Sam Williams recently posted on The Gospel Coalition blog engaging the question: "Would there be value for biblical counselors to pursue PhD work outside Christian institutions, and what challenges would they face?" He answers, "There are two good answers to the question above: no and yes." Williams warns against putting oneself in such a context while lacking critical biblical and theological knowledge. Not only should one be a "competent critical thinker" in order to navigate the influence of non-Christian thinking, one must have a rich theological foundation in order to reinterpret and redeem what one engages. He argues that one who does not have that foundation would benefit much more from a seminary degree, where one can engage Scripture and its deep relevance to how we understand people, care, and change.
For those who stand on a strong foundation and possess critical thinking skills, Williams’s “yes” comes with a qualifier: “if you can think and live like a missionary” at that institution. He writes, "There is good reason from our perspective as Christians to view the mental health subculture as a mission field, or at least as a kind of unreached people group.” For Williams, central to the possibility is if one goes for the purpose of redemptive engagement.
But the question still remains, is there value for biblical counselors in pursuing a PhD at secular institutions?
This summer David Powlison responded to this same question. His response, assuming one has a solid biblical foundation, describes the significant opportunity secular institutions can provide to the biblical counselor.
For further reading on Sam Williams’s view of the missionary character of biblical counseling, see his recent JBC article “Counselors as Missionaries.” For more on the importance of a biblical education, see David Powlison’s “Why I Chose Seminary for Training in Counseling.”
Chris Carter is a content curator at CCEF. Chris is also an intern counselor and the design editor for the Journal of Biblical Counseling.