A Note to Second Generation Counselors: Stop it!

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

As we said at the beginning of this series, we are not surprised by the criticism we receive from those who are immersed in secular psychological systems, either from unbelievers or fellow believers who have embraced an integrational approach to counseling. However, in recent days criticism has risen from a crop of biblical counselors who would identify themselves as the “second generation.” By their own testimony they believe that because of their efforts the movement has “matured,” “grown beyond Adams,” “is more attuned to the suffering of counselees,” and is “more flexible” in its “pastoral method.”

Let me quickly say that it is not my goal here to simply return fire. Some of these men are my friends—they love their Lord and have a genuine desire to serve Him. Most of our readers would recognize them if I were to name them. These are things I would (and do) say to them personally when I have opportunity. But because they make their criticisms of nouthetic counseling (and of Jay personally) public (in writing and on the lecture circuit) we have decided (finally) to respond publicly.

First some context. Humanly speaking, these “second generation” men owe their training, their positions in ministry, and the platforms from which they speak to Dr. Adams. With one accord I believe they would acknowledge this. They are employed by ministries founded by Adams, teach in academic programs founded by Adams and his early coworkers, and are leaders of organizations founded by Adams. In public they often rise up and call him blessed for the work he did “in the early days of the movement.” But now, they believe, we must reevaluate what Adams has written and his approach to counseling. We must listen to the criticisms of our integrationist brothers and find ways to please them.

Let’s look at some of the criticisms specifically. I recently read a Ph. D. dissertation written by a friend which was an evaluation of the direction of the biblical counseling movement’s “second generation.” In it the author gives genuine and respectful praise for the foundational ministry of Jay Adams. In fact, this brother and I recently had lunch with Jay and my friend told Jay personally how much his writings had influenced and helped him. But after citing Jay’s early ministry this author does something in his paper I had never seen done before. He took Jay to task, not for what he had said, but for what he had not said! His argument was that since Jay had been such a prolific writer he should have addressed several specific issues that the author thought should have been addressed by Adams and were not. Happily, according to this dissertation, the issues the author had concluded were important, were now being addressed by a “more mature” second generation of counselors.

Another brother, well known in biblical counseling circles, is on the lecture circuit and recently cited the following “weak points” of Adams’ “first generation” approach to counseling. He began with the claim that Adams’ approach lacked a ministry to the suffering. “A lot of first generation biblical counseling has a moralistic kind of feel to it. It seems like sin is the only issue, and it can seem hard or hard hearted.” He went on to claim that Adams did not deal with “suffering at the hands of other people” and that he and his second generation of biblical counselors have “created a much richer, more thoughtful approach to biblical counseling.” He then went on to make an amazing claim that Adams neglected the counselee’s relationship to God and that his approach “looks pretty behavioral.”

There are several disappointing aspects to these claims. This is a man who is a first rate scholar. He is well familiar with what Jay has written over the years. Jay has written entire books dealing with the issues cited. How to Overcome Evil, How to Handle Trouble, Prayers for Troubled Times, and a homiletic commentary on 1 Peter all deal with suffering at the hands of others. Jay has responded repeatedly to the charge of behaviorism. I am evidently too obtuse to understand how one can conclude Jay’s approach is “moralistic.”

The lecturer’s second criticism was that “Adams had a tendency to make the cross be for conversion and the Holy Spirit was for sanctification.” To this Adams would say, “Amen!” I am not going into the theology of this here as I have urged Jay to blog about this soon. The speaker’s consternation rises from what I believe is a personal offense he has taken up on behalf of a friend whose teaching Jay pointedly condemned in a booklet he wrote about ten years ago. Here again, the speaker concludes this particular point by saying that he and his second generation of biblical counselors have led the movement “to an approach to counseling that is more mature, more balanced, wiser, and has more continuity with the church historically in its wisest pastoral exemplars.”

His third criticism of Jay Adams goes like this: “The first generation made some fundamental category mistakes in treating depression and anxiety, fear, primarily as sins to be admonished. I think these . . . are primarily experiences of suffering.” “I think people have been needlessly admonished . . . and I don’t think that is helpful.” Here again, I am disappointed that a man who would criticize those on whose shoulders he stands would not understand better what he condemns. No nouthetic counselor I know, especially Dr. Adams himself, would deny that people suffer in their depression, or fear, or anxiety and that they should be comforted, consoled, and encouraged. It is not sin to feel bad or to be afraid. It is sin to disobey God because one feels bad. The hospital patient is not excused for cussing out his nurse because he is in pain. The poor man is not excused for robbing a store because he is hungry. The depressed person is not excused from working and providing for his family because he feels bad. For more on this “second generation” approach to depression see my review of a book that promotes this view elsewhere on our blog.

Finally, Jay is criticized for a “lack of flexibility in pastoral method.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14 is cited as though first generation counselors were only concerned to admonish and neglected to “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with everyone” in their ministries. This goes beyond the mere building of straw men. It is both condescending and dishonest.

Several admonitions are in order here. To those self-styled second generation biblical counselors who on one hand wish to praise Adams for his work and then throw stones at him—stop it! Jay has, from the beginning, urged others to carefully examine his views. He considered himself to be a trailblazer who was hacking his way through an uncut jungle with a machete urging others to follow along behind with bulldozers and paving equipment. I urge you to build on Jay’s foundation rather than pick at it. Have your robust academic debates about various points of disagreement around the lunch table. I do the same with Jay himself regularly. But remember, there are those who are new to all this who are seeking to learn in order to minister the Word more effectively. Are you helping them or are you confusing them? Have you yourselves become the “feisty” antagonists that you paint Jay Adams to be?

Second, to those of you who have come to love and appreciate Jay Adams and have been helped and blessed by his writing—do not let these others confuse you. You will encounter in his writing things you will question. His eschatology will not please the dispensationalist, his ecclesiology will not please the Baptist, his soteriology will not please the Arminian. You will need to bring your own personality and abilities into the counseling room. But understand that God has used Jay Adams to build a comprehensive and thoroughly biblical counseling paradigm that you can learn and apply with confidence. Do it, and let us know if we can help you in the process.

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