Book Reviews -- Reviewing Titles from Dr. Jay E. Adams
|Copyright © 2002 - All rights retained by author|
|Reviews Written by: C. W. Booth|
Competent to Counsel is an in-depth explanation of biblical counseling as envisioned by Dr. Adams. This vision is dubbed "Nouthetic Counseling". While not quite a tutorial on Nouthetic Counseling, this book concentrates on providing sufficient explanations of what it is (and is not) that one can walk away from the book feeling very confident in their biblical grasp of counseling as a God-given mandate to the church.
Perhaps the most striking approach taken in the book is Dr. Adams' method of citing a passage of scripture and then extracting his doctrine of counseling from the Word (instead of approaching the Word with a philosophy or doctrine and then attempting to make the Bible match the philosophy). Through this approach biblical counseling, and Nouthetic Counseling in particular, is shown to be a necessary practice in the church today as well as an expectation that God has placed upon the church in an effort to have the members of His body care for one another. In fact, Dr. Adams capably demonstrates that the church is given the responsibility to counsel its own members and that this is not the domain of the outside paid professional.
Analysis of the Book
Starting with an explanation of the difference between humanistic psychological approaches to counseling and biblical approaches to counseling, the thesis that God has ordained His Word as the highest authority with regard to trouble shooting relationships, personal problems, and mental anxiety is presented from one cover of the book to the other. The role of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the believer are outlined from the pages of Scripture. Dr. Adams demonstrates that the Bible gives little flexibility to using the pagan philosophies of the world in the practice of counseling Christians.
In one particularly insightful section of the book, Dr. Adams describes the difference between genuine listening and merely parroting back to a patient what he says. Echoing back the statements of the patient is not listening for the content so as to identify root problems. Listening involves understanding the words and the emotion so that proper biblical solutions can be applied. "Listening means taking interest in what another says, and responding appropriately" (Adams, page 92).
Then, in this same vein, Dr. Adams delivers some of his most profound observations concerning counseling from the Bible.
"Nouthetic counseling assumes that the feelings are not the most profound level of human relationship with which one must be concerned in counseling. God speaks of love in attitudinal and behavioral forms when he defines it as keeping his commandments. Moreover, feelings cannot be altered in the same way that one can change behavior. Consequently, in accordance with Scripture, nouthetic counselors spend less time finding out how people feel. They are more interested in discovering how clients behave. Ö People feel bad because of bad behavior; feelings flow from actions." (Adams, 92,93)
Dr. Adams also spends some quality words on the emotions of Anger and Resentment. The student of Godís Word will benefit greatly from taking time to understand how Adams relates these emotions to human living under the parameters established by the Scriptures.
This book takes counseling and counselors back to the Bible for the answers concerning human behavior. It is this reliance on the Bible as the genuine source of doctrine and theology with regard to Christian counseling that gives Dr. Adams the confidence to call all believers to be better equipped and more "competent to counsel".
This book is given a strong, "must read" evaluation by this reviewer. Every pastor should make it a point to purchase this book and make it available to the entire elder, deacon, and pastoral staff at his local church.
[After thought: Dr. Adams has been criticized for certain views he holds concerning covenant theology and his approach to certain Old Testament studies. While this reviewer would not necessarily agree with all of Dr. Adamsí views on Old Testament theology, those few areas of disagreement do not intrude on the outstanding work done in the book Competent to Counsel. In fact, Dr. Adams treats the Scriptures with great care and handles its interpretation and application with extraordinary integrity in this prominent work.]
More than simply an appeal for Christians to become "more discerning", this book is Dr. Adamsí attempt to explain discernment and then to launch the Christian into a self-run program to begin to develop this skill. From the very start the assumption is made that the ability to see the difference between right and wrong is provided to every Christian at their rebirth, but it takes a conscious effort to use and cultivate that ability in Godís service.
Analysis of the Book
This book is short at 133 pages, but should not be seen as a lightweight book. Concise and sharply focused on the subject matter, a reader will miss valuable insights if they skip even a few paragraphs. The length of the book is more indicative of the approach; Dr. Adams is less interested in attempting to persuade than to instruct.
This book is filled with biblical guidance, directing the Christian to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" and to balance discernment with brotherly love by avoiding having "roasted preacher" for Sunday lunch. While humor is not a strong point of the book, biblical exegesis and drawing useful applications from the Word are strengths.
