There are Times . . .

. . . When counselors may become so overwhelmed by a counselee’s situation that, along with Job’s wife, they want to say something like, ”Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

In such circumstances, what must they do?

Answer:  remember the many words of Scripture that make no such allowance for such bad advice (for instance, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

Now, I know that frustration because of both the counselee’s response and the problems to which he is responding badly is common. It is easy, therefore, for you (as a counselor) to conclude that you are simply “not up to it.” And, in many respects, you aren’t—you can’t seem to figure out what God would have you advise and do in a particular instance. But there are several things you can do rather than utter some sort of exasperated advice. Let me list them:

  1. You may seek further information about, or details concerning those aspects of the problem that seem fuzzy, puzzling, or unclear.
  2. You may pray and ask the counselee to pray that you will become further enlightened in the biblical advice that you don’t have at the moment.
  3. You may consult (by permission from the counselee) with another counselor—or bring him into the next counseling session.
  4. You may find a clue to where you have taken a wrong (unbiblical) turn in counseling by consulting your notes. You do take notes, don’t you?
  5. A check on past homework given—and how well it was followed—may help.
  6. More time out of session for praying, searching Scripture, and thinking about the counselee’s problem may help.
  7. Check out the fifty failure factors in the Christian Counselor’s New Testament/Proverbs to see if any of these apply.

Never hesitate (very long) to admit you are stumped. But make it clear that God isn’t—be sure he understands that the insufficiency is yours alone. But insist that there is a proper biblical answer. And it may not be the one either you or the counselee likes.

But one thing must be clear: God isn’t stumped!

Bird Life in the Church

There isn’t a single thing that the birds at my feeder do to deserve the largess that I bestow on them. I bought the feeders that contain the seed, I continue to buy seed to fill them. My grandson and I take turns filling the feeders. When a feeder needs repair, I repair it. Everything—everything is done for those birds; it’s pure grace! Yet, it’s interesting to see a Dove chasing four others away from the food that falls on the ground as the sloppy eaters (largely Finches) spill it in large quantities. He acts like he owns the territory. Perhaps he thinks he does!

And when it’s hummingbird time, and we hang out the sugar water feeder, you can be absolutely certain that one bird will claim it as his own and defend it to the end of the season. Indeed, you can see him sitting on a bare branch, watching it, daring any other to approach the jar. If they so much as get near, he’ll zoom down on them at mach speed and chase them away with his long, pointed beak. There are always star wars when the hummers return for the summer!

But think of it. How much like humans these birds are. God has provided all things for us freely to use. In grace He has provided even more for the believer in Christ Jesus. Yet, there we are fighting over things as if any of us deserved anything. It all is God’s. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; indeed, He bought us with a price—we are His property, His slaves. Anything He gives us—the world, our finances, health—is a gift for sure. We have no claims on Him. And the salvation we enjoy in Christ as believers is, again, entirely of grace. Yet, are we not going about as brothers and sisters in Christ, claiming things for ourselves? “That part in the choir is mine; how dare she try to usurp it!” Or, “They’re our members; how dare you to invite them to a service at your church?” Thousands of similar sentences are uttered every Sunday by Christians who have taken possession of that which is owned and graciously provided by our Father in heaven. Isn’t it time we considered rising above bird life?

Important Advice for Biblical Counseling Students

I rise today to share some urgent advice with students of biblical counseling. My target audience are those students especially who are studying in College or Seminary as well as those who are learning in a number of church-based training centers. You are involved in an important study which you will find to be life changing, not only for those to whom you will be ministering in the counseling room someday, but for your own life as well. Diligence in your studies now will produce fruit you are not yet able to envision.

My advice for you is simple, but urgent. If you will take my admonition to heart and embrace my counsel, your studies will be enriched exponentially. Those who will heed my advice will quickly recognize the wisdom of my exhortation and will be rewarded with a renewed vigor for their studies.

Now, you may think I am over promising and that there is no advice or instruction I could offer that could possibly live up to my hype. Trust me, I wish I were articulate enough to make my case even stronger. If you will implement my simple guidance here, the benefits you will reap will change the trajectory of your studies profoundly.

