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Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm

Jay Adams and The Biblical Counseling Movement

The so-called “Biblical Counseling” model has replaced the “old” model of integrative counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where I am currently working on my masters degree. This replacement is representative on a large scale of the most conservative (some would say “fundamental”) agenda in the evangelical church. As the story goes, because the church in general was highly influenced by secular models, the seminary eventually embodied a compromised approach. Secular psychology tended to undermine responsibility, replace biblical doctrine with Freudian nonsense, and replace instruction with alternative “therapy,” practices which never dealt with sin seriously. Eventually, some rugged evangelicals in the church stepped forward to call for a holy war against much of the so-called “Christian Counseling” that had virtually surrendered the biblical worldview by embracing secular counseling models, and had become an unhealthy alternative to real discipleship.The chief on the front lines in this reform was Jay Adams. His book Competent to Counsel (1970) was intended to be somewhat of a bombshell on the playground of the so-called “Christian” Counseling scene. Below, I have cut and pasted excerpts from my review of his book. It includes only a summary of his introduction, and then a brief critique of the books key idea(s).
Adams, Jay E. Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1970. 287pp. $13.99.
Note: “Nouthetic” comes from the Greek word noutheo mostly translated “admonish.”
Several principles are defended hot and heavy in Adams’ attempt to introduce us to nouthetic counseling. Our author makes it easy on us to see where he is coming from by showing all his cards up front (i.e. in the introduction). Nouthetic counseling demands the counselor to recognize that the counselee’s ultimate and all-pervading problem is not mental illness but sin (xi). To say that Adams is suspicious about “the common practice” of referral (or “bifurcation,” of duties) in poimenics (the art of pastoral ministry) is an understatement (12, xii). He believes that the secular methods of counselors, psychiatrists and mental institutions are in fierce competition with a biblical approach to counseling. They seek to remove guilt from the counselee by “misclassifying” sin problems (xiv). Freud goes beyond science to teach “the art of living,” and secular modes have long become an alternative religion for a world that finds itself “in a mess” (xxii, 1). Adams seems to have been inspired by O. Hobard Mowrer’s Moral Model of responsibility to stand against the anti-responsibility models (xvi-xvii). Psychotherapy has become little more than a search through one’s past for someone else to blame (xvii).
Though Adams has been inspired by Mowrer, he is not satisfied with Mowrer’s Model, for Mowrer cannot ground morality objectively (xix). It is presuppositionally deficient (xviii). Our author is burdened by “the same old eclecticism with a Christian coating,” which, for Adams, amounts to nothing more than “accommodation” (xx). Perhaps the most revealing statement in the whole book, which typifies the nouthetic approach, is in the following unabashed confession: “The conclusions in this book are not based upon scientific findings. My method is presuppositional” (xxi). Although Adams does not wish to “disregard” science, he demands that scientific input only be accepted inasmuch as it illustrates and clarifies the biblical teaching (xxi). Even when science is used to illustrate or clarify the scriptures, it must not be thought of as somehow confirming or verifying the biblical teaching (xxi). “God’s Word does not need human support” (xxi).
A Brief, Suggestive Critique
Adams’ dogmatic presuppositional approach is both his greatest asset as well as his greatest limitation. On the one hand, his VanTillian approach brings a heightened awareness of holistic comparisons between different counseling philosophies and this in turn brings a greater discerning ability of what “fits” with the biblical teaching and what does not (and why). On the other hand, Eric L. Johnson points out that the VanTillian approach tends to undermine science as a knowledge-constructive practice (see footnote 1). Although Adams would agree that truth can be found in non-biblical systems (see footnote 2), his statements do not seem to allow for it. For example, he says: “Because non-biblical systems rest upon non-biblical presuppositions, it is impossible to reject the presuppositions and adopt the techniques which grow out of and are appropriate to those presuppositions” (102, emphasis mine). This statement not only oversimplifies the situation (many atheistic scientists have discovered marvelous aspects of God’s creation fully in accord with scripture), but it also breeds an overly pessimistic approach to science (and thus perfectly fits the fundamentalist stereotype). A biblical coherence theory of truth—defining truth in terms of worldview coherence—is different from a correspondence theory of truth—defining truth in terms of what corresponds to reality, regardless of what presuppositional context the truth is discovered in. Just because non-Christian worldviews abuse and misinterpret much of the scientific data does not mean the data in its purest form cannot be accepted just because it is not presented within a coherent Christian worldview. Only if Christians take the responsibility of empirical investigation seriously will the Christian counseling community be “increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated.”
In addition to Adams’ overly pessemistic attitude towards science and the reductionism of his theory of truth, Adams is also guilty of a methodological reductionism. By this, I do not mean that Adams does not have many methods. Rather, Adams unfortunately reduces all methods for counseling down to nouthetics. Biblical Counseling = Nouthetic Counseling. In fact, he oversimplifies the nature of real-life counseling by reducing it down to “problem solving,” and then speaking of the “problem” only in terms of sin. However, to be faithful to the biblical sources, one must include a variety of problems as well as a variety of methods. We must “admonish [noutheteite] the unruly,” but we also must “encourage [parameutheisthe] the fainthearted” (1 Thess 5:14). Adams could have just as easily reduced all counseling down to paramouthetics and walked us through a thousand methods for paramouthetic engagement. With Adams’ reductionistic approach, it does not surprise the reader that he never mentions the biblically revealed methods of admonishing with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs sung in thankfulness to God (Col 3:16). Such a method seems out of place with Adams’ narrow, cognitively-oriented categories of problem solving.
His failure to redeem much of the secular methodology and put it in its proper place seems also to be a result of this impractical, unbiblical, and oversimplified reductionism. For example, Adams appears to associate ventilation of one’s pent-up feelings with Freudian ideology of resocialization (11), but “venting” one’s feelings—so long as it does not involve hostile transfer of sinful feelings—is sometimes just what one needs to do, and in fact, should do. We like to say it this way—”I just needed someone to talk to about it.” Sometimes, we just need to talk to someone about our frustrations in life or our disappointments. In those times, we need someone to simply “be there” for us and sympathize with our situation (which may or may not be a sin-rooted problem).  Weep with those who weep.
Furthermore, since not all troubles are sin problems, not all methods include nouthetics. Most counseling relationships might inevitably involve a need for varying degrees of nouthetic confrontation (as do most real friendships). However, sometimes I have the “problem” of indecisiveness in an important decision. I get counsel from my mentor all the time because he is older than me and sometimes provides a different, more informed perspective on life which enables me to make a better decision. When I go to him for counsel on life’s big decisions, he does not probe my life looking to confront me for some sin (although if he did, he might surely find I am a sinner). Rather, he simply offers his advice, encouragement, prayer, and support. This is right and biblical.
Although Biblical Counseling would have a friendly place for nouthetic confrontation, to be true to the biblical text and to real life situations, we must admit that counseling is more than identifying and confronting sin. Adam’s narrow approach simply does not do justice to the full range of human “problems” and situations the way scripture does. Unfortunately, his book sparked a reform which has used his teaching as the basic approach to counseling to this day (the “Biblical Counseling” movement). Of course, I would rather have a narrow approach of nouthetics than a compromised approach which undermines a biblical worldview—if you forced me to choose. But with people who seem to have done a great job in integrating the best of the sciences with the rock-solid biblical worldview (e.g. Johnson), why should we choose Adams’ overly narrow approach which pontificates so many false antithesis and ranks of an unhelpful “psychology is the devil” sort of mentality? While Adams’ work is a breath of fresh air to many evangelicals who have been burdened by the influence of secular models which undermine biblical truth, and although he has swung the pendulum in the right direction, I (and several other evangelicals) am afraid that he has swung the pendulum a bit too far.


