Competent to Counsel, The Revised Edition

Several years ago I began to pester Jay with what I thought was a brilliant idea. “How about publishing a revised, updated version of Competent to Counsel?” I asked naively. “Competent to Counsel II, Competent to Counsel 2.0, Competent to Counsel: The Next Generation” or some such thing.

CTC was enjoying its 45th anniversary and critics were saying it had become outdated. Now, CTC has always had its critics so why I thought critics should be heeded now after 45 years I cannot say. I thought my idea was inspired. Jay was, well, unimpressed. He was too kind to simply tell me what he was really thinking (“Arms is an idiot”) so he simply smiled and said he would think about it.

Because I was too obtuse to take the hint I persisted and after several months of raising the subject he finally said no but went on to explain his reasoning. While you are certainly more acute than I am I thought you might enjoy hearing his reasons:

  1. “My views have not changed.” We live in an age when vacillation and flexibility are lauded while certainty and confidence are seen as character defects. Today’s popular writers are tentative and nuanced. One blogger recently said of Adams, “He never grew. That is an unfortunate sign of extreme pride, namely believing that you are so right in 1970 that could couldn’t (sic) possibly learn anything from anyone by 2016.” Most other secular, or even Christian books, about counseling published in 1970 are now out of print and forgotten. Those that do remain have usually undergone several revisions. Dr. Adams certainly has thought deeply about counseling since 1970. His 100 plus books written since CTC demonstrate that. The Bible, however, does not change and if Adams’ thinking was biblical in 1970 it remains so today.
  2. “Competent to Counsel should be viewed as an historical document of the movement.” CTC was written to meet an important need during a critical hour in the history of the church. It was the counseling world’s equivalent of Luther’s 95 Theses, Paine’s Common Sense, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. Anyone reading other important historical works understands the need to contextualize, they should do the same with CTC. These books, and many others like them, continue to hold great value for today’s reader. I predict that 100 years from now our descendants will be quoting Jay Adams in the same way that we quote Calvin, Spurgeon, Machen, and C.S. Lewis today.
  3. “Who would be my foil?” When CTC was published there were generally three broad schools of thought—Freud, Rogers, and Skinner. Rogerian thought especially had largely captured the church. These served as effective foils for Adams to make his case for a biblical approach. Today, while we are seeing a resurgence of a kind of neo-Rogarianism in biblical counseling circles, there are hundreds of various views, methods, and approaches advocated and practiced in Christian counseling rooms today. Tackling them all would require that a revised edition of CTC be a multivolume set.
  4. “The things I wrote about in CTC 40 years ago continue to recycle themselves. What may seem dated today will be up to date—perhaps next year.” I was reminded of Jay’s point recently as I listened to a podcast posted by a biblical counseling organization. Two counselors were discussing how directive counselors should, or should not be, with their counselees. For nine minutes I heard “on the one hand this, but on the other hand that.” Meanwhile, as one person would talk the other would make the appropriate “uh huh” or “hum” noises affirming what the other was saying. One counselor recalled telling a counselee (after three or four sessions) that he was not sure she was yet “ready to hear” what he had to say. I wondered to myself how much he was charging this poor woman for counseling sessions in which he did not give counsel. Adams discussed this anemic kind of neo-Rogerian “counseling” at length in CTC 45 years ago. The same organization recently posted another podcast in which the counselor, while disavowing Freud, allowed for the place of dream analysis in biblical counseling.

What about you? Have you read Competent to Counsel? How long has it been? If it has been awhile, or if you have not read it for the first time, let me urge you not to merely listen to what others say about it. Read it for yourself—soon! It is one of those books that you should reread every few years. You can then use my response to people who come into my study and see my books. Invariably they ask the question, “Have you read all of these?” My response—“Some of them twice!”


I’d like to say a little more 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.

The Issue and the Relationship

Most counseling cases involve more than one person. There are exceptions, of course. But they are few and far between. Even when it appears that but one individual is involved, upon further investigation, you will frequently discover that there is a mother or father, a relative or friend—or someone else—who plays an important role in the counseling problem you are considering. Because of this, it is important to understand the basic dynamic that underlies many of the interpersonal difficulties that you will encounter.

I have titled this posting “The Issue and the Relationship” because it sets forth the two essential factors that you will always have to consider when counseling more than one person. More often than not you will find that the husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor and neighbor, church member and church member, will present the principal problem in terms of the issue: “He wants to buy a boat when he knows that we simply can’t afford it!,” “He cheated me in a business deal,” This kid is incorrigible—she drinks, does drugs and plays around with any stud who comes along.”

