What Is Nouthetic Counseling?

In introducing the subject, I have indicated that it is biblical counseling. That is the fact that I wish to affirm as stoutly as possible. Many people claim to do biblical counseling, but the claim must always be examined closely to see if it stands up under scrutiny. In most instances, it does not. The use of the Bible does not, in itself, validate the claim. How the Bible is used is of critical importance. If it is used merely to back or illustrate the principles and practices of a counseling system that has been borrowed from some non-Christian source or sources, then it certainly has no right to claim either the description Biblical or Christian. Just because a Christian does counseling, that does not mean that the counseling he does is Christian.

Christian (or biblical) counseling must be biblical throughout. That is to say, it must not merely use the Bible, it must be based upon and grow out of biblical teaching at every point. It must be a biblically-derived system. In other words, truly biblical counseling must be exegetically-founded. Its principles and practices must be mined from the Bible and be systematically self-consistent with it in every respect.

"But what of Nouthetic counseling?" you ask. All that I have just said is what Nouthetic counseling stands for. Doubtless, you would want that further explained. For instance, you might wonder why we don't simply call our counseling Biblical or Christian. Either name certainly is a viable option. But the problem is that because of all of the conflicting and confusing nomenclature abroad in the Christian church, it would identify virtually nothing. A name ought to help the one who reads it to distinguish it from others that might seem to be similar. Because there are so many who use the names Christian or Biblical, those names no longer distinguish any system from any other. The word Nouthetic, on the other hand, stands out from the pack. Because only those who want to be known as such will use the name, it separates the system from others and eliminates much confusion.

But you will want to know precisely what the word Nouthetic means and how it is I choose that name to describe the biblical system of counseling I espouse. The word comes from the Greek New Testament. It has, within it, three elements-concern, confrontation, and change. Nouthetic counseling is counseling that involves face to face confrontation by one person to another, out of loving concern for him, in order to bring about the changes God desires in his life. That in a nutshell, is what Nouthetic counseling is all about.

There is no need to squabble over the name. The word is used by Paul, in particular, and is often translated "admonition." It is a word that has familial connotations: "I am not writing these things to shame you, but to counsel you (nouthetically confront) you as my dear children" (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:14). Notice the warmth and concern in that statement. Those who have characterized Nouthetic counseling as harsh, cold, and unloving have mischaracterized it. It is anything but. There may be certain persons-as in every counseling system-who, by their failures, misrepresent the view they accept. But the system must not be characterized by the few bad apples that can be found in any bushel. Rather, the system must be understood for what it claims and seeks to practice. And it is certainly identified by a caring, loving, good-hearted attitude that characterizes every genuine Nouthetic counselor.

In Romans 15:14, for instance, the counselor who is "competent to counsel [here noutheteo is used]" is said to be "full of goodness" [i.e. toward others] and "filled with knowledge." These two characteristics are biblical bedrock for Nouthetic counselors. They must be persons who care enough to help others out of hearts that compel them to reach out to those who are in difficulty-and they must know what they are doing. This knowledge, however, is not gleaned from various and sundry sources; it is knowledge of the truth taught by God in the Scriptures. Paul put it this way: "Let Christ's Word dwell in you richly, as you teach and counsel [noutheteo once again] yourselves (or "one another") as wisely as possible" (Colossians 3:16).

For more on the meaning of the verb noutheteo and the noun nouthesia as they are used in the Bible see Competent to Counsel and What About Nouthetic Counseling?

Jay E Adams

Institute for Nouthetic Studies

100 White Meadow Ct
Simpsonville, SC 29681

(864) 399-9583




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