Dr. Adams is convinced that God is grieved over immature Christians. And Christians that do not understand and demonstrate discernment are immature. Dr. Adams may very well be correct in his fear that ever more difficult times are coming for the saints with increased persecution and an increase in spiritual predators. Discernment will not just be a word on a web site or in a book, it may be the means of preserving your children and the saints.
This is another one of those books that all Christians would benefit from reading. It really belongs on the shelf of every pastor, elder, deacon, Sunday School teacher, and church library.
Did God save man because of manís intrinsic worth? Are all men valuable and should they think of themselves as something special? What does it mean to be created in Godís image? What is a biblically accurate self-image? Are children more likely to avoid sinful behavior if they have a high level of self-esteem?
Dr. Adams takes on these tough questions in a no-nonsense approach using biblical exegesis. At times controversial, at other times surprising, the book is always thought-provoking. This book is a passage-by-passage development of a biblically based doctrine of self-esteem and self-image.
Analysis of the Book
Compelling. The Bible passages examined by Dr. Adams are absolutely compelling. From an overview of what the Christian church (including Christian schools) have adopted from secular pop psychology the book dives into a test of these "doctrines" by holding them up to Godís Word. The result is a compelling renunciation of the idea that God approves in any way of men needing to increase their self-love.
Each of the questions raised at the beginning of this book review are unambiguously answered in the pages of the book through in-depth Bible study. Not content with simply providing the reader with the correct Scriptural answers, Dr. Adams also closes the book with a challenge to the saints to aggressively pass the word that secular self-esteem doctrine is damaging the church and misleading the children.
All men love themselves, usually far too much. Understanding Godís view of us and our own human and regenerated natures will help the Christian develop a proper and biblical self-image. Even if you have already come to understand these truths for yourself from Godís Word, this book may contain a few head-scratching surprises.
Any Christian teacher of children or young adults will benefit greatly from reading this book.
Taking a concept-by-concept approach, Dr. Adams examines the fundamentals of marriage, then divorce, and ultimately, remarriage. Relying heavily on the Scriptures, Dr. Adams avoids using traditions as a basis for establishing the doctrines of matrimony and marriage dissolution.
Analysis of the Book
Reading this book and writing this review was a personal disappointment. Dr. Adams is one of my personal spiritual role models whom I hold in the highest regard. Sadly, this book fails to achieve a proper understanding of the nature of divorce and remarriage based upon a faulty interpretation of Scripture.
Dr. Adams does a genuinely thorough biblical evaluation of the question, "what is a marriage?" The principles of marriage as outlined by God in His Word are well documented. Additionally, the concept of engaged men and women in both the Old and New Testament being called "husbands" and "wives" is convincingly extracted and described from the Bible by Dr. Adams.
Even the bulk of Dr. Adamsí treatment of the subject of divorce is keenly derived from the Scriptures. God certainly hates divorce and has established considerable warnings to men from initiating such proceedings. While controversial, this reviewer found that much of the chapter dealing with the "exception clauses" was consistently and properly handled.
With so much of the book being biblically acceptable, why is such a harsh disapproval applied to this book by the reviewer? Primarily because of a simple misinterpretation of one passage: 1Corinthians 7:25-28. Dr. Adams commits a fundamental exegetical fallacy (to borrow a term from D.A. Carson) by taking verses 27 and 28 out of context, interpreting them as stand alone verses, and then issuing sweeping doctrinal statements that contradict uncounted passages of scripture that state the opposite.
Simply stated, 1Corinthians 7:25-28 refers to virgins who are engaged to be married. Engaged virgins are properly referred to as "husbands and wives" in the New and Old Testaments. Verses 25-28 state that virgins may end their engagements and remain single, may marry each other as planned, or may end their engagements and marry other people--and all without sinning or without their actions being labeled "adultery".
If one were to remove verses 27 and 28 from their context of verses 25-28 and then interpret them, one might be tempted to believe that this was a blanket permission for all married people to get a divorce, then remarry other people, and be free of having committed any sins, including adultery. Such an outcome would directly contradict many Bible passages, but none so blatantly as Jesusí own words, "whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32b).
Having made a doctrinal left turn, the good work done earlier in the book is systematically dismantled by the author. Since the out-of-context interpretation of 1Corinthians 7:27,28 seemingly permits everyone who gets a divorce for any reason at all to be remarried without it being called a sin: all people can be divorced (without sin), all divorced people can be remarried to others (without sin), divorce loses all stigma, and Jesus was mistaken to teach that one who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. The outcome then, is that a divorce ends a marriage, all obligations of the marriage, and the person can claim to be free to remarry whomever they wish just as if they were a virgin.