The issue is always intriguing and tempts a counselor to focus on it at the outset. Usually, it is clearer than the relationship, so it protrudes in the initial description of things. And yet, you will learn that until you have dealt satisfactorily with the relationship, you will not be able to help counselees solve issue problems. In addition to the tempting nature of issue problems, counselees will often pressure you to handle them, sometimes protesting if you turn first to the relationship. In such circumstances, it will be necessary to explain why you are doing so (“You two are in no shape to consider the issue”). I want to suggest, therefore, that in most instances it is fatal to attempt to solve issue problems until relationship problems have been satisfactorily cleared up.

“How is that? I’m not sure that I fully get your point. If the husband and wife mentioned above would only come to a conclusion about the boat, the matter would be ended, wouldn’t it?”

Probably not. You see, one or the other—or possibly both—would go away from dealing with the issue with sore feelings toward his spouse. That is, if they could even discuss the issue civilly! Their problem has grown to the point that they have come for counseling—evidentially, they failed to solve it on their own. Here is the fundamental problem: most of the time until you have dealt with the relationship, no matter how simple the solution to the problem may be, the parties involved will not handle the issue sensibly (let alone biblically). Once I counseled a couple who, among other things, were fighting over the way each left the toothpaste tube after using it. One squeezed it in the middle (I think that was the husband) and the other left the cap off (I think that was the wife). Now, you would suspect that so simple a problem could be easily dispensed with. But, Oh no! Not on your life!

“Wait a minute, that’s an easy one to figure out. All they had to do is buy two tubes, and after the first use you’d know whose tube is whose.”

Very astute! Indeed, in the end, that’s exactly the way that we solved it. But it didn’t happen as readily as you might suppose. You see, they were in no mood to think rationally. Whenever she went into the bathroom and saw the squashed tube, she said to herself, “That man’s been at it again!” Whenever, he saw the cap removed and found toothpaste hardened at the end of the tube, he thought “Ugh! She doesn’t even care enough for me to put the cap back on. She knows I can’t stand it that way!”

Now, surely, you will notice that the problem wasn’t the tube. Both husband and wife were sharp enough to figure out the very solution that you suggested on their own. But if they did so, they probably wouldn’t have needed counseling. The problem wasn’t the toothpaste tube—as I said—it was a marriage so badly on the rocks that the tube had become a symbol of the other interpersonal problems that they had. And, until I was able to bring them into a proper biblical relationship with one another, they wouldn’t even try to seriously deal with the toothpaste tube issue. Having done so, at length, toothpaste tubes were no longer a symbol of larger problems between them, but symbols of those problems—solved.

So, don’t be misled into thinking that if you deal with the issue you will have helped your counselee. Ordinarily, you will soon discover that you can only deal with it after the relationship has been righted biblically, by repentance before God and reconciliation with one another. Always ask yourself, “What in the relationship has become a complicating factor?” What is keeping them from solving the issue? In response, you will find yourself confronting sinful attitudes that need changing, instructing counselees in ways of speaking to one another that honor God, unearthing long-standing grudges, clearing up misunderstandings that have led to bitterness, and so on. When these have been eliminated and proper biblical ways of relating have been learned (usually over a number of weeks), then all sorts of issues will dissolve as if they had never existed. That is not to say that some may not remain. But when they do, it will be two persons bent on pleasing God who will be resolving them; not two who are hostile, and who, in their self-centeredness, have been ignoring God. So, I urge you to think of each situation in terms of issues and relationships, and you will rarely go wrong.

Choosing Friends

Here is a word of wisdom for you:

Stay away from a foolish man; you will gain no knowledge from his speech.     Proverbs 14:7  (CSB)

One of the issues you should consider in choosing friends is what sort of truth you will gain from the choice. It may seem wise to befriend a foolish person for various other reasons (his wealth, his notoriety, etc., etc.) but here is one of the most important criteria to consider in making the choice: what will be his influence upon you?

His speech, the proverb infers, will influence you—but if he is a fool (by God’s standards) what you learn from him will not be “knowledge.”  That is to say, knowledge of what it is important, good and uplifting.  He will not be a source that you can trust to enhance your love and knowledge of God!

Check out your friends, and evaluate them according to this biblical injunction.  How do they fare? What are you learning from your associations with them?

“I’m not being influenced wrongly by them,” you say. Wrong!

All associations are influential: You either influence another or are influenced by him. If you are unaware of his influence—either positive or negative—it is probably of the latter sort.  Do some checking: has your friend led you closer to God’s holiness or away from it?  Are you more enlightened about His will because of his friendship—or not? It may be one of the most important questions you have to consider.  Failure to do so almost surely will end up badly.


