Science in Christian Perspective


A Summary and Five Evaluations
An Analysis and Critique of Jay Adams" Theory of Counseling
Graduate School of Psychology
Fuller Theological Seminary Pasadena, California

From: JASA 28 (September 1976): 101-109.

In 1970 Jay E. Adams, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, published what was to become a somewhat controversial book, Competent to Counsel, Many, including both psychologists and theologians, were at odds with some of Adams' presuppositions and therefore reluctant to endorse his counseling techniques. This is not to say that psychologists or theologians were of one mind (have they ever been?) in their view of Adams' book; but there were some who agreed and some who disagreed with him, Each had his or her own reasons for doing so.

The disparity among the members of each discipline is mentioned to point out that the issues are not clear cut. We will here attempt to clarify and critique some of Adams' major doctrines from both a psychological and theological point of view.

Presuppositional Approach

Adams takes what he calls a "presuppositional" approach to the establishment of his therapeutic tecE - niques. He states in the introduction to Competent to Counsel (1970):

The conclusions in this book are not based upon scientific findings. My method is presuppositionaL I avowedly accept the inerrant Bible as the standard of all faith and practice. The Scriptures, therefore, are the basis, and contain the criteria by which I have sought to make every judgment. Two precautions must be suggested. First, I am aware that my interpretations and applications of Scripture are not infallible. Secondly, I do not wish to disregard science, but rather I welcome it as a useful adjunct for the purposes of illustrating, filling in generalizations with specifies, and challenging wrong human interpretations of Scripture, thereby forcing the student to restudy the Scriptures. (p. xxi)

Stressing the importance of clear presuppositions, Adams points to Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Theological Seminary as an authority. Van Til "has demonstrated that at bottom, all non-Christian systems demand autonomy for man, thereby seeking to dethrone God" (Adams, 1970, p. xxi). Adams notes that failure to state presuppositions explicitly often leads to misunderstandings in which one side criticizes the "error" of the other without a solid basis for such criticisms. He intends to leave no doubt as to the basic difference between his approach and that of many psychiatrists: "The serious difference is that Christian theologians have been willing to acknowledge their presuppositional faith, whereas psychiatrists often will not do so" (Adams, 1970, p. xxii).

Essentially, this "presuppositional approach" appears to mean that Scriptures taken by Adams as the ultimate authority by which he judges all else, including scientific conclusions drawn from empirical observation. He admits the possibility that scientific observation might cause him to re-examine his own interpretation of Scripture. However, he appears to say that if an irresolvable conflict were to arise between an interpretation of Scripture from which he was unwilling to depart, and some empirical observation, be would disregard the empirical, assuming that the Bible is true and declining to disregard or reinterpret it.

I want to alter any or all of what I have written provided that I can be shown to be wrong Biblically. I am not interested in debate which moves off non-Christian suppositions, or debate based upon supposedly neutral, objective empirical data. All such evidence, in the end, is interpreted evidence. There is no such thing as brute uninterpreted fact. Data are collected and related and presented by vwn, all of whom are sinners and subject to the noetic effects of their sin. In God's world, all men are related to Him as covenant breakers or covenant keepers (in Christ). The judgments of unbelievers, therefore, are arrived at and presented from a point of view which attempts to divorce itself from God. Such judgments must be understood, weighed and examined in this light. I have attempted to re-examine counseling (suggestively, but not exhaustively) in a Biblical man ner and I ask, therefore, that my work shall be similarly criticized. (Adams, 1970, p. 269).

One might feel that the whole question of presuppositions is not an overly important one. However, with a look at the implications Adams draws from his presuppositional stance, the difference between traditional therapies and Adams' nouthetic counseling becomes apparent.

Adams states that the concept of mental illness was derived from the "medical model" on which psychiatry is based. 0. Hobart Mowrer (1961, p. 60) has pointed out that the concept of mental illness has served to remove responsibility from the counselee. If a patient has an illness-say, Asian flu-he certainly cannot be blamed for his sickness. Instead, he is treated with compassion, understinding and sympathy, and must rely on expert help from the outside to make him well. In the same way, says Adams, if a counselee is mentally ill, he cannot be considered responsible for his behavior. Freudian thought is cited as the source of this approach, and Adams cites Mowrer and Szasz (1961) in support of his anti-Freudian campaign, He also cites research which indicates that as many people improve without psychoanalysis as with it. In addition, he relates several cases in which treating a counselee as sick actually seemed to exacerbate the problem. (Adams, 1970, pp32-35).

Adams endorses Mowrer's alternative to the medical model:

Mowrer . . . said that the "patient's" problems are moral, not medical. He suffers from real guilt, not guilt feelings (false guilt). The basic irregularity is not emotional, but behavioral. He is not a victim of his conscience, but a violator of it. He must stop blaming others and accept responsibility for his own poor behavior. Problems may be solved, not by ventilation of feelings, but rather by confession of sin (Adams, 1970, P. xvii).