Footnote # 1: Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2007), 614. This seems to be the reason why Adams is always trying to ground everything he says—even when he is giving extra-biblical wisdom—in some verse or biblical doctrine (even when it is not in the text).

Footnote # 2: Ibid., 615.

Footnote #3: “This approach to secular and other non-Christian thought is best explained by his adherence to a biblical coherence theory of truth [as opposed to a correspondence theory of truth], just like VanTil’s.” Ibid.

Footnote #4: Ibid, 616.



  1. Stephen Newell says:

    Thanks for this, it is well-argued and right on. As one of the last people to graduate with the Pastoral Counseling M.Div., I thought that there is much to be learned from Adams and much raise an eyebrow at as well. I’d be interested in reading the whole critique, if you’re willing!

    I see you’re also reading Dr. Johnson’s new book. Isn’t it great?

  2. Bradley says:

    Stephen: Glad you enjoyed and agree with my critique. I’m kinda hopin’ that someone who doesn’t agree with me will bite on the title and engage my thoughts. I guess I’m a minority here now as far as my counseling views go. I’m not so confident the model for “biblical” counseling now is as “biblical” as Johnson’s model. It’s a shame the way the debates get carried out (“Biblical” counseling VS. integrationist counseling—–as if one is biblical and one is not). Anyhow…

    What I’ve read so far in Johnson’s book seems so much more perceptive than the Biblical Counseling liturature. If I were a counseling major I would have to make reading the whole thing a priority; but I’m not (and don’t have the luxury right now with all the other stuff goin’ on).

  3. Mary Mc says:

    I think your concerns about Jay Adams’ paradigm make sense. (This coming from someone who is not an expert in “Biblical” counseling ala Adams nor in “Christian” counseling.) I laud Adams’ emphasis on dealing with the sin involved in a person’s “psychological” issues, but I think you’re right to point out that sin is often not the only problem. Adam took pastoral counseling with Johnson and found it completely biblical. At the same time, Johnson also challenged Adam’s (my husband not Jay) presuppositions AGAINST science and demonstrated in a convincing and biblical way the things science can teach us.

  4. Bradley says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Mary. Wow. I sooooo wish I could take Johnson for a class, but it wouldn’t make any sense given my area of Ph.D. hopes. I would love to talk to Adam about it. Remind me to talk to him about it next time I come over.

  5. Teresa says:

    I was one of the first people to take RCT with Dr. Johnson. It was the best experience I ever had! I think it made me a better counselor.

  6. Bradley says:

    Thanks Teresa; I would soooo love to take one of his classes! I’ve heard they are life-changing (and after all, shouldn’t they be?)!