For Whom Was It Written

Andrew W. Blackwood told us in class that, in his day, Calvin was known as much (if not more) for his sermons as for his theological writings.  His sermons were translated and sent all over the world. Unfortunately, most of them are lost. But from those that have survived a later generation that failed to appreciate him, we can learn one striking fact: Calvin preached contemporary sermons.

No, I don’t mean that he took up subjects of his day—surely he did so, as he exposed the errors of Romanism—but that isn’t what I mean. Rather, as you can see, from the very first sermon on Galatians where he declares his views on the subject, he intended to preach the Bible as though it were written for his congregation. I say written for, not written to. Of course, he was perfectly aware of the fact that it was an epistle to the Galatians, not to St. Peter’s church in Switzerland!

Well, then, what did he mean?  He meant that it was the Spirit’s intention from the outset to write through human authors to the church in all ages. Therefore, he argued, it should so be preached. That he believed enough to practice what he set forth is clearly seen in all of his extant sermons. He constantly spoke to his people as if the text were written to them. To hear him say, “Paul says to you . . .” gives you the idea.

This emphasis would go a long way toward combating the austere, cold, formalism of those who have learned to “academicize” preaching to three abstract points and a poem! How much richer, when the congregation hears the Scriptures preached as letters and books written for their edification!  Think about this. Read Calvin’s sermons and see for yourself what I am talking about. I am purposely not quoting a line or two from them, though originally that had been my intention.  Instead, I want you to enjoy the rich, contemporaneity of the sermons for yourself. You won’t be sorry.

What to Do About It

“What do you do when you don’t know what to do?”

Are you serious, or are you presenting me with a conundrum?

“No. I’m dead serious. I have a decision to make as to whether or not to do something. I’d like to do it but I don’t know whether its something that the Lord would approve of.”

Ah. I see.

“And it’s been bugging me for days. I can’t tell you what it is, either. I have to keep the matter quiet until I decide. Without any data, do you think you can help?”

Possibly. Let’s consider the matter abstractly—strictly from the side of the principle involved.

“You mean, by something like whether or not I feel a prompting in my spirit or not. Or whether I feel peace about the matter? Both of those ideas have been suggested. But the problem is, I don’t feel anything but confused,”


“Good? What do you mean good? Do you approve of me being confused?”

Certainly—I’m glad you haven’t had any feelings that you interpreted as God’s direction. Those ideas are never taught in the Bible, and have led many people into serious trouble. To try to follow feelings as a guide is like trying to catch waves. They’re never the same. Feelings are up one day and down the next with the weather, or what you ate for lunch. Even apart from not being a Biblical instruction, it’s on its face foolish when you think about it.

“It didn’t feel right, I’ll admit.”

Didn’t feel right? There you go—depending on feelings anyway!

“What I meant is it didn’t seem right.”

A bit better. But what if you had said, “I considered the matter, and I didn’t find any biblical basis for proceeding with it?” Don’t you think that a statement something like that—where you are looking for an objective answer from God’s Standard—would have been better? Of course, you would have had to do so to be honest.

“Well, I did look at the Bible, and I couldn’t find anything to help.”

There is a biblical principle that may fit your case.

“Tell me about it.”

It’s found in Romans 14.

“I thought that book was all about theology, and stuff like that.”

Well, there’s certainly allot of theology in Romans, for sure, but that’s not all that’s there. Some very practical matters are there which—rightly so—are based on theological principles.

“Oh. Well tell me about Romans 14.”

O.K. Here’s what he writes in verse 23, “But whosoever doubts is condemned if he eats, because he doesn’t eat in faith; and whatsoever isn’t done in faith is sin.”

“But my problem has nothing to do with eating.”

I didn’t think that it would.

“Well, then, why bring it up?”

I told you we were going to examine a principle that might help you. The principle is “whatsoever isn’t done in faith is sin.”

“How does that help?”

Just this way. There were Romans who didn’t know whether or not they should eat certain foods—we needn’t go into that here—but they thought that doing so might be sin. Paul says, until you are sure that it isn’t sinful to do so, don’t. It’s that simple. I like to call it the “Holding principle.” You put the matter on hold until you can determine biblically whether or not it is or isn’t sin to do something.

“Hmmm I think O see it now: to move ahead in this matter would be sin if suspect it might be. But what if it isn’t sin?”