In Adams' opinion, the primary reason that institutionalized people have been separated from the world is not that they are ill but that they have simply failed to meet life's problems. He believes that the mental health viewpoint is plainly wrong in removing responsibility from the sinner by locating the source of his . . . problem in constitutional or social factors over which he has no control. Instead, God's Word said that the source of these problems lay in the depravity of man's fallen human nature (Adams, 1970, p. xiv).

Problems Are the Result of Sin

In other words, man's problems are the result of behavioral sin rather than emotional sickness (unless organic etiology, hereditary debility or toxic disorders can be proven). From this Adams infers "that qualified Christian counselors properly trained in the Scriptures are competent to counsel-more competent than psychiatrists or anyone else" (Adams, 1970, p. 18). "Instead of excuse-making or blameshifting, nouthetic counseling advocates the assumption of responsibility and blame, the admission of guilt, the confession of sin, and the seeking of forgiveness in Christ" (Adams, 1970, p. 55).

Not only are non-Christians unable to recognize sin, says Adams, but they have no access to truth; or, since their understanding of truth is not couched in Christian subcultural terms, they may be disregarded as competent counselors. Speaking of the non-Christian psychiatrist, he asks:

How is it that Christian ministers refer parishioners who lack self-control to a psychiatrist who has never been able to discover the secret of self-control in his own life? Outwardly be may appear calm and assured, !nature, patient, and even suave, Can this be his actual inward condition if he does not know Jesus Christ? Can he have this fruit of the Spirit apart from the Spirit? (Adams, 1970, p. 21).

In support of his view Adams cites examples of persons using "mental illness" to cover up sin either by allowing an outlet for selfish desires or escape from punishment (Adams, 1970, pp. 29-35).

According to Adams, Scripture mentions plainlv both organic problems and those stemming from sinf~l attitudes and behavior. However, nowhere do the Scriptures mention anything which could be construed in the modern sense of "mental illness" (Adams, 1970, p. 29). Thus, he assumes that sin, demonic activity and organic dysfunction account for all so-called mental illness.

A Dim View of Psychiatry and Psychology

As a result of his premises, Adams takes a dim view of both psychiatry and psychology (cf. chart reproduced below, including representatives of both professions). Accepting his assumption as Biblical, then, ". . . there is no warrant for acknowledging the existence of a separate and distinct discipline called psychiatry. . .

This self-appointed caste came into existence with the broadening of the medical umbrella to include inorganic illness (whatever that means) " (Adams, 1973, P. 9).

Adams agrees that the psychiatrist should be actively involved with personal problems that have an organic basis, but when the psychiatrist deals in the area of non-organic personal problems he has overstepped his bounds. Since sin is at the root of these problems, counseling is the job of the minister.

In explaining his rules for counseling, he stresses that "counseling methodology necessarily must grow out of and always be appropriate to the Biblical view of God, Man and Creation" (Adams, 1973, p. 72). Thus, in choosing how one counsels, it is important to examine the premises of any technique in the light of the Bible. If the theory is not Biblical, no technique derived from it is appropriate for use by the Christian counselor, decrees Adams. In the following chart (Adams, 1973, p. 73), he sums up his interpretation and evaluation of psychological theories: 


According to Adams, man's problems are the result of behavioral sin rather than emotional sickness.

According to Adams, the first approach to counseling assumes "expert knowledge". Although Freudian and Skinnerian psychologies are radically different in their approach, both assume that individual problems are the result of factors beyond the person's control. The result is that:

since the counselee's problem arose from outside, the counselee himself is virtually passive. The assumption that a man is not responsible for his condition leads to the notion that he is not responsible for getting himself out of that condition (Adams, 1973, p. 76).

Thus it takes the expert to bring about the necessary changes. Adams denounces this doctrine, claiming, that it deprives the individual of responsibility for his actions.

The second approach to counseling is based upon what Adams refers to as "common knowledge". Here, answers to life's problems can be found through resources within oneself or in the context of a group.

Christian counseling, says Adams, is based on the Scriptures. Exegeting Il Timothy 3:15-17, he finds four uses of the Bible which are applicable to counseling: to teach (i.e., set the norms for faith and life); to reprove (i.e., rebuke erring Christians effectively so that the rebuke brings a conviction of wrongdoing); to correct (to set a Christian straight in the way of righteousness); and to disciple in righteousness (to use the Word to continue to work with an individual in his daily life, constructively reshaping life patterns).

Rogerian counseling (quite popular among ministers, says Adams) takes the view that there is no need for the expert; the role of the counselor is that of a mirror, letting the counselee reflect his problems, clarify his thinking and find his own answers. The Integrity Groups, originated by Adams' mentor, 0. H. Mowrer, pools the resources of a group to help solve personal problems. There is confession of sin (sin is defined as wrongdoing to others) to relieve guilt. Adams sees this as inadequate, however, because sin (which he defines as a broken relationship with God) is not confronted. Adams admits that the common knowledge approach may contain some elements of truth, but he rejects it for its ultimate reliance on the goodness and self-sufficiency of man.

