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Honoring Jay Adams (1929-2020)

Truth in Love 286

One of the ways that Scripture tells us to be grateful is to honor those who have passed the Word of God down to us.

Nov 23, 2020

Now many of you may already know that the founder of nouthetic counseling and the leader and founder of NANC, or now ACBC, passed away on November the 14th, Dr. Jay Adams. I want to spend this time today doing exactly what Scripture calls us to do in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the Word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” I think it’s appropriate even on this week of Thanksgiving that we honor Jay, and that we demonstrate gratitude. There are a thousand ways that we can be thankful and grateful and one of the ways that Scripture tells us to be grateful is that we honor those who have passed the Word of God down to us. 

I can remember the first time that I met Jay Adams; it actually wasn’t by a handshake, it wasn’t even visually seeing him. I met him through his words. I met him as many of you have done through his books. I was a college student in my sophomore year at college and I remember sitting in my psychology class, Introduction to Psychology. I was fascinated. I was absolutely intrigued, but I was also a believer.

As a believer who understood the Scriptures—I’m certainly not extra mature, I would say, but I knew Christ and I knew His Word—sitting in those classes, I just began to hear a very different narrative about who man is. Psychology had understood man to be something very different, but I was struggling to articulate this idea about why these ideas of psychology were wrong. I remember one time we were sitting down, at the time my girlfriend who is now my wife, we were sitting down having a conversation with her music teacher who was married to a pastor who we had become friends with. I began to share with him some of the struggles that I was having, how I could not articulate, I couldn’t express some of the struggles that I was having and learning the things that I was so intrigued about in the psychology course. As I began to talk to him that day, he said, “You know what? I’ve got somebody I think you should should read.” It was like he introduced me to this new friend, Jay Adams.

The first book that he gave me was the Christian Counselor’s Manual. Obviously, this was the second book that Jay had written in 1973, his first being Competent to Counsel in 1970, and I remember just devouring that book. I was not a voracious reader even in college, but I remember that book began to give me life, it began to give me words. Jay had articulated the things that I was deeply concerned about. He began to use Scriptural language to help make sense of what was going on, and what I was experiencing in the things that I was learning and the things that were even quite intriguing. As I continued to read the Christian Counselor’s Manual, my world began to be exposed in how I understood Scripture and how I thought about Scripture and how I thought about people and how I thought about problems. Then, I next went to Competent to Counsel. I began to read Jay’s work and just an amazing work that God did with him. 

Now we have to understand that when Jay was writing, things were very different than they are today. You think about where we are today in the biblical counseling movement at large, so many organizations, praise the Lord for that, that are trying to promote ideas of biblical counseling, and Jay was helpful to start all of that. Praise the Lord for God’s grace and kindness through him, but you have got to remember during those days, it was very, very, very different. Many have called Jay a Luther-like figure where he’s calling us back to the sufficiency of Scripture in pastoral ministry and pastoral theology. He’s recognizing what was happening in the culture at large in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s. I wish we had time to go into the depth of history, because it would make you appreciate Jay all the more when you see how pastoral counseling had taken a completely divergent shift away from Scripture, a shift where we use Scripture as token, sort of overlaying, as icing on the cake.

As we allowed psychology and all of its pursuits and observations to completely redefine man, who he is, and what we ought to be pursuing, what inaugurated is this new version of the modern self. This new version of the pursuit of the therapeutic. What many have called even the therapeutic gospel. As this is raging for three, four, even five decades in its infancy, enter Jay Adams in the 1960s. As he began to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary, and he began to see his task in teaching pastoral theology, he begins to recognize all the things that were going on and all the ways that pastors were pursuing faulty, unscriptural means in how they would shepherd their people.

