Jay Adams Is Deep and Compassionate

February 13, 2012

Bob Kellemen

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Bob Kellemen

Jay Adams Is Deep and Compassionate

My two-hour flight home from two days of team meetings at Capital Bible Seminary provided some time for reflection. In particular, I pondered Jay Adams’ nouthetic counseling model.

Here’s a summary of my “second look” at Jay Adams.

Jay Adams Was/Is a Model Builder and a Movement Builder

The Puritans were great builders of soul care and shepherding models. Since their day, few Christians have developed, from scratch, a biblically-based approach to people, problems, and solutions. Jay Adams has done so… from scratch, not building on other current models, but building on God’s Word.

Whether or not someone agrees with all the nuances of Jay Adams’ model is not my point. My point is to affirm the facts: who else in Christian circles in the past fifty years has independently built a unique, new, fresh, comprehensive approach to counseling?

Add to that… a model that became a sustained “movement.” The “biblical counseling movement” is now entering its third generation. It has grown, changed, and developed as the books by Powlison and Lambert indicate. But it traces its roots to Jay Adams.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to be starting from scratch in the early 70s. Counseling every day, studying Scripture, applying truth to the lives of hurting and hardened parishioners, teaching others, writing books, and shepherding a growing movement. Again, disagree with “the movement” if you choose to, but let’s give Jay Adams credit for the massive work of building a fresh model and a sustained movement while pastoring/shepherding/counseling real folks with real life issues.

Jay Adams Was/Is a Comprehensive Theorizer

The Puritans were great soul physicians developing theological manuals about the soul. Since their day, few Christians have developed a counseling/shepherding/pastoring-focused theological and practical manual. Jay Adams has.

Yes, many today are penning “Christian counseling” and “biblical counseling” books. But few seek to provide a comprehensive theology/theory of people, problems, and solutions. Adams did throughout his writings, and particularly with A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, and Competent to Counsel.

In the past fifty years a few others have sought to develop a comprehensive theory of Christian/biblical counseling: Larry Crabb with Understanding People and his other writings, Eric Johnson with Foundations of Soul Care, myself with Soul Physicians and Spiritual Friends. While these authors vary greatly from one another, they have in common writing not only about particular counseling issues and practical counseling methods, but seeking to develop a comprehensive Christian theory. Adams paved the way for all of us.

Like or dislike his theory/model, but don’t call him shallow. Disagree with him at specific points if you decide to, but do it engaging his actual (copious) writings, not as a broad brush stroke: “He’s not deep,” or “He’s too ________.” It’s easy to make those charges about anyone… in the abstract…

Here’s one specific example. Some claim that Adams’ “dehabituation and rehabituation” model is shallow and behavioral. Anyone saying that should read Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue. While I suspect that Adams might disagree with a decent amount of Dunnington’s book, nonetheless, the book demonstrates that “habit” is a deeply theological and philosophical construct with literally 1,000s of years of history behind it.

Dunnington builds a sophisticated case that habit is anything but “behavioralistic.” Habit, rightly understood, as Adams did, is about motivations of the heart—how they are structured, deconstructed, and reconstructed. Again, disagree with Adams’ “take” on “habituation” if you wish, but at least engage the depth of his insights with specific reasons for disagreement…

Jay Adams Was/Is a Rare Combination: A Theologian/Practitioner

I’ve already “hinted at” this category. Jay Adams was doing all of this “theological theorizing” while pastoring, shepherding, discipling, and equipping. His in-depth thinking about the Bible’s truth about people, problems, and solutions was never done as some “ivory tower academic.” It was never uncoupled from the real life struggles that parishioners and counselees were bringing to him daily.

Fifty years later, we have some folks who are good writers of theory/theology of biblical/Christian counseling. We have some who are good writers of practice/methodology of biblical/Christian counseling. And some who are good counselors-practitioners. Few combine all these talents.

Agree or disagree with Adams, but let’s give him his due. He was/is that rare combination of theologian/practitioner, thinker/doer, visionary/movement builder.

Jays Adams Was/Is Compassionate

This header, perhaps more than others, may be met by some with dismay and statements like: “But Adams and nouthetic counseling are all about harsh confrontation!” First, that in itself is an inaccurate and unfair caricature.

Second, while Jay Adams’ writing and counseling style may not be as “warm and fuzzy” and “empathetic” as some may prefer, that’s different from assessing his level of heart compassion. Think about one of Adams’ basic definitions of nouthetic counseling: to confront out of concern for change.

Real people were coming to Adams. They had been to “secular counselors” and their problems in living were not being addressed effectively and biblically. They had been to their pastors who either provided warmed-over secular therapy or admitted that they had no training in pastoral care.

These hurting, struggling folks were coming to Adams with their besetting sins. He strove to help them biblically to change for good. By “for good,” I’m implying both: a.) for the long term, and b.) for good and godly motivation: for God’s glory and so they could minister more effectively in the lives of others.

People were stuck in their sins and Adams wanted to turn to the Bible to help people change. That strikes me as compassionate.