Nouthetic Counseling

Adams' Christian counseling, when charted with the theories above, looks like this: (above)

Adams calls his the only Scripture-based counseling approach, and names it "nouthetic counseline,-an epithet based on the Greek word Paul uses to describe his work with others. Adams sees in the word nouthesis three components which comprise the framework of nouthetic counseling. The first is the recognition of behaviors in another's life that need, from a Biblical viewpoint, to be changed. The second is the responsibility of the counselor to confront the other verbally and privately with the appropriate Scripture to change his incorrect behavior. The third element of nouthetic counseling technique, the primary functions of the counseling is the motive behind the confrontation: the wish to heal the troubled person's life.

Adams summarizes the result of successful nouthetic

". . . in its fullest meaning, success is the attainment of Biblical changes desired, together with an understanding
with the counselee of how this change was effected, how to avoid falling into similar sinful patterns in the
future, and what to do if, indeed, he should do so" (Adams, 1970, p. 57).

Who Should Counsel

Since sin is the root of personal problems, Adams makes it clear that counseling is the task of the Christian. He finds in Colossians and Romans support for his assertion that nouthetic confrontation is the responsibility of every member of the Church. Thus every Christian, as he becomes grounded in the Scriptures and mature in Christ, must be actively involved in counseling other Christians. 

Yet nouthetic counseling, says Adams, is particularly the work of the clergy. In fact, to Adams, one who is interested in being a counselor should seek a strong seminary education, not formal psychological training. It is his conviction that the only legitimate way to pursue the calling of counselor is through the ministry:

. . . the minister has the opportunity to do the preventive work that preaching and regular pastoral care provides. The counselor outside of the church has no opportunity to mold a congregation of people into an harmonious loving body into which counselees may be assimilated and from which they may receive significant help. And, perhaps most important of all, the process of discipline, which is of utmost significance in Scriptural counseling, is not available to the Christian counselor who operates outside the Church. (Adams, 1973, pp. 12-13).

The effective counselor, therefore, does not need a degree in psychology, but rather an extensive knowledge
of the Bible, divine wisdom, genuine concern for others, and the gifts of faith and hope. He is a spiritual man
who relies not on his own resources but on the Holy Spirit's guidance. Indeed, Adams points out, any Christian counseling situation involves at least three persons.

"In truly Biblical counseling . . . where a counselor and a counselee meet in the name of Jesus Christ, they may
expect the very presence of Christ as counselor-in charge" (Adams, 1973, p. 4).

In summary:

I am concerned here to make but two observations: (a) the psychiatrist should return to the practice of medicine,
which is his only legitimate sphere of activity; (2) the minister should return to the God-given work from which
he was ousted (and which, in many instances, he too willingly abandoned) (Adams, 1973, p. 10).

The Counselor Client-Relationship

It is never adequate to talk about problems. All talk in counseling must be oriented toward Biblical solutions.
That is why it is essential to direct the entire session toward its climax-the commitment of the counselee to
his homework task(s) for the next week, (Adams, 1973, p. 242).

In traditional psychotherapy, the therapist-patient relationship during the weekly sessions constitutes the primary focus of therapy. Adams quotes Algier on this: 'The relationship of the analyst and the patient and the complex communication between them is under stood as the most crucial data in the therapy."' (Adams, 1973, p. 306 n.11). Adams repudiates this view. In his counseltechnique, the primary functions of the counselor are collection of data, pointing out to the counselee how he has been unbiblical in dealing with problems, eliciting repentance, and building into the counselee's life a structure to end sinful patterns and replace them with Biblical patterns of living. Hence the relationship of the counselor and counselee is not a crucial aspect of the counseling situation except insofar as it is one relationship among many.

Probably nowhere is this difference in mentality more evident than in Adams' insistence that it is ministers who are the most competent to counsel-and that by virtue of their theological training (Adams, 1970, 1972, 1973).

An implication of Adam' view that all problems are either organic or spiritual is that no one can really be helped fundamentally unless he is healed physically or repents of his sin and is forgiven by Christ.

Techniques of Counseling

Adams' counseling techniques are based on his conception of the relationship between behavior and feelings. Traditional psychotherapies, he asserts, operate from the (false) conception that behavior is a consequence of feelings: one "behaves badly' because be "feels badly." On the other band, Adams states, the Bible (and nouthetic counselors) operate from the premise that feelings flow from behavior: one "feels good" (or bad) because be "behaves well" (or badly). Consequently, behind all negative feelings there lies wrong, sinful behavior. The way to deal with a client's feelings is to discover the behavior which is antecedent to the feelings and deal with the behavior.

