Shift in Counseling Curriculum at Southern Seminary Causes Split Opinions

The new Bible-based counseling curriculum at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, KY is raising a number of questions amongst its former students and faculty members.

The change, reported by the Associated Press (AP), represents “a major shift” for a school that brought together “theology and psychology” in the mid-20th century.

Hence, AP says, the change will be centered on the belief that Scripture can answer the "deepest needs of the human heart."

Additionally, the change will facilitate training students in the careers involving counseling.

"What we want to avoid is having our curriculum ... driven by the demands of any outside agencies," said Russell Moore, the dean of the seminary's School of Theology .

Furthermore, the dean reported that he expects seminary graduates to work in churches or related institutions, rather than private practices or secular settings.

The students, Moore added, will no longer be prepared for licensing or certification by professional organizations or state agencies.

If they want that certification, they can supplement their education elsewhere, Moore explained.

Meanwhile, both opponents and supporters of Southern's overall conservative identity voiced their concern regarding the changes.

"Those behind the doors of Southern are creating a false dichotomy by implying that pastoral care and counseling is not and has not been biblical," said Vicki Hollon, executive director of the Wayne E. Oates Institute - a Louisville-based agency named for a longtime Southern professor who had helped pioneer pastoral counseling.

Hollon studied at Southern in the 1980s. She said the school's "movement away from science reveals a lack of faith, or at least a fear that somehow science is outside the realm of God's creation and domain."

Another voice of concern comes from Wade Rowatt, a former professor and student at Southern Seminary, on whether the new curriculum will provide enough training.

"Ministers who are educated without a knowledge of how to work with physicians and psychiatrists will basically have their own hands tied around their back," said Rowatt, a counselor at the St. Matthews Pastoral Counseling Center and a teacher at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Lexington.

The seminary's move comes in part from a 2002 resolution by the Southern Baptist Convention, its national affiliate, Moore said.

The resolution said that Christian counselors should rely "upon the Word of God" rather than theories that "ignore human sin and its effects." The resolution added that, while some disorders require medication, "we reject the assumptions of the therapeutic culture that offers" a drug as a solution for every human problem.

Moore stated that student would be trained to recognize when clients need to be referred to doctors, and when to report cases of domestic and sexual abuse to police.

He added that the seminary also disagrees with parts of the ethical codes of various counseling professional associations - many of which oppose discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation.