Let’s Be Careful Out There

imagesA popular cop show in the eighties began each episode with the officers assembled in the briefing room where the Sargent would give out assignments for the day. At the end of each briefing the officer in charge would exhort his officers with the admonition, “Let’s be careful out there!”

Biblical counselors would do well to embrace that exhortation as well. Today’s biblical counselor is blessed with training opportunities and resources we could not have imagined 30 years ago. The first NANC conference I attended was held in a church Sunday School room. At the first February conference I attended in Lafayette I was one of 35 students. The books available to me that dealt with biblical counseling fit on less than two feet of bookshelf.

Today, thousands attend these conferences every year, the books I own on biblical counseling fill an entire wall, most people can find training in biblical counseling within one or two hours of driving time, dozens of theological seminaries now have courses in biblical counseling, and our Institute has hundreds of students studying under Dr. Adams on every continent around the world. We have much for which to be thankful as God’s people have come to embrace the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

With all these successes and opportunities for learning, however, we will quickly find ourselves disqualified and our ministries impotent if we do not embrace the words of Sargent Esterhaus to “be careful out there.” The august responsibility of the ministry of the Word to hurting people should fill us with a sober desire to minister the Word carefully, accurately, and skillfully. God’s Word is not magic. We do not simply tell counselees to “read God’s Word and He will bless you.” Before the counselor can minister the Word to his counselee he must first be a student and exegete of the Scriptures and become skilled at using them as God intended them to be used.

I was reminded of this again as I read a blog recently at a biblical counseling website. The author’s purpose was worthy—he was seeking to show how counselees can be encouraged in their suffering by understanding that our Lord Himself endured suffering. Sadly, his use of the Scriptures to make his point served only to confuse and, even worse, taught some very bad theology which, if understood rightly, would discourage a counselee about the ability of Christ to meet the need of the hour.

The author began by asserting, in spite of the clear teaching of Philippians 4:6, that anxiety is “not necessarily” sinful. He made his case by quoting a bizarre translation of Mark 14:33 (the Amplified Bible) and concluded that Jesus had a “panic attack” in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The author then moved to Hebrews 2:10 which he claimed teaches that Jesus’ sufferings were “part of His maturing and perfecting for our sake.” He later added that “as Jesus was perfected through various sufferings, including anxiety, so are we.”

The biblical counselor should be careful to understand that the word translated “perfect” here is used in the sense of “complete” as it is in Hebrew 10:14. Christ’s sufferings completed His task as the “Author of their salvation.” They did not serve to mature Him in a sanctifying process as they do for us. The idea of a Christ who is just like us and in need of “maturing” is, well, sub-orthodox.

The task of exegesis is of primary importance. Do not neglect it. Handle God’s Word with care and sobriety. From behind my podium in our briefing room here in our little corner of the internet I plead with my fellow counselors—let’s be careful out there!

 

Building “Relationship”

During the latter part of the 19th century a handful of seminary professors took a summer sabbatical together to tour England and hear as many of the great English preachers as possible. During that summer these men were able to hear Henry Parry Liddon, Alexander Maclaren, J C Ryle, R W Dale, Robert S Candlish, and Alexander Whyte. After hearing each preacher the men would gather outside the church and discuss what they had heard.

They spent the final Sunday of their tour in London where, in the morning, they attended the City Temple and heard Joseph Parker preach. In the evening they crossed the Thames to Elephant and Castle where they heard C H Spurgeon preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. That morning in London they assembled on the front steps of the City Temple and all concurred with the first man to speak who proclaimed excitedly, “Joseph Parker is a wonderful preacher.” Upon exiting the Metropolitan Tabernacle that evening the entire group fell to their knees on the church steps as the same spokesman quietly said, “Jesus Christ is a wonderful Savior.”

