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!

 

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.

Update

We are grateful for all those who have contacted us to ask why our blog seemed to have gone dark. We are glad that so many noticed and have checked in. As 2018 comes to a close let me give you an update about what is happening at the Institute for Nouthetic Studies.

First, let’s talk about Jay. Next month Jay will celebrate his 90th birthday. His entire family was able to gather for the Christmas holidays and, together with a number of local friends, they celebrated the event early with an event at Redeemer Presbyterian Church last Friday.  This is a photo of Jay and my daughter-in-law who baked and decorated the birthday cake.

While Jay’s health has been stable in recent days he will be dealing with some challenges early next month. On Wednesday, January 2 he will be undergoing surgery on his foot and if all goes well, he will have the same surgery done on the other several weeks later. Please pray with us that he will tolerate the surgery well and that the result will enable him to walk better.

January 30 is the date of his 90th birthday. We have set up a temporary email account for him to receive your birthday greetings. Jay no longer receives email, but we will print out each email message we receive and present them to him in a notebook on his birthday. Send your greetings and messages to him at jayadams1970@gmail.com.

Now, about my health. On Thanksgiving evening, I was clobbered by an acute case of pancreatitis. This came on the heals (pun intended) of surgery I had on my foot just three weeks before that. After a week and a half in the hospital and several weeks of bed rest I am finally able to function well enough to answer email and work at my desk several hours each day. I am grateful for your prayer and ask that you continue to present my health issues before His throne. I am dealing with several complications, including a blood clot in my leg, and it looks like I will require more surgery on my foot once my other issues are resolved.

However, the ministry of the Institute is going forward! As I hope you have heard, we are now the publisher of most of Dr. Adams’ books and we are working diligently to bring a number of titles back into print soon. While my health issues slowed down our progress temporarily, we hope to have several titles ready early next year. We will have Committed to Craftsmanship in Biblical Counseling ready early next month. Soon thereafter we hope to have What to do on Thursday ready to print.

Thank you for your interest in this ministry and thank you for praying, both for Dr. Adams and myself.

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.

 

 

“Pastor, I already know how to farm better than I do.”

It was more than 30 years ago. I was the young (and very green) pastor of a church in a small rural town in southern Iowa. I had just told the chairman of our deacons about my plans to attend the latest and greatest conference on church growth when he said these words to me:

Pastor, I already know how to farm better than I do.

It was, of course, his kind and gentle way of telling me we simply need to do the things we already knew to do rather than constantly seeking the next big thing to make our church grow.

I was reminded again of his words as I recently reviewed this short blog from Jay which we posted nine years ago:

Nevertheless, let us walk on the same level that we have attained.
                                                                   Philippians 3:16

When you go to church; when you study your Bible; when you learn a biblical truth from a brother of sister, it should change your life.

This verse follows up one in which Paul says that God will help you learn what you don’t already know. But, nevertheless—even though you may not know many things—don’t be so much concerned about them as about the ones that you do already know.

The verse says:

Walk (i.e., live, day by day)

On the same level (not on some lesser level of knowledge and behavior but living up to what you have . . . )

Attained (You have a level of biblical knowledge? OK, then live up to it!)

Great wisdom from one who followed it!

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 simply 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.

A “Nouthetic” Ministry

Part Two in a series

On January 15, 1968, a 38 year old seminary professor took his turn addressing the students in the chapel service at Westminster Theological Seminary. While he was primarily a homiletics professor, he had been researching what the Scriptures taught about the pastoral ministry of counseling. He was especially interested in a word the Apostle Paul used to describe his ministry, and this cold winter morning in Philadelphia presented him with his first opportunity to present what he had been learning.

The people Paul ministered to, like the people to whom these students would minister, struggled with problems and sinful lifestyles. Paul used this word, “noutheteo,” to describe the kind of ministry he had to help them with these problems. It was not a common New Testament word, and only Paul used it. While it is often translated “admonish” or “warn,” neither of these English words adequately communicated Paul’s idea.

Jay Adams unpacked the word for the students that day and concluded by urging students to emulate Paul by having a “nouthetic” ministry in the churches they would be leading. Adams coined the word “nouthetic” that day, and in the years to come referred to the counseling system he was building by his new term.

Biblical counselors need to understand this word, stand ready to explain what it means, and combat the misinformation, straw men, and scurrilous canards that critics have invented. First, however, it is necessary to separate the Greek word Paul used (noutheteo) from the English word (nouthetic) coined by Adams.

The Greek word “noutheteo” is a compound word built by bringing together the Greek words “nous” (mind) and “tithime” (put, place, lay). It is at this point many interpreters take a wrong turn. Compound words are not always the sum of their parts—in Greek or in English. Paul does not use the term to mean “to place or lay upon the mind” as well-meaning counselors sometimes teach. A “butterfly” is not a fly that landed in the butter dish. A “turnkey” operation is not a description of how a lock works. It is usage that determines meaning, both in English and in Greek. To understand the Greek word “noutheteo” it is necessary to examine how Paul uses the word, not simply do a word study.

Paul uses the verb form eight times in the New Testament. From these uses, we can identify three primary components to the word as Paul used it. First, there is the element of confrontation, verbal confrontation. Does that trouble you? Perhaps our word “confrontation” hits your ear as something harsh or unpleasant. It shouldn’t. Paul saw it as a necessary function of the pastor. He did it with Peter (Galatians 2), Nathan did it with David, Jesus did it with Nicodemus. Paul saw it as a helpful thing, a necessary part his ministry. Our English word “appeal” may say it better if “confrontation” is off putting to you, but the word “appeal” implies an option. Paul’s word was directive. He did not use it when forwarding his opinions or preferences. He counseled people to obey God.

The second element is concern. He did not confront his people in order to lord it over them. His heart yearned over them and his desire was for their good. In Acts 20 it was something he did “with tears.” In 2 Thessalonians it was to be done “as a brother.” In 1 Corinthians Paul had to write pointedly and frankly about some difficult issues, issues in which the Corinthian believers were sinning or not resolving. But he assured them in 4:14 that his goal was not “to shame you, but to counsel (noutheteo) you as my dear children.”

Third, there is the goal of bringing about change in those to whom Paul ministered. In Galatians 1:28 it was what Paul did to “present every man complete in Christ.” In Ephesians 6:4 it is what fathers do with their children to bring them to maturity.

As Adams concluded his remarks in 1968, he urged his listeners to do good for their people. That means they must emulate the kind of “noutheteo” that characterized Paul’s ministry. Or as Paul said in Romans 15:14, they should desire God’s best for their people (be “filled with all goodness”), study diligently in Seminary (be “filled with all knowledge”), so they will be “competent to counsel.” God called on them to prepare to have a “nouthetic” ministry.