Confident to Counsel

December 15, 2012

Ben Coppedge, M.Div. student, counseling emphasis.

Ben Coppedge is currently in his last year of a Master of Divinity degree with a counseling emphasis. Three years before he came to Westminster, he was an intern with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at the University of Georgia. The campus minister he worked under while at UGA also studied at Westminster, and Ben says, “He was feeding me John Murray, Vos, Machen, and the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) books for three years down there.” Through his recommendation, Ben decided to come to Westminster to study.

Coming to Westminster, Ben had many questions from his prior ministry experience, but, Ben says, “Westminster has answered a lot of those questions, and it also answered a lot of questions I wasn’t asking.” One class that helped was ST101, Prolegomena to Theology. “I had never really thought through the epistemological questions: how we know what we know confidently. My only exposure to those kinds of questions was purely philosophical, and I didn’t see how the Bible came into it. To see that explained and unpacked in class, though, was extremely helpful. It kind of trickled into every area of my life, and then some. If I’m going to see anything accurately, it’s going to come from the One whose eyes are not tainted, versus all of ours which are.”

He has also benefitted from his Old Testament courses: “My Old Testament classes have shown me the beautiful continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and a theology of suffering that I had never really heard before I got here. It helps me to understand Jesus better in the New Testament when he’s the suffering servant—those things are very present in his life as well as ours.”

In addition to Westminster’s biblical and systematic theology courses, Ben has also appreciated the counseling courses he has taken thus far. Commenting on Ed Welch’s Helping Relationships course, a crucial part of his seminary experience, Ben says, “Dr. Welch is the professor who has helped me better than anyone else to see the person of God behind the Scriptures, and the person who is revealed in Scripture.  He can take some very high-minded theology and bring it down to earth, down to the nitty-gritty details of life and talk about Scripture, talk about the Lord, talk about what God is up to in such a way that it is completely conversational and easily accessible.

“His class, ‘Helping Relationships,’ was one of the first counseling classes I took, and that was a goldmine for doing relationships, but also for ministry.  That class really helped me understand that I reach conclusions way too fast with people in a situation.  For instance, if I was sitting with someone and they told me, ‘I’m struggling with assurance of salvation,’ when I was doing college ministry before my first instinct was to say, ‘maybe you’re not a Christian, and we should talk about the Lord’s work in your life, or whether you’ve professed or not.’  I heard one sentence, and I projected onto that person a whole lifetime of information that wasn’t theirs. I wasn’t really listening to them. That class really helped me understand that part of ministry is taking time to listen, and looking beyond surface issues to see the normality in this person.”

Through that class, Ben also gained a mega-structure for seminary: moving from the simplistic answers, through the complexity of theology, and bringing it back to the simple ways the Gospel works in people’s lives. “Dr. Welch gave me that structure, which I’m thankful for because without that I could have gone through seminary either simplistically, as in ‘I’m getting a big quiver of correct answers,’ or I could have gotten lost in the complexity. He laid out the path that ended up being the story of my time at Westminster, and I’ve been really thankful for that.  Instead of leaving seminary floating in simplicity or drowning in complexity, I’m leaving with a clearer and simpler worldview.”

Though the counseling classes may seem different from the systematic theology classes, Ben sees a natural connection between the two. “I really see counseling as the place where every piece of a Westminster education is synthesized and pulled together.  If you’ve had enough theology classes to know what to listen for, and you sit in on a counseling course, you hear very strongly the biblical-theological themes and the systematic categories: union with Christ, the centrality of Christ, the personal nature of the Gospel and the person of God, the doctrine of the Spirit.” Specifically, “with ‘Theology and Secular Psychology’, it’s Van Tilian apologetics applied to secular psychological models.”

“While in class, I’ll often think, ‘If Jesus is who this professor says he is, then the Gospel is infinitely better than I’ve ever known. And if the Bible is as down-to-earth as I’ve learned and aimed at real people with real problems, then it is more helpful than I ever thought.’”

Ben has not only learned from the classes, but also from student fellowship. “I’ve learned as much at bars and coffee shops as I have [in classes]. That’s at least part of it, and that has been a joy for me. I’m leaving here a lot better equipped than if I hadn’t had that fellowship. You’re thrown into this place and no matter what denomination you’re in, you’re going to find a lot of people who are very different from you.  That has been really helpful. I would hope that for most students here, the fellowship helps you learn to converse graciously with people you may disagree with.”

Ben hopes to graduate in the Spring of 2013 and return to campus ministry with RUF.  He will leave Westminster more equipped than he came, and more prepared to minister  to those in need. “I’ll be leaving this seminary profoundly grateful for a much deeper love for the Bible.”

If you would like to support the ministry of Westminster in the lives of students like Ben, please consider donating to the work of the seminary by visiting our online donations page.