Of course, Spurgeon was indeed a wonderful preacher—probably the greatest English speaking preacher in history. But Spurgeon understood that it was his responsibility to point his listeners to Christ and not allow himself to become the focus of attention. Sure, he used illustrations from his own life and had a delightful, self-deprecating sense of humor in the pulpit, but these were employed only to illustrate truth and were a means to the end of preaching Christ.

Biblical counselors would do well to take a similar stance in the counseling room. There has arisen a school of thought these days that teaches counselors to focus first on relationship building with counselees and to hold off offering any sort of directive counsel until the counselor has brought his counselee to the place where he is “ready to receive” instruction and help from his counselor.

Now, of course nouthetic counselors understand the importance of building involvement with counselees. In Competent to Counsel Jay Adams confronted the prevalent notion of the day that counselors should take a stoic, detached stance toward counselees. He pointed out that Paul counseled “with tears” (Acts 20:31) and “intense concern” (2 Cor. 11:29) (CTC pp. 52-54). But involvement or relationship building is never a prerequisite to biblical counseling, it is the result!

I recently heard a “biblical” counselor describe one of his cases in which a young woman had come to him seeking help with a problem. After several sessions of relationship building and “getting to know her” the woman finally asked her counselor, “Don’t you have any guidance for me?” The counselor replied, “Yes, I have some thoughts about your problem but I am not sure you are ready to hear them yet.”

Nouthetic counselors are horrified upon hearing such things. When believers come to us for help we believe in helping them—as quickly as possible. This woman had come seeking help in session one but the counselor had decided to assume the Holy Spirit’s role and decide himself whether or not she was ready to hear.

Another counselor once told me that many of his counseling cases go on for over a year and that he has counselees he has been working with for several years. As he waxed eloquent about the need for relationship building he informed me that often counseling is simply building a friendship with people. He was not as amused as I was when I asked him how much he charged people to be their friend (in his case it was $95 per session).

Consider this from a recent blog over at the Biblical Counseling Coalition website:

In counseling, I have found building relationships for the long-haul is key if any person, regardless of sexual orientation, is to experience true, biblical change. In the instances I have had the joy to observe, change in the area of sexuality has been slow, incremental, and at times painful; yet through all of it, our God is faithful and true.

For this author, “Relationships Are Key.” For the nouthetic counselor, the ministry of the Word is key and relationships, while important, are secondary—perhaps even tertiary. Counselees do not change as a result of a relationship with the counselor, they change because of a relationship to Christ and through obedience to His Word.

It is especially tragic to hear this author’s expectation that “true, biblical change” is “slow” and “incremental.” If change is dependent upon a relationship with the counselor perhaps that expectation is justified. Nouthetic counselors do not seek to wean counselees from their sin. Because counselees draw on the power of the Holy Spirit Who wields the Word of God as His sword we expect significant change from week to week and victory over sin in a relatively short period of time as old habits are put off and new ones are put on.

Picture a man working under the hood of his car in his driveway. Along comes a relationship guy who stops and engages the shade tree mechanic with questions about the car, the problem, his job, his family, his health, his lawn, his pets, his longings and desires. The relationship guy shares stories of his own struggles with dysfunctional automobiles and communicates how sorry he is that this car has broken down and that his friend has to deal with the problem. Finally, he promises to return later to check on his new mechanic friend and encourage him in his journey toward resolution.

The nouthetic guy, however, upon encountering this mechanic takes off his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and crawls under the car.

“I see the problem,” he calls up to his neighbor. “The starter is not aligned properly. Raise it up a bit and I will put the bolt in from here.”

From under the car the nouthetic guy guides the socket onto the nut and holds it in place while the mechanic turns the wrench above until it is tight.

Now, which one has built involvement with his neighbor?

Confused About Forgiveness?

Several days ago we published an article by Dr. Adams on the subject of Forgiveness. It is the rare counseling situation, involving two people, where the subject of forgiveness does not arise early in the process. That blog is a brief summary of the information found in Jay’s book From Forgiven to Forgiving. When I was a pastor I had that article printed up as a tri-fold brochure and used it as a homework handout to counselees after I had taught them about forgiveness during the counseling session. You may copy the article and do the same if you reference Jay and the Institute as your source.

