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Nearly 25 years ago, Tim Keller argued that the works of the Puritans are a rich resource for biblical counseling for the following six reasons:

  1. 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.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. 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.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

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5 thoughts on “What the Puritans Can Teach Us about Counseling”

  1. Pete says:

    I am introduced to more helpful resources by your site than other single avenue. This article and the resources mentioned are now at the top of my list. Thank you so much for the valuable content of your blog. Your efforts have been a real service to me. Praise God!

  2. Wesley says:

    I absolutely hate that we’ve gotten so far away from this understanding that the Puritans had. does this mean they were perfect? No. Does modern psychology have NOTHING to teach us? Of course not. But that “functional authority” of Scripture and an understanding of the sinfulness of the heart and remaining sin in the life of a believer i think could do much to deal with many of the issues that plague the sheep in the fold today as well as hold out light and hope to those yet to come inside.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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