  7. Anonymous says:


    Forgive my vanity, but I think the pic of me in a trash bag makes your blog really smashing.

  8. Sara says:

    Hey Bradley,
    I am writing a paper on Ellison’s psychospiritual model and using nothetic as a comparison point. I really liked your critique and was wondering if I could use it in my paper.

  9. Bradley says:


    By all means; use it. Glad to be of help.


  10. Sara says:

    Thanks. just in case my professor asks about your expertise,
    which college are you/have you attending/attended?

  11. Bradley says:

    I’m currently working on an M.Div (Masters of Divinity) at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (where the “Biblical” counseling movement reigns supreme).

  12. Bradley says:

    Oh, and I got a Bach.of.Science in Religion at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.

  13. nina says:

    i thought that there is much to be learned from Adams and much raise an eyebrow at as well. I’d be interested in reading the whole critique, if you’re willing!
    “Christian Drug Rehab

  14. […] Johnson is an intellectual beast.  His approach to biblical counseling is more biblical than the “Biblical” Counseling approach.  It’s also more scientifically informed and thoroughly thought through.  (wow … look […]

  15. […] 10:32:31 EST—– P.s. here is a critique of Jay Adams’ book, which many reformed Christians like: Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm T h e o ? p h i l o g u … Most of these anti-psychology groups have similar traits: (1) they find dangerous trends in even […]

  16. Sathish says:

    Thanks Bradley for that critique and would enjoy reading the whole content. I am from India and I did find -exasperated/ crushed- reading Jay Adams fundamentalist attitude-your response does throw more light. But over here in India we need to move slowly from the west oriented edu to a more contextualized Counseling approach.

  17. theophilogue says:

    Thanks Sathish!

    Glad you found this helpful. I went back a looked and there isn’t actually much more of my critique left, but I might post it soon if I have time (i’ve been real busy lately).

    I hope you will be able to provide more contextualized paradigms for your Counseling endeavors in India!

  18. […] Since I posted a book review on Jay Adams’ book Competent to Counsel entitled Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm, it has been the most viewed post here at  T h e o • p h i l g u e.  On the one hand, I think […]

  19. Holly says:

    I’ve just started a blog that so far has been a critique of nouthetic counseling. (I have had and witnessed the ramifications of counselors adhering solely to “nouthetics.” I’m just starting to look deeper into different types of Christian counseling available and have really enjoyed and learned a lot from your post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  20. theophilogue says:


    I’m so glad to hear that you have been helped by my post!

    I visited your blog also and read your “About me,” section and glanced through the posts. Sorry to hear about what happened at your last church. So long as the BCM controls the counseling programs in seminaries, I’m afraid there will always be pastors like that. I don’t think that everyone who is associated with BCM is necessarily a bad counselor, but they have a tendency to be judgmental, oversimplify the experience of those in need of help for a quick and easy diagnosis, and unconcerned with how gently and thoughtfully they communicate their understanding to those who come to them for help. But my perspective is very limited, so I pray that I’m wrong.

    I would recommend Eric L. Johnson’s book cited in this post (see footnotes). I am a friend of his, and he is not only a very well-balanced, caring, and loving counselor, but also a more seasoned and sophisticated biblical interpreter. Not to mention he is a genius. If you read five chapters of his book you will see what I mean.

    He covers the history and development of the Biblical Counseling Movement in his book with a critical eye. It’s very stimulating reading. Not overly polemical but fair-handedly critical.

    Hope you will check it out.

    In Christ,


  21. Great thoughts and truly helpful counter-points and concerns you raise about the Nouthetic approach from Adams and others. Just a few key articles from Jay Adam’s blog:

    The Nouthetic movement does not reject the use of medicine: http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=3940

    Jay’s response to the claim that the Nouthetic movement is over-critical of others: http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=3842

    Jay’s response to the claim that the Nouthetic movement talks too much of sin: http://www.nouthetic.org/blog/?p=3816

    One helpful summary thought from Jay in response to criticism:

    “Indeed, from some of the criticism that is leveled against Nouthetic Counseling in general, and me in particular, I wonder if many critics even bother to read what I have written. And if they read only Competent to Counsel, and nothing else (when there has been a spate of books following it that fill out the system), that too is evidence of irresponsible criticism.”

    I’m only trying to keep the discussion going by bringing Jay’s “voice” into this blog. Good stuff, keep it up. We all get sharpened by it.

  22. Paul / Jen,

    Thanks for your interjections! Eric Johnson’s book points out that most Biblical Counselors now distance themselves significantly from Jay Adams in one way or another (he calls this “progressive biblical counseling,” and I hope to post about it one day on my blog).

    I regularly listen to “HELP AND HOPE PODCAST” (a Biblical Counseling podcast). There is a podcast where David Powlison answers the question: “What is the Biblical Counseling movement’s relationship to Jay Adams.” The response was very interesting. The question is answered in a round about way. Elsewhere Powlison has explicitly distinguished his approach to Biblical Counseling from Jay Adams’ nouthetic approach (see Johnson’s book).

    I think David Powlison, Paul David Tripp, and other “progressive” Biblical Counselors have taken the best from Adams and developed a more biblically balanced approach to Biblical Counseling.

    Thanks for your links!