If the emphasis of counseling is upon the week between sessions, then the emphasis of technique is upon ways of altering the inter-session behavior. The key concept in Adams' system is homework (Adams, 1973, chapters 27-29). Adams lists among the benefits of assigning counselees homework: (1) setting a pattern for expectation of change; (2) clarifying expectations; (3) enabling the counselor to do more counseling; (4) keeping counselees from becoming dependent on the counselor; (5) enabling one to gauge progress; (6) allowing the counselor to deal with problems under controlled conditions (Adams, 1973, pp. 301ff).

In a typical counseling situation, the nouthetic counselor spends the first several sessions collecting data and designing home assignments to help the client dehabituate sinful behavior patterns and rehabituate Biblical ones. Adams (1970) speaks of three levels of problems:

1. Presentation problems (what the client says the problem is, e.g., "I'm depressed"-often presented as a cause when really an effect);

2. Performance problems (the client's antecedent behavior, e.g., "I haven't been much of a wife lately"often presented as an effect when really a cause);

3. Preconditioning problems (client's general predisposition, e.g., "I avoid responsibility whenever the going gets rough").

Adams (1973) discusses techniques for digging out deeper problems (preconditioning problems) than those which the client presents. Of course it is up to the counselor to decide what the deepest problems truly are.

The debabituation-rebabituation dynamic is the key principle upon which home assignments are based: to change sinful behavior patterns is not simply a matter of ending the bad behavior ("putting off" or dehabituation) but also of adopting new, Biblical behaviors ("putting on" or rehabituation). Adams (1973) catalogs numerous specific Biblical "dual injunctions" to support his dehabituation-rehabituation principle.


The counselor's job is to discern sinful behavior patterns, discover the appropriate Biblical put-off/puton principle(s) and structure the counselee's week (via homework) to instigate the process of putting off the sinful behavior and putting on the Biblical behavior. Adams would properly insist that counseling is far more complex and involved than a simple paragraph like this indicates (witness the 450-plus pages of 7'he Christian Counselor's Manual (1973) ),but would maintain that his technique is far simpler than the psychotherapies of Freud, Rogers, Mowrer, et al. While he stands firmly for his own very distinctive brand of counseling, he remarked during a course attended by one of the present authors in 1974 that the nouthetic counselor is free to be Rogerian or nondirective when he desires, or to use any technique not inconsistent with Biblical presuppositions.


Brent Stenberg

It will become evident that I share Jay Adams' premise that counseling should be based upon the Word of God. Nevertheless I question some of his deductions from that premise.

Adams' premise that feelings flow from behavior and that to change feelings one must change behavior, leads to an authoritarian, behavior-oriented brand of Christianity.

First and most essentially, his system is not necessarily built on Scripture per se, but rather on his interpretations of various Scripture passages. In a number of cases he gives his interpretation of a certain passage and then either ignores the fact that there may be others, or casually announces that they are wrong. Based upon his interpretation, he makes authoritative statements as to what the Christian counselor should believe. His tone is rigid and often argumentative. He instructs young pastors to base their counseling upon the word of God-yet if their exegesis does not yield Adams' own conclusions, it contradicts principles for which he claims divine mandate.

For example, Adams believes that the only legitimate career counselor is a minister. He points out that it is the task of all Christians to counsel one another, but adds, "yet, not all Christians have been solemnly set aside to the work of 'nouthetically confronting every man and teaching every man as the Christian minister has" (Adams, 1973, p. 12). He goes on to conclude that

There is no indication in the Scriptures that anyone but those who have been so recognized should undertake the work of counseling or proclamation of the Word officially (e.g., as an office, work, or life calling). This means that persons with a life calling to do counseling ought to prepare for the work of the ministry and seek ordination, since God describes a life-calling to counseling as the life-calling of a minister( Adams 1973, p. 12).

Here, as elsewhere, Adams takes his conclusions to be divine mandate or authoritative fact, letting his own assumptions fill in where Scripture does not speak. He implies that it is God's will for anyone preparing to be a counselor to become an ordained minister and appeals to Colossians 1:28 for support. A careful reading of that text, however, suggests that the purpose of the passage is not to define who should counsel, but rather to describe the two-fold task of the minister-a task which does include counseling. The text does not say that others should not counsel, as Adams claims. In fact, the implications of his interpretation of this Scripture include:

1. Barring women from professional counseling,

2. Barring Christians from the ranks of professional psychology, and

3. Excluding from the outreach of Christian counseling those who are not willing to come to a minister for help.

In short, I stand with Jay Adams when he says that the Christian counselor should be grounded in the Scriptures, but, as a student receiving both theological and psychological training, I find that there are a number of psychological skills essential to my development as a sensitive counselor. My general impression is that Jay Adams presents his system of nouthetic counseling as the way of the Christian counselor by making some of his opinions appear to be authoritative fact. I think it is a contribution to the field of Christian psychology, but must not be the final word.


