There is a great deal that many do not know about people certified by ACBC. One thing a lot of folks think they know, however, is that ACBC counselors disregard suffering, and only confront sin. This belief extends all the way back to the founding of the biblical counseling movement, and the ministry of Jay Adams. Adams has consistently been accused of dismissing the sorrows of his counselees in favor of an exclusive focus on sin.
Jay Adams and Compassionate Counseling
The works of Jay Adams were foundational and, like that of every other faithful Christian minister, in need of development and refinement. He initiated a model of counseling that was—by his own admission—incomplete, but still solid. The biblical counseling movement has been working hard to build on the solid foundation created by Adams. One of the areas where the biblical counseling movement has advanced is in the area of how to minister to folks who are suffering.
It is true that the biblical counseling movement has grown in the skill of teaching how to engage suffering people, but it is a myth that Jay Adams did not care about the sufferings of counselees. In fact, during a personal conversation with Dr. Adams several years ago I asked what was the most frustrating caricature that others repeat about him and his model of counseling. His response was moving. He said, “That I don’t care about people who are hurting.” He continued,
For the life of me, I don’t know how people came to think that I don’t care about people who are in pain. People who accuse me of not caring don’t see the letters I get from counselees who wrote thanking me that they are closer to the Lord because of the counseling we did together. They don’t see the Christmas cards with pictures of families and notes on the back that say, “Thank you. These kids were born because God used your ministry to keep our marriage intact.”
The founder of the biblical counseling movement was a man who cared about people enough to point them to a Savior who could comfort them in their weakness and cover their wickedness. It is love that led Jay Adams to connect struggling persons with a Redeemer.
How could a model motivated by such care be mythologized into something that is merely harsh and confrontational?
I think a lot of it has to do with the term nouthetic. Adams made clear in the early pages of Competent to Counsel that the term, when translated from the Greek, was often rendered “admonish.” Adams repeatedly connected the term with confrontation. Though this is a common translation of the term, Adams never intended it to have “harsh” connotations. In fact he said,
Nouthesis is motivated by love and deep concern, in which clients are counseled and corrected by verbal means for their good, ultimately, of course, that God may be glorified (Competent to Counsel, 50).
For Adams nouthetic confrontation was a loving extension of care from counselor to counselee. Unfortunately this understanding of nouthetic is not what stuck.
This situation is a little like the one of a family friend of mine who desperately wanted to be called “Nana” when her first grandchild was born. She would coo her new grandson and say, “Hi, sweetie, I’m Nana. Do you know your Nana, Sweetie? Sweetie, if you need anything you just tell your Nana.”
As soon as her grandson could speak he didn’t begin calling her Nana. Instead he called her Sweetie. Now she is known to all of her grandchildren as Sweetie. The point—sometimes, despite our deepest desires and most strenuous efforts, our meaning can get lost.
I think something like that has happened with the word nouthetic and the caring intentions of the man who reintroduced the world to biblical counseling.
Biblical Counseling and Sin
I think another reason for the myth is that biblical counselors do address sin. We have to do that because the Bible insists upon it. We believe that sin is the problem that creates all counseling need, whether that sin is the personal sin of the counselee, the sin of the person victimizing the counselee, or the death and disease we experience because of the presence of sin in the world. We confront sin because we must confront sin to be effective counselors in a sinful world like this one.
ACBC counselors do not only confront sin, however. We care for people, counsel them free of charge, put our arm around them and cry with them when the pain is too intense to speak, we pray with them, encourage them, and teach them the Scriptures. We do all this and more.
Biblical counselors will be unique so long as they do something that other models avoid, namely, confront sin. Even though biblical counselors have other kinds of conversations, this may even be what stands out. It is a mythological claim, however, to say that those are the only conversations we have.