The biblical counseling movement and biblical counselors often discuss the importance of the heart. Our concern in ministering the Scriptures is that true change occurs at the level of the inner man. We are thankful when behavior changes resulting in fewer destructive moments, but ultimately we have greater purposes. We desire counselees to appreciate all that Jesus has done for them, to set their love and affections on a deeper relationship with Jesus, and to think and live with the purpose of glorifying God. These purposes demand discussions about the heart. While we talk about the heart in our books, classes, and conference sessions, we are not always very thoughtful in helping counselors understand how the heart thinks, feels, wants, and decides, or the interactions between these various functions.
Jeremy Pierre’s book The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life attempts to help counselors understand the heart and the dynamic elements included in it. He explains that the heart is not a static concept that only functions along an x-y axis. Instead, the heart is moved and shaped in the four-dimensional world of x-y-z and time. While the heart is infinitely complex (maybe one reason why David prays as he does in Psalm 139:23–24), Jeremy explains that its complexity also has regular patterns.
Section 1 (chapters 1–5) is a biblical theology of the heart in the context of anthropology. One statement that reverberates through the book is, “The human heart responds cognitively, through rational processes based on knowledge and beliefs. It also responds affectively, through a framework of desires and emotions. It also responds volitionally, through a series of choices reflecting the willful commitments of the heart” (p. 12).
The concepts of thinking, feeling and desiring, and choosing interact with one another in complex ways (ch. 2), but God created all of them to worship him (ch. 1). The fall of man and the corruption that came with it not only influenced how a human being would think, feel, and choose, but even the interactions between those concepts (pp. 64–68). The corruption of the heart is one reason why a person can choose to sin even though it dishonors God and results in destruction. Therefore, wise counseling will evaluate carefully the concept of the “heart;” not just its thinking, not just its desiring, not just its actions, but each element and even how the elements work together in a life situation.
Readers will especially appreciate chapter 4. This chapter emphasizes the redemptive possibilities of the human heart. Thus, the chapter is not only a source of training for counselors, but also a source of encouragement for our own lives. The finished work of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit not only determine our eternal future, they change the functions and interactions of the heart in our daily life.
Pierre also explains that the heart is not a self-contained “black box” with its own controls. The heart is influenced by circumstances. The circumstances are not simply occasions for the heart to be expressed, they exert influence on the heart (esp. 89–94). Counselors will thus recognize that a conversation with a counselee will include questions that help the counselor understand both the influences on the heart, but also the heart’s responses to the broader circumstances.
Section 2 uses this biblical theology of the heart to inform how the heart responds to four components in our world: God, self, others, and circumstances. Chapters 6–9 discuss the heart’s response to each of the four components respectively. Counselees have various forms of conformity of their heart to the heart of the Lord. A healthy heart is one that imitates God’s. Pierre explains that one must surrender beliefs, values, and commitments to the Scripture with the result that our core beliefs are the truths of Scripture, that our core values are God’s core values, and our core commitments are those given by God (esp. pp. 119–23).
Our response to self is often called identity. This chapter will be familiar ground for those who have appreciated the emphasis over the last decade on the counselee’s identity (self-awareness) in Christ. For many, the challenge is that the counselee’s understanding of their identity does not often match with the identity that was given to them by Jesus. Thus, helping people understand their identity and encouraging their heart response at every level is an important part of personal ministry (pp. 139–43).
In some ways, the concept of others and circumstances are similar. Both are external forces seeking to mold and shape the functions and interactions of the heart. When we speak about people exerting force upon a life, we think of influence. To whom or to what does our counselee give influence? Whose opinion do they value? When we think of circumstances, we can wisely discuss with counselees how their history, personal schedule and habits, and opportunities shape their heart.
The final section of the book offers help to counselors in order to frame how they can wisely help another person. Pierre uses the concept of read (listening to people’s hearts), reflect (help others understand their heart), relate (point them to Jesus), and renew (call them to respond based on faith). Chapters 10–13 explain each of these four concepts. It is here that he creates a Cartesian grid connecting the three aspects of the heart (thinking, desiring and feeling, and choosing) with the responses of the heart to the four shaping influences (God, self, others, circumstances). The individual charts are helpful and provide practical help to link the three sections of the book together into a package.
The Dynamic Heart is a much needed book in the biblical counseling movement. It is a call to all biblical counselors to ensure that they are explaining the Bible’s teaching of the heart in its functions, interactions, and responses to life. We can no longer just say “pay attention to the heart.” Therefore, this is a work that is going to inform counseling, other writings about counseling, and teaching counseling. In fact, it is influencing my dynamic heart as I relate to my dynamic world.
That said, there are a couple areas that readers may find frustrating. First, and most important, is that this book needs a case study. The average counselor serving at our church would love the robust theology of the heart and be helped by the detailed descriptions of the heart. However, I think some of them would tell me that they are not sure how to bring all this information to the counselor-counselee interaction. A case study would have been a helpful tool to alleviate this issue. I realize books are written for a purpose and adding material is somewhat of an unfair criticism. But in this situation, the audience would be helped if there was a case study.
Second, section 3 was slightly overwhelming. This concern is related to the first, but slightly different. The author gives four full charts explaining how to read, reflect, relate, and renew with practical questions associated with each—including hundreds of questions! The sum total of the four charts paints the picture of a poor counselor trying to serve someone who has four charts to fill out while they ask 242 questions and listen to properly evaluate the dynamic heart’s responses to a series of dynamic influences and interactions.
These elements may be influenced by the fact that this book has its origins in a Ph.D. dissertation. The material may seem a bit challenging for the common layperson working as an engineer or a stay-at-mom who serves around her busy schedule. Weaknesses aside, this is a book that the biblical counseling movement needs. It will have an impact on counseling methodology and instructing others in counseling for years to come.