Romans 8:28

“All things work together for good” is the part of the quotation usually given while omitting the words “to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” That is one fact to remember—when quoting the verse, include those words. The fact is, unless one has been called by God (through the Holy Spirit who then also “draws” him to God), the promise should not be made in counseling. Moreover, the promise is to those who “love God” as the verse teaches—a fact often not stressed even though quoted.

What is this promise? It is a statement about the providence of God.  He is not a God Who fails to care for His creation, but One Who plans His work, then works His plan. He is personally directing the circumstances involved in whatever a person’s situation may be at any given moment. That is why the promise makes sense, and can be relied upon.

The verse is one that should be used frequently in one’s counseling ministry. Why? Because it is reassuring to those who find themselves in situations that seem to indicate God has forgotten them. This verse indicates that God is in the problem (it is not a random occurrence), that He is up to something in it (there is a definite purpose to it) and that He is up to something good (to be learned, later, perhaps in the distant future or even after death).

Use the verse, stressing that one must be a believer (effectually “called”) who loves God, and that there is something that He has in mind (the difficulty is not without “purpose”). Use it often but explain it as you do so that your counselees will understand the facts about it which are often neglected. When these are neglected, the verse often loses its meaning and fails to bring its comfort—the very things for which it was given and which you quote it.

The Institute for Nouthetic Studies is Now a Publisher!

Today we have launched a new bookstore and are excited to announce that the Institute for Nouthetic Studies is now a publisher. We have assumed publishing responsibilities for all Jay Adams’ titles formerly published by Timeless Texts and soon you will see them made available in our new online bookstore.

In addition to making these titles available again we will also be bringing back into print all Dr. Adams’ books that have been out of print and unavailable, in some cases, for many years. While this is a process that will take several years to complete, you will begin to see several important books appear very soon. In fact, we have an entirely new book from the pen of Dr. Adams in the pipeline.

Want to know more? Follow this link to our new bookstore and explore the site. Please excuse the mess as it is still under construction. Many more titles will be added in the next few weeks, but you can check us out now and order books that are available. Bookmark the page so you can check in with us regularly.

www.INSBookstore.com

 

I Need Your Help

I need your help, yes you! You are reading our little blog because you know, have read, have heard, or are otherwise familiar with Jay Adams. You have profited from his ministry and have been a greater blessing to others because of what you have learned from him.

But sadly, there are many who travel in Biblical counseling circles these days who have never heard Jay speak and, unbelievably, have never read Competent to Counsel. When I first began my journey as a biblical counselor Jay Adams was scheduled as the speaker for all five plenary sessions at the annual NANC conferences. Today, a large majority of those who attend an ACBC conference have never heard him speak. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good that so many younger men and women now identify with the movement.

But the Biblical counselor, of any age, who does not read and learn from Jay Adams is missing a great blessing and, frankly, is derelict in his responsibility to grow as a counselor. Imagine the theologian who has never read Calvin. Is there a pastor anywhere, who is serious about growing as a preacher, who has never read Spurgeon? Can one be a conscientious WWII historian if he has never read Churchill? How about the Methodist who has never read Wesley, the Lutheran who has never read Luther, or the musician who has never heard Bach or Mozart.

One reality those of us who love Dr. Adams must face is the fact that since his retirement from an active speaking and writing ministry, Adams’ critics have been louder than his supporters. Some of those critics travel in our circles and are often the only voices new counselors hear. As a result, there has arisen a generation of biblical counselors who knew not Jay Adams. Our movement will be the poorer for it if we allow this to continue.

Thus, I come back to my initial plea—I need your help! You will soon be reading about a new initiative to bring many of Dr. Adams’ books back into print and make all of his books more readily available. Before we launch this initiative, I am collecting as many testimonies, endorsements, and recommendations as a can from folk like YOU who have profited from reading Jay Adams. Would you consider sending me a short “blurb” describing how reading Jay Adams has helped you?

First, I need comments from YOU. Please do not think that since you are not John MacArthur or R C Sproul no one will care what you think. I want to appeal to other counselors and pastors who are just like you.