  23. I read Dr. Adams writings back in the 70s and was moved by some of them and appreciated much of what he had to say. However, his approach was too confrontational and did not recognize the profundity in and of simplicity that belongs to scriptural counseling. His was a one size fits all, and his dependence on Mowrer, despite his critique, was a turn off. There is more, much more, to the biblical approach than Adams thinks. In addition, while biblical reality is not dependent upon human support and the scientific method, it is not solipsistic of such. Indeed, Whitehead suggested, for example, that the origin of thescientific method was due to the Christian teaching of the immanence of God (if my memory serves correctly after a hiatus of 40 years)(which teaching means that there is something there, that is repeatable, dependable, and which can be formulated into formulas and theories of explanation which can be verified). Early development of the scientific method is to be found among Christian thinkers in the 15th-19th century, and one will find Protestant and Puritan thinkers were among the early supporters and developers of the scientific method. The problem today is that the method is flawed from being too analytic; it apparently needs a synthetical (my term for an approach that involves analysis and more, a two-sided formulation). A science educator in a school system who was working on her Ph.D. in the field at a major university was shocked to find that I, a mere preacher, could be aware of the problem. Of course, it helped to have an M.A, in American Intellectual History. Even so, there is a more vital connection of science and the Christian Faith than most people (including scholars and scientists) imagine. Adams evident lack of awareness of the relationship between the two is one of the most serious and severe flaws in his approach, and the writer of this blog is to be commended for his insights about Adams along with his willingness to present them in the arena of public discussion.

  24. Dr. Willingham,

    I appreciate your contribution to this discussion. The “synthetical” (as you call it) is exactly what Eric Johnson is trying to develop. His book “Foundations for Soul Care” is an attempt to simply lay the ground work for such a synthetical. He wants Christians to reappropriate the scientific method while guiding it with distinctively Christian/biblical presuppositions. You really should check out his book. It’s an exemplary attempt to bring together two methods of knowing, a sort of epistemological synthesis that gives the Scripture it’s rightful place of authority while critically integrating scientific findings/experiments/data, etc.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and compliments.


  25. Tom Parrott says:

    I agree with almost all said in your review. It reminds me of the GEICO ad where the Marine Drill Sgt is the Counselor.

    I always hold the fact that the Truth is ALL GOD’s truth regardless of the source.

    I sens a bit of counselor superiority and with terms such as, “My People”, and Counseling is all about “Good Advice”

    The Holy Spirit knows the heart of each person and He knows the approach that will best bring about His plan for sanctification.

    The counselor is a physical representation – in tangible form – of Christ on earth.

    The counselor is NOT the healer – he is probably closer to facilitator.

    I think this form of counseling (although the goal being noble, will attract those who enjoy the presupposition of hard line confrontation being the ONLY way to behavioral change.

    Also how does a counselor really know if a person is saved? If not the Scriptures my be hidden and the counselee may be shepherded by the counselor.

    I noticed a twinge of Shepherding mentality in his book.

  26. The one shot approach fails to take into account the help that other methods often provide. Perhaps no single technique, formulation or theoretical therapy is sufficient in itself to meet every situation. Family systems therapy sometimes works. Just rearrange the seating of a family and the relationships began to alter. Paradoxical interventions are strangely effective in seemingly hopeless cases, Eye Desensitization Movement therapy is notable helpful in traumatic cases. And then there are the physiological, neurological, medicinal, and many other modalities of treatment. When I took my M.A. in Marriage and Family therapy 25 years ago, there were then over 450 schools/movements, etc. in counseling. One of the techniques mentioned above was developed in the past two years and has become one of the leading therapies for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, especially helpful, so I understand, in treating veterans suffering from the shock of the battlefields. While I cannot speak to that matter, I had the privilege of trying the technique with a person suffering from a traumatic situation. The effect was anazing. Someday, hopefully, I will get access to Dr., Johnson’s work, but the works being published these days are overwhelming in sheer numbers.

  27. I finally saw that GEICO commercial you were talking about Tom. Great illustration!

  28. David Bonnet says:

    I have some major issues with Adams presuppositions and applications of what he calls “biblical counseling.” In order to receive anything in the way of biblical admonition, a person must be open to correction and input. If they are not, counseling must target the resistances against change in the person before anything can happen. Using Scripture in this case would only make things worse. Scripture is not primarily a work (outside of some verses in Proverbs) that addresses mental health, which can reside even in the unsaved person. It is a person’s experiences that make them who they are, not what they read or what some one else tells them to do. For example, most marriage problems are not related to knowing what the bible says about divorce, but complex dynamic forces working within and between each person. Reducing this to a failure to adhere to a Scripture or two is gross oversimplification.

  29. David,

    You make a great point. I find that much of the Biblical counseling (not all), in seeking to “stand up” for the truth and reveal sin as sin, will often shortcut genuine anthropological inquiry (whether scientific or otherwise) beyond what some verse in the Bible says, or presume that some biblical truth contradicts some psychological theory or secular insight without exploring in what senses these theories or insight might be true and relevant.

