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Theology and Counseling with Jay Adams

Truth in Love 200

Counseling is a theological enterprise.

Apr 1, 2019

Dale Johnson: In order to celebrate our 200th edition of Truth and Love, we want to go back through the corridors of time and we want to bring to you a recording of Dr. Jay Adams as he presented his ideas on theology in counseling. This came from a conference done by NANC at the time, or ACBC now, in 1984 before podcasts were even invented. I was sure delighted to be reminded of this information that he gives to us, and the content is stellar. I want to reintroduce you to this and hopefully you’ll enjoy this walk back through the corridors of time as we revisit some of our roots in biblical counseling.

Jay Adams: Counseling is a theological enterprise. By that I don’t mean it ought to be. Or it would be nice if it were. I don’t even mean that it is for Christians a theological enterprise. What I am trying to say here tonight is that everyone who is involved in counseling—Skinner, Rogers, Jenoff, Collins, Ellis, Crab, Narramore, or you— no matter what the color of his stripes may be, is involved necessarily in theology because he is working at this: the changing of attitudes, beliefs, values, thoughts, and behavior of men. The very minute you open your mouth about man’s problems and what must be done about man’s problems and how you must change a human being, the very moment you open your mouth about those matters, you step out waist deep into anthropology, hamartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, not to mention theology proper.

Changing human beings is theological work. The question is not whether you ought to become a theologian. If you are a counselor, the question, is what kind of theologian are you? That is the only question that can be asked about it. Behind this are a number of presuppositions and assumptions which we need to get into in order to substantiate and explicate what I have just been affirming. The first of these is an understanding of what theology is. There are many definitions of course of theology. I’d like to give you mine, and then give you a good one. My definition of theology is: Theology is the work of systematizing all that God has said on any matter in the Bible, together with its implications for life and ministry. There’s a lot behind that statement, but I’ll just let it sit. B.B. Warfield’s definition, to give you a better one, is this, “Systematic Theology is nothing other than the saving truth of God presented in systematic form.”

On either view, which I don’t think are very far from each other, theology necessarily includes counseling because it is a key matter, or Warfield’s definition, the central matter in the Bible that is dealt with in counseling, namely, the salvation of man in the full sense of that word salvation, not only his justification but his sanctification. Sanctification is what we’re up to when we do counseling. Sanctification is that process of change moving from sin to righteousness that takes place when the Holy Spirit uses the ministry of the Word to mold men more like Jesus Christ. Both of these definitions and understandings of theology.

We see counseling deeply embedded in what goes on in theology and theology deeply embedded in what goes on in counseling. Moreover, you have got to realize this fact in your counseling. You need to recognize, articulate, and clearly work from the perspective of a theologian as you counsel. It’s not enough just to affirm that this is true, but it’s essential to think of yourself as a theologian when you get involved in counseling. Not to just say so at certain times when you think about it, but to consciously constantly remember that as you are counseling, your theology is at work. Because if you don’t, in all of your thinking and all of your activities as a counselor, you’ll be acting a-theologically or worse still as that finally translates itself, you’ll be working as a poor theologian. It would be foolish to go on thinking or acting in any situation not realizing what was going on. It would lead to a radical eclecticism, which indeed is just what has happened in the Christian church.

Not that those of you who are preachers are eclectic in your preaching, because when you do preaching you think of yourself as a theologian. You think theologically. You say, “I must be sure that I don’t commit any theological errors,” and you say, “I must be sure that the doctrine that I teach is true Doctrine” and preaching and theology are always before your mind as you, preacher, prepare to preach. But it’s because you don’t see counseling as the other side of the ministry of the Word, the private ministry of the Word, which is just as much the ministry of the Word as preaching is. Because you don’t see it that way, because it hasn’t been taught that way, because we’ve been brainwashed not to think that way, we don’t associate theology that closely with our everyday activity at counseling as we do in our preaching, but we ought to. Because in Acts 20 Paul says that he ministered the Word not only publicly, but from house to house privately as well, but both were the same ministry of the same Word to the same kinds of people. When we start thinking that way, it’s going to make a lot of difference in the way that we counsel just as it makes a lot of difference in the way that we preach.

We don’t preach from The Book of Mormon. We don’t preach from the Quran. We say our preaching must be biblical. And that’s right. But you see, there are many of us who will counsel from Rogers or Skinner or somebody else, thinking that our counseling has to be as rigorously biblical because we don’t see it as theological activity the way we see preaching to be. You stay right with the Bible in your preaching, the Bible alone. But if you begin to see counseling that way, you’ve got to come to the same conclusion about that. Where does all this leave us? What you believe affects what you do, and what you do affects what you believe. So you need to know what you’re doing. You need to know what you’re believing. You need to know that you’re doing theology. You have to believe the doctrines of Scripture. You’ve got to get your thoughts and your action in counseling, both of them, in line with God’s Word.

Therefore, you have to take heed to what God says in Isaiah 55:7-9, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” We’re not going to fix them all straight. We can’t expect it. “Neither are your ways my ways.” What we do isn’t going to be right and we can’t expect it to be right. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” What’s the conclusion of it all? We’ll read a little bit earlier before He makes this statement. This is backing up something He’s told us to do. He is saying, “Get your thoughts and get your way in line with my thoughts and in line with my ways. Think my thoughts after me. Walk in my footsteps after me.” Where do we find God’s thoughts? Where do we learn His way? The Word is given to us. This is why we can’t settle for anything less than theology. Theology is learning God’s thoughts and ways so that we can think His thoughts after Him and walk as disciples of Jesus Christ following Him. Why settle for thoughts and ways that are no higher than our puny, flat earth?

Let’s pray. Lord, here we are in this tragic situation where the church has capitulated to the world. We see what’s behind it, we see that all over this globe there are people, Christian people, who have no idea that counseling has anything whatsoever to do with theology. Doctrines are the farthest thoughts from our minds as they try to change other people’s lives.

Lord, make us so conscious, so clear about this matter, so firm in our convictions about it that we’ll never even waiver on the issue. That we may be able not only to conform our counseling to the theology of your Word, that we may be able to help many people everywhere who are so confused about this. Give us a good conference, we pray. Lord, show us as we examine each particular doctrine that we will look at these days, and its implications for counseling and very practical ways, how theology really is embedded in the activity in which we are engaged. Help us to be glad that it is and to devote our time to your Word so that we may become good theologians, thinking your thoughts, and doing your things after you for Christ’s sake, amen.