Second, I need short, pithy testimonies or endorsements. Two or three sentences is great but also a short paragraph would be helpful.

Third, I need specific comments:

How has reading Jay Adams helped you generally? You have no specific book in mind, just his writing ministry in general.

Imagine you are telling a friend, “Here is why you should read Jay Adams.” What would you say?

Is there a specific book that has helped you? Now I am sure I will get many comments about Competent to Counsel or The Christian Counselor’s Manual, but what other books have helped you? How so?

Several of Dr. Adams’ books have been out of print for some time and are on our radar for republishing soon. If you have read one of these, and can provide us with an endorsement “blurb,” who knows, it may appear on the back cover of the book!

Committed to Craftsmanship

Insight and Creativity in Christian Counseling

What to Do On Thursday

Finally, you may be thinking, “there is no way I can express my love and appreciation for all I have learned from Jay Adams’ books in a short paragraph, can’t I say more?” YES! I am also entertaining guest blog articles from counselors and pastors who can do as suggested above—explain to readers why they should read Jay Adams. In fact, if you maintain your own blog, how about posting such an article there and telling us about it?

Send your articles, blog posts, endorsements, blurbs, and comments to me at donnarms@nouthetic.org.

 

 

Dirty Faces

James talks about the man who looks into a mirror, sees his face is dirty, but then goes away and forgets all about it—as a result, he still has a dirty face. What was he talking about? People who look into (study) the Bible, find out what is wrong with them, but go away and do nothing about it. Dirt is one thing; for neatniks, possibly everything. But suppose he sees signs of skin cancer, and still walks away? That could be deadly.

Yet, people do what James describes all of the time. They read, they hear a sermon, they remember a Scripture verse—any one of which facts demonstrates the need for change—but no, they go on, unperturbed, just as if they hadn’t seen the spiritual dirt or signs of cancer evident in their lives.

In some ways, it’s more dangerous to hear and neglect (or refuse to obey) than not to have heard at all. The responsibility for continuing in sin is greater. When your preacher holds the Bible mirror to your face in a powerful message, do you immediately go the Lord in repentance for His washing? Or do you go home, have a good meal, turn on your HD wall mounted TV, and forget all about it?

If we Christians were more conscientious about this matter, the impact of the truth upon our lives and our testimony to the community would be greatly extended. How about it? Am I right, or wrong?

Become doers of the Word and not only hearers, fooling yourselves; whoever is a hearer of the Word and not a doer is like a man who sees the face he was born with in a mirror—he sees himself, and goes away and immediately forgets what he looked like. But whoever looks in to the perfect law of freedom and continues to do so, becoming not a hearer who forgets but a doer of deeds, will be made happy in the doing.
James 1:22-25

Preach! Don’t Construct Sermons

images4Sometimes preachers fail to distinguish between preaching a sermon and preaching to a congregation. For some, the two may be identical (preaching a sermon to a congregation) but, on the other hand, they may not be (and usually are not). What is the difference to which I allude, what are its consequences, and what can be done about it?

The difference between preaching a sermon and preaching to a congregation is enormous. In the first, all, or nearly all, of the preacher’s effort has gone into preparing what he hopes will be THE SERMON. It is a masterpiece of style and artistry. People come just to hear and admire the sermon itself. Usually, such sermons are read or memorized. Almost always they are written out in full. In such preaching, the focus is on the sermon as such; it is a thing in-and-of-itself, and whether the particular congregation before whom (not to whom) it was performed (not preached) were to hear it, or another, is irrelevant. It can stand alone on its own two feet as a literary work. There are actually no such sermons in the New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount might be thought to be so. But although it is a fine piece of literature, Christ’s sermon was not designed to be wondered at or appraised for its artistic merits. And, as you read it, you soon recognize that it will not allow such treatment. With its second person approach, it constantly prods and pokes at you, by its direct simplicity it unmasks and convicts. The literary critic can find what he seeks only at the cost of hardening his heart to the message while attempting to concentrate solely on form. Even that is difficult: the form itself is testy and terse rather than smooth and elegant; critics, who know their stuff, cannot for long feel at home with it. It cannot be subjected to good criticism; it demands subjection instead. The so-called Sermon on the Mount, therefore, is not an instance of THE SERMON. Rather, it is a supreme example of preaching.

