First, a disclaimer. Please note that this post is not written by Jay Adams. Today, and in the days to come, I am exercising my prerogatives as editor and webmaster to talk about Dr. Adams without his foreknowledge or approval. He will fuss at me for using this space to speak of him personally but I’ll risk it. My purpose is to provide some context for an article by Jay that will appear here next week. It will be a longer article than usual and will speak to some things I have been urging him to address for some time.
I want to begin by saying something that will come as a surprise to many, especially those who have read more about Dr. Adams than they have read by Dr. Adams. Jay Adams is a really nice guy. He is kind, affable, humorous, warm-hearted, and gregarious. He has a loving wife, children and grandchildren who rise up and call him blessed, hundreds of friends, thousands who have been blessed by his ministry, and a dog who loves to sleep on his lap.
Now most genuinely nice guys do not need to have others point out that fact on a website. I report it here because most who would oppose Jay’s view of the sufficiency of the Scriptures and his approach to counseling end up complaining about his “tone,” “brash self-confidence,” or “mean spirit” rather than interact with the things he has actually written. If you Google Jay’s name or the term “nouthetic” you will quickly find harsh and even venomous things said about him. While these things are not new they are much more easily accessible these days because of the internet. Let me suggest several reasons for all this.
First, many of Jay’s critics are heavily invested in secular psychology, either by the expense of their academic degrees, their sources of income, or their prestige among peers. If Jay Adams is correct about secular psychology then all of their training and experience has been in vain. It is like the “chaff that the wind drives away.” He is viewed as a threat. Threatening people are, by definition, not nice.
Second, and this too will come as a great surprise to many, Jay Adams genuinely dislikes conflict. He has never shrunk when confronted with it but he does not seek it out and he takes no joy in it. As a result, many of the slings and arrows cast his way, especially in retirement, are simply absorbed and go unchallenged. Those who oppose biblical counseling are often loud and when they go unchallenged their views become accepted.
Third, many critics have read nothing Jay has written since CTC and fail to understand the context in which it was written. CTC was written at a time when secular psychology had overwhelmed even the most conservative evangelical and fundamental schools. Had Jay not been bold and confrontational in 1970 the few copies of his book that would have made their way into print would today be languishing in dusty obscurity. Jay responded to every criticism and question early on both in his lectures as he traveled and in print. Yet the same straw men are raised over and over again. Jay has decided that responding repeatedly to the same canards accomplishes nothing. Thus the caricature of a brash and combative Jay Adams becomes a common view.
Fourth, many who read Jay Adams do not distinguish the audience for whom the particular book is written. No one who has read Christian Living in the Home, How to Overcome Evil, How to Handle Trouble, A Thirst for Wholeness, Christ and Your Problems, or the other things he has written to be given to counselees or read by Christian laymen could possibly conclude Jay is harsh or mean spirited. Each of these are warm and pastoral and are models of how careful exegesis of the Scriptures can be made practical and can be of genuine help to believers. They take a Woman at the Well approach. Jesus was kind and inviting with her. He gave her hope and offered what would satisfy her soul all the while dealing frankly with her sin. In some of Jay’s books, written for the pastor or other Christian leader, he takes a Nicodemus approach. Nicodemus was a leader, a teacher, a learned man who should have been much farther along in his understanding of spiritual things than he was. Jesus is pointed with him:
How is it that you, a teacher in Israel, do not understand these things?
Finally, the biblical counseling movement, which was born out of Jay Adams’ confrontation with the psychologizing of the church, has lost its polemic edge. For many in the movement today it is mean and unloving to oppose anything. Very little is worth defending vigorously. There are two sides to be considered, nuances to embraced, complicating factors to evaluate. We must not proclaim the truth to our opponents, we must instead win their acclaim for our openness and willingness to consider their criticisms. It is arrogant to presume that we know the truth and to believe those who oppose it are wrong.
Here at the Institute for Nouthetic Studies we are all about building, teaching, equipping, and giving hope and help to pastors and laymen who want to effectively minister the Word of God. Our blogs have primarily been positive and have sought to help and teach. Perhaps in our zeal to help and teach we, too, have lost a bit of a polemic edge. I trust you will find the posts in the next few days to be helpful as we seek to respond to a few of the stones that have been thrown at us recently and as Jay proposes a remedy for the biblical counseling movement.