Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Women Counseling Women: A Book Review

Elyse Fitzpatrick is eminently qualified to edit a book that addresses women’s struggles from a biblical perspective. For over twenty years, Fitzpatrick has been ministering to women from God’s word. She holds an M.A. degree in biblical counseling, has authored numerous counseling books, and heads a ministry called Women Helping Women. Her latest effort, Women Counseling Women, is the collective work of twenty women who are experienced biblical counselors. This book aims to offer biblical solutions to the various problems women face and it absolutely hits its target. Yes, Christian women have a trusted friend and counselor in Elyse Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick has divided Women Counseling Women into four parts. The first part, “A Women and the Word,” is composed of five chapters that build a scriptural foundation for the rest of the book. The first two chapters focus on the gospel as the ultimate answer to women’s problems and assurance of salvation. Chapters three and four deal with the important topics of hermeneutics and spiritual discernment. The fifth chapter emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine, and briefly describes how to develop a biblical counseling and discipleship ministry in a local church.

Part two of the book focuses on women’s emotions. This section of the book unpacks a basic, biblical theology of emotions, and then proceeds to provide biblical counsel for overcoming fear and anger through proper application of the gospel. From there the book moves on to give biblical advice for understanding, and navigating depression. This section concludes with a physician, and biblical counselor stressing the importance of a balanced view of the use of medicine in treating depression.

In part three, Women Counseling Women gives counsel to women about their relationships. This section is the longest, and most comprehensive in the book. It covers a wide gambit of relational issues such as singleness, marriage, abuse, parenting, motherhood and caring for one’s elderly parents. In discussing these various relationships, the writers apply the Scriptures to each situation, and provide sound biblical advice on how to relate to others in a way that most pleases God, and adorns the gospel.

Women Counseling Women’s final section addresses four specific problems women face. These problems are overeating, generational sin, pornography, and same-sex attraction. Again, the authors seek to give biblical instruction for addressing these difficult problems, and they do amazing job of getting to crux of each issue in a very limited space. They clearly demonstrate how believers can overcome these problems through the gospel, and God’s grace for His glory.

Fitzpatrick states that the purpose for Women Counseling Women is to be useful for self-help and as a guide to biblical counselors. Certainly, the book has accomplished its stated purpose. Every chapter provides solid, biblical counsel and practical help for the problems women face. The book covers a wide range of issues, some of which the church has often been negligent in addressing. For example, the last two chapters of the book discuss women’s addiction to pornography and same-sex attraction. When was the last time anyone heard those issues discussed in the church?

Women Counseling Women has few weaknesses, but numerous strengths. Its greatest strength is its faithfulness to the Word of God. Regrettably, many books written for Christians claim to be scriptural, but all too often they adhere to popular interpretations of Scripture based on faulty hermeneutics, and flawed theological systems. This sad reality makes pastors’ jobs very difficult because they often find themselves commenting on, and correcting the teachers their women congregants esteem. However, such will certainly not be the case with Women Counseling Women. In fact, the book contains a brief, but excellent chapter on basic hermeneutics followed by a chapter on spiritual discernment. Frankly, these are two of the greatest needs for the modern-day church because unsound teaching is leading so many Christians astray.

Another outstanding strength of Women Counseling Women is its presentation of the Gospel as the solution to every problem women face. Too many in the contemporary church have viewed the gospel as their ticket to heaven, but have failed to see its relevance for everyday living, and its power for overcoming life’s problems. Women reading this book will see that misguided view exposed and corrected. Furthermore, chapter two will challenge women to examine their lives and make sure they have truly been born again. After all, and as the book makes obvious, the gospel’s promises and power are only available for those who have truly believed and experienced its life-changing power.

Yet another strength of Women Counseling Women is that it provides an outstanding means to minister to women in churches that lack women’s ministries. Unfortunately, many pastors, of whom I am one, find themselves in churches where women have not been encouraged or equipped to minister to one another from God’s Word. Women Counseling Women provides pastors excellent insight into the issues woman face, and it is an exceptional resource for them to share with the women in their flocks. If pastors use the book prudently, it might well become the impetus for establishing a healthy, biblical women’s ministry in their church. In fact, chapter five gives some brief, but helpful advice for establishing just such a ministry.

The book does have some weaknesses. First, it gives few subjects the complete treatment they deserve or necessitate. This criticism may seem unjust since Fitzpatrick intended the book to be a guide for counseling others, and not an all-inclusive manual. However, Fitzpatrick also states that she designed Women Counseling Women for self-help, and some women may find themselves disappointed with the brief treatment various problems get in the book. What the book does say about each problem is always helpful, and the book more than makes up for this weakness by pointing readers to resources that provide more depth on the subjects addressed at the end of each chapter.

A second weakness of the book is chapter ten. This chapter discusses the importance of having a balanced attitude towards the use of medicine in dealing with depression. The chapter is helpful in that it exhorts biblical counselors to hear objectively both sides of a controversial subject, and to maintain a Christian attitude in the midst of the debate. On the other hand, some of Dr. Hendrickson’s advice is not very useful, and may even be dangerous.

Dr. Hendrickson wrote, “Some individuals come to me in so deep an emotional hole that it seems best to recommend the physical boost of psychiatric drugs in addition to the ministry of God’s Word to restore them (131).” This statement is problematic for a couple reasons. To begin with, a small number of biblical counselors share the same expertise and training in fields of medicine and psychiatry as Dr. Hendrickson. So how would they determine whether someone could use a physical boost from psychiatric drugs and what could they do about it? It seems that their only recourse would be to refer them to a medical doctor or psychiatrist. Unfortunately, many if not most biblical counselors lack access to someone with Dr. Hendrickson’s medical credentials, and background in biblical counseling whom they could trust to make such an assessment. Furthermore, there are biblical counselors who share Dr. Hendrickson’s medical credentials, and counseling experience, who would disagree with her conclusion. One such person is Dr. Robert Smith, the author of The Christian Counselor’s Medical Desk Reference. Smith says on page 88 of his book “drugs are not needed in biblical counseling because the biblical counselor has the superior answer.”

Dr. Hendrickson said, “. . . it seems best . . . (131).” Frankly, that sounds as if she is basing her conclusion upon a subjective rather objective basis. Could it be that her secular training in medicine, and psychiatry, is unduly influencing her conclusions? Moreover, Dr. Hendrickson’s statement gives the false impression that God’s Word is somehow insufficient. It is doubtful that is what she actually intends because of over all tenor of Women Counseling Women, but that is how some might take it. In fact, it is quite possible that some women reading this chapter will use it as the basis for seeking medication because it has ignited, or confirmed their doubts about sufficiency of God’s Word for dealing with depression. Such an outcome would be tragic indeed.

Women Counseling Women is a rare book. Unlike much popular and contemporary nonsense in Christian bookstores, it truly addresses women’s issues from a sound, biblical perspective. I found the book to be encouraging and edifying, and except for one paragraph in chapter ten, I found nothing with which to disagree. I am excited about promoting the book to the women in my church because it is an answer to prayer. The men in my church have been praying that God would inspire some godly women to start a Titus 2:3-5 ministry. I can envision Women Counseling Women sparking just such a ministry.