Scripturally this is not appropriate. Jesusí words still stand, divorced people who remarry others are committing adultery, and it is engaged virgins who may break their commitments to marry without it being considered a sin. Proper biblical interpretation is critical to the development of sound doctrine, and regrettably this book does not meet that standard.
As a result of this error, the book becomes all but incomprehensible, lost in a maze of discussion about legitimate divorces and illegitimate divorces, all divorces ending a marriage thereby releasing all parties from all obligations of marriageóbut maybe not all, reconciliation being preferred albeit optional as is remarriage, and so on. It becomes nearly impossible to determine who would ever be guilty of committing adultery by the act of remarriage, if in fact, anyone would be using this text. Such a conclusion to this study makes a complex subject even more difficult.
In spite of his track record of writing truly outstanding biblical treatises, this book is not up to the typical quality of Dr. Adamsí other works. Though much of the book is indeed well developed from the Scriptures, a poor interpretation of one key passage causes Dr. Adams to draw numerous incorrect conclusions about the permanence of marriage and the permissibility of divorced persons to be remarried without incurring a label of adultery.
As a definitive work on divorce and remarriage, this book is best left on the shelf. If one were to read only for the sections on marriage there would be some benefit. Using this book as a basis for marital counseling would not be wise.
Consider this book to be a "users manual for newlyweds". This is a basic primer for establishing a Christian household. Ranging in topics from foundational communications between people, to engagement, to leadership and submission this book gives a floor plan for how Christians can live together in reasonable harmony. Peppered throughout the book are worksheets designed to allow the reader (and their partner) to evaluate their own contributions to the relationship.
Analysis of the Book
Grounded in a solid biblical foundation, this book assists the young (or young at heart) Christian to understand how a home should be structured. Each topic builds on the previous one. In one chapter the person contemplating marriage is guided through an evaluation of their knowledge and expectations of marriage. In a subsequent chapter the submission of the wife to the husband is discussed. Then the obligations and duties of leadership that fall to the husband are explored, all from the pages of the Scriptures.
This book is a good place to which to turn for new couples beginning a home. The material is basic, biblical, and is capable of pointing newlyweds or new Christians in the proper direction as they begin their new domestic lives.
The full title of Ready to Restore includes the subtitle The Laymanís Guide to Christian Counseling. Dedicated to the layman, this book seeks to assist those who are not pastors to understand Godís call for them to engage in Christian Counseling. In a mere 100 pages Dr. Adams brings a tool kit of counseling aids to all believers. Not content just to challenge the layman to counsel, Dr. Adams desires to equip him as well.
Analysis of the Book
At the time this review is being written a debate rages in the camp of Nouthetic-based counselors. At the center of the debate are questions such as, "Should those who are not NANC-certified be permitted to counsel inside the church?", and, "Is it proper for Nouthetic counselors to charge the Christians counseled for their services?" Interestingly, Dr. Adams seems to address these questions from all the way back in 1981, when he first wrote this book.
"Is Christian counseling the work of a highly specialized group of persons? Does it belong to pastors and elders of the church alone? What of everyday man or woman-in-the-pew Christians; do they too have a ministry of counseling to which God has called them as laymen? Ö The answer is simple, yet profound: God calls every Christian to counsel some people, somewhere, at some time about somethingÖ" (Adams, page 1)
Dr. Adams uses many convincing passages of Scripture to demonstrate the obligation, duty, and opportunity for the service of restorative counseling that God bestows on all believers.
Since this duty rests on each one of us, the book dedicates time to exploring the prerequisites that must be attained prior to counseling. Among these are genuine faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Then, obedience and study is added.
"To be an effective counselor ready and able to restore others, there must be a prayerful willingness and obedience, coupled with diligent study of the Scriptures and a love for Christ and His church through which the Spirit works." (Adams, page 17)
Pragmatically, Dr. Adams deals with such obstacles to counseling as fear, knowledge, and truthfulness, not on the part of the one to be counseled, but on the part of the counselor. Then he moves on to the doctrinal foundations of counseling. Finally he discusses the mechanics or processes one might use to conduct a counseling session.
Reading this book and working through some of the suggested exercises will not instantly transform the reader into an experienced staff counselor, but it can bring the layman to the point of being able to help restore a fellow Christian who has stumbled over a sin or who is experiencing a relationship problem at work.
This book is almost as powerful as Competent to Counsel. It can be a tremendous first step into obedience to the biblical call, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)