There are Times . . .

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

In such circumstances, what must they do?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

What Biblical Counseling Does for the Counselor

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

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

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

The Threat of Eclecticism

Alluring as it may be, eclecticism is a serious threat. It is a decided hindrance to achieving excellence in biblical counseling. The eclectic way offers encouragement from professionals and highly recognized degrees leading to plush positions and money. It requires little original thought and demands virtually nothing in the way of character growth.

There has always been a sinful tendency among God’s people to abandon God and His Word for something else. The entire Old Testament is replete with incidents of the sort. Speaking for God, Jeremiah puts it this way:

My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

This is a serious problem that has plagued the church of Christ ever since counseling began. The problem with eclecticism is that it is based on the idea that the wisdom of man may be blended with the wisdom of God to produce a third and better thing than either provides alone.

In Acts 17:18 the philosophers in Athens used a derogatory word to describe the apostle Paul. They called him a spermalogos. This term I have translated “an eclectic babbler” in my Christian Counselor’s New Testament. It describes exactly what the eclectics do. The word pictures a bird going about picking up various sorts of seeds here and there. That, at its core, is eclecticism—it is filling the pot with a little Rogers, a dash of Freud, some Maslow, a pinch or two of Adler and a sprinkling of Scripture. Then the whole is mixed together and poured out into a pan to harden. It should not be done by God’s people.

God tells us that in His Word, everything necessary for life and godliness may be found (2 Peter 1:31). The eclectic procedure runs counter to Peter’s statement. Indeed, to add to the words of the living God is nothing less than unbelief. It is an act of rebellion. Isaiah describes God’s people as rebellious children when they engage in this sort of thing (Isaiah 30:1). He decries the fact that they go down to Egypt to make counsel that He says is not [His]. He speaks negatively of the alliance they make with Egypt as weaving a web that is not of [His] Spirit. That is, such a thing is not of His doing. Why? How is that rebellion? He goes on to say, that His people didn’t ask for a word from [His] mouth (v. 2). In other words, they trusted in the promises and schemes of the Egyptians rather than in the word of God. As Isaiah also points out, the Egyptians are men and not God (Isaiah 31:3). What utter foolishness! Why turn to the words and wisdom of men rather than to the words and wisdom of God? The entire second chapter of 1 Corinthians denounces the very same thing. And the Psalmist opens the book of Psalms warning against the counsel of the ungodly, urging the reader instead to delight in the law of the Lord.

The importance of this matter cannot be overstated. The entire church of the Lord Jesus Christ is filled with the ideas of men, largely brought in by so-called “Christian counselors.” One does not question the salvation of these spermalogoi (spermalogoi is the plural of spermalogos) but he must not approve of their thinking in this matter. Rather than calling themselves “Christian counselors,” they more properly might refer to themselves as Christians who are eclectic counselors. But because they (wrongly) use the title “Christian counselor” they deceive many—often including themselves. It is not a matter of their motives, it is a matter of their commitment to biblical counseling.

It is impossible to grow as a biblical counselor, making evident progress toward excellence, when one continually compromises his counseling with a mixture of alien elements. Take, for instance, the idea that one’s past must be investigated in detail in order to help solve his problems today (an essentially Freudian concept widely propagated within the church). When one subscribes to this idea, he will spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to do the impossible. No one can trace back all the past experiences that have led to a person’s becoming what he is today. It would take as long to do so as it did for one to live through them (or longer). Then at the end (which he could never reach because while following up leads his counselee would be experiencing new events that would need to be tracked down ad infinitum), how would he know that he didn’t miss the most crucial experience? No, going outside of the Scriptures is detrimental to progress in biblical counseling.

It has deleterious effects in other areas as well. Consider but one. Delving into the past to find the reasons for present behaviors (attitudes, beliefs, etc.) is a method that seems designed to provide excuses for a counselee. After all, if someone (or something) did it to him in the past, he is probably stuck with it for life. Very little (if any) change can be expected. He is a victim rather than a violator. He is a pawn to be pushed about by people and circumstances. Since this concept runs counter to all that the Bible teaches about human responsibility and change, it impedes the pursuit of excellence in biblical counseling. Unfortunately, too few of the spermalogoi seem to understand this fact.

Now, what I have looked at in terms of one concept eclectically brought into the church may be multiplied many times over. All of it keeps one from a true commitment to biblical counseling and craftsmanship. The entire process is deceptive. Most counselors who adopt the eclectic stance have no idea of the damage that they are doing to their counseling ministries and to their counselees. The Spirit of God produced His Word over a long period of time. He, Himself, declared that it makes the counselor adequate, and equips him fully for every good work. The work in view is the work of changing people by means of the Scriptures.

Moreover, the eclectic counselor must necessarily hold contradictions. You cannot say that all things necessary for life and godliness are found in biblical promises on the one hand, and then on the other hand, search for worldly wisdom that will add necessary dimensions to what you read in the Bible. That is but the beginning of the contradictions that abound in this approach.

