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The Art of Admonishing

Truth in Love 322

Admonishing is not something that is exclusive. It is to be coupled with teaching.

Aug 2, 2021

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I want to address this issue of admonition. This is obviously a very critical word in the Scripture, particularly as it relates to the way we think about counsel or counseling and the way we think about discipleship even, it’s a very important word, but it’s interesting to me how we in biblical counseling—particularly those who wear the ACBC stripe—are often stereotyped or even labeled that admonition is really the only work that we do. Admonition really is an art, but it’s a biblical idea; it’s not something we should shy away from. Here’s the thing that I want us to be cautioned about, and I’m going to talk about this broadly at the beginning and then I want to bring that into the counseling room as we think about admonition and the importance of it. 

Jude 1:3 tells us to contend for the faith, and I think that’s an important piece. As I look around social media and different places, people giving critiques. It’s often really interesting at how quickly critiques are dismissed of different philosophies or different ideas and we do a fair amount of critique even on the podcast or from ACBC. We think it’s a part of our job to make sure that we’re contending for the faith and that contending for the faith takes a couple of different forms much like it would in the counseling room for many of you. You’re contending for the faith in relation to this individual and part of what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to help them to think rightly about the things that they are engaged in. You are helping them to think biblically and sometimes what that means is you’re correcting their unbiblical ideas.

That’s the same idea when we try to look at secular theories. We’re not trying to attack those theories. We’re not trying to, you know, demean the people who try to employ them, I think the goal for us is we just simply want to make people aware of the ideologies that are behind those philosophies and that’s a part of our admonition. Now, I do want to make very clear, there are folks who write critiques in a very uncharitable way and very haughty and prideful way. That’s not what I’m talking about. That’s not a biblical view of admonition. I think admonition is speaking the truth in love. We have the responsibility to speak the truth in a spirit of gentleness and kindness and love. What I think has happened is we’ve sort of moved in the direction of what I call charitable takes, and we’ve moved in the direction of where we simply just want to say everything that’s positive about something without ever mentioning anything negative. I think that’s harmful to some degree. Let me flesh that out if I can, I think what that leads to can be very dangerous. We want to see the positive in certain things. That’s absolutely true. But we also want to make sure that we’re making folks aware of the problems within a system or the problems within a philosophy or the problems within a counseling methodology as it relates to us, particularly here in biblical counseling. 

I want to mention that this idea of admonition is to be coupled with teaching. So teaching is this aspect of building up. We want to give a building up and edification of the truth of Scripture. We want to build a biblical view in all things, but we also have to couple that teaching with admonition, the correction of false ideas because those detract from the pure teaching of the Word. So, what we have to do is exactly what Paul tries to do in somewhere like Colossians 1, where he couples together this phrase teaching and admonishing consistently through that book starting in Colossians 1:28, where he says, it’s Him we proclaim (talking about Christ), admonishing every man and teaching every man, for what purpose? So that they can become complete in Christ. The idea is the way forward to help someone to become complete in Christ takes both teaching, a building up, where there’s ignorance in a person’s understanding of who God is and how they’re to respond to Him and how they walk faithful as a disciple, they teach, but then there’s also this aspect of admonishing and what are they called to do? We are called to disciple them in such a way that we admonish them. We don’t think that they’re a blank slate coming to us, they come as an unbeliever or an immature believer, and we have things that need to be corrected in their heart. As we teach, I don’t want them to just add my ideas of teaching from the Scripture on to their already massive mound of philosophies and the way they approach life. It has to be as we teach in biblical counseling, a put off and put on.

Now, before we get too far down that road, I want to talk about admonishing. Admonishing is not something that’s exclusive. It is to be coupled with teaching. Both of those aspects are our reality. I don’t think Dr. Jay Adams, when he coined the idea of nouthetic or noutheteo counseling, I don’t think he was trying to say we are exclusively admonishing, right? He’s saying that in the biblical context we are to admonish, but we’re not to do that exclusively, as Paul talks about it in Colossians 1 and so on in the book that we are not to be exclusive in this aspect, but we are to both teach and admonish. I think the danger, some people’s reaction or reflex has been to do less admonition and only teaching, but I think that leads to a lot of problems as well. 

