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The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams Review

January 25, 2012

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The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams traces the further development of biblical counseling by what Heath Lambert calls the “second generation” of biblical counselors. Dr. Lambert identifies ways in which biblical counselors who have followed Jay Adams have sought to deepen and extend its biblical foundation. Lambert also addresses ways in which biblical counselors have interacted with and been critiqued by those outside the movement.

In this book, Lambert has provided a “commentary” on the modern (late 20th and early 21st century) biblical counseling movement (BCM) in America. He sets the historical context for his main topic by briefly reviewing how “soul care” in the church had gradually declined in importance in the nineteenth century and how Jay Adams sought to revive it in the mid-twentieth century. He considers how Adams’s own rhetorical strategies in writing his groundbreaking books influenced the reception of biblical counseling—both positively and negatively—by fellow Christians.

In his brief survey of the factors that led to a decline of counseling within the Western church, Lambert mentions the “psychological revolution,” under the influence of Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. Readers of Adams’ books will be familiar with his take on Freud’s attempt to develop an alternative system of therapy devoid of any necessary reference to God.

Lambert is correct in also assigning to Wundt a key role in the eventual development of “psychology” as a scientific discipline separate from philosophy (although Wundt himself would not have endorsed this divorce). As Lambert claims, Wundt is properly thought of as the “father of experimental psychology,” although his laboratory at the University of Leipzig was not the only one founded in 1875. William James, a professor at Harvard University, established a similar laboratory the same year. James, however, was not the researcher that Wundt was.[1]

The Development of the Biblical Counseling Movement

Lambert’s primary concern in his book is to analyze how the BCM has evolved since the release of Adams’ initial books. To this end, he pursues several lines of thought:

(1) He describes how some later Christian counselors—David Powlison, Ed Welch, Paul Tripp, etc.—embraced Adams’ basic vision and expanded it. Lambert does an admirable job identifying the specific ways in which this second generation of biblical counselors advanced the vision of Adams: a greater focus on the suffering of counselees, an attempt to bring people’s motivation for change into clearer focus, and a shift from a “business-like” approach to counseling to a more familial approach.

Perhaps the most profound of the advances in the BCM that Lambert analyzes regards counselees’ motivations. Lambert shows how the second generation of biblical counselors—following a lead from David Powlison—came to highlight the inner dynamics of change, particularly in the guise of “idols of the heart.” This has been a significant development within the movement, but one which Adams views with some reservation. Lambert mentions Adams’ acknowledgement of not developing this element of biblical counseling earlier in his writing career. But Lambert does not mention how Adams later assesses this focus on heart idolatry, especially in his Joyfully Counseling People with New Hearts.[2]

(2) Lambert interacts with some recent (Christian integrationist) critics of the BCM. He shows how many, in his view, have wrongly proposed that a wedge exists between the first generation and the second generation of biblical counselors. He reveals that there is more to unite Adams with second generation biblical counselors than there is to separate them. This is necessary if biblical counseling is not to be confined to the thinking of Jay Adams—something which Dr. Adams himself does not want.

(3) Lambert assesses the ways in which biblical counselors have—intermittently—engaged their critics. Here there have been more efforts by the second generation of biblical counselors than by Adams himself. Interestingly enough, however, Lambert fails to mention the work of Dr. Robert Kellemen from 2003-2009 with the Biblical Counseling and Spiritual Formation Network under the auspices of the American Association of Christian Counselors. This was clearly an effort to reach out and engage others on behalf of biblical counseling.

When Lambert turns his attention to the “pastorate” as a venue for engaging other models of counseling, he suggests that local churches can “send counseling missionaries” into secular mental health facilities. Such missionaries would have secular training and credentials. Lambert is careful to point out that such “missionaries” should receive spiritual oversight from local churches, especially because of the inherent dangers in pursuing secular psychological training autonomously.

It is not clear, however, what Lambert envisions these “missionaries” actually doing. Perhaps he has in view the role of chaplain, but this is not stated. One also wonders if an emphasis on secular training without a concomitant emphasis on formal biblical/theological training would not make these individuals more vulnerable in such a calling. Such issues need to be addressed in order for the value of this suggestion to be realized.

(4) Throughout his book, Lambert examines biblical counseling as a “school of thought.” Consequently, he examines the chief ideas within the BCM and gives relatively little attention to the institutions and organizations that embody the ideas. This is an acceptable limitation for the book, but such a choice does leave questions about the movement, such as:

(a) How has the development of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC) been affected the second generation of biblical counselors?

(b) What prompted the independent growth of the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC)? Are there discernible differences between NANC and IABC? If so, how have those differences affected the health of the BCM?

(c) The existence of the International Association of Biblical Counselors raises the question about how the BCM has expanded beyond the borders of the USA. Does the IABC represent a transcultural perspective on biblical counseling?

The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams is a well written and engaging book. It deserves to be read by people within and outside of the BCM, because it brings to our attention what makes biblical counseling distinct—and why that even matters.

BCC Staff Note: For another review of The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, readers can visit The Gospel Coalition Review site to read the review by Bob Kellemen



[1] See: C. George Boeree, “Wilhelm Wundt and William James,” available from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/wundtjames.html; Russell Goodman, “William James,” available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/james; Alan Kim, “Wilhelm Maximillian Wundt,” available from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wilhelm-wundt.

[2] Jay E. Adams, Joyfully Counseling People with New Hearts (Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2008).