    Thanks for your comments,


  30. Robert Topartzer says:

    Thank you for this blog post and the responses. As a Pastor who also has a law degree and historical education, I was a Fundamentalist who was very adverse to Psychology and greeted Jay Adams books with glee. However, I soon found my joy was due to lack of objective analysis. I have come to reject both Adams and the second generation of exclusive Biblical counselors such as Powlison. They all are too prejudice against Psychiatry, the medical model of mental illness, and even have a wrong understanding of the definition of mental illness. They are dangerous to the 3% to 4% of the population who have “brain disease” mental process illness and their caretakers. The most ignorant and prejudice book I have read is the popular book “Biblical Counseling” with John MacArthur as the editor. It has references that are 30 and 40 years old from magazines and others who give a very prejudicial view of mental illness and causes. Many Pastors and theologians are totally ignorant of contemporary Psychiatric practices which involve big changes in the last thirty years. Psychologists today talk (therapy) and Psychiatrists diagnose and prescribe based on the mental process illness medical model (treatment). The Biblical counseling view that will actually listen to science needs to bring itself up to date on good Psychiatry and learn to and not hinder the truly mentally ill. The absolute truth of scripture does not exclude the science truth of discovery. Scripture is the final word on all that it speaks to. However, I still do not open it for directions on car repair. I have found that quite a bit in car repair manuals does not contradict scripture.

  31. Robert,

    I am delighted you have found this post affirming or helpful. Have you read Eric Johnson’s book? If so, what do you think of it? I find it exceptionally illuminating (compared to the “biblical counseling” literature).

    LoL! I do not find it surprising at all that you found MacArthur’s edited book especially narrow minded. I’m laughing because I know what you mean (LoL!).


  32. Wilma Linhart says:

    We just started “biblical counseling” for our marriage issues. I’m a bit troubled by my counselors idea that scripture does not allow us to self preserve or self protect. Instead we should offer ourselves to our husbands even when they are verbally abusive and even if they continually lie. He leaves no room for caring for myself and having limits. If I can’t take my husband’s emotional abuse it’s because I’m selfish and the reason I am with him is to get not to give. My argument is that I did not marry him to get, but I sure did not marry to GET ABUSE. Isn’t there a difference? Our counselor uses scripture such as turn the other cheek, be perfect because God is perfect and many more I can’t remember. I’m finding myself feeling like he is putting a yoke around my neck. Like the passage that talks about don’t go back and let them place rules on you=slavery.I think its Romans? Anyway, what is your idea about caring for ourselves vs. turn the other cheek. Do I get to have limits and care for myself if I feel I have reached my limit?

  33. Wilma,

    I don’t know what exactly to advise you in a situation of spousal abuse. Everyone’s situation is different. Moderate verbal abuse is one thing. Extreme verbal abuse and constant intimidation tactics are another. The spectrum is so wide for the word we call “abuse,” it makes giving advise impractical for anyone other than the people in your community who know your situation best and have a loving, caring and compassionate spirit to help you. Those people may or may not be the biblical counselors you are seeing. I will pray for you in your struggle, and I sent you a much longer e-mail sharing my own story and some encouragement and general advise.

    Thanks for reaching out.


  34. Jim Golding says:

    I applaud your article. Excuse this oversimplicity but i belive it to be disturbingly accurate after 15 years of research and running a peer counsleing program among others at a large church in California. As ‘progress’ became the mandate for the church through the last 50-60 years, the church has given the caretaking of the sould over to the “professionals”. As Adams is keenly aware, much of our distress and problems are rooted in sin. The problem? People have been handed over to counselors who are largely trained to not talk about sin or make value judgements. I vetted counselors that we worked with as a church, and loved to throw hypotheticals out to even our ‘A’ list therapists to get a response. The responses were beyond shocking. They often aided and abetted hideos acts in their complicity or unwillingness to address sin. So -the great book, Whatever Became of Sin, written what 40+ years ago is very very pertinant. With you I would much rather err to the side of nouthetic counsleing than a more psychological model. it’s always sad when people become polarized about such topics and begin to throw the baby. Lastly – it’s my strong conviction, that pschology needs noughtetic insights more than the other way around.

  35. Tom P says:

    Good response. But it is still an error. We all know only the Holy Spirit led counselor will be truly helpful. Experience helps, in almost anything, and in this case, experience in knowing it is all the Holy Spirit leading – its awesome.

  36. Jim G,

    Thanks for your reflections and kind words! I have always said there are probably many churches that have uncritically imported unbiblical psychology in their counseling program and have insufficient biblical training. On the other hand, I would say there are many churches (fundamentalist churches, conservative evangelical churches, especially the ones affiliated with the different strands of the biblical counseling movement) that need their biblicism tempered with an open mind to science and psychology.

    For example, Is dementia a sin according to the Bible? I could make a great case for it by biblical exhortations not to “forget” God’s laws or not to “forget” the wife of your youth, etc. But if you know science, you don’t even try to go there. Instead, you accept dementia simply as a reality that has to be reckoned with; your approach to counseling starts with the scientific assumption of this reality and seeks to place the phenomena within the greater context of a Christian worldview. You bring your doctrine to bear on reality instead of using it to oversimplify reality.