Pastors sensed that they lacked competence to help their hurting parishioners. Ministers lacked confidence in the Bible’s ability to address the real life issues their sheep were struggling against. Adams sought to help pastors, in particular, to regain their confidence in God’s Word and to develop competence in using God’s Word to help their flock. That strikes me as compassionate.

What’s Up with Bob?

Some may be wondering, “What’s up with you, Bob? When did you become Jay Adams’ ‘apologist’?” I’m not anyone’s apologist. Jay Adams does not need me to “defend” him. I’m simply sharing some reflections from 36 hours ago at 36,000 feet.

Others may be wondering, “Who are you targeting with this blog post? Who are you taking shots at?”

No one.

Well, if anyone, perhaps myself.

Perhaps in taking “a second look,” I am doing some “nouthetic self-confrontation” regarding my past level of appreciation for Jay Adams as a model builder, movement builder, comprehensive theorizer, theologian/practitioner, and compassionate care-giver.

If that same shoe fits for you, then you can choose to wear it also.

My “model” and my “style” still are not identical to Jay Adams’ nouthetic counseling. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t deeply appreciate and respect who he is in Christ and what he has done for the Body of Christ through Christ’s grace.

Join the Conversation

What do you think? Is Jay Adams deep and compassionate?

Note: This article was originally posted at RPM Ministries and is used by permission. You can also read the original post at Jay Adams Is Deep and Compassionate.

8 thoughts on “Jay Adams Is Deep and Compassionate

  1. As a certified counselor, I teach Biblical Counseling at a college level and I use the biblical standard set by Adams. I was not taught his theory, insight, or theology in graduate school, but is by far the most intricately based Scriptural model.  If the bible is not the basis for your counseling, then you are an integrationist at best (which I was for a number of years) and not a Biblical Counselor. No, I do not agree with Adams on every point, but thinking back, I don’t agree with some things that I have taught over the years. You’re right, he is the standard from which we can build.

  2. Whenever I hear someone proposing the integration of scripture with other realms of thought, the red flag of Galatians 5:9 starts feverishly waving. Jay Adams is definitely undervalued, but I would imagine that he doesn’t even care. The only thing that matters to him, which should apply to ALL of us, is pleasing God by abiding by his word in thought and action! 

    I’ve talked to some Christian counseling instructors and perused scholarly publications that weighed in on the state of biblical counseling  just to be disappointed and amazed at their seemingly dismissiveness towards nouthetic counseling. I don’t get it, but then I do. The Bible is so very clear about using scripture for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (II Timothy 3:16). So why isn’t that enough? Could it be the enemy convincing people that they aren’t relevant unless they somehow win the respect of secular audiences. Don’t hold your breath, because that will never happen. It reminds me of my experience as a young Christian trying to convert unsaved male suitors. Instead of me rubbing off on them, they rubbed off on me. In the end I had to cut all ties.  

    The Holy Spirit is more than sufficient in seeking direction for counseling clients?  Carl Rogers’s person-centered approach, the antithesis to Christian counseling minus the empathy, may have people coming back for more sessions, but are they being challenged by the truth of God’s word? As Christians, our theory must always be rooted in biblical principles. Theory and technique aren’t synonymous. There are some great counseling techniques that can be integrated into biblical counseling. At the end of the day however, God doesn’t care about the intellectual musings of man or the techniques we used (assuming they didn’t compromise His tenets). The only thing He wants to know is whether or not we followed his precepts. 

    As Christian counselors, we have a huge responsibility! Clients entrust us with their personal vulnerabilities. I’d hate to lead someone astray by simply paraphrasing what they’ve said without sharing God’s viewpoint.  The enemy would LOVE for us to push the Bible aside or even lessen its relevance and applicability. Because we know he’s using infiltration to accomplish this purpose, we must stand firm, holding to the fundamental teachings the apostle Paul implored us to retain!!!!

  3. Jay Adams was my pastor for 5 years. I was a drunk. That’s his term and mine. All I can say is that hw as absolutely brilliant and compassionate.

  4. Jay Adams is both deep and compassionate. I believe he will one day be known as one of the spiritual giants of our time period. I have studied biblical counseling under his teaching. It saddens me when people do not appreciate or misinterpret the heart of this godly man. He has courageously stood for the sufficiency of God’s Word to help hurting people. In all that I have ever heard him teach he has always been a very caring man who emphasizes the necessity of giving loving biblical counsel. Those who say otherwise have not understood the heart of this man. I M thankful that he was willing to submit to God’s plan for his life. His teaching changed my own life and ministry of counseling.

  5. Thank you, Bob, for another thoughtful and graceful article. My wife and I are both NANC (now ACBC) certified biblical counselors and we, too, realize the innumerable ways the Lord used Jay Adams (and still is) in beginning and fortifying the biblical counseling movement. We also appreciate the ways He’s using you. May He continue blessing and using you for His glory. – Steve Cranston

  6. Well stated. Thanks for your concise and accurate thoughts. God bless. – Steve

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