The main thesis of both the book and Jay’s blog is that believers are to forgive in the same way God forgave us in Christ (Ephesians 4:32). Nouthetic counselors understand this and are clear about some implications:

  1. Forgiveness is a promise that the issue is settled and will not be brought up against the other person again. It is sin to raise the issue again after granting forgiveness.
  2. While we desire to forgive (thus guarding against bitterness) forgiveness is granted only upon confession and repentance.
  3. Nouthetic counselors are not Universalists. God forgives only those who repent.
  4. Church discipline would not be possible if we have forgiven someone who has not repented.

While Nouthetic counselors are clear about these things it seems the broader “Biblical” counseling world is not. Recently the Biblical Counseling Coalition published a blog, which they later promoted in their monthly newsletter, that began with this:

Human forgiveness does not depend on the attitudes or actions of the offender. When in conflict, an offended person can (and must) forgive the offender, even if the offender fails to repent or confess their sins.

When the author received push-back from an interlocutor she rightly pointed out that “biblical writers are confused on the topic of forgiveness in part because of a lack of clarity about how God forgives.” Then, as though to further contribute to the confusion, she points her readers to a book by John MacArthur, an article in the aggressively integrationist Journal of Psychology and Christianity, and “anything Don Carson has written about forgiveness.”

Nouthetic counselors do not share the author’s confusion on the subject of forgiveness. Jesus clearly taught His disciples to forgive someone “if he repents” (Luke 17:3).  We are not sure why an author would write a blog dealing with an issue about which she is confused, but we are disappointed that the Biblical Counseling Coalition would contribute to the confusion by publishing and promoting it.

A Message to our Friends

I recently had lunch with a great friend from out of town who is both a pastor and an experienced counselor. After lunch we drove out to visit Dr. Adams and on our drive home he said, “I wish I could visit South Carolina more often. It is the only time I get to hear what God is doing through Jay and the Institute. How often do you communicate with your students and friends of the ministry?”

I rehearsed for him my typical thoughts on the subject—I am very busy, our friends and students are busy, I don’t want to annoy people with unwanted email, folks will think I am trying to get money from them, Jay does not like to promote himself, if people are interested they can read the website . . .

At that point my friend cut me off. “Donn, shame on you! For over 50 years Dr. Adams has had an important ministry in the lives of thousands of people and for the past 12 years you and the Institute have had a life changing ministry to hundreds of students and, through them, thousands of counselees. These people love Jay, and they love this ministry. You simply must do a better job of communicating with them. Hundreds would love to help you if only they knew how!”

Well, of course I was chastened. It has been several weeks since that conversation and this letter is the fruit of my thinking since then. It is longer letter than anything I plan to publish in the future but I have some catching up to do. Please indulge me while I share with you, in some detail, what has been happening at the Institute and some plans for the future.

God is Prospering the Institute

Compiling exact statistics would require expending more time than the principle of good stewardship allows but the Institute now has thousands of students who have enrolled in at least one of our courses and hundreds of graduates who have completed our entire curriculum. These students and graduates are having important ministries in their local churches and are offering the hope only the Scriptures can give to hurting counselees on every continent around the world.

Our website is visited by hundreds of people every day. It not only provides information about the Institute and the training we offer but visitors can also find:

  1. a treasure trove of information about Nouthetic counseling, much of which is out of print and can be found nowhere else
  2. a daily podcast by Dr. Adams that features 8-9 minute discussions of every counseling issue imaginable (and some you never imagined)
  3. our blog featuring recent articles by Dr. Adams as well as, from time to time, classic articles which Dr. Adams has written in years past that can be found nowhere else
  4. our online bookstore
  5. our Facebook page which has over 1700 “friends” (Are you one of them?)

