Casting Out Demons

Does God expect you to cast out demons? Have you wondered whether or not that ought to be an adjunct to your counseling? Some have; others have assured them that it is necessary to do so.

In counseling for 10 hours a day two days a week for many years, I have yet to encounter anyone demon-possessed. Oh, sure, I’ve had people claim that a counselee is; I’ve had counselees say so too. But in every instance, the problem turned out to be something else.

But, enough for my experience. What does God say about the matter? The answer? Nothing.


Precisely. He says nothing about it. And because nowhere in the entire New Testament does He command you or me to cast out demons there is no reason to expect that He wants us to do so. We ought never to do in His Name that which He doesn’t command. To do so is to misrepresent Him.

“Are you sure He doesn’t tell us to do it?”

Absolutely. Read your New Testament from beginning to the end and you’ll find no such command. That is an important fact because in Jesus’ parting words to the apostles (Matthew 28) He told them to teach their disciples to “observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” Obviously, since they left no such command for s to observe, there is no reason to think that we should do so. Don’t let anyone add to the commandments of Jesus and tell you that he has the right to do what He never gave Him the right to do. To do that is a serious matter. The issue is as simple as that!

For whatever reason, today we are to preach the Gospel to the lost, and nothing more. We’re not apostles armed with signs and wonders as they were (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12: 12). They faithfully did as they were commanded. Let us do so too.

Church Discipline

I received the following question today:

Would you comment on the practical ramifications of church discipline when it concerns a family member? Let’s say a woman is divorcing her husband for unbiblical reasons.  She has been urged to repent by the elders, her family, and the church.  But she refuses to repent.  What would you say to the parents, or other family members concerning their relationship to her?  Are they to not associate with her as well?  For example, if your son or daughter would not repent, would you still have her over for holidays, etc.?

Good question. The several stages in the process are often confused. During church discipline every effort of the entire church, including family members, is turned toward urging the person to repent. This is the “tell it to the church” stage. After that, when he is put out of the church, he is to be treated “as a heathen man and a publican” i.e. as an unbeliever.

So, how do you treat an unbeliever? You evangelize him! You have him over for a barbecue, you go golfing with him, you love him and seek opportunities to talk to him about his need for the Lord. It is during the “tell it to the church” stage that you tell him that you can’t go to the game with him.

Bill, I would love to go to the game with you. We used to enjoy great times tailgating together. But now, you have chosen to break that fellowship we once enjoyed because of your sin. Instead of going to the game, let’s spend the time talking about getting this thing resolved.

After he refuses to respond to these admonitions of the entire church, the church makes a formal judgment that the person is not a believer (since he does not act like one) and is therefore to be treated as an unbeliever. So treat him like one!

The Gospel

Say what you please, it all boils down to one thing.

“What’s that?”

The fact that some of us are tired of hearing weak, feeble presentations of the gospel that sometimes come even from those we respect in other ways.

“Such as?”

Such as ‘Take Jesus into your heart.’ Show me anything comparable to that in Scripture!

“OK. What else?”

‘Let me share Jesus with you.’ Or the bare, ‘Trust Jesus as your Savior’ and the lot. Many of them present Jesus as an add-on Who merely makes life more pleasant.

“Well . . . “

No ‘Wells’ about it—that’s not preaching the gospel.

“OK, then, how do you preach it?”

The way that Paul did. Listen to his words in I Corinthians 15: 1-3:

This is the good news that I preached to you by which you were saved. . . How that Christ died for our sins in agreement with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in agreement with the Scriptures.

When he told them that this was the good news he preached, here is what his message was:

  1. Good news. News has to do with something already accomplished. So, the preacher of the Gospel is a reporter. He is not asking people to do something to be saved, but to believe in two events that have already occurred. What needed to be done had already been accomplished before Paul began to preach.
  2. But, notice, Paul sets forth the fact that Jesus died for our sins. That means there is bad news over against which the good news is brought. The bad news is that apart from salvation from it, people are headed toward eternal punishment for their sins.
  3. The first of the two events, which are the very essence of the gospel, is that the preacher reports that Christ died for the sins of His people. That’s good news because it means He took the punishment due them for their iniquities, so that their sins could be forgiven and they could go to heaven.
  4. The second of those two essential events is that, though dead and buried, Jesus rose from the dead. In this way, we have a living Savior to Whose sacrifice of Himself God gave approval by raising Him from the dead. A “Savior” on the cross alone has not defeated death, and is no Savior.
  5. In addition, Paul declares that both of these factual events were predicted in the Old Testament, so that we have the added assurance that the gospel is really the good news that it purports to be, since it fulfilled prophecy to the full.