I would say that the Lord gave such grace to Jay Adams. Here’s the thing—I’m not saying that Jay Adams was perfect. The history books will recognize that all of us who attempt to lead the biblical counseling movement, or really any movement, that we are all completely and radically insufficient. What we can say is that Jay saw something by the grace of God that was helpful where it was very, very dark in relation to pastoral theology, in relation to the way we thought about counseling, in relation to the way we think about human problems. The Lord gave Jay a grace from the Scriptures, I think by the Spirit, and helped us to see maybe the error of our ways, the things that we were adopting, the philosophies and empty deceptions that we were pursuing that we thought were an improvement upon Scripture and upon the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jay called us back to the sufficiency of the Word. He called us back to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. He called us back to a primary aim in pursuing sanctification as a primary means of true healing, true hope, true help. Now, we have to understand that one man couldn’t do all the work that was necessary, but praise the Lord by one man over 100 books Jay wrote on various subjects—homiletics, preaching, those sorts of things—but also in the realm of counseling. We are the beneficiaries of this treasure trove of works. I want to encourage you even during these days to go back to read some of Jays works. 

One of the things that I find is so many people are critical of Jay, and I’m sure that there are issues at which we could all be very critical. I could start with the distinction between Jay and myself on what we believe to be true about church polity in relation to presbyterianism, and I’m a Baptist. We had our disagreements, that’s certainly true, but I think oftentimes some of those criticisms continue and are fostered partly because people have not read Jay for themselves. There’s so much criticisms about what he did or didn’t say. Can I just encourage you to go back and read?

I know that you will be encouraged, you will be sharpened, whether you fully agree with all the things that he says or not. I think what it will do is make you appreciate the voice that he used to cry out in a very dark time in relation to pastoral work and pastoral counseling, because in those days all of that type of soul care work was being shipped out and farmed outside of the church. Today, we look around and we see what a tremendous blessing where there was one primary voice who was crying out, today, we see an amazing movement that is not just encompassing the U.S. that we see happening with the growth of an organization like ACBC, but other organizations that we see growing, and not just here in the U.S. We are seeing an absolute tremendous growth around the world, because one man was faithful. One man was faithful to go against the tide, and to recognize the depth of the Scripture, recognize what the Scripture speaks to, and to plow through all of the secular philosophy to get back to Scripture, to call us back to the practice of Scripture. So I want to encourage you to go back and to read Jay, I think it’s so important. 

Now most recently, I had the opportunity for my whole family to visit in Horry, South Carolina. This is the place which Jay and his family have lived for many, many years. This is just outside of Greenville, and we visited a couple of years ago. We stayed even on their property, and my whole family had an opportunity to meet Dr. Adams, to meet his dear wife Betty Jane, and some of his immediate family. What an encouragement, what a blessing to be able to meet Dr. Adams, to have conversation with him. That wasn’t that long ago where we had an opportunity, I had an opportunity to sit down with him, he was very sharp still, had an opportunity to ask him questions. I love history, I enjoy history, and I wanted to know a little bit more even about the biblical counseling movement. I had an opportunity to sit down with him, and the Lord gave him opportunity to be fresh that night. Friday night we sat down for many hours. Then, all day Saturday we had conversation, and it was just an unbelievable time. It was such an encouragement, even to my wife as she spent time with Miss Betty Jane and the demonstration of hospitality and kindness even toward our kids.

I can remember one distinct moment: I mean, Jay and I were in this, you know, really adult, personal conversation about some of the intricacies of the history of the biblical counseling movement, and we’re in deep thought. I have two little twin girls who at the time we’re just over three, and I remember Jay pausing, because my twin girls had moved over to where we were conversing, and he pauses. Again, we were in the middle of a very important conversation, at least in my world, and I immediately thought as a dad, “Oh my gosh, girls, don’t bother Dr. Adams. Leave him alone.” He paused, and he looked at me, and he said, “I’m sorry, please excuse me. I have something very important to take care of.” I’m not thinking he’s going to deal with my girls, but my girls had made their way over, and had started to ask him a question. He paused to look at my girls, to be attentive to them, to pay attention to what they had to say. I love the way that they cared even for my children. It demonstrated to me the power of Christ in a person, and the love and gentleness and kindness even in an older age to show hospitality.

