply.  Over the past few months, I’ve begun collecting materials that relate to the use of the Old Testament in counseling and thought I’d use this post as an occasion to share a few books I’ve found to date.

Mike Wilkerson, Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols we Worship and the Wounds we Carry (Crossway, 2011)

This book was designed to serve as a curriculum for mixed-issue support groups at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  It draws out themes and implications from the book of Exodus in an effort to minister to those struggling with sin and suffering from various afflictions.  It also does a wonderful job of applying the Old Testament to concrete counseling needs and demonstrates how the Old Testament can be used fruitfully in counseling without deteriorating into moralism or a shallow exemplarism.

Michael R. Emlet, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet (New Growth Press, 2009)

Emlet’s book is not limited to the use of the Old Testament but its concern with the big-picture “storyline” of scripture means that it draws upon the Old Testament books regularly.  What is more, it serves as a sort of hermeneutics for counseling, thereby leading Emlet to cover a variety of topics from a variety of texts.  Of note, one chapter is called “Tom, Natalie, and the Old Testament” which is a case study of sorts, walking Tom and Natalie through Haggai 2:1-9 and helping them to see how it “maps” onto their own lives and struggles.

Denise Dombkowski Hopkins & Michael S. Koppel, Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices (Eerdmans, 2010)

On the one hand, I don’t really recommend this book due to its liberal approach.  It conceives of the Bible as a story which invites our own story-telling, however it limits the authoritative nature of the Bible’s story and its goal of rewriting and correcting our own self-identified storylines.  But on the other hand, I list this and have benefited from it (1) because there are so few books focusing on counseling and the Old Testament and (2) because its commitment to unpacking the biblical “story” (albeit a liberal version of that) provides some useful hermeneutical and homiletical ideas.  Readers will need to read discerningly, but it is a volume worth reading if one has an interest in these two themes.

AdamsCounselingScripturesJay Adams, The Use of the Scriptures in Counseling (Baker, 1975)

On the opposite end of Dombkowski and Koppel is this collection of lectures and essays by the man most traditionally associated with biblical counseling, at least in the Reformed tradition.  Again, like Emlet, Adams does not limit his discussion to the use of the Old Testament.  Nevertheless, in his plea for counselors to have more confidence in the ability of scripture to speak into the lives of people who are struggling and afflicted, Adams does draw regularly upon Old Testament texts.  Adams is a polarizing figure and this book repeats some of the things that have caused many counselors pause.  Still, it is one of very few books I’ve found on this topic.

There are several articles scattered through the pages of the Journal of Biblical Counseling looking at Old Testament and counseling (I’m especially thinking of the fine contributions written by George Schwab), but this post was focused on books.  If anyone has anything to add to this list, please comment below.  I’m always looking for more titles considering the use of the Old Testament in counseling!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

4 thoughts on “The Use of Old Testament Scripture in Counseling”

    1. Nice – thanks for reminding me of your review. “Overly noteable” is probably not the right phrase, but I was still glad to see at least one chapter devoted specifically to the use of OT texts in counseling. That kind of specificity is not too common in these books. I rememberd your comments a while back on Wilkerson and I’m pleased so far. Although it is a bummer that he’s limiting himself to Exodus, one of the easier collections of narrative to use in counseling due to its paradigmatic redemptive themes throughout.

      A sort of dream I have is to write a kind of prolegomena for the use of the OT in counseling. Books like these are sort of early early pre pre early research! I’ve got other things higher up on the priority list, but this is always something I keep my eye out for.


      1. That’s a valid point on even thinking about using the OT in counseling. It should be hard for us to ignore the OT when counseling, considering the depth and beauty of the Psalter.

        This discussion is like those good ones we had in Escondido when we were jogging up that one hill Southwest of seminary (if I have my directions correct). Remember? Ha!



  1. Five Smooth Stones For Pastoral Care by Eugene Peterson deals with the Ketubim as resources for counseling and is characteristically thoughtful and elegant.


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