Thoughts and comments on the name change to ACBC from Powlison of CCEF.

Why a name change from NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) to the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)? I was not part of the process, but I have thought about the pros and cons of our name for the past 30 years. Take my comments as a personal opinion about the change, not an explanation of the change.

First, all people who take Scripture seriously should agree that God calls his people to the clear-minded, tenderhearted, personalized ministry of noutheteo: “to place in the mind” relevant words of truth, wisdom, grace, conviction, hope, and guidance. Wise love for others is rich in timely nouthesis, as well as rich in the other timely things that wisdom does and says (and doesn’t do and doesn’t say). At our best, when we wisely help to cure the souls of God’s beloved children, we are truly nouthetic.

But the negative connotations to “nouthetic counseling” have had a way of too often drowning out the intended denotation. This is a historical reality. It has nothing to do with what the Scripture intends when calling us to the ministry of noutheteo. I see three ways that negative connotations have arisen.

First, sometimes caricatures are attached to us by those who are ignorant or malicious. What they say we are is simply not true. The sneer creates an insignificant kind of negative connotation.

Second, and more serious, sometimes we have fulfilled the negative stereotypes. All counselors fail at times, and we fail in many different ways. But there is one typical pattern of failure I’ve witnessed too often in our circles. I think of it as “noutheticistic counseling” or “macho-noutheticism.” It represents a failure of humility, kindness, listening, and grace. If our typical failings recur too often, or if they are unchallenged and unaddressed from within our movement, then we would deserve the negative connotation. But I have witnessed this failure far less often in the past 15 years than I did in the previous 20 years. I think that the dominant strand within our DNA has consistently, clearly, and strongly sought to redress such failings. We have been growing corporately into greater wisdom. Failings that are being redressed are a relatively insignificant kind of negative connotation.

The third reason is the most significant. Jay Adams’s original theory and practice of nouthetic counseling had many notable strengthhs and several notable shortcomings. Candid, fair-minded discussion of our model and methods has been part of how our community has functioned over the past 40 years. But, during this process, the adjective “nouthetic” has remained attached to the distinctive emphases of the original version—maintaining the strengths but not addressing the imbalances. The connotations of the word are weighted toward emphasizing, for example, God’s commandments, confronting sins, making behavioral changes (e.g., Proverbs 10-31), a directive counseling style, and the dynamics of personal habit formation. Those are five ingredients of counseling that are faithful to Scripture—that do nouthesis well. But they must be balanced by complementary Scriptural ingredients in nouthesis—e.g., God’s promises, comforting sufferers, making changes in relationship with God (e.g., Psalms), an interactive counseling style, and the dynamics of growing personal insight. When our defining adjective fixedly connotes things that do not describe us well, then the adjective increasingly becomes an impediment rather than a help.

The new name is more general in one respect—”biblical” simply points to a core loyalty shared by Christian people. And “ACBC” does not roll off the tongue as easily as “NANC”! But the new name is more specific and more descriptive in one very important way. NANC has been a certifying organization. It has existed to set and to pursue a standard of excellence in the practice of biblical counseling, just as the mission statement asserts. Many counseling and educational ministries are now committed to wise nouthesis, and are committed to restoring counseling as a core ministry of the church of Jesus Christ. A counseling revolution has occurred in the past 45 years, and it is still going forward. But certification is a unique defining aspect of the ministry that I am glad to now know as the ACBC.

David Powlison

Former NANC Board Member

Member of the NANC Academy

Senior Editor, Journal of Biblical Counseling

Faculty and Executive Director of CCEF

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