At this point, that doesn’t matter. Until you determine from the Bible (not from feelings) that it isn’t sin, you should take no further action. Of course, if you determine it is, that settles the matter. But of you’re not sure, you shouldn’t go ahead, because if you do, you are doing something that you think might be sin. Can you do that in God’s sight ? Of course not! To so what you think might be sin (even if it really isn’t) is sin on your part because of your attitude . . .”

“What do you mean my attitude?”

Simply this, you would be willing to do something that you thought might be sin—that is a sinful attitude. So even if the act—whatever it is—isn’t sin; your attitude in doing it is sin.

“Got it! I put it on hold until I’m sure, biblically, that it’s OK to move ahead.”

You did. Blessings!

Don’t Go Back!

The comings of Christ are often confused.  He is to come a second time to receive His own as He also will return to judge. But He first came  (in a non-physical manner) in the endtime (of the OT era) at the destruction of Jerusalem, which was also the introduction of the New Testament era. These two comings must be understood as separate events. The first coming is mentioned in such passages as Mt.16:27, 28. Clearly, there were some listening to Jesus who would live to see that coming (as it says in v. 28).

But there are other passages to consider as well. One of these is Mt. 26:57-63. Obviously, those who would “see” the event (the coming indicated by the destruction of Jerusalem) would not live until the second coming. They “saw” that He was seated at God;s right hand by the events that occurred.

Take one more: Luke 17:20-36. The clue you need to determine which coming is in view may be found in vs. 31-32. Persons on housetops and in the fields are told not to come down or return home,  They must “get out of Dodge” immediately! Why would anyone need to be told this if he were already rising in a new body to meet Jesus in the air!

These are but samples of the two comings, which you must learn to distinguish if you would make sense of prophecy.

Christ Is Coming

Just as the promise of His first coming to judgment in the destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 70AD exactly as predicted in the Olivet Discourse, so too, the Second Coming of Christ is certain to take place. Why hasn’t it happened sooner? Peter tells us that God is waiting until all that He intends to save will be gathered into the fold (2 Peter 3:9). If He had come 150 years ago, for instance, you would never know what it means to spend eternity with Him in joy and bliss. Not having been born–obviously—you would not be saved. Indeed, you would not exist at all. So, stop wishing and praying that Christ will return; He’ll come when He is ready to do so—there are others with whom you may fellowship in heaven someday who will thank you for it!

At the second coming, believer, you will be caught up into the air to meet the Lord as He returns (1 Thessalonians 4). The word “meet” is a very special word, used only here and two other places in the New Testament (once in Mt. 25) and the once in Acts 28). Why are believers to be “raptured” (snatched up into the air)? This word tells us. As the Christians went out on the road to Rome to greet Paul as He was being taken to prison to accompany him into the city in honor, and as the virgins went out to meet the bridegroom and accompany him back in honor of that occasion, so too, as the term means, Christians rise to meet the Lord in air to accompany Him in honor as He comes to earth.

Notice the occasion is at the time when believers are resurrected (1 Corinthians 15).  They will receive a body like Jesus’ glorious body to replace the old corruptible and mortal one (Philippians 3: 20, 21). In the ascent into the air to meet the Lord, we immediately recognize one of the new capacities that our have glorified bodies will possess—one that Jesus manifested in His ascension—namely, the power to arise into the air! What a glorious anticipation for those of us with our present weak, sickly, corruptible bodies!

But the great thing will not be our renovated bodies—it will be the coming of Jesus—and the fact that we will actually be able to accompany Him in His honor as He descends! Don’t you think that all eyes will be on Him—not on our new bodies! The point always to remember is that it is His coming that is the importance of this event not our going! This is the Day of the Lord; the Day of His revelation, the Day of days in the future. And, as such we should anticipate it!

Don’t Pray!

There are those who claim that they are believers because they pray.  But all sorts of people pray—to all sorts of gods. I want, therefore, to make it clear that prayer—alone—doesn’t cut it.

“How do you know that?”

The Book of Proverbs is explicit on the subject (28:9):

Anyone who turns his ear away from hearing the law—even his prayer is detestable.

Why should what we have to say to God (prayer) be deemed more important than what He has to say to us? Yet, there are those who think that prayer apart from study and observance of the Scriptures is all that’s necessary. Prayer without study and following the Word of God, is a way of manufacturing your own religion.  Why, you wouldn’t even know how to pray or what to pray for if you ignored biblical examples!

There is no easy way out—praying alone—you are required to listen to God as well!  Indeed, the hard work of learning God’s will (Scripture study) about all of life (including a proper prayer life) is incumbent upon you.  Don’t turn your ear from hearing God speak to you in the Bible—even when you think talking to Him is enough.

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