George Daniel Venable

Adams' effort to be guided by Scripture as be counsels appears to have been fruitful in that he has developed some effective counseling techniques. A typical example might be his homework assignments, which place the responsibility of therapy on the counselee and the focus of therapy on the counselee's daily behavior. For many types of problems his approach may be expected to succeed if the personalities of the counselor and the counselee are amenable to a highly directive approach.

While we affirm with Adams the inerrancy of the "Bible as the standard of all faith and practice" we question his conception of this inerrancy. Adams appears to be saying that he would defend his interpretation of Scripture in an irresolvable conflict between it and some empirical, scientific or historical observation. We question his use of Scripture as the authority by which all else is to be judged, and his demand that

any arguments against his theories be advanced on Biblical grounds only. If Biblical truth can be arrived at only by interpretation, and we must also interpret empirical fact, how can an interpretation of Scripture be given a position of higher authority than an interpretation of empirical fact? Adams would never place interpretations of empirical fact over Scripture, which he admits must also be interpreted.

Nevertheless, the historicity of Scripture is something we are able to use in order to rationally argue for the truth of Scripture. If we rely on the interpretation of historical (empirical) facts to arrive at our belief in the truth of the Bible, then it is illegitimate to place the Bible above that which was used to support its truth. To do so would be to climb the empirical ladder to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and then pull it up after us, as though it were then invalid, or we were afraid it might be used by others to attack our position. To say the least, this is not intellectual honesty.

Adams also assumes that the Bible was meant to be our inerrant guide not only in faith and practice but in science, history and philosophy. As we understand the purpose of Scripture, on the other hand, it is intended to reveal God's relationship to humans, and to tell us how He will reconcile us to Himself. In order to accomplish this purpose, God has revealed Himself in Scripture. However, not all statements in the Bible are revelational in nature. The revelational. statements we consider to be true, but the nonrevelational statements are empirical in nature and fall outside the question of Scriptural inerrancy as it applies to revelation. Examples of these nonrevelational. statements are the fact that Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13), that the emperor Claudius commanded all the Jews to leave Rome (Acts 18:2), or that "all streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full" (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Thus, statements like the one Jesus made about the mustard seed being the smallest of seeds need not be scientifically true. They are incorporated in Scripture in order to enable revelational. truth to be communicated, but they are not part of that revelational. truth.

If this is the case, we are left by Him to explore His world by empirical observation and careful thought . . . and perhaps we should pay attention to psychologists when they have responsibly observed and carefully thought about effective therapeutic techniques.

Another point of contention arises over the existence of "mental illness" under the medical model. We should certainly look more carefully at problems before we remove responsibility from the individual and label him or her mentally ill. This is especially important in the less severe disturbances that the pastor might often encounter in which there is little possibility of organic dysfunction. The backbone of Adams' argument lies in the belief that humans have a physical body which can become ill, and a spiritual (moral) nature which can also be perverted, but nothing to which we can point directly and label "mental" or "mind," which might be disturbed. Adams would say that "mental" processes are really tied to physiological function, and that emotions are linked to the spiritual or moral character (though emotions may be affected by chemical imbalance or organic disorlers). This leaves nothing to which we might attach the concept of mind.

Is Adams really ready to say that the mind is nothing more than a conglomeration of physiological, biochemical processes? Is there sufficient evidence to warrant either this view or an opposing view? On the other hand, if there is indeed a mind as unique to man as his physical and spiritual aspects, why could it not be subject to disruptions and disorders as are man's physical and moral sides?

An implication of Adams' view that all problems are either organic or spiritual is that no one can really be helped fundamentally unless he is healed physically or repents of his sin and is forgiven by Christ. Physical healing does not necessarily involve a presentation of the Gospel, or Biblical exhortation and guidance; but nouthetic counseling involves all of these. That is fine for the Christian counselee or the person who is at least interested in spiritual matters. However, the one who does not accept Scripture as true and authoritative and is not interested in God might still be helped with his psychological problems by counseling without the necessity of evangelism. It seems to me somewhat offensive to impose one's beliefs upon a counselee by making spiritual demands in which he is not interestey I would still want to help that person but would also want to honor his God-given right to reject God. To do this I might have to incorporate other techniques than Adams' nouthetic counseling.

Adams infers that the non-Christian counselor cannot help his clients because he himself is torn up inside. Since he does not have the Holy Spirit, Adams infers that no matter what his appearance, be must be disturbed inside. But do we really have any basis at all for comparing Christians and non-Christians in this manner? Many Christians are far more disturbed than many non-Christians. Instead of making this comparison, we should admit that we each start at different places, and that the only salient (and, indeed, askable) question is not whether one person is better than another because he is a Christian, but rather whether he is better than he himself would be if he were not saved. Thus the reality that some non-Christians are more loving, kind, generous, etc., than some Christians is not something from which we must hide in embarrassment.

