On Being Nice

Question:  If you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, which animal yelps the loudest?

Answer:  The one that was hit.

I was recently reminded of this old riddle when I was asked during a Q & A session why Dr. Adams engenders so much anger among psychologists, integrationists, and even some who claim to be biblical counselors. In reality, the questioner was not seeking an answer so much as he was using the venue to take Jay to task for not being nicer and more accommodating. Still, I was glad for the “question” as it gave me an opportunity to make several points that I would like to repeat here.

First, for some, just to be told they are wrong is considered mean. Put yourself in the place of the “psychologist who is a Christian” (a better term than “Christian psychologist”). You have invested many thousands of dollars, years of time, and great effort in obtaining your academic credentials; you gain your livelihood from your psychological practice or teaching career; your standing in society rises from your expertise as a psychologist. Then along comes a guy who, no matter how softly and gently he may say so, tells you (and others about you) that what you are doing is illegitimate, harmful, and destructive. You have to either agree and admit the poverty of your profession or you have to defend yourself. Because your position is untenable, you are left only with attacking the messenger and complaining about his “tone.”

Second, the premise of the question is false. I know of a no more gracious and kind man than Jay Adams. I have been in the counseling room with him, seen him minister to grieving families at graveside, witnessed countless Q & A sessions he has held, interacted alongside with pastors who came to him for help with problems, and seen him minister to others during times of his own physical weakness and distress. I recently read through the transcripts of a symposium Adams had with a number of well-known integrationists. While one recent book takes Jay to task for not being more accommodating to these men, I came away from the read impressed by how patient he was with them.

Third, often his readers fail to understand his goals when he writes. Consider Competent to Counsel. Adams’ goal was to rouse his reader to action. The church had forfeited its responsibilities to minister to hurting people and had embraced a worldly approach to counseling. He wanted to stand in the way and holler, “STOP!” He could not do that without condemning the practice and urging a new course of action upon his reader. Had CTC had the tone employed by some writers today in the biblical counseling movement in which authors merely make suggestions, allow for nuances, see “both sides”, and offend no one it would have had no impact. The few copies that would have been printed would today be languishing in dusty obscurity on some library shelf and there would be no ACBC, CCEF, INS, or Biblical counseling programs in our seminaries.

Fourth, Adams’ readers often fail to also understand his intended audiences. Most of Adams’ books were written to help pastors and counselors. They are largely didactic and Adams labored over them to be clear and helpful. Other books, and especially his booklets designed to be used to give to counselees, are intended to minister. These are warm, pastoral, and kind. Examples are his How to Handle . . . series of pamphlets, Christ and Your Problems, How to Overcome Evil, and his wonderful but not well known series of three booklets written for those who have lost loved ones. A third category, however, are those things he has written to those who should know better. They are polemic, and are intended to make people think through what they believe, or are doing, and urge them to change. These, of course, have a different “tone.” In these he uses our Lord’s approach with Nicodemus:

“How is it that you are a teacher in Israel and you do not understand these things?”

Jay Adams has indeed thrown a few rocks in his day. It is instructive to note who yelps the loudest.

3 thoughts on “On Being Nice

  1. Thank you for this awesome post Mr. Arms.

    As a new registree to INS, it is so encouraging to read this. I am learning so much and am excited to see how God will use the knowledge I am gaining to help counsel those that are struggling and hurting in the body of Christ, His church.

    God bless you, Dr. Adams and everyone who is a part of INS.