Our opportunities continue to grow. One of the most exciting partnerships we have developed recently is with Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Memphis where we are helping establish PhD, DMin, and MA programs in Nouthetic counseling. I taught for two weeks in January and will be returning to teach again in June. Next month (April 7-9) Jay and I will be speaking at their first conference on biblical counseling along with Martha Peace and Lou Priolo. More information can be found at their website.

Dr. Adams’ health continues to concern us. While God has given him a degree of improved strength he still deals with a number of challenges every day. Jay continues to write blog articles, Jay and I recently contributed an article to the new Theological Journal to be published by Mid-America Baptist Seminary, and recently R. C. Sproul’s Tabletalk magazine published an interview with Dr. Adams. When I am asked about Jay’s health I like to report that he is “full of sap and very green” (Ps. 92:14). I stopped by his home unannounced several weeks ago and found him reading Basil of Caesarea in the original Greek!

Our training continues to be the single most comprehensive, foundational, and convenient place to study Nouthetic counseling. That may sound like self-serving bluster but please hear me out. We have many friends, and we know of scores of others, who do a fine job of teaching biblical counseling in a number of venues—formal academic institutions, well-structured conferences and seminars, and local church training centers. Each of these, however, owes their existence to the foundational work done by Dr. Adams. Our advice to those seeking training in biblical counseling is to study under Dr. Adams first and establish a firm foundation studying under a teacher they can trust before navigating the wealth of good training (and the plague of poor training and exegesis) available in other places.

But We Have Challenges

Our growth and opportunities have required that we try to do more and more with the same amount of resources. The day to day operation of the Institute is handled almost exclusively by our Executive Director. His daily responsibilities include bookkeeping, taping and editing video lectures, writing and editing curriculum notes, maintaining our websites, interacting with students by phone, recruiting students, teaching, counseling, and answering email. In addition to these daily responsibilities he is working on several writing projects, speaking at counseling conferences, and teaching in an adjunct role in Seminary.

All of that to say, “We need help!” Our most pressing need is to hire an administrative assistant to handle some of the day to day operations. Coupled with that is the need to find better office space from which to function. Almost two years ago the wonderful office space we were renting in Greenville was sold requiring us to move out. Since then we have been working out of two spare bedrooms and an over the garage bonus room in the Arms home. I still have over 4,000 volumes of books packed away in boxes in the garage. Hiring an administrative assistant will require that we have more functional office space somewhere.

Meeting these needs will require more income for the Institute. Since our founding more than twelve years ago we have been largely funded by tuition paid by our students. We have discovered, however, what every other educational institution has learned—tuition income alone cannot cover the cost of training.

Our tuition is exactly the same as it was twelve years ago. We have never raised it—nor do we plan to. We want to keep training in biblical counseling under Dr. Adams accessible to as many students as possible. We believe raising tuition would keep many from students studying with us and as a result, reduce our income, not increase it. No, we believe the first solution is more students, not higher tuition.

Second, we have been lousy fundraisers. We used to wear this as a badge of honor partly because we do not want to be perceived to be focused on money. While Dr. Adams has had an important ministry to thousands over the years he has never cultivated donors. When he was once asked to become the president of a Seminary he turned them down, in part because he believed his lack of fund raising skills would doom the school financially.

As I said at the beginning of this letter, we have been challenged in recent days by several friends to do a better job of asking friends to help us. They have made the case that there are thousands of people helped by Dr. Adams over the years who would love to see others helped in the same way, and would want to help us if only they were asked.

How Can You Help?

Those are some of our current needs, now we want to boldly ask you to do FOUR things for us.

  1. Please make the ministry of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies a priority matter of prayer for the next month. I commit to you that I will do a better job of keeping you informed about the ministry of the Institute than I have in the past. Would you commit to putting this ministry, our students, and Dr. Adams personally, at the top of your prayer list for the next month?
  2. Would you help us advertise the ministry of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies?

