Legal Issues in Biblical Counseling: Direction and Help for Churches and Counselors

Edited by T. Dale Johnson & Edward Charles Wilde

Reviewed by Julie Ganschow, Ph.D.

As the director of a Biblical Counseling Center during a time in history amid a cultural revolution, I am faced with an ever-changing and complex legal landscape. In addition, my church leaders are also looking for help and information as we create a new constitution and navigate a revitalization of our 150-year-old congregation. Therefore, when I received this book, I dove into it excitedly.

The book, written in two parts, addresses the church and biblical counseling ministries. Part One of the book contains six chapters relating to protecting a biblical counseling ministry located in a local church. Each Chapter closes with a To-Do List that provides several action steps or suggestions for the reader to implement. 

T. Dale Johnson, executive director of the ACBC, opens the book and presents clear and concise teaching on the government’s role and the church’s responsibility to the state. First, Johnson reminds the reader that God has appointed the government as an institution; therefore, Christians are to pray for our leaders and to obey them. Next, Johnson suggests several threats that are currently facing the church. Included are warnings of the cultural dangers the church is facing and the intent of the social activists. They intend to eliminate, by legal means, the morals and values we cherish. They demand conformity to cultural norms contrary to the Bible and the temptation of church leaders to misuse their God-given authority toward those in their care. 

Christian Attorneys most of whom are also biblical counselors, write the remaining chapters in Part One on the legal issues facing biblical counselors and ministries. For example, in Chapter Two, Edward Wilde explains the basics of how the law functions and why. He details the reasoning behind the government’s reasonable and necessary desire to regulate therapists, their care, and how they attempt to include biblical counselors in those regulations. He also addresses freedom of religion, freedom to worship, and the importance of being clear in all our intake paperwork that our religion requires biblical counseling. 

Wilde continues his thoughts in the following Chapter, where he compares and contrasts the work of the secular therapist and the biblical counselor. He advises that biblical counselors clearly identify themselves as performing the duties and obligations of our religion and that we operate out of theology, not psychology. There are similarities to secular therapists in the structure and methodologies we employ, but unlike the professional relationship between therapist and client, the ministry of biblical counseling emphasizes relationship. The foundation of that relationship is based on sharing our religious beliefs. Out of those beliefs comes the religious instruction we know as biblical counseling. 

The Fourth Chapter, by Todd Sorrell, reveals the issues that make establishing a relationship with a local lawyer necessary. He presents several hypothetical scenarios that a biblical counselor or pastor could encounter and poses questions for the reader to consider. He highlights many new, dangerous, and scary issues a local church and biblical counseling ministry could face. The To-Do List at the end of the Chapter is extremely helpful. 

Wilde covers the formation of a corporation or business entity, tax, civil liabilities, and insurance in the 5th Chapter. These are essential things for a church to consider, even one that doesn’t have a biblical counseling ministry. This information is critical in today’s litigious society. With a corporation comes employees, so the next Chapter, co-authored by George Crawford, addresses the legal and biblical aspects of terminating a pastor, counselor, or other personnel. As with all the other chapters, the information and counsel provided here are based on biblical principles with supporting Scriptures. The authors clearly say there is a higher standard we are to pursue than avoiding legal liability; that of glorifying God amid complex situations.

Part Two of the book focuses on specific ways to protect the provider of biblical counseling services and the counselees. Tim Pasma provides a pastoral counseling perspective on how to respond wisely in faith while facing potential conflict with the government and legal system as we provide truly biblical counsel to sinning Christians.

Attorneys Deborah Dewart and Edward Wilde take the reader through a general overview of civil litigation in the Eighth Chapter. Providing information about various courts and lawsuits and how a trial proceeds through the court system, even to the appellate court process, is dry information for most people. Dewart and Wilde seem to understand that and are clear that the purpose of the information in this Chapter is preparatory. They say, “Understanding the structure and potentials of a lawsuit make it easier to live with.” (146) But it is not only for our sake that we should know these things; we will have counselees that may experience some form of lawsuit whether it is a divorce or due to abuse or something in the realm of criminal justice. Therefore, this knowledge will be important to possess. They also advise that we know our own local and state laws. 

After exposing the reader to the anatomy of a lawsuit, Todd M. Sorrell returns in Chapter Nine to instruct us how to avoid being a party to a lawsuit. Here we begin to examine the nuts and bolts of the forms and paperwork necessary in biblical counseling. Sorrell provides a sample Consent to Counsel form and walks the reader through the form with constructive comments and caveats. Finally, he recommends that legal counsel review the documents to ensure they are crafted in such a way to, as much as possible, prevent a lawsuit By a disgruntled counselee.

In the 10th Chapter, Deborah Dewart addresses how the judicial system can work for and against biblical counseling. This Chapter is, in some ways, a review and summation of information from previous chapters but also places a real emphasis on our legal standing due to the religious liberty afforded to us by the Constitution. This Chapter is quite helpful and could almost be used as a standalone guide or primer on the book’s contents.

I found the 11th Chapter of particular interest because I help counselee’s who have been abused. They often must enter the legal system. Attorney Wilde and Tonya Braun, an abuse victim advocate, write this Chapter on what pressures a counselee will face when they enter the legal system. Adapting the biblical narrative from 2 Samuel, Amnon (renamed Mike), and Tamar (renamed Kate), the authors present a compelling picture of the process, challenges, and legal process the individuals will experience as a result of Mike raping Kate. Reading Kate’s experience detailed by both Braun and Wilde was incredibly eye-opening and helpful. Some of this Chapter’s most startling and sorrowful contents exposed the often “unfair” results of the legal system. Even when serious and legitimate sexual abuse or assault accusations are brought forth, the authors want us to know that there is no guarantee of justice as we understand it. They state, “These allegations must be taken seriously, but they are so common and so routinely a matter of manipulation and slander that judges become inured to the claims of both sides.” (220)

The book’s final Chapter addresses the current issues of gender and human sexuality and how a biblical counseling ministry must be informed about what is happening in the government and American classrooms. Attorney Dewart emphasizes the importance of well-crafted consent to counsel documents, and informed consent must include language that distinguishes biblical counselors from state-licensed counselors. There is an emphasis on how we must be wise but not fearful as we serve a sovereign God.

The book includes a glossary of terms and legal information, an Appendix that provides some help in creating Consent to Counsel forms, and the Personal Data Inventory that every counselee will complete. 

While I got bogged down in places with the unfamiliar legalese, I found this book exceptionally well written and crafted for the director of a biblical counseling ministry and church leaders. I highly recommend this book as it is Scriptural and practical. It provides the necessary tools to help those in ministry to understand the importance of protecting themselves from litigation.