A Classic Jay Adams Review

I recently came across this book review written by Dr. Adams in 1974. The book Jay reviews has long since passed into well deserved obscurity. The review, however, could easily have been written of scores of similar books written since then—books that seek to straddle the fence between biblical counseling and psychology. Enjoy!

James D. Hamilton: The Ministry of Pastoral Counseling. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids: 1972.
Reviewed by Jay E Adams.

Hamilton’s book is disappointing not because he is unaware of the current vital issues in pastoral counseling (e.g., whether there is such a thing as non-somatic mental illness; the problems connected with referral to psychiatrists and clinical psychologists), but precisely because in full knowledge of these he tries to straddle the fence, never taking a firm position with reference to them. As a result, his book will please neither the establishment nor its critics.

Fence-straddling is everywhere apparent. For instance, while issuing some timely warnings about the dangers of referral (pp. 116-121) he recommends it, bypassing the real question of how the pastoral counselor can himself deal with persons in trouble rather than referring them. Take another example: Hamilton is aware of biblical data leading to the conclusion that God intended the pastor (not the psychiatrist) to do the work of a professional counselor—and he seems to want the pastor to take up this work—yet he finds place for the psychiatrist as the professional expert. Again, although he recognizes that “the results of psychiatric treatment are far from flattering” (p. 120) he offers no alternative. And, deploring the fact that “pastoral counseling literature has, unfortunately, been influenced far more by psychology than by biblical theology” (p. 27) and that the “literature is too greatly influenced by the literature of secular counseling” (p. 33), his book nevertheless suffers from the very same fault. Clearly the strong (though modified) Rogerianism of Hamilton’s unbiblical affective approach dominates all. Because the Bible plays second fiddle to psychological theory (there is no exegesis or use of the Scriptures apparent) there are discordant notes sounded throughout. As a result the book cannot be commended for use by those who seek to do biblical counseling.

Let us be fair, however, and suggest that the writer may possibly have published at a time when he himself was in transition. The book seems to bear the marks of someone on a journey who is not sure of where he will arrive. This conclusion (if correct) would explain Hamilton’s precarious position astride the fence. Let us hope that the true explanation does not lie in a fear to state more straightforwardly a biblical alternative to the non-Christian counseling of our day. Because of its vacillation, the book naturally fails to present either a system or much helpful “how to.”

Many specific matters that crop up in the book might be considered, but I shall deal with only one. Hamilton writes: “Neither can it be said that pastoral counseling is deep psychotherapy, for this aims at making major changes in behavior through major changes in the structure of the personality” (p. 22). It is time that someone exploded this oft repeated myth. Hamilton, echoing many others in the establishment, like them has it backwards. Contrary to Hamilton, et al., Christians must assert the truth that biblical counseling is the only true depth counseling; all other counseling necessarily must be shallow. Only the new birth leading to the subsequent sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit carried on throughout the believer’s life on earth can bring about the radical changes that are required to restore the image of God in man. To become a “new creation” in Christ is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the only “major change” in the structure of the personality that can bring about major changes in behavior that are pleasing to God. Of course the pastoral counselor aims at major change (that is, if his goals are biblical). How could he do otherwise? And literally pastoral counseling, using the resources of God, provides the only counsel worthy of attaching the word “depth” to it.

Sad, sad it is to read a book like this—Hamilton is so close, yet so far. If the basic problem stems from the fact that he is yet in transition, let us pray that it will not be long before the waters part and he crosses over to the promised land. Dr. Hamilton, please believe me, the crossing is neither wet nor muddy, and the grapes on the other side are sweet.


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