When we critique, one of the things we want to make sure that we do that’s a part of the art of admonishing, I think, is to always accurately represent those whom you’re critiquing or the ideas that you’re critiquing. Or if you’re in the counseling room, for example, if you are admonishing a person, you want to make sure that you understand how they’re seeing something from their perspective, and then you speak confidently the truth, lay the truth of God upon their mind in order to admonish them. I think this is important because the Bible itself is actually presented in much the same way in sort of a thesis-antithesis perspective.

One of the places that we see that, that I think for us, we in biblical counseling, we get our methodology from the Scriptures, obviously the put off and put on passage, but another place that’s very critical is in Psalm 1. Remember the psalmist begins the whole of the book by saying blessed is the man, and you think at that moment, “Okay we’re getting a definition, we’re getting a definition of what it means to be someone who pursues happiness or someone who finds himself walking in a blessed way.” And then he goes straight to the negative. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers but his delight is in the law of the Lord. Do you see it? The thesis and the antithesis sort of wrapped into one. How do we pursue blessing? Well, it takes us, yes, building up and encouraging and teaching but then also admonishing, right? We don’t want someone to couple the idea of I’m going to pursue delight in the law of the Lord, but I am also going to walk in the way of sinners. I’m going to stand in the way of sinners or I’m going to sit under the counsel of the wicked. Those two things are against one another, and one will fall at some point. Those two things cannot be complementary to one another. They’re actually walking in different directions.

When we think about admonition, that’s a part of what we’re doing. We see biblical truth, and our goal is to give affirmation and a denial. We want to be expressive in how we think about admonishing. We want to make sure that we’re covering both sides, what to pursue and what to take off. I mean, anyone who’s done training in biblical counseling you understand the idea of put off and put on. This is the basic premise of how humans change from the Scriptures is we are called to put off. Well, what does that mean? Admonition has to take place, which is: We don’t think like this, we don’t behave like this, this is not what it means to follow Christ, so we are putting this part off, this unbiblical thinking, we’re taking these thoughts captive, and so on. We’re going to crucify the flesh in this way. That’s the antithesis where we’re removing that, we are admonishing, if you will, to say this needs to come off. Then the teaching aspect: We want you to put this on from the Scriptures, and so you can see this back-and-forth of admonition, it’s always coupled. It’s as if teaching and edification and building up is the other side of the coin when we admonish, and we shouldn’t be admonishing without also offering, teaching a solution, if you will. 

I think that’s a critical point when we think about admonition. You’re not just wanting to confront someone with truth without giving them some path forward from the Scripture, that’s a healthy way to live from that perspective. Now, why do I bring this up? Why is this such an important question? I want us to ask this question. What are the dangers if we neglect to admonish? I think one of the reasons that I am concerned about this is I get questions quite frequently about “Why do we talk negatively sometimes about secular theories? Or why do we even raise some of those issues?” Well, I think it’s important to have that conversation. I think there are dangers if we neglect to admonish. If all we’re doing is building up a biblical view, which I think is 100 percent appropriate, and we need to do better at that, so I fully agree we need to do better at building a biblical view of how to approach counseling, how to approach issues. The more issues that we see in our in our human experiences that we need to be biblicists, running back to the Scriptures to see: What does the Scripture say? Let’s build a methodology from the Scriptures. In no way am I denying that we need to do that—absolutely! 

But also see this danger if we lack to admonish in the same way, that if all we do is admonish, if we think biblical counseling is only admonishing, it’s a danger. But in the same way if all we do is the teaching or the building up, lacking admonition, I think there’s a danger there as well. I think we have to do both of these things faithfully. I want you to think, one danger that I see is sort of exemplified in Simon the Magician in the Scriptures where by all accounts of what Acts 8 says that Simon trusted Christ, but by the same token, it seems as though he was begging the apostles wanting some of the power that they had and had the apostles not admonished him, called him even to repentance by his desire to pursue this just because of what it would give to him. I think we run the risk if we’re not willing to stand up against ideas or thoughts that would lead a person astray or lead to the building up of themselves. Then I don’t think we fall prey to encouraging that movement like Simon the Magician. 

