Empirical Evidence?

minion-clipboardQuestion: What empirical evidence do you have that Nouthetic Counseling is superior to other forms of counseling?

Answer: Quite frankly, none. Do you wonder at that? Let me tell you why you shouldn’t. To compare Christian counseling with other forms of counseling is to compare oranges to apples (no, let’s say, oranges and socks!). Consider the goal of Christian counseling over against that of others. Most counseling seeks to solve a person’s problem in order to bring relief. That is the prime goal. In Christian counseling, however, the goal is to honor and glorify God, whether or not relief is obtained. How, then, do you compare the outcomes?

Moreover, since the object of biblical counseling is to bring about change in the counselee that honors God, how would you test for that empirically? Would you put his soul in a test tube, shake it up and hope it turns blue? How would you test whether God was honored, whether the motives of the counselee were sound (since God looks upon the heart; not merely on outward behavior) or whether he only made changes outwardly? How would you determine the extent of the Holy Spirit’s work in the counselee’s life so as to make the desired spiritual changes? In other words, there is no way to obtain empirical evidence. Since it is biblical attainments that are under consideration, it is impossible to get statistical evidence for the spiritual changes that the biblical counselor seeks to bring about.

Then, further, why would we need any tests anyway? The One Who tries the hearts of men is the Lord. He infallibly knows what is happening within the person. We can look only at his outward behavior and listen to his speech. It is He Who tests; and that is all that counts. Besides, from the counselor’s perspective, success is measured not by the outcome of the counseling sessions but ultimately by whether the counselor did those things that were biblical, thereby honoring his Lord. Success may be measured in many ways; Christians should measure it in terms of how well the counselor followed the Bible in a given case. And once again, there is no way to test this except by comparing what he does with what the Scriptures require of him.

So, what does the Christian counselor have to demonstrate the effectiveness of Nouthetic counseling? Nothing, as I said before. And he is absolutely content to say so. He must do as well as he can to meet biblical requirements in order to please God, and then let the chips fall where they may. He knows that his performance as a counselor will be flawed since he is not perfect. But he also knows that when he asks for forgiveness for failure God measures his success by that as well as by the performance. So, given the goals, given the persons at work (the counselor and the Holy Spirit) and given the kinds of outcomes that are expected and achieved in the sight of God, it would be not only foolish but arrogant to attempt to test Nouthetic counseling by some human apparatus. We do not have to set results of the sort that they might wish before the world, so long as we honor and please God. On Judgment Day, He will reveal the statistics! Any counseling claiming to be “Christian” that makes much of statistics thereby invalidates itself as such by showing that its goals and outcomes are not thought of in biblical terms.

Since the human counselor is not the only one who is at work in Christian counseling, the Christian has an “unfair advantage” over other counselors. With the Holy Spirit enlightening the minds of counselees and enabling them to overcome sinful propensities that hinder growth, producing His fruit through His inerrant Word, what profit would there be in trying to determine how well a human counselor counsels? In effect, he is but a catalyst, ministering the Scriptures in ways that the Spirit utilizes to bring about change in counselees. The Spirit is the ultimate Counselor. The whole concept of empirical evidence, statistics and the like, begs the question. And the thought of attempting to obtain them is repugnant. Sorry, but that is how it is.

Behaviorism?

Accusation:  What you are doing isn’t really unique. It’s only a species of Behaviorism.

This false charge has been made by those who have a propensity to lump together all things that sound similar. Their problem—and it’s a serious one—is that they read and think carelessly. They have little power of discernment; they do not know how to make valid distinctions. “Adams speaks of ‘behavior,’ he talks about ‘reward and punishment.’ Ergo, he is teaching behaviorism.”

But long before Watson or Skinner ever drew a breath God was speaking of behavior, reward and punishment. Dare we call Him a Behaviorist? Hardly. God regularly traces outer behavior to the “heart.” By heart, He means the inner person. Outer action is but a result of the inner thinking, determining, etc. Nowhere is changing the outer person alone a solution to man’s problems. Rather, that is Pharisaism. Since sin is a “inside job,” salvation must be too. Inner regeneration is necessary to produce outer changes that please God. Works (outer behavior) must flow from faith (inner belief); neither is sufficient without the other.