That was a very special moment to me and my family where we had an insight into getting to know Dr. Adams and his wonderful family. Even more recently, this year, September the 11th, we had planned an event where many of us in the biblical counseling movement were going to go to Greenville, South Carolina and celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Dr. Adams’ work Competent to Counsel. This year 2020 marks 50 years; the book was written in 1970. What an amazing thing that God has allowed that book to still remain for all these years. We were intending to go on that day and to celebrate. Well, with COVID only a few of us were able to attend. With about six or seven, maybe eight people in the room in their home, we had an opportunity. Donn Arms, many from Mid-America who now house Jay’s library and who are republishing many of Jay’s books, were able to sit in the room and to talk with Jay and to celebrate this 50 year anniversary.

As another point of intention we all shared about how we were introduced to Jay and the ways in which he had influenced us. It was just a glorious time of honoring a faithful servant. As was accustomed to Dr. Adams, he was very deferential to the grace and kindness of the Lord Jesus. At that time Donn Arms, who was a long-time faithful friend of Dr. Adams, had gotten several of us guys together to write a tribute to Jay. This has been a project in the making for about two years — a festschrift. A festschrift is a German word that just simply means “essays in honor of;” we were writing essays in honor of Dr. Adams to present to him on this 50 year anniversary. We had the opportunity to do that, and what a special time as we went around the room to talk about Dr. Adams, and his kind and faithfulness to the Lord, his consistency with the Scripture. The Scripture tells us to remember and to honor those leaders who taught us the Word of God. Again, I want to reiterate, I’m not saying that Jay was perfect, certainly not, but there are several things that I think we should emulate when it comes to Dr. Adams.

Here’s one of the things that I think is most important. If one thing could be said about Jay Adams it’s that whatever he was convinced of in the Scripture, whatever he believed God to teach in the Scripture, he attempted with all of his effort to live that out faithfully. If one thing could be said about us, I pray that that would be true, because with Dr. Adams, if you could convince him that Scripture said something differently, it would change the way that he acted. It would change the way that he wrote. It would change the way that he taught. It would change the way that he interacted with people.

Would that be said of us? That what flows out of us is what we are fully convinced the Scripture to teach or even now when we find ourselves 50 years after the inauguration of the “biblical counseling movement” through Confident to Counsel? Are we still wrestling with some other issues? Are we asking the question does the Bible really say certain things? Are we finding ourselves maybe drifting away from conviction of Scripture and striving with all that we have to live out the Scripture? Maybe we should take this moment, all of us, me included, to pause, to ask ourselves this question, “Are we pursuing Scripture?” As we pursue Scripture as our primary posture, are we striving with all of our might to live that out? I pray that would be said about me. I pray that would be said about me in the same way that it said about Dr. Adams, that whatever he believed the Scripture to teach, he taught. Whatever he believed the Scripture to teach, he attempted to live. What a thing to honor. What a means to be grateful for. 

So, I pray that you will be able to pause even during this time of Thanksgiving. I want you to remember Miss Betty Jane, his dear and faithful wife of many, many years who served him faithfully. I want you to remember and pray for them, pray for the Adams’ family, but I also want you to remember the testimony of Jay. A man who is just like you and I, flawed, certainly true, but who passionately pursued Christ, and that we would imitate him in that way, and that we would honor him, because of the way in which he taught us the Word of God, that the Lord used his work to help open many of our eyes by the power of the Word.

I would encourage you as well to maybe pick up that book. The Whole Counsel, is what it’s called, The Public and Private Ministries of the Word. This was the festschrift that we wrote in honor of Dr. Jay Adams, and I think it quite appropriate that we were able to present that to him even before he entered the presence of the Lord. So, I want to encourage you to pick up that book, to take a few minutes even to pause, to think about, maybe reconsider some of the works of Dr. Jay Adams. I think you will find them encouraging, maybe even convicting, as you continue to progress in the way that you think about the Scriptures, the way that you think about people, and the way that we strive with all of our might to help those who are broken.