I think it also leads to a syncretism. What do you mean by that? Well, I’ve talked about it on the podcast in the past in terms of eclecticism, a syncretism where people are introduced to the ways of biblical counseling and they hear, and they think, “Wow yeah, this is a really good way to think about the Bible, but I also want to incorporate bits and pieces,” thinking that all these other secular theories are quite complementary and with little filter or with little discernment they began to imbibe all of these secular theories and sort of adding it to the toolbox of the Bible. The problem is that the Scriptures get crowded out and the loser is the Scripture as we begin to imbibe these secular theories that we once thought were complementary to the Scripture, we begin to look to those theories more than we look to the Bible. We begin to promote the ideas and the methodologies of those secular theories over and against the Bible or we allow those theories to sort of now rearrange a proper hermeneutic or interpretation of the Scriptures. We run the danger of syncretism or eclecticism, where we think the Bible is one among many toolboxes. Well, that’s not a biblical view. That’s not a proper theological view of the Scripture as being authority in our life, and that the Bible gives us the Words of life, I think it builds an improper disposition. So, our job is consistently to, yes, build biblical methodology, and I think in the movement we have to do that better. I pray that you as counselors are doing that on a consistent basis, searching the Scripture constantly to build up what the Bible says about how to engage certain types of counseling issues but by the same token as you build up, you’re having to say no to other ideas in your mind. That’s a part of building truth and how you see truth come to life is, as you see truth transform you from the inside out, you begin to see what’s not a part of that truth and that’s the antithesis where we say no to those things. 

Now, what does this mean for the counseling room? I want us to think about in two ways. The first way we’ve talked about it just as thinking through secular theories, secular ideas. I think there’s a proper way for us to admonish, to contend for the faith, to protect people in the ways that they think broadly about secular ideas and things that may impact the way that we walk as believers or the way that we practice counseling in the counseling room. But there’s also something I think important as it relates to the counseling room. I see this sort of thing quite frequently, particularly when I’m supervising as a Fellow and when I’m supervising those who are working through certification. I do see a timidity to correct. I see a timidity in people, they naturally don’t want to engage in admonition, and that doesn’t mean yelling and screaming at people or anything like that. But there’s a timidity to want to even gently correct someone. They just want to do the teaching aspect, they want to turn counseling into just like a Bible lesson. That’s good, give them truth, we want to do that, but if you don’t help that person in the counseling room to process that this is biblical, and because this is biblical all these ideas that you’ve been thinking or the patterns that you’ve been following or the behaviors that you’ve been pursuing, they are unbiblical. You see the biblical truth here, this is over and against that, and that’s really important, and so I try to help my supervisees think through this issue well, to make sure that they’re guarding themselves, first of all, to know the Scripture well. Second, to know the person well, to know the patterns of thinking that they have, and then in a spirit of gentleness, as Galatians 6:1 describes, being able to confront them with the Scriptures. Speaking the truth in love, helping that person to see that what God says about their life is more important and gives better explanation than what the world is saying or the things that they’ve adopted in the way that they’re living right now. 

I think there’s also a fear of pushing someone away that if we admonish or if we correct in any way that we’re going to push that person away. By my experience, one of the things that I’ve seen is if I’m able to do this in a gentle and kind and a gracious way, to speak the truth and love to someone and when the light bulb goes on in their heart and in their mind, you have a friend for life because faithful are the wounds of a friend. And when they begin to see that the things that you’re describing are truth, and they begin to pursue that truth, you’ve helped them. You’ve guided them. You’ve guarded their soul, you’ve protected them, and they love you for it. They appreciate your willingness to engage them at that level. It is a slow process. You’re not swinging a sledgehammer at someone. It’s a slow process where you have a chisel and a hammer, and you’re just gently guiding, helping to sculpt the way that they see these things in their mind, and that’s our responsibility, so we can never neglect our responsibility to admonish. Is it a perfect science? Absolutely not. Do we always know exactly how to do this perfectly? Absolutely not. Do we sometimes fail in the way that we accomplished it? Yes. It is an art, learning to be able to admonish, but if we neglect it, I think we bring harm to our counselees, and I think we bring harm to our counselors in ACBC if we don’t do well at guarding people against those ideas that are not complementary to Scripture but are contradictory. 

May our work be both coupled together with teaching, the building up of biblical ideas and methodology, and admonition. Those two things go together in Scripture, and I pray that they go together in our work as biblical counselors.