    If a pastor was ignorant of his congregants dementia, could we blame him for rebuking him with biblical exhortations to “remember” God’s word and not “forget” the wife of his youth? Indeed, would our proverbial grandpa have any Bible verses to excuse his forgetting the wife of his youth or God’s laws? (Even if he once knew such a verse, he would soon forget it!) There are no verses that excuse such a “sin.” Herein lies the oversimplification of the human condition, but surely the pastor means well and just wants to be biblical; excusing such a “sin” would violate the most fundamental principles of his Christian worldview (sin is sin, can be forgiven but must be rebuked, must be repented of rather than excused, etc.). It’s unfortunate ignorance, but what can really be done about it? Answer: counselors could critically engage in appropriating science to the ends of biblical counseling. This is what Eric Johnson (and others) are trying to do. I think this is right.


  37. Tess says:

    I find ur write up very good because adam though well read but must know that human problems are not all rooted in sin and some need scence to deal with and we must use d right method to handle different problems so as to get good result. tx

  38. Shawna says:

    Personally this form of “Biblical Counseling” was used by my church when I needed professional help. A pastor’s wife sat me down and tried to “dig out my sin”. The guilt and dispair of not getting it right caused me to loose hope and doubt my faith. After getting help from a professional, I found out that the pastors wife was using this method. It did great harm and I believe it was spiritual abuse. I googled the nouthic counseling and found your information. The holy spirit has done a greater work in my life after the professional counseling and the Biblical counseling only pushed me away from God.

  39. Dear Bradley, Thank you for this! I have been considering a nouthetic counseling program, but I’m really glad to have stumbled upon your article because it helped me realize how naive my idea of it was. Myself, I have experienced both the biblical and the secular sides of counseling, and I agree with one of the commenters when they say, “it is sad when people become so polarized”. It does tend to be that between 2 extremes, a mixture of both would be ideal. Thanks again!

  40. Fred Daniel says:

    If you have only read “Competent To Counsel”, you do not have much of a grasp on Adams or his Nouthetic approach. It is, after all, an introduction per the subtitle.

  41. Fred,

    Just because a book is introductory doesn’t mean you can’t learn much from it about the author’s perspective. As for Adams, I’ve read enough in his one book to accurately construe his basic approach, which is all I critique in this post. You seem to assume that if a book is self-labeled as “introductory,” one cannot expect to have much of a grasp about the author’s assumptions or basic approach.

    If you think I’ve said something inaccurate about his position or approach based on your own further reading, pray tell.



  42. Gaby says:

    Hi Guys,
    Enjoyed the whole thing, I wish I could move my thoughts and be able to compare and not eating everything I reed like: “Wow this is awesome”. I felt like teaandtestimony said: “Naive”.

    I enjoyed every post but most of all the smooth and gentle answers from Bradley.

    Bradley I need “Psychospiritual” material I read what you wrote :”Ellison’s psychospiritual” is there a book, anything helps. Also I am looking about “Temperaments” something “Christian” any ideas?

    Thanks, God bless you


  43. Hey Gaby!

    Glad you have joined the discussion! I’m glad you appreciate the dialogue.

    I’m not sure what you are referencing when you talk about “psychospiritual”? What kind of temperaments do you want to know about?

    Let me know,


  44. Fred says:

    While sin is not the only problem when it comes to counseling, to be fair, I think Falleness is. In this we still must depend on the Word of God for sole guidance, which seems to me to take me back to Adams. I believe that the debates between Van Till and Clark would be conducive to understanding the whole issue of the sufficiency and the perpescuity of Scripture to which I believe Adams seems to adhere to nj his counseling thesis. Adams says that secularists may have truth, but then why take the candy that has sugar when it also (may also) contains arsenic? We know God’s Word is not tainted.

  45. Fred, aging unto death is a result of falenness, along with heart failure, infections, viruses, and (the example we have mentioned especially) Alzheimer’s (a deterioration of the brain). Would you say sufficient council comes from God’s word about Alzheimer’s? If so, where in the Bible does it speak of this and what counsel does it give? Would you recommend those suffering from the disease need not see a doctor, but only need the counsel of God’s word? ****Bradley

  46. fred.pursley@facebook.com says:

    Bradley, of course I would recommend a doctor and so would have Adams. Scripture speaks to it in that it acknowledges medical problems. Scripture also prescribes wisdom to know the difference between “illnesses caused by sin and illnesses solely related to the Fall of nature because of Man. Do you deny the sufficiency of Scripture for all of life?