Admittedly, there is at least one problem with which the non-Christian counselor cannot by himself deal effectively: that of objective guilt (not guilt feelings) on the part of the counselee. Secular therapists have only two ways of dealing with this guilt, neither of which actually removes it. They can either deny the existence of moral standards and thus convince the counselee that he is not really guilty, or they can exhort the counselee to admit imperfection and live with mistakes. The latter is probably more acceptable than the former, but even so, it represents a case in which the Holy Spirit must work in spite of or without the conscious aid of the non-Christian therapist if salvation from guilt is to be realized. Nevertheless, to say with Adams that the client of a non-Christian counselor cannot be helped is to assert that the Holy Spirit is helpless to effect Grace except through ordained ministers.


Kenneth W. Bowers

The 328 pages of counselling techniques that Adams presents in Part III of The Christian Counselers Manual are very concrete and pragmatic. They follow systematically from his premises, so that anyone who accepts his premises would find a wealth of good material for counseling. I emphasize premises because, while the techniques follow therefrom, it is the premises that are open to question.

John Calvin said that man does not know the thousandth part of the sin that clings to his soul. Luther knew that there is ". . . something much more drastically wrong with man than any particular list of offenses which can be enumerated, confessed, and forgiven" (Bainton, 1950, p. 55), and yet he was disconcerted to realize that ". . . some of man's misdemeanors are not even recognized, let alone remembered" (ibid). Both St. Paul and St. Francis of Assisi asserted that they were the greatest sinners of all. Yet Adams blithely asserts, ". . . to have good days, one must do good deeds" (Adams, 1970, p. 94). He goes on to state that no one is saved by good deeds, but that good deeds do lead to good days. How can Adams be so confident in his ability to sift through the morass of sin in any person's life to discover the operant sin(s) antecedent to the person's bad feelings?

When a person is "in touch" with himself or herself-with the unconscious inner motivations, the true nature, the fallen creatureness-he or she realizes that behavior is the tip of the iceberg of a sinful, corrupt being. But the Good News of the Gospel is that "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8: 1). Biblically, bad feelings are not a consequence of bad behavior, but a consequence of man's failure to accept the forgiveness God has already given him-even as the father had already forgiven his prodigal son before he returned. Forgiveness in turn becomes the motivation-the proper motivation-to obedience.

The task of the nouthetic counselor is to discover sinful behavior which is producing bad feelings. But any list of sinful behavior patterns-whether it contains 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 items-is going to be incomplete, and hence there will be remnants of bad feelings. Nouthetic counseling is a dead-end street: it demands constant supervision and introspection of one's life for the appearance of any sinfulness. But will this produce the spontaneous joy and peace Christ spoke of when he said, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed"? Or of which Paul spoke: "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free" and "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus"?

I am not "for" sin, nor do I advocate loose morality. With Tournier, I would say, ". . . those who are the most severe with themselves are the ones who have the most serene confidence in divine forgiveness" (Toumier, 1962, p. 160). Bad feelings result, as one minister put it, from "forgettin' you're forgiven"; good behavior results as a response to divine forgiveness. In nouthetic counseling, as long as there is one more sin (and there always is) there will be bad feelings. Yet

Adams' approach to traditional schools of psychotherapy is very judgmental and less than informed.

Paul could write that he was sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."

In a truly Christian psychotherapy, the primary function of the counselor may be to demonstrate in his relationship to the client the kind of unconditional love that the latter may never before have experienced. A good number of people who go for psychotherapy are people who are unable to relate meaningfully and/or people who have never known unconditional love. These people need models to help them understand and accept God's love and forgiveness.

The hallmark of nouthetic counseling (and that which Adams claims is unique to his technique) is responsibility: the client is responsible for his or her behavior. But if Luther is correct, must we not add that the counselee is responsible for behavior of which he or she is aware? Calvin is responsible for that thousandth part of the sin that clings to his soul; Luther is responsible for that which can be enumerated. The rest falls totally under the domain of God's grace and forgiveness.

Adams is incorrect first in falsely characterizing all non-nouthetic counseling as denying responsibility, and second in extending a person's responsibility (and therefore guilt and bad feelings) to things of which the person is not even aware-a function exercised in New Testament times by the scribes and the Pharisees. Toumier rightly observes that "however carefully and candidly a man examines himself today, be will not find what God will awaken in him tomorrow" (Tournier, 1957, p. 177).

Adams' premise-that feelings flow from behavior and that to change feelings one must change behavior -leads to an authoritarian, behavior-oriented brand of Christianity antithetical to the joy of forgiveness and the assertion that "if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."


Gerald 0. North

Jay Adams traces the behavioral ills of America to Freudian theory and practice. He suggests that Freudianism be credited with one achievement: its leading role in the collapse of responsibility in modern American society. Psychoanalytic thought, he says, is responsible for the murderer no longr being held responsible for his act, for the "he couldn't help it" syndrome. Adams gives the further impression that psychoanalysis is rarely helpful. He states,

Freudian psychoanalysis turns out to be an archeological expedition back into the past, in which a search is made for others on whom to pin the blame for the patient's behavior. The fundamental idea is to find out how others have wronged him. (Adams, 1970, p. 6)

Such an overgeneralization does not take into consideration Freud's own writings.