Preaching is an activity; sermon-making is an activity. But the product of the latter is a sermon (or, in some extraordinary cases, THE SERMON) while the product of the former is changed lives. The end or goal of sermon construction is literary; the end of preaching is moral and spiritual. In preaching, the focus is not on the sermon but on God and what He has to say to the congregation. When biblical preaching takes place, people do not think about the sermon or about the preacher; they think about Christ and in some way about their relationship to Him.

In the Scriptures we are commanded “Preach the Word”; nowhere are we told to prepare sermons. Too often, homileticians in seminaries have focused on the art and craft of sermon construction or the preparation and delivery of sermons. While there is need for instruction about how to gather, order and deliver the elements of the message one preaches, nevertheless, the difference in emphasis can make all the difference in outcome. We should talk more about the activity of preaching and less about the production of sermons. The two activities along with their goals and products differ substantially as we have seen already.

Congregations know the difference. Many members of a congregation may not be able to articulate that difference, but they know. “Our former pastor preached to us; I went out of the service every week knowing that I had received a message from God. Our present pastor works hard on his sermons—you can tell that—they are smooth, polished, but.…” Notice where the focus is in each instance: in the first comment it is on God, His message and my responsibility. In the second, on the pastor and his sermon. Under the former pastor’s preaching there will be life in the congregation, challenge to young people, conversions, breakthroughs, growth. Under the second man there will be dullness, deadness, stultification, dry professionalism and a growing churchianity.

“What can I do, if I have developed the bad practice of preparing sermons rather than preparing to preach? How can I change?” In some cases, the answer may be complex, in others more simple. But it will probably consist of at least the following changes:

  1. Stop writing out sermons. That means, of course, that you will neither read nor memorize them. Instead, prepare full preaching outlines, designed to be used as a help in preaching.
  2. Focus your thinking in preparation on God, on the message, and on the congregation—not on the sermon. Ask continually “how can I best bring this message from God to this congregation?” not “how can I best prepare a fine sermon?”
  3. Think about the congregation: Who will be there, what knowledge, prejudices, beliefs, etc., that they will have. Concern yourself with preparing to convey God’s message to this congregation, not with preparing a universal literary masterpiece that can stand apart on its own. Instead, particularize. Prepare to preach to one specific congregation on one occasion, not a sermon for the whole church for all time. When you preach, preach for results in this congregation, not as though you were addressing the entire world, or perhaps the church universal!
  4. Care about your people and adapt every story (or illustration, if you prefer) specifically to them. Prepare to preach to their needs, weaknesses, etc.; don’t address the ills of the planet. The planet isn’t there to hear!

Other solutions to the problem might be suggested but, frankly, I am convinced that the basic need is to become fully aware of the problem with its various ramifications. Once an earnest preacher recognizes that his concern has been about sermons rather than about God and His flock, he will repent and find a way to change. Those pulpit prima donnas who can see no problem will go on destroying congregations with abandon, and nothing short of dismissing them before it is too late will do. But for those who have unwittingly fallen into the trap, or who have been led into it by seminary academies, and who want to change, let me suggest one final solution to the problem. If for a period of three months you will prayerfully burn your sermon outlines, together with any and all preparatory notes, so that nothing remains, and allow no tape recordings to be made, and concentrate on the activity of preaching, you should be able to make the transition from writing sermons to preaching to people. During that period you will discover what it means to prepare to preach for the blessing of one congregation, on one occasion, instead of preparing to play to the grandstands of all time.

Forgiveness

What a wonderful word! Yet, what does it mean? How do you grant forgiveness; and, for what?

As much as Christians talk about forgiveness, you’d think they could tell you all about it. Yet, there is hardly one in a thousand who can give sound, Biblical answers to the questions above.