So, without further buildup, here it is. Students of biblical counseling, do this one thing—READ JAY ADAMS!

Now those readers who have been students of biblical counseling for some time are scratching their heads at this. They are thinking, “Donn, these are biblical counseling students you are addressing, of course they read Jay Adams. What are you talking about?”

If that was your reaction I fear I have bad news for you. Generally, young biblical counseling students today do not read Jay Adams—they read about Jay Adams. And sadly, what they read about Jay Adams, and often what they are told about Jay Adams, gives them no incentive to actually read Jay Adams.

I recently talked to a young man who had just graduated with a degree in biblical counseling from an otherwise fine Christian college. He confessed to me that he had never read a book written by Jay Adams. This past week one of our students sent me a link to a page describing a seminary course entitled Intro. To Biblical Counseling. I will not identify the Seminary other than to say I know it to be a fine school. The pastors I know who are graduates are well trained and number among the most effective pastors I know. But here is the course description:

An introduction to the basis of biblical counseling, covering topics such as the theological basis of discipleship/counseling, the definition of biblical counseling, the essentials for the discipler/counselor, a comparison of counseling philosophies, and the biblical view of change, guilt, and self-image. Also included are the key elements of the counseling process, handling one’s past and one’s attitude.

Textbooks Required:

Descriptions and Prescriptions, by Michael Emlet. New Growth Press.
The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, by Heath Lambert. Crossway.
The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, by Jeremy Pierre. New Growth Press.
The Biblical Counseling Movement, by David Powlison. New Growth Press.
The Pastor and Counseling, by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju. Crossway. (ThM students only)
How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. Crossway. (ThM students only)
Counseling One Another, by Paul Tautges. Shepherd Press. (ThM students only)

Textbooks Recommended:

A Theology of Biblical Counseling, by Heath Lambert. Zondervan.
Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson.
No Quick Fix, by Andrew Naselli. Lexham Press.
Seeing with New Eyes, by David Powlison. P&R Publishing.
Speaking the Truth in Love, by David Powlison. New Growth Press.
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul Tripp. P&R Publishing.

My purpose in reproducing this list is not to criticize these books (well, most of them anyway). There are many fine books listed which biblical counselors should eventually read. I would simply point out that each of these authors either studied under Dr. Adams himself, or one of his students. Most build on Jay’s foundation. Reading any of them without a familiarity with Adams’ work first hand is like building a house starting with the roof and working down.

Let me list just a few of the reasons students of biblical counseling should read Jay Adams.

  1. Adams is clear. I have seen early manuscripts of a number of his books. They bleed with red ink where he has crossed out, revised, simplified, clarified, and otherwise amended his text. He has labored to be clear. Where a simple word will communicate well, he forsakes a complicated one. No one has ever had to “plough” through a Jay Adams book. In his books one will never encounter such words as “heretofore,” “aforementioned,” “advantageous,” “disseminate,” “deleterious,” “subsequently,” or promulgate.”
  2. Adams is biblical. He begins with Scripture and leads his reader from the text to its logical application in the counseling room. He is one of the leading Greek scholars and Bible exegetes of his generation.
  3. Adams is practical. He does not speak in abstractions. Reading Jay Adams will not only show you how Scripture intersects with life, you will learn by his example how to make the Bible live for those you counsel.
  4. Adams is direct. You will not have to wade through a swamp of indecision and equivocation. You will encounter no “nuances” to consider.
  5. Adams is provocative. Note that I did not say “combative.” His books will provoke deep thought, thought about issues you may have never encountered before—and issues you may have not wanted to think about.

Unless students actually read Adams for themselves they will know none of this. One of the required books in the list above paints an unflattering picture of the man and would give the student reason to avoid his books (see my review here).

“But Adams has written over 100 books in his lifetime. Which one(s) should I read first?”

Good question. Obviously his foundational books are must reads—Competent to Counsel, Christian Counselor’s Manual, Theology of Counseling. But let me urge you to consider three titles which are not as well know but will richly reward the biblical counselor’s investment of time and money—Committed to Craftsmanship in Biblical Counseling, Insight and Creativity in Christian Counseling (temporarily out of print), and The Grand Demonstration.