In addition to holding confusing contradictions, the spermalogoi are themselves personally influenced by the principles and practices of the world as they imbibe and practice them in their counseling. A person cannot spend years in training of any sort and not be influenced by it. When day by day he works in the atmosphere of those principles and practices, advising others to follow them, this influence is deepened. Whether it is the direct influence of teachers and associates or the continued influence of the pagan system, the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:33 applies: “Don’t be misled; bad companions corrupt good habits.”

The warning is apropos. The eclectic counselor is misled. He may not realize it, but over time he will be led farther and farther away from the pure simplicity of the Scriptures into the world of human wisdom. His whole life will be affected by it. Often this defection takes place over a long period of time. Incrementally, as more and more he lays the Bible aside preferring to study the books of men whose views are in competition with God, his home life, his relationship to the church and other Christians, and (preeminently) his relationship to God are affected adversely. If he doesn’t divorce his wife (as far too many have done), he may effectively divorce himself from God and His people. Even when he doesn’t go that far, the little worldly beliefs that continually fill his heart and soul harden him to God’s Word. He may eventually become an adversary of the biblical pastor who attempts to be faithful to Scripture. In some ways, the one who runs off with his secretary is better off—at least he is aware of the radical changes that have occurred.

The incremental changes in one’s orientation are described by the Psalmist who speaks of walking, standing and (at length) sitting. Here is a dangerous progression. First, one becomes enamored with ungodly counsel and walks toward it. Next he is fascinated by it and stands there eating it up. In the end, he himself becomes a teacher sitting in the seat, scornfully speaking against that to which he once held.

I am not saying that this course is inevitable; it is my sincere hope that the words of the psalmist may jolt some of those walking along the road toward the wisdom of the ungodly and cause them to turn back. It is also my hope that some of those who have become enamored by such teachings may wake up. I even have an outside hope that some who now scoff may come down from the seat of the scornful. Since the Spirit of God is at work great things are possible!

Why, then, do I say that progress toward excellence in biblical counseling is impossible for the eclectic? Because so long as he continues his spermalogic course, he is heading in the wrong direction. You cannot go east and west at the same time (without coming apart). You cannot serve two masters. You will come to love one and hate the other. But that is exactly what happens. If one is making evident progress in biblical counseling, he is in retreat from eclectic counseling. If he is progressing toward the seat of the scornful, he is leaving biblical counseling behind. Which way are you traveling?

The Art and Science of Biblical Counseling

Counseling, like homiletics and most other aspects of ministry, is both an art and a science. There are specific skills to master—the Biblical disciplines of exegesis, hermeneutics, and theology, plus the counseling skills of listening, data gathering, note taking, and assigning good homework. It is an art in that each counselor brings his own personality and judgment to bear as he builds an agenda, decides when to press the indecisive, comfort the afflicted, confront the disobedient, encourage the fainthearted, or instruct the untaught.

As teen growing up in Waterloo, Iowa my pastor was David Moore. He was a kind and gentle man with a personality that embraced everyone in the room. He was not a pulpiteer but even as a young teenager I enjoyed his preaching because I knew and loved Pastor Moore and I knew my pastor loved me. I never remember a time when I met Pastor Moore that he did not give me a huge bear hug. When I left for college Paul Tassell became my pastor. Dr. Tassell was a short dynamo of a man, a powerful preacher, and a no nonsense kind of guy. He was full of joy and energy but he did not suffer a fool gladly. I never doubted his love for his people but he was not a touchy/feely kind of guy. I do not recall seeing him hug anyone—ever.

Both men were effective pastors. Their churches grew under their leadership and both were universally loved by their respective flocks. Yet they had very different styles of ministry. This will be true of good biblical counselors as well.

I have a friend who believes a good counselor will spend many hours with a counselee building a relationship before getting into the substance of the counseling issue. Typical counseling sessions, for him, will last 2–3 hours. I believe he is a good counselor and I know he has helped many. But this is not my practice nor is it what we teach our students to do. We believe it is far more loving and kind to get at the counselee’s problem as quickly as possible and get them on the way toward solving it.

Jay often tells the story an experience he once had with a dentist. Shortly after moving to California he developed a bad toothache. Since he was new to town he had not yet been to a local dentist so, upon the recommendation of a friend, he called for an appointment. He was greeted on the phone by the sugary sweet voice of a receptionist who gushed that she was so glad he had called and offered set up an appointment with plenty of time for the Doctor to “get to know you first so you will be comfortable with him as your dentist.” Since Jay needed a dentist and not a new friend he politely extracted himself from the conversation and called another dentist who, thankfully, quickly went to work on his problem. This dentist became his friend because he was of genuine help with his toothache. It is a story Jay tells frequently when teaching students about building involvement with counselees. The obvious point being that a counselor will build involvement with a counselee naturally by offering him solid, biblical help, and doing so quickly.

I relate all this because of a document I read recently written by a man who was critiquing nouthetic counseling generally and Jay Adams in particular. Referring to this example Jay often uses he wrote “Jay Adams believes good counseling is like pulling teeth! You just reach into the counselee’s life and yank on the problem regardless of how much pain it causes.”