Forgiveness of others is to be modeled on one’s own forgiveness by Christ: “… forgiving one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

Forgiveness must be extended to all who say they repent—even if the offense has been repeated (Cf. Luke 17:3). But it is only to be granted to those who confess wrong doing, claim to be repentant, and ask forgiveness (Prov. 28:13). In Mk. 11:25, Jesus tells you to forgive those who wronged you when you pray, thereby avoiding bitterness and resentment (Eph. 4:32). But, that is different from granting the wrongdoer forgiveness. You do that only when he repents. Forgiveness of others must reflect god’s forgiveness; He forgave you when you repented.

Some unthinking Christians advise forgiving another whether or not he confesses sin. But they misunderstood forgiveness. They urge this to benefit the one who forgives. Yet, it was for your benefit that God forgave you. Their self-centered concept of forgiveness is unbiblical. God did not forgive you until you repented, admitted you were a sinner, and believed. Indeed, even now, when God dispenses parental forgiveness, He says, “…if you don’t forgive men, then your Father won’t forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15).

Some think when Christ prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” He forgave apart from repentance. But Jesus granted no one forgiveness by those words. He was asking God to forgive. Did God answer? Yes. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of those same people were converted, and their sins were forgiven. But, that did not happen apart from the means. Peter called on them to repent and believe in order to receive forgiveness (Cf. Acts 2:38).

Because in forgiving one promises not to bring up the offender’s sin, to him, to others, or to himself, it is not right to forgive before repentance. Jesus requires you to confront an offender (Matt. 18:15ff) in order to bring about reconciliation. If he refuses to listen to you, instead of forgiving him, you must tell one or two others. If he won’t hear them, then you must tell the church. Indeed, apart from repentance, the matter, must be brought up to an increasingly larger number of persons. Why? Through their aid to win the offender. In love, true forgiveness seeks not to relieve the forgiver, but to deliver the offender from his burden of guilt. Out of concern for the other person, the offended party pursues the offender until the matter is settled before God and men. Any bitterness on his part, Jesus said, must be dealt with in prayer. Because forgiveness is a promise not to refer negatively to the offender’s sin any more, it would be utterly inconsistent to forgive an unrepentant person before Church discipline has been successfully used.

People who try to be kinder than God, end up becoming cruel to others. The kind thing is not to focus on relief for one’s self, by forgiving others whether they repent or not, but by every Biblical means to win offenders. It may seem unkind to bring matters up again and again when an offender refuses to be reconciled, but you must do so, not to irritate, but to help relieve him of the burden of his sin. To ignore him and focus on one’s self, saying, “feel better since I forgave Bob, even though he didn’t seek forgiveness,” is the epitome of the modern, self-centered psychological heresy.

Seeking forgiveness is not apologizing. There is nothing in the Bible about apologizing—the World’s substitute for forgiveness that doesn’t get the job done. You apologize, and say “I’m Sorry,” but have not admitted your sin. The offended party feels awkward, not knowing how to respond. You are still holding the ball. You asked him to do nothing. But, confess your sin to him saying, “I have asked God to forgive me, and now I’m asking you,” and you pass the ball to the other person. You ask him to bury the matter for good. Jesus commands him to say “yes,” thereby making the promise that God does: “Your sins and you iniquities will I remember against you no more.” That brings the matter to a conclusion. Apologizing does not.

Is there someone to whom you should go ask forgiveness? Has someone sought it from you to whom you said “Once, yes; twice, maybe; three times, no!”? Perhaps there is someone whom you have never confronted about a matter that has brought about an unreconciled condition between you. Are any of these problems outstanding? Then you have business to attend to. Why not settle the matter today?

You don’t have to feel like it to forgive. Forgiveness is a promise that you can make and keep, whether you feel like it or not. And, it is easier to forgive another—even when he sins against you seven times a day—when you remember Christ’s great sacrifice for you sins by which He forgave you. And, then too, remember how many times a day He forgives you ever since you have become a believer. One other fact may help. If you have truly forgiven, it isn’t the fifth, or the third; it’s not even the second time. If you have truly buried the matter, truly forgiven—it’s always the first.