  47. Fred, thanks for your prompt response. I though you would say that. That the Bible “acknowledges” medical problems is a very generic way indeed of addressing this devastating medical issue and likewise does not address Alzheimer’s directly. But have you considered that Alzheimer’s may cause a man to “forget the wife of his youth,” as Scripture says, and mistake his nurse for his wife and even come on to her? (or do you not know that this sort of thing happens as a result of Alzheimer’s?) So here we have a biblical sin, so to speak, being induced by a non-sin related medical problem. A pastor today looking only to Scripture for a good “neuthetic” rebuke would indeed fall short of his duty (I would say). But the problem gets worse, for if a pastor looking for answers to all problems in Scripture only in the 1700s witnessed a man going through something like this before medical knowledge of Alzheimer’s had developed, how would he be obliged to correct his problem from Scripture only? I only use this as an example of the complexity of reality that comes into view once you have access to extra-biblical knowledge (in this case, the knowledge of the medical condition now labeled as Alzheimer’s). Married couples with one or the other spouse struggling with Alzheimer’s will indeed need counseling (e.g. extra-biblical education on the problem since the Bible says absolutely nothing about it, options for medical treatments, encouragement sensitive to the common marital struggles closely associated with the problem, etc.), but the root of the problem will be a medical condition and not a sin that needs rebuked (although certainly they will need to be encouraged not to respond sinfully to their non-sin rooted problem) . But Adams’ model for biblical counseling is “nouthetics,” and this is much too narrow a category to describe the sort of counseling needed for this type of problem. Would Jay Adams excuse a man for coming on to the nurse while his wife is gone to the grocery store? When you ask “Is the Bible sufficient for all of life” I must ask: sufficient for what? “All of life” is far too encompassing, given that you yourself have already admitted that Jay Adams would not use Scripture only to help with Alzheimer’s. I would say a visit to the doctor to get a medical diagnosis for a problem and following an unbelieving doctor on how to treat it would be “part of life,” so if Scripture is supposed to be sufficient for “all of life” including this “part of life,” why then would Jay Adams need to refer anyone to anything but Scripture in such a case? Something has to give here. You must narrow the scope of the Bible’s sufficiency or else show how any “part of life” is sufficiently addressed by Scripture. If the Bible itself can be understood to teach the legitimacy of medical problems and the need to have them treated by doctors (whether the doctors be Christians or not), then the Bible itself would be admitting to it’s own insufficiency, taken in an absolute sense. As I see it, the Bible is not absolutely sufficient for “all of life,” but itself (in ways I won’t fully get into here) actually admits of its own insufficiency. Why do we need pastors, elders, and deacons, for example? What need do we have for them if Scripture only is “sufficient” for “all of life” (including all of church life)? Somehow your statement about the sufficiency of Scripture for all of life, if it is not significantly qualified, ironically ends up being itself unbiblical. I’m not trying to start a fight here, just trying to help you see where I’m coming from. Your thoughts? ********Bradley

  48. […] Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm […]

  49. Shawn McCloskey says:

    Deeply offended by Nouthetics. Pastors are trained to be therapists? Treat severe emotions disorders pastor? If a person suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or addiction, schizophrenia or organic brain disfunction. borderline personality disorder would not be helped. This is approach is extremely offensive as a minister, missionary and evangelic pastor and hurtful to a lost and dying world.

  50. bev says:

    woah – seriously…you think Adams is questionable because he does not address the use of songs, hymns and spiritual songs to be part of a counseling method? that’s pretty weird sounding to me…huh…songs hymns and spiritual songs as part of counseling…who’d have thunk? Clearly that is then for someone else to do as Jay ain’t usin music…
    and he leaves out or minimizes perfectly good non-Biblical methods? and
    Counseling is more than identifying and confronting sin? you say as another reason Adams is too far out…
    Well he may not cover all the bases you are interested in but in my life I see that there are many handy excuses for calling things unsolvable problems by naming them so many other things. Looking elsewhere besides scripture can corroborate Biblical answers but the Bible is to be the rule of life and faith from which all else is measured.
    thanks for listening’

  51. @bev,

    Thanks for visiting this blog Bev. Your comments are always welcome here. I sincerely hope you will not perceive any of my response as harsh, for this is not my intent. You are, however, after not reading my post very carefully (or at least not summarizing what I said very carefully), chiming in a voice of disagreement, and therefore can expect the same.

    woah – seriously…you think Adams is questionable because he does not address the use of songs, hymns and spiritual songs to be part of a counseling method?

    I mentioned several reasons why Adams’ approach is narrow-minded and problematic, but that was not one of them. Here is one of my arguments to help readers grasp just how narrow minded his approach is: In the Bible counseling consist of more than mere admonishment. Yet even if one were going to base her entire counseling philosophy on a non-scientific, literal interpretation of the Bible in the name of biblical faithfulness, then ignore all the Bible has to say about counseling and focus only on the wordnoutheo (admonishment), one would still have an abundance of passages (like the one about admonishing with songs) to help give a well-balanced emphasis to different aspects of admonishment so that it doesn’t reduce itself down to persuading the patient that all his problems are rooted in sin only to then meticulously specify that persons process of repentance. In other words, if we are going to Bible thump, we cannot do so selectively, ignoring anything that doesn’t fit our narrow agenda. So my bit about the psalms was really just an example used in one of my many arguments, not my reason for rejecting Adam’s counseling philosophy.

    Well he may not cover all the bases you are interested in but in my life I see that there are many handy excuses for calling things unsolvable problems by naming them so many other things.

    Sometimes the main problem with a philosophy (such as Adams’ counseling philosophy) is not that the chief insight cannot be construed as a valid insight (such as “Humans use psychological labels as excuses”), but that dogmatism gets in the way of a genuine synthesis of other valid insights (such as “Science has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that real psychological disorders exist which cause relational, emotional, and various other forms of dysfunctionality and devaluing the importance of psychology or reducing them all to personal sin is absurd”). Side-stepping this challenge for synthesis in favor of demonizing it instead is a characteristic example of how religion can be anti-science, narrow-minded, and uncharitable (to put it mildly) to those brave enough to take on the challenge.

