Competent to Counsel, The Revised Edition

Several years ago I began to pester Jay with what I thought was a brilliant idea. “How about publishing a revised, updated version of Competent to Counsel?” I asked naively. “Competent to Counsel II, Competent to Counsel 2.0, Competent to Counsel: The Next Generation” or some such thing.

CTC was enjoying its 45th anniversary and critics were saying it had become outdated. Now, CTC has always had its critics so why I thought critics should be heeded now after 45 years I cannot say. I thought my idea was inspired. Jay was, well, unimpressed. He was too kind to simply tell me what he was really thinking (“Arms is an idiot”) so he simply smiled and said he would think about it.

Because I was too obtuse to take the hint I persisted and after several months of raising the subject he finally said no but went on to explain his reasoning. While you are certainly more acute than I am I thought you might enjoy hearing his reasons:

  1. “My views have not changed.” We live in an age when vacillation and flexibility are lauded while certainty and confidence are seen as character defects. Today’s popular writers are tentative and nuanced. One blogger recently said of Adams, “He never grew. That is an unfortunate sign of extreme pride, namely believing that you are so right in 1970 that could couldn’t (sic) possibly learn anything from anyone by 2016.” Most other secular, or even Christian books, about counseling published in 1970 are now out of print and forgotten. Those that do remain have usually undergone several revisions. Dr. Adams certainly has thought deeply about counseling since 1970. His 100 plus books written since CTC demonstrate that. The Bible, however, does not change and if Adams’ thinking was biblical in 1970 it remains so today.
  2. “Competent to Counsel should be viewed as an historical document of the movement.” CTC was written to meet an important need during a critical hour in the history of the church. It was the counseling world’s equivalent of Luther’s 95 Theses, Paine’s Common Sense, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. Anyone reading other important historical works understands the need to contextualize, they should do the same with CTC. These books, and many others like them, continue to hold great value for today’s reader. I predict that 100 years from now our descendants will be quoting Jay Adams in the same way that we quote Calvin, Spurgeon, Machen, and C.S. Lewis today.
  3. “Who would be my foil?” When CTC was published there were generally three broad schools of thought—Freud, Rogers, and Skinner. Rogerian thought especially had largely captured the church. These served as effective foils for Adams to make his case for a biblical approach. Today, while we are seeing a resurgence of a kind of neo-Rogarianism in biblical counseling circles, there are hundreds of various views, methods, and approaches advocated and practiced in Christian counseling rooms today. Tackling them all would require that a revised edition of CTC be a multivolume set.
  4. “The things I wrote about in CTC 40 years ago continue to recycle themselves. What may seem dated today will be up to date—perhaps next year.” I was reminded of Jay’s point recently as I listened to a podcast posted by a biblical counseling organization. Two counselors were discussing how directive counselors should, or should not be, with their counselees. For nine minutes I heard “on the one hand this, but on the other hand that.” Meanwhile, as one person would talk the other would make the appropriate “uh huh” or “hum” noises affirming what the other was saying. One counselor recalled telling a counselee (after three or four sessions) that he was not sure she was yet “ready to hear” what he had to say. I wondered to myself how much he was charging this poor woman for counseling sessions in which he did not give counsel. Adams discussed this anemic kind of neo-Rogerian “counseling” at length in CTC 45 years ago. The same organization recently posted another podcast in which the counselor, while disavowing Freud, allowed for the place of dream analysis in biblical counseling.

What about you? Have you read Competent to Counsel? How long has it been? If it has been awhile, or if you have not read it for the first time, let me urge you not to merely listen to what others say about it. Read it for yourself—soon! It is one of those books that you should reread every few years. You can then use my response to people who come into my study and see my books. Invariably they ask the question, “Have you read all of these?” My response—“Some of them twice!”

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