The Threat of Eclecticism

Alluring as it may be, eclecticism is a serious threat. It is a decided hindrance to achieving excellence in biblical counseling. The eclectic way offers encouragement from professionals and highly recognized degrees leading to plush positions and money. It requires little original thought and demands virtually nothing in the way of character growth.

There has always been a sinful tendency among God’s people to abandon God and His Word for something else. The entire Old Testament is replete with incidents of the sort. Speaking for God, Jeremiah puts it this way:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

This is a serious problem that has plagued the church of Christ ever since counseling began. The problem with eclecticism is that it is based on the idea that the wisdom of man may be blended with the wisdom of God to produce a third and better thing than either provides alone.

In Acts 17:18 the philosophers in Athens used a derogatory word to describe the apostle Paul. They called him a spermalogos. This term I have translated “an eclectic babbler” in my Christian Counselor’s New Testament. It describes exactly what the eclectics do. The word pictures a bird going about picking up various sorts of seeds here and there. That, at its core, is eclecticism—it is filling the pot with a little Rogers, a dash of Freud, some Maslow, a pinch or two of Adler and a sprinkling of Scripture. Then the whole is mixed together and poured out into a pan to harden. It should not be done by God’s people.

God tells us that in His Word, everything necessary for life and godliness may be found (2 Peter 1:31). The eclectic procedure runs counter to Peter’s statement. Indeed, to add to the words of the living God is nothing less than unbelief. It is an act of rebellion. Isaiah describes God’s people as rebellious children when they engage in this sort of thing (Isaiah 30:1). He decries the fact that they go down to Egypt to make counsel that He says is not [His]. He speaks negatively of the alliance they make with Egypt as weaving a web that is not of [His] Spirit. That is, such a thing is not of His doing. Why? How is that rebellion? He goes on to say, that His people didn’t ask for a word from [His] mouth (v. 2). In other words, they trusted in the promises and schemes of the Egyptians rather than in the word of God. As Isaiah also points out, the Egyptians are men and not God (Isaiah 31:3). What utter foolishness! Why turn to the words and wisdom of men rather than to the words and wisdom of God? The entire second chapter of 1 Corinthians denounces the very same thing. And the Psalmist opens the book of Psalms warning against the counsel of the ungodly, urging the reader instead to delight in the law of the Lord.

The importance of this matter cannot be overstated. The entire church of the Lord Jesus Christ is filled with the ideas of men, largely brought in by so-called “Christian counselors.” One does not question the salvation of these spermalogoi (spermalogoi is the plural of spermalogos) but he must not approve of their thinking in this matter. Rather than calling themselves “Christian counselors,” they more properly might refer to themselves as Christians who are eclectic counselors. But because they (wrongly) use the title “Christian counselor” they deceive many—often including themselves. It is not a matter of their motives, it is a matter of their commitment to biblical counseling.

It is impossible to grow as a biblical counselor, making evident progress toward excellence, when one continually compromises his counseling with a mixture of alien elements. Take, for instance, the idea that one’s past must be investigated in detail in order to help solve his problems today (an essentially Freudian concept widely propagated within the church). When one subscribes to this idea, he will spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to do the impossible. No one can trace back all the past experiences that have led to a person’s becoming what he is today. It would take as long to do so as it did for one to live through them (or longer). Then at the end (which he could never reach because while following up leads his counselee would be experiencing new events that would need to be tracked down ad infinitum), how would he know that he didn’t miss the most crucial experience? No, going outside of the Scriptures is detrimental to progress in biblical counseling.

It has deleterious effects in other areas as well. Consider but one. Delving into the past to find the reasons for present behaviors (attitudes, beliefs, etc.) is a method that seems designed to provide excuses for a counselee. After all, if someone (or something) did it to him in the past, he is probably stuck with it for life. Very little (if any) change can be expected. He is a victim rather than a violator. He is a pawn to be pushed about by people and circumstances. Since this concept runs counter to all that the Bible teaches about human responsibility and change, it impedes the pursuit of excellence in biblical counseling. Unfortunately, too few of the spermalogoi seem to understand this fact.

