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 Adams’ as of yet unpublished manuscript entitled Adams’ Answers…Objections from Critics.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.

All problems stem form Adam’s sin. Had there been no fall, there would be no remedial counseling. But Adam did sin, and if you were to trace genetic problems, environmental factors, and poor training back far enough, you would discover that it is because of the fall that these problems exist. Sin, then, rather than being a limiting concept, is the broadest of all. It covers the waterfront!

But not all of an individual counselee’s problems may be traced to some specific sin in his life. It may be that he has been injured by others, misled, and so on. While he bears responsibility for how he handles wrongdoing toward himself, nevertheless, he is certainly not responsible for everything that occurs.

In Competent to Counsel, published 40 years ago, I stated clearly that the cases of Job and the man born blind (John 9) are explicit examples of the fact that people do not always bring their problems upon themselves.[2] In the providence of God, who knows how many illnesses, and other untoward circumstances, may accrue from transactions that take place in the unseen world? We are not privy to such information. The only thing that is important for us to say about such matters is that God held Job (and his four counselors) responsible for interpreting and dealing with his condition so far as they were able to do so.

In cases where no causal relationship between one’s behavior and his circumstances is apparent, that usually calls for a similar tact to be taken by Nouthetic counselors. They help their counselees to understand (so far as possible) what is happening, to face it with biblical attitudes and actions, and to learn how to grow more like Christ from doing so. Often, an exposition and application of Romans 8:28, 29 to the counselee’s situation is in order. We certainly would not postulate some hidden sin where there is no evidence of it. Rather, with Christ, we would declare, “Neither did this man nor his parents sin (John 9:1, 2).” We would also take our stand with Job against the accusations of the first three counselors.

I hope from this explanation, the calumny that has been leveled against us will be dispelled once and for all. We do not accuse every person of sin when he comes for counseling. In addition to those who have not brought trouble upon themselves, there are those who are neither in trouble nor are seeking to overcome sin in their lives. I speak of those who simply desire counsel about whom to marry, what school to attend, how to deal with life issues biblically, and the like. So, it is just not true that we go searching for sin in every counselee’s life. Nor is it fair or accurate to charge us with doing so.

So far from believing that counseling is little more than a hunt for sin, I want to tell you how shocked I was when I heard a well-known, well respected Christian counselor say the following: “I simply listen until I hear something sinful, then I jump on that!” I whole-heartedly deplore the sentiment.[3] Had I said it, I guess I would never hear the end of it. But enough of that!

Next: “You are too critical of others!”  (coming soon)

 


[1] It is simply irresponsible to ignore qualifications like “some, many, often” and the like, and to miss entirely carefully crafted nuances in another’s writing. Yet, these, and other similar faults, abound in evaluations of Nouthetic Counseling.

[2] Yet for over thirty years, the very same gossip has persisted!

[3] But it is good to know that there is somebody to the right of me!

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