If you are presenting the Gospel, you call on acknowledged, repentant, sinners to receive the finished work of Christ by faith. Faith doesn’t save, but it is the means by which one is able appropriate the message of salvation reported in the Gospel.

“Oh! . . . . Uh. . . . Thanks.”


It is a genuine possibility for Christians to deceive themselves. There are many ways in which they might do so—for instance, that’s why we are told to make our calling and election sure (to ourselves, of course: God already knows—in fact, He knew it from all eternity past). There are many other ways to deceive ourselves but, today, I want to mention but one. James is the biblical writer who brings up the matter.  He says:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.      (James 1: 22).

How timely is this command since there are those who would question the fact that we should obey God by doing something to improve our Christian lifestyles.

For some, any effort on the part of the Christian to do what God commands is wrong.  In one way or another—contemplation of the cross is a current one—we are told not to make efforts on our behalf (that’s the arm of the flesh), but wait for the Spirit of God (or Christ within us) to do what needs to be done to conform to the “word” for us instead of us. That is to say, according to them, sanctification is not a joint effort by the believer and the Spirit to obey the truth, but a submission on the latter’s part, while the Spirit of God takes over completely.

Certainly, progress in the Christian’s life isn’t made apart from the Spirit, Who perfects His truth in us, but His fruit comes only to those who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), which he defines as “living by the Spirit” (v.25). To do so, each must “”examine his own work” (6:4), “work for the good of all (6: 10), and be sure he is carrying “his own load” (v.5), since the Spirit won’t do so for him, instead of him.

The self-deceiver is the one who thinks that it is enough to know the truth, and forgets the many biblical exhortations to “do the truth” (cf. John’s writings in particular).

Sufficiency—Another Explicit Statement

Often biblical counselors who understand what Paul’s use of the word “noutheteo” means turn to 2 Timothy 3:15ff to prove that we have, in the Bible, all we might ever need to do effective counseling. They rightly point out the fact that it provides what it takes to carry a counselee through the four stage process of change mentioned there, to a place where he is able to live rightly in the future. Three times in that context, in various ways, the apostle says that the inspired Scriptures are sufficient to make the man of God adequate to deal with every difficulty that has to do with loving God and one’s neighbor. The passage should be so used.

In addition, another portion of the Bible frequently cited to provide the same thing is 2 Peter 1:3, where we are told that the Bible contains all that we need to find eternal life and live in a godly way. This, too, is a powerful testimony to Biblical sufficiency. If “all things necessary” are provided, what else could we possible wish for?

Yet, there is another passage, often omitted in such discussions, to which I want to call attention today. It is found in Hebrews where the writer tells us that God will “equip you with every good thing for doing His will, producing in us what pleases Him through Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 13:21).

That verse ought to be more frequently on the lips of those who contend for the sufficiency of Nouthetic counseling. Let’s take a second glance at it:

  1. The verse affirms that equipping necessary for doing God’s will can be found in Jesus Christ. The information and the know-how that it takes to counsel correctly is what Hebrews is referring to. It is precisely what a biblical counselor must have. And here, we are assured, he does—if and when he is willing to search it out. What an important fact that is!
  2. In addition, the verse states that “every good thing” for doing God’s will is available for the Christian counselor and counselee. That means in every case where there is a problem of loving God or one’s neighbor—the goal of all biblical counseling—what is needed is there for the taking. There is no excuse for claiming he doesn’t have all he needs, or for turning to non-biblical counseling for help.
  3. Along with the Scriptural information that He provides, we are told that God is at work using it to produce in those who need it those changes which please Him. It is important to help others, of course, but what biblical counseling, at its core, is all about is pleasing God. This happens whenever a counselor honors God by presenting the biblical way to help, and when a counselee accepts and follows it.

So You Wrote a Book

So, you wrote a book. Now what do you do? Will you self-publish it? It’s a lot easier to get a book into print and bound these days than it used to be. But it’s very difficult to market.

Should you try the publishers? Sure. But don’t necessarily expect them to jump at publishing it. Just because one publisher turns you down doesn’t necessarily mean the book is no good. Publishers may have many reasons for doing so. The same publisher, at another time may be looking for such a book—but not at the present. So, try another, and another, and another, and another, and another.