Now, what I have looked at in terms of one concept eclectically brought into the church may be multiplied many times over. All of it keeps one from a true commitment to biblical counseling and craftsmanship. The entire process is deceptive. Most counselors who adopt the eclectic stance have no idea of the damage that they are doing to their counseling ministries and to their counselees. The Spirit of God produced His Word over a long period of time. He, Himself, declared that it makes the counselor adequate, and equips him fully for every good work. The work in view is the work of changing people by means of the Scriptures.

Moreover, the eclectic counselor must necessarily hold contradictions. You cannot say that all things necessary for life and godliness are found in biblical promises on the one hand, and then on the other hand, search for worldly wisdom that will add necessary dimensions to what you read in the Bible. That is but the beginning of the contradictions that abound in this approach.

In addition to holding confusing contradictions, the spermalogoi are themselves personally influenced by the principles and practices of the world as they imbibe and practice them in their counseling. A person cannot spend years in training of any sort and not be influenced by it. When day by day he works in the atmosphere of those principles and practices, advising others to follow them, this influence is deepened. Whether it is the direct influence of teachers and associates or the continued influence of the pagan system, the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:33 applies: “Don’t be misled; bad companions corrupt good habits.”

The warning is apropos. The eclectic counselor is misled. He may not realize it, but over time he will be led farther and farther away from the pure simplicity of the Scriptures into the world of human wisdom. His whole life will be affected by it. Often this defection takes place over a long period of time. Incrementally, as more and more he lays the Bible aside preferring to study the books of men whose views are in competition with God, his home life, his relationship to the church and other Christians, and (preeminently) his relationship to God are affected adversely. If he doesn’t divorce his wife (as far too many have done), he may effectively divorce himself from God and His people. Even when he doesn’t go that far, the little worldly beliefs that continually fill his heart and soul harden him to God’s Word. He may eventually become an adversary of the biblical pastor who attempts to be faithful to Scripture. In some ways, the one who runs off with his secretary is better off—at least he is aware of the radical changes that have occurred.

The incremental changes in one’s orientation are described by the Psalmist who speaks of walking, standing and (at length) sitting. Here is a dangerous progression. First, one becomes enamored with ungodly counsel and walks toward it. Next he is fascinated by it and stands there eating it up. In the end, he himself becomes a teacher sitting in the seat, scornfully speaking against that to which he once held.

I am not saying that this course is inevitable; it is my sincere hope that the words of the psalmist may jolt some of those walking along the road toward the wisdom of the ungodly and cause them to turn back. It is also my hope that some of those who have become enamored by such teachings may wake up. I even have an outside hope that some who now scoff may come down from the seat of the scornful. Since the Spirit of God is at work great things are possible!

Why, then, do I say that progress toward excellence in biblical counseling is impossible for the eclectic? Because so long as he continues his spermalogic course, he is heading in the wrong direction. You cannot go east and west at the same time (without coming apart). You cannot serve two masters. You will come to love one and hate the other. But that is exactly what happens. If one is making evident progress in biblical counseling, he is in retreat from eclectic counseling. If he is progressing toward the seat of the scornful, he is leaving biblical counseling behind. Which way are you traveling?

The Art and Science of Biblical Counseling

Counseling, like homiletics and most other aspects of ministry, is both an art and a science. There are specific skills to master—the Biblical disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics, and theology, plus the counseling skills of listening, data gathering, note taking, and assigning good homework. It is an art in that each counselor brings his own personality and judgment to bear as he builds an agenda, decides when to press the indecisive, comfort the afflicted, confront the disobedient, encourage the fainthearted, or instruct the untaught.