    1. “Like” our Facebook page. Currently, we are right at 1700 likes. Help us increase this to 2,000 by the end of the month.
    2. “Share” our Facebook page with all YOUR Facebook friends and invite them to “like” us as well.
    3. Promote our blog, our podcast, and our website on YOUR blog or ministry website.
    4. Tell your family, your friends, your neighbors, your church family, your pastor, your in-laws, and everyone else you know about us.
  3. Would you navigate to our donation page and give as large a gift as you are able to this ministry? We pledge to use your gift carefully. There are no six figure salaries paid here. In fact, I will overcome my reticence to discuss such things and tell you that Dr. Adams has never taken a dime in income from the Institute. He has given of his time, his lectures, and his writings and as asked for nothing in return. As Executive Director devoting full time to this ministry, I have never taken an annual salary of more than 25K. We do not plan to change that until after these other needs are met.
    1. Give a gift today. The summer months as well as December are usually lean because fewer people devote themselves to studying during those times. Your gift now would help us prepare for the lean summer months that are just ahead. Would you make, what is for you, a significant gift today?
    2. Register to make a monthly donation. Please consider becoming a partner with us in this ministry by registering on our donation page to make a regular monthly gift. You can also send us an email to let us know you will be sending a check every month. We cannot hire an administrative assistant or secure office space until we have regular monthly commitments to cover those expenses. Your gift to the Institute will multiply several times over as it will not only be a blessing to us, but to those who will be learning how to minister the Word of God effectively in the counseling room, and then to those counselees whose lives will be changed by that ministry.

4.  Finally, would you help us by sharing your testimony with prospective students? Sometime today or in the week to come would you write a thoughtfully worded paragraph describing your experience as a student or graduate of the Institute? How has Dr. Adams impacted your life personally, and how have you used what you have learned to minister to others? We would like to share your testimony on our website. We can tell prospective students what we think and what we are seeking to accomplish but your testimony and endorsement would have a far more effective impact. Would you take perhaps a half hour to write up and share your experience with us? You can send it to us at feedback@nouthetic.org.

Thank you for staying with me through this longer than usual email. We treasure your partnership with us in this ministry. May God bless you as you consider how you can help us promote the ministry of the Word of God to hurting people.

Posted in INS

When Counseling, Also Don’t . . .

Yesterday we published Dr. Adams’ list. Here is mine. What would you add?

  1. Minimize your counselee’s problem. It was important enough to him to seek counsel.
  2. Tell your counselee that you understand what he is going through. You probably don’t. Tell him Christ does.
  3. Use psychological labels and jargon.
  4. Debate counseling models and methods with your counselee.
  5. Give homework that does not directly relate to the problem.
  6. Delay addressing his problem thinking you must build a relationship first.
  7. Adjudicate disputes between two people.
  8. Overwhelm your counselee with too much homework.
  9. Let your counselee’s emotions dictate the agenda.
  10. Let other things distract you during a counseling session.
  11. Fail to laugh and enjoy a humorous moment when appropriate.
  12. Try to make a point with a long list of verses. Instead, explain carefully the one or two verses that best meet the need.
  13. Fail to take good notes during the session.
  14. Charge your counselee for the privilege of counseling with you.
  15. Commiserate with a depressed person—-help him!
  16. Excuse failure to do homework.
  17. Allow someone, whose own life is out of control, control yours.
  18. Have your counselee read Scripture during the counseling session. You read it TO HIM clearly.
  19. Yawn
  20. Fake it. If you don’t know what to do next ask the counselee to pray for you as you study the issue during the coming week.
  21. Do another pastor’s work for him. Insist that your counselee’s pastor come along to the counseling session.
  22. Become angry with an angry counselee.
  23. Pity a pitiful counselee.
  24. Think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  25. Speak in abstractions, be concrete.
  26. Assume your counselee understands the biblical principle or passage you are referring to.
  27. Let your counselee settle for relief from the immediate problem.
  28. Give up.
  29. Settle for some substitute for church discipline.
  30. Promise absolute confidentiality.
  31. Ignore or gloss over doctrinal differences.
  32. Fail to secure commitments from your counselee.
  33. Confuse repentance with regret.
  34. Monopolize the conversation. Listen!
  35. Talk about a counseling case with someone who has no reason to hear about it.
  36. Fear litigation because you have obeyed Scripture.
  37. Back down when you should stand firm.
  38. Fail to handle the Word carefully and honestly. Do your exegesis!