What next?

Best idea is to find someone known to a publisher to read and, hopefully, recommend it.

What then?

Self-publish a finite number of quantities. Today, there are places where you can publish a single copy. Apply for and place your intention to copyright symbol on it. Send them to publishers with your inquiry. For now, that’s the best I can do to help.

Are you a good writer? There is a glut of written material out there—much of which should never have been published. Will your book help people in a way that other books already published do not? Is your book exegetically sound? If you don’t know what that means, don’t publish it until you do, and can answer yes. Do you make a genuine contribution—or is this a vanity publication? Most important—do you honor God in the book?

Best wishes on your book. When you get it published, send me a free copy, please (and one to Donn as well).

Paul (or You) In Prison

In discussing problems with Christian counselees, we often find ourselves deeply involved in matters concerning the providence of God. People want to know “Why?” But it isn’t always possible to respond to that question in any specific way. If it is, fine; but that is the exception, not the rule.

So what do we say? Well, of course many different things—responses that fit each individual situation—but there are some principles (abstract as they may be) that people usually find helpful.

In referring to Paul’s imprisonment at Rome (Philippians 1) we show how God used it to convert soldiers as well as encourage others to go preach. As we open up the passage at some length, the following encouraging principles emerge:

  1. God is in your problem
  2. God is up to something in your problem
  3. God is up to something good

Whether or you are able to see all or even only part of what it is that He’s up to, you can rely on the fact because of Romans 8:28,29.

What is providence? It is the working out of God’s plan by God Himself. Unlike Deism, Christianity teaches that God plans His work,then works His plan. Deists believe that having created the world, He no longer is concerned with it. He wound up the clock, now it can run on its own. Rather, we believe He made and maintains the world. And that He personally does things in it—in particular, in people’s lives.

If you’re in some trouble today, reread those three facts, believer, and you should be encouraged by them—even if ‘right now you can’t see how God is at work in your problem. Some day—now or in eternity—you may understand fully. But it’s your task at the moment—to believe, and look forward to whatever outcome God may bring from it. In the long run, you may even be privileged to discover (as Paul did) what God was up to—and that you will see that it truly is good!

Things Matter

Many consider that the only things that matter are those that have earthly consequences. But in God’s plan of things, He created both the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. Others who see this connection between the two have a different view of how things matter.

These two fundamental ideas comprise two various different philosophies which, when seriously adhered to as guides for thought and conduct, lead to two quite distinct ways of life.

That is why some fix their concerns upon the preservation of all that they can in this life. They have only one world, only one life to live. And they intend to make the most of it.

On the contrary, Christians have two worlds, both important, but one more important that the other. Indeed, it is thought by some that all the Christian cares about is the world to come. Pie in the sky when you die bye and bye, if you will. Not true. An informed Christian knows that he can begin slicing the pie right now! He sees both worlds as inseparably linked. What happens in the one affects what happens in the other.

This basic view of life for the Christian means that he is concerned about how he lives here, not merely how he will fare in the future. His activities, however, ought to reflect the fact that he has interests that are much broader than the one who is an earthling—confined in his thinking and living to the here and now. Contrary to those who look on the faith as restrictive, it actually enlarges those who live it biblically

It is something like a man who lives in America, but who knows that there is a Europe as well, longs to travel there, and is day by day preparing to travel there. Others spend their money and time on things that mean the most to them at the moment. He, on the other hand, is saving up for the trip, is reading up on the foreign country to which he will go, and is learning all he can about it before he leaves. He is having a whale of a time anticipating it. He’s having a good time of it. He may even spend time learning the language. While he is huddling over Rosetta Stone, others are out carousing—or simply having a good time doing things that won’t last. That have consequences only in this world of here and now. While they are engaged in temporal entertainments he is devouring the travel guides to the land across the sea.

So, because of the distinct view of life and death, things that we do here and now matter. They matter because the two worlds are immutably united. That which unites them, of course, is the cross of Christ.

On Writing

Because I have spent much of my life writing articles and books, it has been necessary to consider what good writing is like. While I am sure that I do not have all of the answers, I think I have a few. In this post, in a running outline form, I shall share some of my guiding principles with the hope that some of you will find them useful and be encouraged to put some of your own ideas into print.

