Jay Adams (January 30th 1929 – November 14th 2020)

Whether or not you have heard the name, Jay Adams is probably one of the most significant influences on your life, especially if you are within the Reformed Tradition. A prolific author, he wrote on preaching and teaching (Truth Applied and Preaching with purpose), where he heavily pushed a focus on identifying the main point within a sermon and the need to ensure that application permeates through the whole talk.  He also wrote from a complementarian perspective on “Christian Living in the Home.”

However, it was as the founder of the Biblical Counselling Movement that Adams gave most of his time and energy.  If you have found people like Paul David Tripp, Timothy Lane, Ed Welch and David P0wlinson and Heath Lambert helpful, then these men stand on the shoulders of Adams.

When Jay Adams first started speaking and writing on the subject of counselling he was responding to a couple of trends which he perceived to be of concern.

  • An increasing dependency upon drug therapy leading to significant culture wide problems with addiction.
  • The loss of confidence of pastors and indeed of all church members to counsel and apply Biblical truth to one another’s lives.
  • The creation of an alternatively “priestly caste” of counsellors who Adams considered to have pitched their tanks equally on the lawns of pastors and of medical doctors.

So, Adams argued for counselling that was Biblically based with an emphasis on diagnosing the route cause in terms of sin. The aim then of Christian counselling (known as nouthetic counselling) was to confront believers (Adams did not believe you counselled unbelievers) with the truth of their sinful condition leading to repentance and restoration. He believed that this would lead to a reversal of the drug and therapy epidemic and that Christians would discover one another body ministry as they realised that they were “Competent to Counsel” and “Ready to Restore.”

Critics considered Adams’ approach to at times tend towards legalism and whilst he was suspicious of secular theories, there was a concern that his approach owed as much to Behaviourism as to Biblical exposition.  Adams’ methodology with Scripture to learn and homework to complete fits within the same school as CBT.  

The next generation of Biblical Counsellors developed and nuanced the approach. Adams’ view seemed to be that mental health issues arose directly from the sin of the sufferer, either because they were directly in sin themselves or because they responded to circumstances in sinful ways.  Contemporary Biblical counsellors recognise that the client may be both sinner and sinned against.

As a pioneer for a new approach, it should be no surprise then that there are aspects of Adams’ Nouthetic counselling that require at least nuancing if not a full on challenge. However, I believe that he contributed significantly to our thinking as we seek to look after those within our care. 

We can be thankful to Adams for

  • A reminder of the damage that sin causes to lives
  • A renewed focus on the responsibility of the whole church family for one another
  • A refreshed confidence in God’s Word  and its usefulness for all aspects of life.

Today we have much to be grateful to Jay Adams for and we may rejoice that a faithful servant is at home with his saviour.

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