When your friend is hurting, what comes after the hug? Truth? Love? Have you ever wondered what people need from you first? Gospel Conversations shows the reader how the Bible answers this, and many similar, relational questions. While "The Bible never pits truth against love" (pg. 33), it is often hard for us to find a wise balance between the two. Gospel Conversations is a tool that can help.
What is a "Gospel" conversation, you may ask? Dr. Kelleman writes: "Gospel conversations promote personal change centered on the person of Christ through the personal ministry of the Word" (pg. 16). As a result, the reader of Gospel Conversations, will find that Kelleman keeps the grand redemptive narrative of Scripture central, demonstrating how, "In biblical counseling, the whole Bible story impacts the whole person's whole story" (pg. 74).
Essentially, "Gospel Conversations is a local church curriculum map…for equipping God's people to care like Christ" (pg. 17). "…the big idea of Gospel Conversations…" is that "We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community" (pg. 17) and the design is such that this book seeks to foster "…real and raw, vulnerable and open relationships among your equipping group members" (pg. 17). Thus, it is ideal for small group use with members gaining experience in biblical counseling as they engage one another. To this end, Dr. Kelleman supplies almost 200 multi-part, thought-provoking personal reflection/discussion questions for self-counsel and group or partner interaction making Gospel Conversations a useful equipping manual of sorts. Furthermore, Gospel Conversations contains concrete, measurable objectives and suggested schedules for each section, as well as, useful section outlines and "tweet-sized" summaries at the conclusion of each chapter. There are also a number of forms in the Appendixes for more formal counseling ministries.
With so much material, this is not a book to read hastily, but rather, one in which to camp out for some time…preferably with a friend. Some may be dissuaded by some of the terminology (ex. "twenty-one biblical counseling relational competencies") and the numerous acronyms as they can make this book seem more formal and textbook-y and less relational. However, the reader will find that Gospel-Conversations is solidly grounded in Scripture and contains much useful content for groups and individuals. In particular, I was helped by Kelleman's idea of a "trialogue". He writes:
"This book is called Gospel Conversations for a reason. The gospel -- Christ's victory narrative, the story of our redemption from sin through Christ's grace -- is the meta-narrative, the grand story, that shapes every conversation…Counseling is not a monologue -- one-way teaching at. It's not even just dialogue. It is a trialogue, a three-way communication between the counselor, the counselee, and the Divine Counselor through God's Spirit and God's Word" (pg. 161).
Gospel Conversations contains hundreds of sample conversations which are intended to stir the imagination of the reader (pg. 164), showing us how to explore Scripture together and demonstrating how we can effectively use questions to draw people out in conversation.
Another aspect of Gospel Conversations that I love is that Kelleman highlights the importance of knowing God rightly and helps the reader to label dominant doubting-God lies, recognizing that:
"The relational battle to win our heart is won or lost in the relational battle regarding the heart of God. Puritan Pastor Richard Sibbes explains the root source of our battle. 'It was Satan's art from the beginning to discredit God with man, by calling God's love into question with our first father Adam. His success then makes him ready at the weapon still'
It was also Martin Luther's conviction that attacks on God's holy love were a staple of the Devil. 'This, then, is the most furious and sudden of all attacks, in which the devil exerts to the full extent all his powers and arts, and transforms himself into the likeness of the angry and ungracious God' (pg. 195).
Like Luther, Gospel Conversations seeks to move people toward a gospel-centered, Christ-focused faith in God:
"In Luther's eyes, therefore, spiritual counsel is always concerned, above all else, with faith--nurturing, strengthening, establishing, practicing faith--because 'faith cometh by hearing,' the Word of God (or the Gospel) occupies a central place in it. The ministry to troubled souls is a ministry of the gospel. It is a ministry to those who have or who lack faith" (pg. 207).
Gospel Conversations concludes with the reminder that biblical counseling is "…not a side ministry done by one or a few…biblical counseling is the one-another ministry calling the body of Christ" (pg. 354). If you're looking for a resource to equip you for that ministry, you might consider this one. I, for one, look forward to spending more time with this book and plan to reference it regularly as I seek to grow in asking good questions, offering truth and love as I minister the Word to those closest to me.
*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!