Christian writing should be

I.  Biblical—but not academic.

  1. Writing that is informative, scholarly, and substantive,
  2. that uses the original languages and the best commentaries and helps,
  3. need not be dry as dust,
  4. using a stilted, abstract, passive, colorless style
  5. similar to that which is found in most Ph. D. dissertations.

But, instead, it can be,

II.  Interesting—but not shallow.

  1. Interest can be aroused over a variety of matters:
  2. stories, jokes, unusual experiences.
  3. But, good writing arouses interest from the subject matter itself
  4. by exposing the interest values that are inherent in it,
  5. by relating it significantly to the reader and
  6. by doing so in a style that at every point is appropriate to him and that grows out of these values.
  7. Such a style will have warmth and vividness, will stress active verbs, and will adopt the best colloquial form of the day.

Good Christian writing also will be

III. Practical—but more than a stress on “how to.”

  1. While “how to” and good methodology are essential,
  2. the writing must address itself to problems and issues
  3. and meet needs;
  4. in short, it must be motivated by a desire to help someone in some way
  5. and should, in fact, do so.

That is why it must be

IV.  Substantive—but clear and simple.

  1. It is hard work to strike the proper balance between substance and simplicity,
  2. but that is an essential factor.
  3. There is a large class of people who need to read substantive material but will do so only if they think that what they are reading isn’t.
  4. Because most academics refuse to write in a style that will reach them, their scholarship results in too little good.

When necessary, Christian writing must be

V.  Polemical—but not personal.

  1. It should attack faulty positions, but not people.
  2. However, a writer should never smash a window unless he has another, better one to replace it; negative writing, calculated only to tear down or root up, is a blight.
  3. The Christian writer, therefore, must also plant and build.
  4. But there must be a zeal for truth, coupled with boldness; people are tired of pussyfooting.

And, finally, conservative Christian writing should be

VI.  Innovative—but for a purpose.

  1. It must never contain innovation for its own sake.
  2. Rather, innovation must be used to clarify, freshen, and strengthen old truths,
  3. and it is important to realize that in many things the most radically innovative step of all is to be more biblical.

A Systematic Theology of Counseling

Part Three in a series

God’s Word comes to us as poetry and narrative, proverbs and prose, metaphors, parables, prophecy, letters, edicts, law, and so much more. Is it not given to us in dictionary form enabling us to look up subjects in an index and learn what God says about a specific subject. Because of this, our forefathers in the faith have labored to organize biblical data in a systematic way. We refer to these efforts as “Systematic Theology” and the study of Systematic Theology has produced hundreds of systems of theology over the millennia since these efforts began.

Most of these systems of theology have been given names. Sometimes these names are descriptive of the conclusions of the system—Unitarian, Postmillennial. Often they are named for the originator or key theologian of the system—Calvinism, Arminian, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Pelagian.

Even subdivisions of these systems have identifying names. Under eschatology, we have Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. In Ecclesiology, we have Presbyterian, Congregational, and Episcopal forms of church government. Even the order of salvation has subdivisions—Supralapsarianism, Sublapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, etc.

In the area of counseling, the secular world has been devising and debating systems for more than a century. For many years three main systems held sway—Freudian, Rogerian, and Behaviorism. Each had a plethora of subdivisions and spinoffs. Today, there are hundreds of these systems, including systems that seek to integrate a secular system of counseling with a theological system.

Beginning in the early 1960s, an accomplished theologian, Greek scholar, and Bible exegete launched a personal study of the popular secular systems of counseling and labored to understand how any one of them could integrate with what he believed would be a faithful system of theology. After pouring over scores of psychological textbooks, and spending an entire summer traveling with a former president of the American Psychological Association, he concluded such integration was a hopeless task. Once he came to that conclusion, he was able to free himself from the rubble and clutter of these secular systems and focus on building a thoroughly biblical counseling system. He formed the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation to serve as a kind of laboratory in which he and his students could do counseling and study what the Scriptures taught about the various problems counselees presented to them.

By 1970 he was ready to publish his first book detailing his conclusions, and with Competent to Counsel, began to build a system of counseling that would be constructed only of materials he found in the Bible. Before he could build, however, he had to do for his reader what he had done himself. He had to clear away the ruins of the shoddily constructed systems that had gone before and prepare a level building site. In order to do the work of site preparation, one has to use a bulldozer. Shovels and rakes will not do. In Competent to Counsel, Jay Adams took a bulldozer to the failed secular systems that many Christians were trying to use along with their Bibles.