Moreover, in behaviorism, the goal is to reward the desired behavior immediately in order to make it stick. In the Bible, true reward is delayed until eternity (Cf. Hebrews 11:13-16; 24-27). And, God-pleasing behavior is governed not by manipulation and “control,” but by inner desire to please God. Always keep in mind 1 Peter 1:14b-15, 18-19:

Don’t shape your lives by the desires that you used to follow in your ignorance. Instead, as the One Who called you is holy, you yourselves must become holy in all your behavior…knowing that you weren’t set free from the useless behavior patterns that were passed down from your forefathers, by the payment of a corruptible ransom like silver or gold, but with Christ’s valuable blood.

See the difference? The conclusion? “Be deeply concerned about how you behave during your residence as aliens” (1 Peter 1:17). Nouthetic counselors will continue to do so!

Adams, You Are Too Simplistic!

Sorry, your charge doesn’t hold water. Just because I refuse to use the jargon of the field, because I write for pastors and elders in language they can easily read, and since I do not hide ignorance behind half-understood or esoteric terminology, there are those who think that what I have to say is simplistic. I claim that my writings are simple, not simplistic.

I have spent a lifetime attempting to put difficult matters into easily understood language. My students at two seminaries will vouch for the fact that I always strongly urged simplicity and clarity in preaching. I have taught that the second cousin to truth is clarity and the brother to lying is obscurity! It is my belief that by hard work, anything—once understood—can be made simple and intelligible. It is with that conviction in mind that I always sit down to write.

Because I do not theorize, speculate, or hypothesize, there are those who think what I say is unscholarly. I admit to the charge, if that is what scholarship is all about. But, wait a minute! Ask yourself, “Would Jesus have stood up to the charge?” His clear, simple language was so different from the rabbis that people were amazed at what He had to say. But because what He said was simple, that does not mean that it was simplistic. It was at once simple and profound. I try to be a speaker and writer who is as fully in that tradition of Jesus as possible.

The same concern drove Paul who, in writing to the Colossians, asked for prayer so that “I may proclaim” the truth “clearly, as I ought to.” I consider myself equally obligated to set forth God’s truth clearly. I think that it may be fairly said that though others may not always agree with me, they understand why they don’t because they understand what I have written.

Akin to the charge of simplicity is the companion charge of proof-texting. Apart from the fact that there is a correct way to proof-text, as Jesus and the apostles showed us, I deny the charge as made. What I deny is the claim that I give the Scriptures short shrift, taking passages out of context, making them say what they were never intended to say, and the like. That is what is usually meant by proof-texting.

I ask you, does the charge stand under scrutiny? How many other counselors have translated the entire New Testament, the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Psalm 119? How many others have written commentaries on all of these books? When you look at the shoddy exegesis that is so prevalent among eclectic “Christian counselors,” you will find more than enough proof-texting together with poor exegesis at its worst. I cannot accept this irresponsible charge from those who, themselves, are prime examples of what they decry. Indeed, it is time for those who hurl these missiles to reconsider their own feeble efforts at using Scripture.

When Scripture is so casually handled, when its teaching is equated with the flawed statements of men without any recognition that the two are radically different, when hermeneutics is not only a word hardly understood but a science whose fundamental principles are persistently violated, it is time for the practitioners of such an “art” to cease and desist calling names!

In other words, I challenge those who love to bypass the teachings of Nouthetic counselors on the basis that what we write is too simplistic, to come to grips with the major arguments that we set forth. That is certainly a fairer, and more “scholarly” way to go about things than to ignore these as “too simplistic” to give the time of day. It is amazing how often objectors use the ad hominem approach rather than grappling with the issues. Let’s stop that sort of thing and begin to talk sensibly, simply. One, not so insignificant issue, is how to present truth! Another has to do with the target audience for whom we write. Should we write to impress other “scholars,” or to help those who are ministering to God’s flock? Think about it!

Nouthetic Counselors Oppose the Use of Medicine, Don’t They?

The following is part of a continuing series of excerpts from an as yet unpublished book by Dr. Adams entitled Adams’ Answers.

