Fall has arrived in Southern California with a heat wave, pumpkin spice everything, and conferences. I enjoy attending one or two conferences each year since they help me grow professionally, both for my day job as an accountant and helping with ministry in the church. Last week, I attended the ACBC Annual Conference at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, CA. ACBC stands for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and each year, they put on a conference to help biblical counselors grow in their skills and ability to help people.
This year’s conference topic was Living and Active, “Biblical Counseling and the Sufficiency of Scripture.” The conference included six plenary sessions and many breakout sessions. The speakers for the plenary sessions were Dale Johnson, Ernie Baker, Abner Chou, H.B. Charles, Terry Enns, and Rick Holland. Dale Johnson started the conference with the topic of “The Folly of Fig Leaves.” He stated that ACBC was drawing a line in the sand over the sufficiency of Scripture. He said that Scripture contains everything we need to govern our lives to glorify God. He expounded on the effect of the first sin and the question with the temptation, “Did God really say?” This age-old question is about God’s goodness. He compared seeing things with natural eyes, seeing symptoms as problems. He ended the message by stating that all life issues can be traced back to personal or corporate sin; Christ is the solution to all.
The other plenary sessions included the sufficiency of God’s Word, sufficiency in Christ, and being perfected by the flesh in Galatians 3. The most interesting plenary session was by Abner Chou, titled “Common Grace and the Sufficiency of Scripture.” He argued that we need to put off false conceptions of common grace and put on the sufficiency of Scripture. He did not clearly state what the false conceptions of common grace were. He began by talking about the flood in Genesis 8 and 9 and that God did a reset on creation, a type of renewal. He said that common grace was related to the environment, to enjoyment, and it is for everyone. He said, “common grace deals with the environment, not what you find in the environment.” I did not follow his line of thinking with that comment since he gave no examples. He said that “common grace does not change the heart.” He cautioned that people can go from knowledge to general revelation and then equate that to special revelation. He emphasized that there is a distinction between general revelation (found in God’s creation) and special revelation (found in God’s Word). He concluded by saying that the “Scripture is always right.” I agree with Abner that the Scripture is always right and that common grace does not change the heart, but he disconnected common grace from Biblical counseling. Biblical counselors talk about common grace and how it can be helpful in the counseling process. The Scripture is sufficient, but it is not exhaustive. The Scripture does not contain medical knowledge, which is truth gained through God’s common grace. There are limits to what we can learn from common grace, but Abner did not address truths discovered outside of Scripture and helpful in counseling. His session left me with more questions about what he believed about common grace and its application to biblical counseling.
The conference also included breakout sessions, with five choices and seventy-five options. All of the five I attended were excellent, with topics on religious OCD, resting our hearts in God alone (Psalm 62), helping counselees not obsess over sin, longing to escape, and bringing a little bit of truth for a little bit of life. I will highlight two of them. The first one was by Brad Bigney, called “Helping Your Counselee to Confess but Not Obsess over Their Sin.” Bigney did an excellent job with this session, which was clear and encouraging. He talked about making the distinction between conviction and condemnation. He spoke about how we want conviction of our sins but cross the line when we get to self-condemnation. He explained that conviction is a desire to change and grow, but with condemnation are thoughts of wanting to give up. The Spirit convicts believers by saying, “that was bad, not you are bad.” Bigney talked about how, in Scripture, we rarely read about “examining” ourselves. Sometimes, self-examination leads to morbid introspection, so it is helpful to move counselees from wallowing in sin to fix their eyes back on Christ. He said we “glance at ourselves, but gaze at our Savior.” He said that to help counselees who obsess over their sin, we must give them a HUGE awareness of their Savior. I appreciated how Bigney approached the struggle with ongoing sin and focused on the compassion of Christ to meet counselees.
The other breakout session I enjoyed was by Rush Witt called “Longing to Escape: How the Psalms Identify and Help the Common Urge to Escape Hardship.” He recently wrote a small book on this topic. He explained that everyone tries to escape in life. The desire to escape happens when we are overwhelmed with discouragement and turn to a life of independence; we go our own way. He also said that approaching this topic is not a problem to solve but something that underlies our lives. He showed how different Psalms described ways we try to escape: denial, distraction, deflecting, and death. The most helpful part of his session was how he pointed back to Christ as the ultimate hope. He addressed what motivates the heart by distinguishing between the law and the gospel. The law says, “do this and live.” The law brings threats, but the gospel is good news. The gospel is good news with no mixture of bad news. The gospel is not something to do but something to hear. He said that counseling can be too law-oriented and not gospel-oriented. He posed a critical question, “What is the role of the gospel in your counseling?” Rush’s approach was so helpful, and he is the first biblical counselor I have heard talk about the importance of differentiating between the law and the gospel.
Every conference has much more information than one can digest in a short time. I benefited greatly from the breakout sessions that helped me think about counseling. However, most plenary sessions could have been more connected to biblical counseling and delivered with a less polemic tone. Nonetheless, one of the highlights of attending conferences is catching up with friends and former professors from around the country.