Innovative Thinking: the Proper Goal

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

Back in 1963, Henry Blamiers wrote a landmark book entitled, The Christian Mind, in which he encouraged the church to begin thinking. As a result, some took him seriously, and did so! The central thesis of that seminal work was that scholarship has taken the place that rightly belongs to thinking.

In summary, he argued that the “dearth of Christian thinking in the church is largely the result of an undue emphasis upon recording, commenting, and elucidating,” which constitute what he refers to as scholarship. Scholarship, he claimed, “. . . is not geared to production of thinkers. It is geared to their obliteration.” His claim is that the church is “rich” in scholars, but “poor” in thinkers. He grants that occasionally, very occasionally, a man may be both a first-rate scholar and a first-rate thinker.” But, as he says, this is a rarity. And he further asserts that “potential thinkers are being turned into mere scholars by the pressure of conformity . . .” If he is correct—and there is good reason to think that he is—what shall we make of the fact? Simply this—the church has a mammoth task: producing thinkers!

What makes this task so difficult? Blamiers says that the thinker is troublesome because he “challenges current prejudices,” because “the thinker is a nuisance . . . [people try] to keep him quiet, to restrict his influence . . . will try to pretend that he does not exist . . . [and try] to replace him with the scholar.” In doing so, however, Blamiers thinks that the church is in the process of destroying itself.

He contrasts scholar and thinker in this way: “Scholarship cannot endure exaggeration. Thinking cannot thrive without it. . . The scholar evades decisiveness, he hesitates to praise or condemn, he balances conclusion against competing conclusion so as to cancel out inclusiveness, he is tentative, skeptical, uncommitted. The thinker hates indecision and confusion; he firmly distinguishes right from wrong, good from evil; he is at home in a world of clearly demarked categories and proven conclusions; he is dogmatic and committed; he works toward decisive action.”

Blamiers is on to something that others have put in a different way: “. . . ín broad terms, the adaptor will accept the problem, and look for ways of doing things better. . . the innovator, however, challenges the problem, and looks for ways of doing things differently.” Those are the words of Bernie Ward. In some ways, Blamiers’ scholar conforms to Wards’ adaptor, and his thinker, to Ward’s innovator.

Some (many?) self-styled “second generation” [Nouthetic] counselors, broadly speaking, conform to the scholar or adaptor. How is that? These revisionists intend to improve counseling by “doing it better.” On the other hand, those non-revisionists who are not inclined to make such changes, more fittingly accord with the thinker-innovator. They include innovator-thinkers who brought Nouthetic Counseling into existence. They began with nothing, started from scratch, and have produced a teachable, workable, preeminently biblical system that a number of people have adopted. To the revisionists (adaptor-scholar types) their counseling approach is largely taboo. But the defenders of Nouthetic Counseling say, “Stop tinkering with what has been done and come up with some new material.” In other words, start thinking; innovate—get involved with new, unexplored, aspects of biblical counseling rather than majoring on fault-finding of what has been done. There are many areas of counseling that need thought—take the field of counseling youth, for instance. Virtually no substantive work has been done in that area. Surely, if thought is applied to the matter, many other such matters needing work could be adduced.

Instead, the revisionists (my word for Blamier’s scholar and Ward’s adaptor) continue to muddy the canvass by not leaving well-enough alone. They confuse novice counselors, and make some who have been working at improvement of their counseling ability, wonder whether or not it is worth doing so. Revisionists spend time redrawing the lines, only to smudge and redraw them again—and again. It’s easy to find areas where improvement might be helpful, but to attack the system as such, while employing much of which it offers, and by riding in a boat already sailing rather than building its own, their approach borders on dishonesty. Instead, let them come up with something fresh. Are there no thinker-innovators in their midst? Must they hang on to the coattails of those to whom they give faint praise, but spend their time criticizing, and disavowing anything more than a distant historical connection?

There is, of course, a place for Ward’s “doing things better.” And over the last forty years, many have been at work doing it. In other words, there is no need to do what has been, and is still being, done by Nouthetic Counseling thinker-innovators. It is no longer the time for tentativeness. The need is for fresh materiel that the troops on the front could use to “better do the job” of fighting the evil one’s influence in the lives of their counselees. Are there no new weapons the revisionists can bring forth for the task?

If there is really to be a “Second Generation,” worthy of the name, then let it distinguish itself not by criticizing, but by contributing substantially to the common cause. Let’s see something now and then of pristine quality appear. Plenty of revision has already been done over the years, and it will continue, without tearing down the system. When you hear how things must be improved by concern for people in pain and suffering since it currently has little or no place in Nouthetic Counseling, for instance, one cannot but wonder whether or not the scholar-critics have ever read Prayers for Troubled Times, a book specifically designed to help those in various sorts of trouble. When similar issues are raised, deploring the lack of this or that, one wonders at the fact that entire books have been written to cover such subjects as encouragement or faith in counseling though they are decried as missing. One also must wonder whether the adaptor-revisionist is up to date on such matters. It would seem, at times, that the well-over-one-hundred books written to update and improve one’s counseling ability, have never crossed their desks. After all, Competent to Counsel and The Christian Counselor’s Manual were written in the 70s. They are neither the last word nor final say—although they still, it would seem, continue to help many who are looking for counseling help that is biblical, clear, readable, teachable and adaptable. Most of the claims of lopsidedness come either from the failure to read later works, or from the lopsided interest of those who want to see their cherished doctrines emblazoned on every page of every book. And, sadly, much of the criticism that has come has not been based upon valid, exegetical considerations but, rather, upon the prejudices of those who criticize.

What, then, can we say to this? First, this is not merely a defense of Nouthetic Counseling (though biblically, the apostles found that they too had to defend their work from critics, some of whom were from within the ranks of the churches they spawned). Of far greater significance, however, is the concern to call the scholar-adaptor into the arena of the thinker-innovator. If you object to these terms, so be it. Use whatever terms you prefer. But, above all, let’s stop spending time taking pot-shots at the counseling system that brought many of you into biblical counseling in the first place. Instead, let’s get to work on fresh, exegetically-based thought that substantially adds, rather than merely improves, the work of counseling that is dear to the heart of many of you who will read this article. Come, join the innovators. There is too much God-given talent out there that could contribute a great deal more than it does. It is a shame not to tap into it. Some of those whom I have called revisionists (for the sake of a better term) are people of outstanding scholarship. How wonderful if we should see them turn loose this power of thought into the channels about which we have been speaking. How useful to the kingdom of God would be a whole array of biblical counseling thinkers. That is my great desire to see before I leave this earth. I earnestly hope God will grant me this request.

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