    Looking elsewhere besides scripture can corroborate Biblical answers but the Bible is to be the rule of life and faith from which all else is measured.

    If the Bible is to be the rule of life and faith from which all else is measured many absurdities follow. For example, the science of linguistics makes possible the reconstruction of ancient texts and their translations from ancient languages. However you are interpreting the Bible, your interpretation can only be as trustworthy as the science of linguistics that brought you the translation you read and interpret. Another example: the Bible nowhere explicitly or implicitly delineates the biblical canon. Thus, since which books are inspired is not actually taught in the Bible, whatever group of books which make up what you consider to be the Bible must be justified on grounds outside of the Bible. Next we could talk about the science of interpretation, and how this decisively determines what should be understood as “biblical” in the first place. Without interpretation, the Bible is mute, and without valid interpretation the Bible speaks falsely. The science of interpretation has a structural priority over the symbols it seeks to interpret (by symbols here I include the symbols of language). Language about the Bible being the sole rule of life and faith masks these realities and ensure they go unappreciated.

    Any thoughts?


  52. […] Greek word noutheteo, meaning “to admonish.” But as the writer at Theo.Philogue points out, that’s not the only type of counseling addressed in […]

  53. I am now much of an outsider, but spent much of my early life around dogmatists and answer men in bible circles. Many of these men to me are severely pharisaical and have never been broken with no other place to go but to a Christ who alone is glorified in bearing not just sin but all our burdens to His glory. With that said, I also think Adams generates highly legalistic forms of behavior. Sometimes, are only answer is waiting on the Lord, while we are being transformed by learning more of the graces and goodness of our Lord Redeemer. Has anyone read Timothy Rogers, a Puritan who wrote a book on Melancholy, titled i believe Melancholy and Mental Trouble? It has carried me through DARK days. God alone heals, redeems and does so to glorify Himself and not a system of counseling. Thank you if you read this far.

  54. Shawn McCloskey says:

    This movement away from classical psychoanalysis is neither Biblically fundamental, nor evangelical, in any way. It is fear of the unknown, fear of pastors not trained in that field. It is classic religious prejudice and bigotry based on personal fear and pride. I attended a Southern Baptist seminary and I have never witnessd a display of poor manners and vitriolic words spoken to an accomplished member of a faculity by the students themselves to a phiolosophy professor. Believe me. It is just plain ignorance, fear and pride, thinking pastors and pastoral counseling will be replaced by a much better prepared and very well trained mental health professional. I have a pyschology degree from a Baptist university and we had plenty of very Godly, Ph.D. level professors, even at the undergraduate level. So the shame and the blame is on the Seminary and trustees themselves. Until we get a handle on the mental health field in our Seminaries, our churches and in the Convention, we will continue to see mental health issues among our pastors and members. The answer, Ph.D. level instructors in mental health at our Seminaries and a mental health facilities run by Psychologists. Psychology is not a dirty or unGodly word. Do you want to be the pastors who blocked the usage and growth of the medical field for centuries? This is the same issue of professional jealousy and bigotry.

  55. Paul Dakin says:

    I’m really curious to know Bradley, where does your authority come from.., science or God? Do you believe in the supernatural? Is sin something we do or is it something we are? Do you think that mental illness is merely a physical problem of the brain or are there spiritual issues involved? When Jesus met the demoniac who lived among the tombs, was his problem merely physical? Would you have applied the science of psychology to address the problem? Or are you one of the academics who would say that Jesus was ignorant of the real problem and only addressed it as he knew how? Jesus knew that the problem with the man was the ‘legion’ of spirits that possessed and controlled him. Although our minds are intrinsically tied to our brains, I believe that that connection is not all there is. When I die my brain ceases to function but my mind goes on. There is more that impacts on our mind than what is merely physical.

    I am certainly no luddite when it comes to science. I appreciate all that we have discovered about the universe we live in. But I don’t hold science as my highest authority. You say you believe in God but then cast doubt on his ability to speak and in a way we can understand Him. I believe in a God who has not only spoken, but has spoken clearly, being able to be understood. I’ve read some of your comments above and wonder how you can know God at all, if you think that we can’t truly understand what he has actually said.

  56. Deborah says:

    I appreciate what J.Adams teachs. I personally know after years of counseling believers with worldly methods that it would go so far and leave them still in position of needing God direction not world view. I strongly support Jay Adams and am grateful that he has tried to bring freedom and correct direction to believers.The Word of God is sufficient..2 Timothy. I will choose to stay with God and His Holy Word and J.Adams.A true believer in Jesus will find true freedom and meaning for life.Thank you for your opinion but I see no proof and I personally will no longer be double minded.. Praying you. ..

  57. Fred says:

    I agree Deborah. As a Biblical counselor student (nearing certification) I have seen this method work great things in Christian lives. It is suggested that not all problems are caused by sin. I agree. Then they are organic which is another story completely. But any problem that is consisting of us making moral-ethical decisions, which is most, the Bible and the Spirit are sufficient. Adams book, Is All Truth God’s Truth is excellent at dissecting the dilemma presented by this review—that truth can be found elsewhere.

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