On Being Nice

Question:  If you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, which animal yelps the loudest?

Answer:  The one that was hit.

I was recently reminded of this old riddle when I was asked during a Q & A session why Dr. Adams engenders so much anger among psychologists, integrationists, and even some who claim to be biblical counselors. In reality, the questioner was not seeking an answer so much as he was using the venue to take Jay to task for not being nicer and more accommodating. Still, I was glad for the “question” as it gave me an opportunity to make several points that I would like to repeat here.

First, for some, just to be told they are wrong is considered mean. Put yourself in the place of the “psychologist who is a Christian” (a better term than “Christian psychologist”). You have invested many thousands of dollars, years of time, and great effort in obtaining your academic credentials; you gain your livelihood from your psychological practice or teaching career; your standing in society rises from your expertise as a psychologist. Then along comes a guy who, no matter how softly and gently he may say so, tells you (and others about you) that what you are doing is illegitimate, harmful, and destructive. You have to either agree and admit the poverty of your profession or you have to defend yourself. Because your position is untenable, you are left only with attacking the messenger and complaining about his “tone.”

Second, the premise of the question is false. I know of a no more gracious and kind man than Jay Adams. I have been in the counseling room with him, seen him minister to grieving families at graveside, witnessed countless Q & A sessions he has held, interacted alongside with pastors who came to him for help with problems, and seen him minister to others during times of his own physical weakness and distress. I recently read through the transcripts of a symposium Adams had with a number of well-known integrationists. While one recent book takes Jay to task for not being more accommodating to these men, I came away from the read impressed by how patient he was with them.

Third, often his readers fail to understand his goals when he writes. Consider Competent to Counsel. Adams’ goal was to rouse his reader to action. The church had forfeited its responsibilities to minister to hurting people and had embraced a worldly approach to counseling. He wanted to stand in the way and holler, “STOP!” He could not do that without condemning the practice and urging a new course of action upon his reader. Had CTC had the tone employed by some writers today in the biblical counseling movement in which authors merely make suggestions, allow for nuances, see “both sides”, and offend no one it would have had no impact. The few copies that would have been printed would today be languishing in dusty obscurity on some library shelf and there would be no ACBC, CCEF, INS, or Biblical counseling programs in our seminaries.

Fourth, Adams’ readers often fail to also understand his intended audiences. Most of Adams’ books were written to help pastors and counselors. They are largely didactic and Adams labored over them to be clear and helpful. Other books, and especially his booklets designed to be used to give to counselees, are intended to minister. These are warm, pastoral, and kind. Examples are his How to Handle . . . series of pamphlets, Christ and Your Problems, How to Overcome Evil, and his wonderful but not well known series of three booklets written for those who have lost loved ones. A third category, however, are those things he has written to those who should know better. They are polemic, and are intended to make people think through what they believe, or are doing, and urge them to change. These, of course, have a different “tone.” In these he uses our Lord’s approach with Nicodemus:

“How is it that you are a teacher in Israel and you do not understand these things?”

Jay Adams has indeed thrown a few rocks in his day. It is instructive to note who yelps the loudest.


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!

For Now . . .

This week we are away at the annual NANC conference. We will be rerunning some of the most important blogs from this past summer.

Often, I’ve been charged with being critical of others. But I have hardly been charged with being critical of those in the basic Nouthetic counseling camp. Yet, interestingly enough, I find that, as of late, some of these very persons have had little hesitation out attacking my writings—and even me personally. This is perfectly all right so long as what they say is accurate and the system that they propose (indeed, there seems to be such a system growing) is, indeed, genuinely an improvement over what I have set forth. But to “advance” is not always an advantage. The question is—what direction is this new way of counseling taking?

I see several serious deviations taking this “new” system back to a number of the old unbiblical ways that we thought we had put to bed. Let me mention but a few.

First, exegesis is minimized, and in its place we discover an emphasis on feelings, a superficial use of the Scriptures, “getting to know people,” and the lot. One whole book, for instance, is based on a faulty, superficial, misinterpretation of Ezekiel 14. Here was a people, being carried away into Babylon, largely because of its worship of the images of false gods rather than Yahweh. Yet their devotion to these images was so strong that what they could not do physically, they were doing spiritually—they were carrying away images of them in their hearts (Ez. 14:3,4,6,7) .

Throughout Ezekiel, true images of genuine false gods of the time, (such as Moloch) are in view. The first half of His book is consumed with condemning such idolatry. As a result, God’s “four sore judgments” (v.21) were about to fall upon them. Yet, they persisted in spite of Ezekiel’s last minute warning to repent and turn their faces from such idols (v.6).

Now, the book in question, “uses” the Ezekiel passage to set forth the fallacious idea that these idols were being manufactured in the hearts of the rebellious Jews, and that, rather than idols representing false pagan gods, the passage supports the concept of the human heart being the source of sin-specific idols of those who produce them. So, totally failing to do the exegesis of the passage necessary to proclaim God’s truth, the passage is “made” to support an unbiblical view which (certainly) was the furtherest thing from Ezekiel’s mind when he wrote. And, a view that leads counselors in a wrong direction.

That view, largely being propagated by another brother, who does little, if any, true exegesis of passages, but largely intellectualizes (playing around with nuances of various sorts), has been spread all over the counseling world. Among other things, the concept makes Scripture (with little use of the same) teach that we are allowed to search out the idols specific to each person in order to counsel him (whether it be an idol of laziness, lust, or whatever). Of course, the Ezekiel passage has no such counseling construct within it (nor does any other passage). And it teaches absolutely nothing about human beings manufacturing heart idols. Indeed, the Bible teaches quite another concept that is contrary to this view: it denies the ability of others to know another person’s heart.

Let’s examine a few verses with reference to this concept. First, at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, in his prayer, he emphatically affirmed that God “alone” knows human hearts (1 Kings 8:39). Moreover, God tells us that man looks on the outward appearance [man’s territory], but that He looks on the heart [His territory] see 1 Samuel 16:7. Even Paul was cautious not only about judging others’ hearts, but even about judging his own (See 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). These are only a few of the consistent teachings of Scripture about the same thing. Man has the right to ask others what their desires are but, as in Paul’s case, even one’s own assessment is questionable. We can watch, and listen, but we cannot discover another’s heart problems. Moreover, as we have seen, to discover individual idols, within a complex person who isn’t sure of himself (as Paul said), again, seems quite presumptuous.

Much more could be said about other aspects of this developing system, which contains elements of redemptive-historical speculation replacing exegesis, and of Gospel sanctification—rather than sanctification of Spirit-enabled effort—must be reserved for another place. For now, let me simply warn you that the names of at least 4-5 rather prominent persons have become associated with the new system, so you ‘re likely to encounter its tenets soon, if not later. All I want to say now is beware. It’s adoption will destroy your counseling ability, and you are likely to discourage your counselees as well as yourself.


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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