Happy Birthday Dr. Adams!

DSCN1841Today is Dr. Adams’ 85th birthday. If you wish to send him a greeting you may do so at jay@nouthetic.org. He will not be able to respond to everyone individually but he will enjoy hearing from you.

God bless you Jay! May this day be full of joy as you celebrate with your family.

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still yield fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green.

Psalm 92:12-14

Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary

indexFor the past three weeks it was a joy for Dr. Adams and me to teach a group of faculty members, PhD, and DMin. students at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. I traveled to Memphis to teach in person and Dr. Adams joined us via the internet. We will be teaching at MABTS again in June. Dr. Tim Seal (Academic Dean), Dr. Matt Akers (Dean, DMin Program), and Dr. Jere Phillips were gracious hosts and are enthusiastic supporters of nouthetic counseling.

MABTS is in the early stages of launching new degree programs in nouthetic counseling which will include PhD, DMin, and MA degrees. They are committed to the sufficiency of the Scriptures, sound theology, careful exegesis, and solid academics. You will not find stuffy academia here, however. These folk have a heart for evangelism and engaging preaching. Practical theology is no afterthought.

The Institute for Nouthetic Studies is excited about the opportunity we have been given to help establish and develop this new emphasis at MABTS. If you are seeking a place to pursue further training in biblical counseling or pastoral ministry we urge you to check out MABTS.

Plan now to come to Memphis for MABTS’ first conference on biblical counseling April 7 – 9, 2014. Lord willing, Dr. Adams will be traveling to Memphis to speak at the conference as will Lou Priolo, Martha Peace, and myself. We will publish complete information including the conference schedule shortly.

NANC/ACBC Update

Several weeks ago I published two blog posts about NANC and I would like to give an update on the conference and our hopes for NANC/ACBC going forward. First, however, I have to attend to some important business with you—I need to ask for forgiveness from my readers.

As I reported my concerns about NANC I raised the issue of the NANC board’s non-compliance with the organization’s constitution. While my facts were correct I did not have one important piece of information. The NANC board had sought forgiveness for this. While I was the one who confronted them about this in a letter no one had communicated this to me personally and I had been functioning under the assumption that nothing had been done. Now to be clear, this was not an offense against me personally so there was no need for the board to communicate with me personally. Had I known this, however, I would not have raised it again and I am culpable for publishing without having all the facts at hand. I have communicated with the board and have asked for their forgiveness.

Now about the conference, I came home encouraged about the direction of NANC/ACBC. At a pre-conference meeting of Fellows Heath Lambert, the new Executive Director, laid out some of his plans for the future. I was pleased to hear him address a number of things that had been a concern to us including raising the bar for certification in the area of training, a continuing education requirement of certified members, and a formal procedure for dealing with members who stray from what they professed when they joined. I have also been assured privately that several of our other concerns will be handled in the days to come.

The conference itself was a refreshing change. I was not able to attend all of the plenary sessions but the ones I did attend were most helpful. It was especially encouraging to hear Heath Lambert simply open the Scriptures and show us how a passage in James applies to the work of the counselor. His workshop dealing with the integrationist point of view was also helpful. It allayed some of my concerns that rose from his book The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (see my review here).

There remains much to be done. I will be praying for Heath and the NANC/ACBC board. After this coming year it will be much clearer what is to become of NANC/ACBC with Heath at the helm and we will be able to take a measure of where NANC/ACBC has moved under his watch. My concerns about inclusiveness and relationships with other organizations that do not share our commitments remain. Let’s compare notes next October and evaluate.