Biblical Counselor, do not be part of a generation who knew not Jay Adams. One hundred years from now our descendants will be reading and discussing Jay Adams in the same way that we read and discuss Spurgeon, Calvin, Machen, and C.S. Lewis today. Read Adams and profit from him now!

 

Ping Pong

A soft answer turns away wrath.
But a foolish word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

Every time I read that Proverb, I think of Ping Pong.

“How’s that?”

Oh . . . it just seems to illustrate the principle in the proverb so well!

“Don’t get it.”

You see, many Proverbs are pictured principles of portable truth.

“What about Ping Pong?”

Oh! Here’s what I meant. One player slams a ball as hard as he can. What happens after that?

“Dunno.”

The other guy has to move away in order to receive it. It drives them farther apart.

“Yeah? And……?”

And if he slams one back just as hard, or harder, that separates them all the more.

“Sure.”

But if he simply answers the slam with a gentle return by merely holding his paddle still in receiving it, the ball barely goes back over the net and . . .

“and that draws them closer together.”

Right! So what’s the principle in the picture?

“Don’t slam people?”

I give up.

Authority

All true authority comes from God (John 19:10, 11). That is a fundamental principle. Another is: God must be obeyed rather than man when the two conflict (Acts 5:28, 29). Rulers had no right to forbid what God had commanded (Acts 5:20). If a clear command of God is forbidden, it must not be obeyed regardless of consequences. But many commands are not clearly opposed to one another. What then?

First, recognize that there is a difference between Romans 12 and 13 (the former having to do with how individuals relate to one another and how Christians must relate to the government (see also 1 Peter 2:13, 17). Failing to recognize this distinction can cause confusion. New Testament Christians had to live in countries hostile to Christianity as many do today. Some went to the stake for living as God requires (martyrs). Others (confessors) stayed true to God but survived. Some of the latter did so by observing other biblical injunctions. They were conscientious in paying taxes, for instance (as Jesus was: Mark 12:14ff). They provoked no trouble if it was possible to avoid it (Proverbs 14:16; 27: 12). This warning is important to apply to many situations today.

Another principle can be deduced from Jesus’ command to his followers who were to serve Him. If you don’t have a sword, sell your coat and buy one. A coat was important—people slept in them (if taken as collateral, they had to be returned by night). Jesus’ command was to be prepared to defend yourself if attacked (Lk. 22:36). Rome had cleared some of the roads of thieves, but not all of them. Because of government failure, people had to take the law into their own hands when it was necessary to do so. This could be the most important principle of all in many situations—but it’s application must be thought through carefully (and no fudging is allowed!). The government is not the enemy unless it makes itself so—Paul often availed himself of its authority—and had friends in it (Acts 19:31). It would be interesting to hear what other believers faced with authority issues have done.

What Biblical Counseling Does for the Counselor

Under this general rubric I could suggest many things, but let me deal with only one: its effects on the counselor. The counselor, who is worth his salt (a phrase that comes from a time when soldiers were paid in salt), will never fail to recognize the sin, habitual remnants of sin, and temptations that affect his own life as he deals with the same in others. If a man doing counseling isn’t warned over and over again of the possibilities for denying His God by a lifestyle that besmirches His Name, then he ought not be counseling. A counselor sees not only a wide variety of sin, but the tragic consequences of it. If he isn’t wise enough to learn from what he sees, he has no right counseling others.

A second benefit of biblical counseling is that to improve his counseling ability he is able to study the Bible as His guide. What a rich blessing! Contrast that with those, who in order to gain further information about their counseling, must study the wearisome works of psychologists. Not only are the concepts of such men frequently base and unedifying, but often even their language is disgusting. While a biblical counselor who studies regularly, in contrast, is afforded an opportunity to grow by grace through his biblical studies; the one who is not biblical fills his head and heart with the errors of men that can only be detrimental in their effects.

So, why not do biblical counseling? There is every advantage for a Christian himself, not to mention the benefits that his counselees derive from it. But, beyond that—think how the one glorifies God and the other glorifies man.