The results were predictable. Those who were still living in those dilapidated structures railed against Adams and his system. He had pushed their systems aside and warned others not to take shelter under their roofs. Those structures were built with inferior materials and would collapse and injure those who abode there. But countless pastors and other believers rose up and called him blessed for providing a sturdy new system built on a solid foundation.

Competent to Counsel was only the beginning. In it, Adams cleared a building site and poured a solid foundation—he told us what needed to be done. In his next book, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, he showed us how. The Manual was a practical volume that examined methodology, explored specific counseling problems, explained how and why to assign homework, promoted careful data gathering and listening, and led the counselor through the counseling process—explaining what the Scriptures taught about each matter.

But Adams was still not done building his system. His next volume dealt with theology. Adams believed every counseling problem was, at its core, a theological problem. Good counseling could only rise from good theology. More Than Redemption, a Theology of Christian Counseling was his explanation of the theological underpinnings of his counseling system.

One more book rounded out his seminal works explaining Nouthetic Counseling, How to Help People Change. Since change is the goal of every counseling endeavor, it was vital that the Nouthetic counselor understand God’s change process.

Nouthetic counseling is a counseling system. It is NOT built around one Greek word, but rather, on the entire canon of Scripture. It is Jay Adams’ attempt to systematize what the Scriptures say about counseling. Listen to Adams’ explanation in 1976:

I prefer the words “biblical” or “Christian” but reluctantly I have used the word “nouthetic” . . . simply as a convenience by which the biblical system of counseling that has been developed in such books as Competent to Counsel and The Christian Counselor’s Manual might be identified most easily.

In the first article of our current series, I demonstrated that using the term “biblical” to describe the kind of counseling we do has become confusing and requires further clarification. By it, many mean simply that they use the Bible somehow, somewhere in the counseling process. I believe the term “Nouthetic” brings clarity to the conversation about counseling. It is a term that has boundaries. The seminal textbooks written by Dr. Adams fence it in. It explains exactly what we believe the Bible says about counseling issues, not just that we believe it is good to use the Bible.

Ah, but for some reason, there are some readers who chafe at the word. You may have heard, read, or learned about nouthetic counseling from someone who lives in one of the structures Adams has demolished. Imagine you had spent your academic career, and many thousands of dollars, learning secular counseling systems. Your financial livelihood rose from your teaching or practice using those systems, and your standing in society or your own sense of “self-esteem” rose from the books you have written or the lectures you had delivered promoting those systems. Then imagine someone comes along and not only challenges the validity of those systems, but insists that the systems you promote inflict harm rather than good on those you seek to help.

How would you be expected to respond? You would be left with few options. You could repent, disavow what you had been teaching and practicing, and instead seek honest work. You could try to refute this person who says such things about your system, but since you are seeking to refute what is biblical you would quickly find yourself trying to refute the irrefutable. Or, you could attack the messenger, seek to discredit him, complain about his tone, his friends, his scholarship, or even his beard.

If you object to Nouthetic counseling but you have not read these four foundational books by Dr. Adams—shame on you! J. Gresham Machen once wrote:

It is usually considered good practice to examine a thing for one’s self before echoing the vulgar ridicule of it.[1]

If you have read these books and you find them objectionable, you should stand ready to explain exactly what Adams writes that is off putting. Do you object to the idea of the sufficiency of the Scriptures? How about the doctrine of progressive sanctification? The authority of the Scriptures? Is Adams wrong about gathering good data, listening carefully to counselees, assigning homework, insisting that counselees obey God’s Word, or that sin must be put off and replaced with God’s solution? Maybe you think Dr. Adams has mishandled the Word in some way. Is his exegesis of a key passage faulty? Which one?

Remember, Nouthetic counseling is a system of counseling. One does not have to agree with everything Jay Adams believes to embrace his counseling system. I certainly don’t. I am still trying to bring him around on the subject of baptism. If you believe Adams has some personal character flaw that disqualifies his system, please email me with the details. I will take any valid concern to him and nouthetically confront him about it.

In an article I cited in the first of this series, Drs. Babler and Johnson wrote:

Recently biblical counseling has been besieged by many voices that minimize or even attempt to redefine [the historical distinctions of biblical counseling].  We suggest it is time to return to basics.

Nouthetic counseling embodies those basics. That is why we, at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and the Institute for Nouthetic Studies, still boldly and unashamedly call ourselves Nouthetic counselors. Perhaps you should too.

[1] Christianity and Liberalism, p.62.

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