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?”
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?