Friday, September 27, 2019

On the Logic of the Biblical Counseling Movement & the Question of Accreditation

by Michael R. Burgos

A Holy Insurgency

An insurgent movement seeks to invalidate and dethrone an established occupier. Insurgencies are almost always grassroots; a rebellion by everyday visionaries against systemic wrongdoing. From its inception, the biblical counseling movement has been a theological insurgency. It has sought to restore the church’s understanding of counseling as an intrinsically theological task for which the Scripture is sufficient. The biblical counseling movement has simultaneously sought to refute the psychotherapeutic establishment and integrationist counterinsurgency.

Key to the success of any insurgent movement is the establishment of new institutions which serve to herald and pursue the cause. In the case of the biblical counseling movement, many new institutions have been formed. These include accrediting bodies which have set ethical and theological standards for the practice of biblical counseling. Chief among these accrediting institutions is The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). By design, the certification ACBC offers is not recognized by any governmental agency. There is no sanctioning body which has granted validity to ACBC. Rather, ACBC looks to local churches and other Christian ministries to recognize its credibility. In so doing, ACBC has intentionally bucked the bureaucratic expectations of our culture. It has, upon the basis of the Lordship of King Jesus, set up shop on biblical terms. Whereas Licensed Professional Counselors and Licensed Mental Health Counselors depend upon the state to approve their labor, ACBC and the biblical counseling movement has sought the approval of heaven.

The logic of ACBC (or any other biblical counseling certifying body) as an institution is clear. ACBC has effectively repudiated secular counseling accreditation as even relevant.1 Just as the Lord’s Supper and the public exposition of the Word of God resides within the jurisdiction of the local church, so does the cure of souls. There is neither a need nor a basis for governmental oversight or approval in these matters. Rather, the authority for ministry is bound up in the charter given by Christ to his people.2

Honor the Lord Your FAFSA…

Inasmuch as counseling is the prerogative of God’s people, so is theological education and ministerial training. In our day, most who desire to enter into vocational ministry first attend either a Bible college or seminary (or both). This formalized training comes at a price, as the average MDiv costs upwards of $45,000.3 Fortunately, most conservative seminaries accept federal student loans such that seminarians may become enslaved4 to the federal government just prior to entering the ministry.

Truly, the vast majority of conservative Protestant seminaries would not exist were it not for federal money. Those seminaries who reject Caesar’s cash derive much of their funding from tax exempt local churches—as it should be.5 In order for a Bible college or seminary to lay claim to federal money, that school must become accredited by either a regional or national accreditor that is recognized by either the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).6 So too, there are other reasons institutions seek accreditation. For example, recognized accreditation is a form of statist approval, without which, an institution is generally considered illegitimate at best. Jamin Hübner has observed, “Higher-education in the ‘developed’ world, whether religious or not, tends to be arranged to favor education that is validated by a government.”7 Subsequently, “Accreditors generally function as an arm of the state.”8

Accreditation says almost nothing about academic rigor, let alone an institution’s fidelity to Scripture.9 Consider Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York City. UTS has regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, as well as national accreditation from The Association of Theological Schools. While UTS has the most prestigious accreditation possible, the education it affords is a morass of unbelief.

While most equate “accredited” with “legitimate,” achieving accreditation merely reveals a school’s conformity to the administrative and financial expectations of the accreditor, and by extension, the federal government. Recognized accreditation cannot answer the questions most students might ask of a Bible college or seminary: “Is the faculty faithful unto God?,” “Is the curricula effective and God-honoring?,” “Will I receive the best training here?,” or “Will an education at this school prepare me for the mission field?”

Any doubt about government control through recognized accreditors should have evaporated when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) implied that Gordon College’s policy on homosexual practice was out of step with its accreditation standards.10 A similar example can be seen in the treatment of the Master’s University by one of its accreditors, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). WASC has sought to enforce ethical standards and practices upon Master’s,11 just as with NEASC and Gordon College. One would expect a Christian institution to form its ethical practices upon the basis of a Christian worldview rather than the transient mores of a regional accreditor.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Montoya's Return: A Consideration of Acts 2:38 and Oneness Pentecostalism

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Most adults who were reared in the 1980s recognize that line from the novel come cult classic, The Princess Bride (1987). Inigo Montoya’s humble rebuke of Vizzini’s misuse of the term “inconceivable” gained traction in living rooms across America and consequently secured a memorable place in pop culture history.

In light of the emphasis placed upon Acts 2:38 by Oneness Pentecostals, I am compelled to invoke Montoya’s reply. Oneness interpreters harmonize Matthew 28:19 and Acts 2:38 by interpreting the ὄνομα of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the ὄνομα of Jesus.1On the Oneness view, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the name of Jesus. This harmonization is what sparked the Oneness movement under the guise of a “revelation,”2 and it continues to be a crucial and universal interpretive principle within Oneness theology, christology, and soteriology.

A second consideration related to Acts 2:38 is whether water baptism is necessary in order to receive the forgiveness of sins. Although not universal among all Oneness adherents, the largest denominational expression of Oneness Pentecostalism3 holds that Acts 2:38 is the salvific plan of God en toto, and that baptism and the subsequent reception of the Spirit with the evidence of tongues is necessary for salvation. However, this view, as well as the Oneness understanding of baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ,” runs into severe exegetical, logical, and theological problems. In order to address these concerns, I have provided an exegesis of Acts 2:38 and a consideration of Oneness Pentecostal teaching on this text.

And Peter said to them: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)4
Πέτρος δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε φησὶν καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦεἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν καὶ λήμψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος· (Πραθεις Αποστολων 2:38)5
Peter’s Spirit-empowered sermon convicted his listeners such that they were “pierced through the heart.”6 After hearing about their involvement in the crucifixion of Christ and his subsequent resurrection from the dead, the crowd asked, “What shall we do brothers?” Peter’s reply is the concise imperative: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Luke placed the verb “repent” prior to φησὶν,7 giving emphasis not upon baptism, but repentance. The two verbs μετανοήσατε and βαπτισθήτω are joined by the conjunction, but do not grammatically accord since βαπτισθήτω is singular and μετανοήσατε is plural. Some interpreters have sought to capitalize on this abnormality, suggesting that “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” is a parenthetical command that does not result in the forgiveness of sins.8 In this way, interpreters have attempted to neutralize any ground for believing that baptism is necessary to obtain the forgiveness of sins. The difficulty with this view is that it ignores the function of the pronominal adjective ἕκαστος as it is joined to the plural genitive ὑμῶν. So too, the plural pronoun in “for the forgiveness of your sins” indicates that there is a group under consideration.9 Thus, while βαπτισθήτω is grammatically singular, both verbs are intended to be understood as plural in force.

The preposition ἐπὶ takes the dative, giving the familiar “in the name of Jesus Christ..”10 The preposition can easily take the meaning “in,” but Acts 2:38 is the only place ἐπὶ occurs within the “in the name of…” construction in the NT.11 Since the two verbs are joined by a conjunction, it is possible to take “in the name of Jesus Christ” as modifying both repentance and baptism. That is, Peter may not have told his audience to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ only, but also to repent in the name of Jesus Christ. This alone would divulge that a baptismal invocation or formula is not in view. One doesn’t say “Vacuum and take out the trash, each one of you, in the morning,” if what one means is that the floors can be left dirty until the afternoon.