As teen growing up in Waterloo, Iowa my pastor was David Moore. He was a kind and gentle man with a personality that embraced everyone in the room. He was not a pulpiteer but even as a young teenager I enjoyed his preaching because I knew and loved Pastor Moore and I knew my pastor loved me. I never remember a time when I met Pastor Moore that he did not give me a huge bear hug. When I left for college Paul Tassell became my pastor. Dr. Tassell was a short dynamo of a man, a powerful preacher, and a no nonsense kind of guy. He was full of joy and energy but he did not suffer a fool gladly. I never doubted his love for his people but he was not a touchy/feely kind of guy. I do not recall seeing him hug anyone—ever.

Both men were effective pastors. Their churches grew under their leadership and both were universally loved by their respective flocks. Yet they had very different styles of ministry. This will be true of good biblical counselors as well.

I have a friend who believes a good counselor will spend many hours with a counselee building a relationship before getting into the substance of the counseling issue. Typical counseling sessions, for him, will last 2–3 hours. I believe he is a good counselor and I know he has helped many. But this is not my practice nor is it what we teach our students to do. We believe it is far more loving and kind to get at the counselee’s problem as quickly as possible and get them on the way toward solving it.

Jay often tells the story an experience he once had with a dentist. Shortly after moving to California he developed a bad toothache. Since he was new to town he had not yet been to a local dentist so, upon the recommendation of a friend, he called for an appointment. He was greeted on the phone by the sugary sweet voice of a receptionist who gushed that she was so glad he had called and offered set up an appointment with plenty of time for the Doctor to “get to know you first so you will be comfortable with him as your dentist.” Since Jay needed a dentist and not a new friend he politely extracted himself from the conversation and called another dentist who, thankfully, quickly went to work on his problem. This dentist became his friend because he was of genuine help with his toothache. It is a story Jay tells frequently when teaching students about building involvement with counselees. The obvious point being that a counselor will build involvement with a counselee naturally by offering him solid, biblical help, and doing so quickly.

I relate all this because of a document I read recently written by a man who was critiquing nouthetic counseling generally and Jay Adams in particular. Referring to this example Jay often uses he wrote “Jay Adams believes good counseling is like pulling teeth! You just reach into the counselee’s life and yank on the problem regardless of how much pain it causes.”

Biblical counselors can certainly do things differently than Jay Adams or Donn Arms and still be quite effective. Biblical counselors can disagree with Jay Adams on a point of doctrine here and there—I certainly do. But these kinds of mischaracterizations are inexcusable, intellectually dishonest, and cause great harm to students who read this kind of thing. Perhaps we are derelict by not responding to them more often and more aggressively.

Providence and Reasons Unknown

God’s providence is a wonderful thing; by it we know that all things work together for the good of His children. In counseling, or preaching, a man of God is able assure others of this fact. He should often revert to that comforting doctrine.

But some are not satisfied with that assurance. They want more. They insist on finding out how God is working out good in any given situation. Sometimes it is apparent how God is providentially at work (or at least partially so), but more often than not we are unable to do more than conjecture about it, Paul—an inspired prophet and apostle—at times found that he could not say for sure what God was doing providentially. In the situation in which Onesimus, a runaway slave came to know Christ through that experience, he writes “perhaps” that is why the event occurred (v.15), but (having no revelation of such facts) will go no further. It would do well for us most of the time to do the same. What we have in this little book of Philemon, interestingly, is an inspired “perhaps.”

Father, Forgive Them

The words following are almost always misunderstood.

Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23: 34, CSB).

What do they call to mind for you?

That Jesus was kind and forgave those who were crucifying Him. And, therefore, forgiveness is not conditioned upon repentance or faith—He offered it unconditionally!

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! In those words, Jesus was forgiving no one.

Really?

Really! Read again, more carefully. To whom was He speaking?

Uh . . . to God, I guess.

Right, He was not granting forgiveness to those who were putting Him to death. He wasn’t even speaking to them.

Note, also, that His words were a prayer. Do you think it was answered?

Don’t know—it doesn’t say.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to these same people as well as others. Five thousand Jews believed and were saved. That’s how the prayer was answered. Not apart from a condition—namely repentance and faith in Christ’s death for their sins.

Hmmmm.

Do you see? No one is forgiven unconditionally by God. The condition is always faith as the means of receiving it.