Freud (1924) stated that the process of psychoanalysis cannot be demonstrated because of the nature of the dialogue which constitutes analysis itself. Thus unless one has been through the process, one can only learn about psychoanalysis by hearsay. It appears that Adams is in the position of knowing only by hearsay, and exhibits his lack of understanding and his insensitivity to the subject matter in his attempt to build a case for his own brand of mental-spiritual care.

Adams suggests that those involved in psychoanalysis (he refers to psychiatrists) boast of expert knowledge, and that the process includes the analyst resocializing the patient. He is correct in saying that analysts do have expert knowledge, for without such knowledge of the workings of the human mind and emotions, the analyst would not be able to deal appropriately with the process of psychoanalysis. Again, however, it appears that Adams becomes entangled in the snare of hearsay, for in the process of sychoanalysis it is the joint efforts of both analyst anyanalysandcatalyzed by the expert knowledge of the analyst-that brings about the necessary changes. Thus it is not, as Adams suggests, a mere matter of the analyst "resocializing" the patient.

In short, Adams argues against one authoritative system while attempting to establish another system with equal or increased authoritarianism. His schema involving the Scriptures as the basis for theory and practice is very narrowly based on a particular dogma. He apparently judges as to how Scripture should be, interpreted, for throughout Competent to Counsel he refutes interpretations by other authors and gives what he understands to be the correct interpretation. He contends that his views of counseling are derived from divine knowledge given by God through Scripture. He suggests that his system of counseling is complex, but not as complex as Freud's. His claim is that the training needed for counseling is a seminary education (probably one of evangelical persuasion) and an expert knowledge of Scripture.

It appears that his system is, indeed, complex and that even a seminary education willl not qualify one for involvement in what he refers to as "nouthetic counseling". In order to be fully qualified, apparently one must be well versed in Adams' theory.

He contends that nouthetic counseling is the Biblical form of counseling and thus he rejects the pastoral counseling movement completely. He speaks against Carroll Wise's position which allows a person to work out his own destiny and he criticizes Wise for being non-judgmental in the counseling situation. Adams contends that the nouthetic counselor must be judgmental and must help a person decide his destiny. (This position of Adams' is ironic in view of his criticism of psychoanalytic "expert knowledge" and "authoritarian" resocialization. It appears that Adams is willing to accept in his own system what he criticizes in Freud's.)

He apparently agrees in part with Draper (1970) who states that although there might be exceptions to the rule, the basic personality structure is not altered through conversion any more than physiology or anatomy is altered. However, instead of speaking of personality structure, Adams refers to the sin in one's life which needs to be confessed in order for the person to change. This counseling is apparently a post-conversion experience, as he states that 75 percent of his counselees are Christians. Perhaps the simplistic approach of Adams' complex system becomes most evident at this point. Apparently what Draper refers to as the difficulties of changing one's personality, Adams chalks up to 11 sin", holding that if one will heed the " advice" of the nouthetic counselor, one's life will change. This approach implies that someone else knows better than the person what is in fact best for the person's life. Rather than comparing himself and his system with others in the psychotherapeutic community, Adams might do well to compare himself with the field of law where advice giving and judgmental decisions are acceptable.

Adams' view of Scripture and his approach to Christianity apparently limit his scope of influence and, effectiveness, for the evangelical wing of the Christian community is of minority proportions. Like Freud, he works with a select clientele, but deals with the sort of issues emphasized by Glasser (1965) and the "reality therapy" proponents, only with a completely evangelical emphasis which does not allow for choice, but appears to tolerate only obedience to the advice of those who claim the "nouthetic counseling" stance.

Adams' approach to traditional schools of psychotherapy is very judgmental and less than informed. It appears that he protests too loudly and too long in proportion to what he has to offer in return. His tone of written communication is angry, provoking the reader to wonder why the immense amount of negativism and hostility. His statement that pastors with a seminary education are better qualified to counsel people than any other mental health professionals is presumptuous, as is his clear implication that every difficulty or problem in life is spiritual and based on the sin of the one who feels the problem and seeks help.

. Perhaps the irony of a book of this type is that those who are attacked will probably never read it; and the tragedy is that those evangelical ministers who do read it will be somewhat misled, believing that they can thereby deal with all the problems of human living. Adams suggests that if he can be shown that he is wrong Biblically, then be will change his stance, although he follows that statement by reaffirming his basic convictions. There is a flavor to Adams' words in the conclusion of Competent to Counsel which suggests that he desires to remain on the cutting edge of experience and growth. For this he must be commended.


Rosemary Camflleri

Competent to Counsel is a fundamentally frightened book.