Equivocation

I’d like to say something about equivocal language. It was interesting when in graduate school, I had to read some of Tillich’s writings. As you know, Tillich was nothing more than an atheist hiding under an ecclesiastical garb. His definition of God: “the ground of our being.”

In one class I was forced to read his massive two-volume theology. It was torture wading through pages of intricately convoluted thinking, paradox, and reams of equivocal language. It was written in a style that was nothing short of planned obfuscation. By many, therefore, it was thought profound! Their unspoken (also unthought-of?) presupposition being that whatever is obtuse is, therefore, profound.

Coincidentally during the same semester, in a preaching class, I was required to study Tillich’s sermons. So, I was able to compare and contrast the one with the other. I found the sermons lucid, as clear as the water on which you ride in a glass-bottomed boat in Florida. It is so clear that you can see fish swimming many feet below, who look as though they were close enough to grasp with your hand. There wasn’t anything in the sermons that I found difficult to understand (That’s one reason why I can confidently assert he was an atheist).

Now, I have one question to ask: Why did he write so differently in one place from the way he did in the other? He was capable of doing both.

I cannot read his heart, of course. But I may venture a thought or two about why a person might do such a thing. In one context he might want to be understood; in the other he might not want to be. Why would a person not want to be understood? Because he might not want people to know what he really believes. Also, because obscurity is often kin to supposed profundity. And, because an academic atmosphere in which obfuscation and equivocation is the style of the day almost demands such writing.

Christians ought not give in to such pressures that prohibit clarity and simplicity of writing on the basis that people maintain if plain, it must be puerile. We ought to write clearly, but trenchantly, since we have something to say that is authentically profound. It is, therefore, incumbent upon Christians to set a new standard for writing that is consistent with the simple, inspired writings of the apostles. In doing so, we may not always be considered worth reading by those academics who live and write by the standards of the time, but the common people will hear us gladly.

Age

As we celebrated Jay Adams’ 90th birthday last week I was reminded of this prayer Jay wrote in 1979 in a little book entitled Prayers for Troubled Times.

I’m tired.
__As I grow older
__fatigue comes sooner.
__This worn and weary frame
__no longer functions
__as it once did.
That I may continue to serve You
__and live the rest of my days
__to their full
__is my prayer.
I know, Lord, that I must learn
__to recognize limitations,
__to choose among opportunities,
__to eliminate excess baggage.
But that knowledge comes hard.
__I am not wise;
__I need to understand
__much more that I now know
__of the practical application
__of your Word
__to these matters.
Forgive me Lord
__for not learning sooner,
__for wasting time
__and dissipating energy
__I now wish I had.
__I see the importance
__of these commodities
__now that I am beginning
__to run short of them.
I want to serve You
__to the end,
__not in a lackluster manner,
__nor in weariness of flesh,
__but vivaciously,
__conserving and wisely using
__all my remaining strength
__________for Your glory,
_______________Amen.

Committed to Craftsmanship in Biblical Counseling

We are pleased to announced that the first reprint of Dr. Adams’ books is now available! Committed to Craftsmanship has been one of our most frequently requested titles and its new availability has been met with gratitude by those who teach Biblical counseling, seasoned counselors, and counseling students alike.

As Dr. Adams interacted with counselors over the years he became concerned that many counselors had settled for a minimal amount of training, had adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to common problems, and were not growing. This book is not only his challenge to such counselors, but an encouraging guidebook for those who want to grow and become true Craftsman in the art of Biblical counseling.

If you are a Biblical counselor who is serious about pleasing God and providing genuinely biblical help to your counselees, this book is must reading for you. Order your copy from the INS Bookstore today. Soon to be available as an eBook.

Happy Birthday Jay

On January 30 Jay Adams will celebrate his 90th birthday! While Jay no longer receives email, we have established a special email address for his friends to communicate with him on this special occasion. Send your greeting and whatever message you would like to communicate, long or short, to this address—jayeadams1970@gmail.com. We will print them out and present them to him in a binder so he can read through them in the days to come.