Competent to Counsel: An Interview with Jay Adams

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Tabletalk: Over the course of your life, what have you found to be your most significant ministry focus? Why?

Jay Adams: As I look back on sixty-plus years of ministry, I suspect that the ministry focus on exegesis has more than anything else been the most significant one. It was my interest from my seminary and college years and has been ever since. That’s why I majored in Greek. I have wanted to know for myself what God’s Word teaches, not what someone else says about it.

Secondarily, I would mention the importance of sound systematic theology. A combination of these two disciplines, in particular, kept me from going off base when I began counseling and began to write about it. Few who have focused on counseling apart from such a background (and such concerns) have been able to maintain a steady, true, doctrinal foundation for doing their “biblical” counseling. This scripturally oriented basis for ministry of all forms is what has made the difference throughout the years.

TT: How did your counseling background affect your pastoral ministry?

JA: This question is interesting because, in one sense, it presupposes the opposite of what I have just written in answer to the first question. I said that my ministry affected my counseling more than my counseling affected my ministry. Because I have been concerned to be biblically accurate and doctrinally correct from the beginning of my ministry, I have focused on scripturally correct preaching and dealing with the flocks I pastored. When I began to emphasize counseling, then, I did so from a more solid biblical and theological base than if I had majored in psychology or some other disciplines.

But it has been interesting to note that the most frequently (unsolicited) comment that we have received from those pastors whom we have tutored in biblical counseling is something like this: “What I have learned in these counseling courses has radically affected my other ministries as well.” There even have been the banding together of a group of ministers who call themselves “Pastors for Nouthetic Ministry.” The word ministry in that title is significant.

TT: Why is biblical counseling necessary in our day?

JA: For the same reasons that it has been necessary in every day. Whenever the process of sanctification slows down (or halts) in a Christian’s life, and he is not able to rectify that situation (for whatever reason), he needs the help of other believers who can direct him to God’s answers to his problems and how to bring about a change that honors Him. Counseling is not a great thing—in itself—but becomes necessary whenever such rescuing of a brother or sister is called for.

Today, there are soldiers coming home from wars who need counseling, but they are not alone. There are many others who would need biblical counseling whether or not there are such special reasons.

TT: How has the emphasis on “self-esteem” impacted the church, and how should Christians respond?

JA: The emphasis is not biblical; consequently, wherever it is touted it has affected the church adversely.

The emphasis upon sin in a Christian’s life and the need to deal with it as God’s Word requires, in many places, has been replaced by teaching that we are better than we think—when just the opposite is in most cases true.

I have dealt with the topic at length and demonstrated how far-removed it is from a biblical view in a book titled The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image.

In order to provide a base for such teaching, the Bible—and even the gospel—have been distorted. For instance, Jesus speaks of two commandments: to love God and neighbor; thus, the emphasis on self-esteem directly contradicts Him.

Moreover, God’s grace in saving miserable sinners has been replaced by heretical teaching, such as saying that it is because we are so valuable that Christ came to redeem us. Not all who hold self-esteem views go so far, but many do.

We need to have a biblically based view of our true position in Christ in order to have a biblical perspective on ourselves.

TT: Do you need to be a professional to counsel another Christian?

JA: No. It is not necessary to be a professional in order to counsel another Christian. There are a number of passages in which the Scriptures call every believer to counsel.

I have covered these passages in several of my books, such as A Theology of Christian Counseling and How to Help People Change, but here I would mention just one: Colossians 1:28—where believers are encouraged both to teach and counsel (in some translations, the Greek word noutheteō—used there—is translated as “warn”) one another.

The only professional known to the Scriptures is the pastor and the other elders of the church who, especially, are summoned to this duty. Again, I have covered this matter in a number of books.

TT: Is this what you mean when you say that Christians are “competent to counsel”?

JA: No. I never say that Christians are competent. I say that they ought to become competent. That’s why I have taught counseling both in writing and in classes for so many years.

Teaching Christians how to become competent to counsel is the reason for the existence of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies. For more information about the institute, visit our website, www.nouthetic.org.

TT: What is nouthetic counseling?

JA: The word nouthetic comes from the Greek word noutheteō. The word, which is primarily used by Paul in the New Testament, is translated into English as “admonish,” “correct,” or “instruct.” This is the word that occurs in Romans 15:14, where Paul writes, “I myself am satisfied about you my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.”

Briefly, let me add that the Scriptural view of counseling involves three C’s—Concern, Confrontation, and Change. Out of concern for a brother or sister in trouble spiritually, one lovingly confronts him in order to bring about change that is pleasing to God.

Such change is brought about by the ministry of the Word in the power of the Spirit working both in the counselor and the counselee. For a longer explanation see the aforementioned website.

TT: What is integrationist counseling, and what do you see as its dangers?

JA: Integrationist counseling seeks to combine the insights of psychology with those of the Bible. From my perspective, such counseling, though it purports to be biblical, is not, no matter how well intentioned the one who does it may be. The danger is that believers who are the subjects of such counsel think that they are being counseled to do God’s will, when they are not.

In my understanding, attempted integration of the Scriptures with worldly counseling beliefs, methods, and/or techniques inevitably means that in order to make them agree, the Scriptures are bent to fit the non-scriptural material that the counselor attempts to integrate with it. I believe the task is impossible without ending in a non-scriptural method.

TT: What do you see as the future of counseling in the church?

JA: Two things will continue to happen: happily, a number will awaken to what biblical counseling really is, learn how to do it, and help many. Sadly, however, there will also be a backward growth in thinking among many that will lead to more and more integration in counseling. Already, there have been efforts to dilute truly biblical counseling by those who want to integrate. But at the same time, many people in this new generation have been inquiring about nouthetic counseling, and others are learning how to do it. It is hard to say which will become dominant when one is not a prophet.


Jay E. Adams is founder of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Philadelphia, the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, and the Institute for Nouthetic Studies. He trains and teaches counselors at the Redeemer Biblical Counseling Training Institute in Moore, S.C. He is author of Competent to Counsel, The Christian Counselor’s Manual, Theology of Counseling, Christian Living in the Home, How to Help People Change, and numerous other books on counseling, preaching, theology, and pastoral ministry.

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