Here we find no joy in human discoveries, no acknowledgement that all truth is God's truth, no rejoicing in the mysterious ways of the Spirit with a human heart. Rather we are shown frightening visions of atheistic psychiatry taking over the field of Christian counseling. Jay Adams insists-somewhat shrilly-that only trained evangelical pastors are competent to deal with human problems, and that all others provide only menacingly false solutions.

Adams claims Biblical sanction for his "correct" approach to the alleviation of human distress. He challenges all comers to fault him on the only authority he will accept: the canon of the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, Adams' Bible is worth examining. It seems to be a frightening tome, supporting such principles as:

1. Bizarre behavior is sin. If you behave in a way that Adams regards as bizarre, you must have learned it in order to cover up your deviant behavior, which is the root of all your problems. To use Adams' example, if you are a college student who prefers making sets for the school play to studying, and you indulge that preference, you will have no peace until you admit to your parents the sin of academic failure. If terror of their response brings on "bizarre" behavior, that's just one more sin. And woe unto you if you suggest to your Competent Counselor that there may be more to the healthy Christian life than fulfilling your parents' expectations.

2. A cured person is one who can be induced to confess that his/her problem stems exclusively from his/her own sinful behavior. Sins of the fathers, we learn, are never visited on the children: the children themselves are the problem.

3. All persons are alike. Adams hold out Christian confession and forgiveness as a panacea for all people and all problems. While I agree that "all have sinned", to deduce from this that confession is the only solution to all personal problems is like saying that all men have two eyes and therefore all doctors should be opthalmologists.

4. No truth can be learned from the researches of one who is irreligious (e.g., Freud). Never mind Paul's sermon at Athens or Christ's illustrations from contemporary culture. If it's not by a Christian, it's a lie.

5. All problems are behavioral. What else can one infer from case history after case history where, for instance, "Mary's problem was the sin of adultery"? The bottom line is always an act or a failure to act; confession thereof is always the final solution. The counselor is not to ask "why?" but rather "what?" (Adams, 1970, p. 54). He would not dream of wondering what made Mary commit adultery. He knows already; it's just her sinful nature.

6. The Holy Spirit, VVho alone can heal, acts only through the Christian counselor, never the psychiatrist. Apparently things have changed radically since Christ told Nicodemus that "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and you hear the sound thereof, but know not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth ... so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Adams knows exactly whence It cometh and whither It goeth.

7. Only members of the male sex are competent to counsel. Since Adams teaches at a seminary that does not prepare women for ordination, and since only pastors are Biblically-sanctioned counselors . . .

I could go on with this list. But a theme will be clear: the Competent Counselor is overwhelmingly oncerned with sin.

Sin is to be "yanked" (Adams, 1970, p. 174) out of every counselee. For every page where Adams mentions joy (the joy of having confessed sin) there are 75 pages of guilt, confrontation, and humiliation. This is the handbook of the frightened evangelical: frightened of psychological study, psychiatric practice, and -Christ or no Christ-frightened of sin.

Now, I hold no brief for the goodness of man. I have never had much use for humanism in either philosophy or psychiatry. But Adams is, ironically, too easy on his people: with all his talk of responsibility, he deprives them of real responsibility. They are plastic adulterers, instantly mended by confession and good deeds. They have only to stop masturbating to know true contentment. Those to whom confession is a defense to hide their deeper anguish (am I the only one?) are still, according to Adams, fully cured. Those whose " sins" are transgressions of others' (the therapist's?) expectations are likewise "cured" as soon as they "confess". The power of humiliation and homework will save them-not the power of love. "You can't say 'can't"' he tells them (Adams, 1970, p. 133); if they fail it's their own fault.

The kind of Christian transformation so movingly portrayed by Dostoevski in Crime and Punishment's final pages is here obliterated in quick-cure anecdotes and state hospital release statistics produced by "responsibility" programs. And one suspects that if the Prodigal Son were Adams' boy, there might be a good long humiliation/ confession session before that celebrated dinner; none of this "seeing him afar off and rushing to meet him" nonsense.

In summary, while I am happy to credit rumors of Adams' sensitivity and skill as a personal counselor, they do not justify the publication of such dangerous half-truths as are contained in Competent to Counsel * I can only hope and believe that he (and other Christian counselors) are indeed susceptible to the "still small voice" speaking louder than all of his theories and bidding him to be respectful in the presence of a unique and precious human being.

Adams, Jay. Competent to Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1970.
-------- The Big Umbrella. Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1972.
-------- The Christian Coumelor's Manual. Grand Rapids:
Baker Book House, 1973.
Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand. New York: Abingdon, 1950.
Draper, Edgar. Psychiatry and Pastoral Care. Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1970.
Freud, Sigmund. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis.
Liveright Publishing Corp., 1924.
Glasser, William. Reality Therapy. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Mowrer, O.H. The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion. Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1961.
Szasz, The Myth at Mental Illness. New York: Hoeber-Harper
Tournier, Paul. Guilt and Grace. London: Hodder & Stoughton,
--------- The Meaning of Persons. New York: Harper,