Of course not. From the outset of the Nouthetic movement we have worked closely with physicians. We feature them in training programs, publish their books, and refer people to them regularly. That is a totally false charge that is often made against us. Now, we are careful to distinguish between true disease and that which does not have an organic etiology. We are concerned to see that medicine not be used to obtain pain relief while by-passing non-organic causes of some difficulty in living.

Roughly speaking, there are two types of medicine. One is supplementary to bodily output. For instance, if the body is not producing insulin as it should, we think it proper to add insulin from the outside. Or, if one is suffering from atrial fibrillation we believe in taking a beta blocker in order to achieve a normal, steady heart beat. The use of medicine in such cases helps the body to function as it was supposed to function.

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Your Writings and Views are Too Simplistic

The following is part of an ongoing series of excerpts from an unpublished manuscript by Dr. Adams entitled Adams’ Answers in which he responds to common questions from both friends and critics.

The charge doesn’t hold water. Just because I refuse to use the jargon of the field, because I write for pastors and elders in language they can easily read, and since I do not hide ignorance behind half-understood or esoteric terminology, there are those who think that what I have to say is simplistic. I claim that my writings are simple, not simplistic.

I have spent a lifetime attempting to put difficult matters into easily understood language. My students at two seminaries will vouch for the fact that I always strongly urged simplicity and clarity in preaching. I have taught that the second cousin to truth is clarity and the brother to lying is obscurity! It is my belief that by hard work, anything—once understood—can be made simple and intelligible. It is with that conviction in mind that I always sit down to write.

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You Are Too Critical of Others

Note: The following essay is an excerpt from Dr. Adams’ as of yet unpublished manuscript entitled Adams’ Answers…Objections from Critics.

I want you to know that I do not enjoy criticizing others who have gone wrong in their counseling. I believe, however, that this criticism is fair and honest—and needed. But “too critical?” How can one be too critical of those who misrepresent our Lord Jesus Christ? Take for instance the “need” pyramid of Abraham Maslow that has led to much wrong thinking and even serious misinterpretation of Scripture on the part of “Christian” counselors. When the self-actualization, self-esteem movement came along, there were many who hopped on board. In order to justify using this non-Christian, unbiblical belief system, there were those who taught that God had to redeem us because we were so valuable to him. This theology, which bases the saving death of Christ upon our supposed great worth, flatly contradicts the biblical teaching about grace. There was nothing in us to commend us to God; our redemption issued purely out of His undeserved mercy and goodness.

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You Talk About Nothing Else But Sin

Note: The following essay is an excerpt from Dr. Adams’ as of yet unpublished manuscript entitled Adams’ Answers…Objections from Critics.

Let me say right up front that I don’t mind fair and impartial criticism; I try to learn from it. But one thing I am somewhat sensitive about is this: there are many who do not read carefully what I have written, but simply mouth gossip as if it were profound criticism.[1] Indeed, from some of the criticism that is leveled against Nouthetic Counseling in general, and me in particular, I wonder if many critics even bother to read what I have written. And if they read only Competent to Counsel, and nothing else (when there has been a spate of books following it that fill out the system), that too is evidence of irresponsible criticism.

There is a piece of slanderous gossip that has been noised about: that Nouthetic counselors do little more than hit people over the head with the Bible. In another form, the word is out that we distribute Bible verses like prescriptions, saying in effect, “Take this verse three times a day with prayer.” Thus, the very hard work and hours of labor that have been invested in exegetical and theological work are dismissed out of hand as if there never were any such thing. And what is most appalling is that some of this “criticism” comes from those who claim not to be theologians and who themselves know little or nothing about hermeneutics or exegesis. It is that sort of thing that I certainly want to expose and denounce from the outset.

 Objection:  “You talk about nothing else but sin.”

Now that is an interesting charge. I want to forestall all misunderstanding on the subject. Yes, I speak a lot about sin. So does the Bible. Others locate man’s problem in genetics, in environmental factors, in training, and so on. They limit their understanding of man’s difficulties thereby, and truncate the solutions that they might reach. They are like the blind men trying to describe the elephant.

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