Biblical counselors can certainly do things differently than Jay Adams or Donn Arms and still be quite effective. Biblical counselors can disagree with Jay Adams on a point of doctrine here and there—I certainly do. But these kinds of mischaracterizations are inexcusable, intellectually dishonest, and cause great harm to students who read this kind of thing. Perhaps we are derelict by not responding to them more often and more aggressively.

“Fearing” the Lord in Counseling

In some ways, there are churches like the Samaritans who were foreigners that were settled in Palestine by the Babylonians and who adopted some, but not all, of the elements of the Hebrew religion. They accepted the law of Moses, but none of the rest of the Scriptures. And included with this deficient, truncated acceptance of divine revelation, we read that “They feared the Lord, but they also worshipped their own gods according to the customs of the nations where they had been deported from” (2 Kings 17:33). Again, we are told, “they feared the Lord but also worshipped their idols” (2 Kings 17:41). They were eclectic “fearers.”

How can you “fear the Lord,” and do what they did? To speak of the “fear” of God was to use what had become a technical term that meant to become a member of the outward community of God. Like circumcision, where there was a circumcision of the flesh and a circumcision of the heart, so too, there was a “fear of God” that was but an outward profession of belief in Him, and there was also the “fear” of those whose profession of faith was also an inner reality.

How much has been gathered into the Christian church today, by people whose profession of faith is merely outward, that is detrimental! It is destructive because God will not take His stand alongside of false gods of man’s making—whether or not it involves idolatry—and accept worship. He tolerates no equal; no partner; no substitute, no one else.

So, my friend, is your worship as well as your counseling eclectic? Often the two go together. It is dangerous to adopt alien systems of thought having to do with the very deepest aspects of a man’s life (such as those involved in counseling) and not be personally influenced by them. Have you so compromised your thinking in the area of counseling that it has, in effect, diluted your views of God? This may be especially the case if you tout what you are doing under the label, “Christian,” when it isn’t. Pretty soon, you may come to the place where you even believe it! Whom do you really fear? Who is the sole object of your fear? In the light of much that goes for “fear of God” in the church, it’s a question worth asking.

No Sissies!

Doubtless, there are Christians who have quite a wrong view of counseling, in their minds. They picture a counselor and placid counselee conversing on a high level, untouched by outbursts of anger, times of frustration, periods of disgust, moments of ferocity, or the like. Such conceptions of counseling are naïve. The truth is quite to the contrary. The counseling room often becomes the scene of open hostility, a venue of weeping, a place of agonizing, of stress, of fear, of . . . You name it, and it probably has happened in counseling!

Now, of course, that isn’t what the counselor strives for or wishes to bring on himself; but, nevertheless, it may happen in spite of his best efforts to allay it. Counselees are in trouble, and they bring their troubles with them. Many—not all—of those troubles are also troubling. Their troubles spill over into the lives of others—family, friends, fellow-workers—counselors. It is the counselor’s task (and great privilege) to help them find God’s good solutions to their problems to replace their own bad solutions that didn’t work, and often made things worse!

It’s not pleasant to have to tell a counselee, “Please sit down, so that we can discuss the matter civilly. We’ll get nowhere so long as you keep yelling at your wife that way.” But it must be done. It isn’t easy to comfort one who has just broken down and is sobbing uncontrollably. But a counselor must do so. There can be little hope for a counselee who, disgusted with what her husband has just said, gets up to leave; but the counselor must stop her. There is no hope for a counselee if he refuses to do the appropriate homework that will solve his problem. But the counselor must persuade him to do it. It is never an easy thing to bring a counselee to repentance, or to tell him to confess his sin to another. But he must, for counseling to get anywhere. In other words, counseling isn’t the neat, simple, friendly matter of pleasant relationships that some may picture it to be.

There are times when in the course of counseling, someone may even turn on the counselor himself. He may threaten, utter epithets that we shall delete, or slam a door in his face. No one is exempt from the wrath of some people who want things their way and will broach no other. Very seldom does physical harm ensue, but even that is not beyond possibility. In other words, rewarding as it may be to see many of those very people I have been describing repent from their ways and receive the help of the Lord, the process of achieving those results isn’t easy or always pleasant. The road may be hilly and rough.

It is most difficult in many cases to persuade counselees that the prime purpose for seeking help ought not to be relief from some difficulty, but ought to be to please the Lord whether or not relief comes. Yet, that intellectual/spiritual struggle cannot be bypassed, and is necessary in the majority of the cases in which you will counsel. Counseling has its compensations, of course—wonderful ones! But that isn’t what I’m discussing at the moment.

Why, then, discuss it? Won’t that drive potential counselors away? Yes and no. For those who really want to help people, it will perhaps be enlightening, but helpful. They will not enter the lists unprepared. For others who wanted an easy, respectable “job”—well, yes, unless they repent I hope it does drive them off. But in the Scriptures, Jesus never called men to softness; it was always to hard things. And, as a result, He forged a team that would endure and spread His message to the ends of the earth.

It would be less than honest to allow potential counselors to think that counseling is a neatly-tied, easily-unwrapped package of goodies. It isn’t. You have to dig down through the stuffing to the bottom to find the prize. But it is a blessed way of serving Christ. Jesus calls no sissies to be counselors! Can you measure up to the task?

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.

“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.

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.

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.