Biblical Counseling Reviews of Dr. Jay Adams, Dr. David Powlison, Dr. Heath Lambert, Dr. John Street, Dr. Jim Newheiser, Dr. Paul Tripp, and Pastor Randy Patten reveals that the best examples of biblical counseling done by some of the foremost leaders of the biblical counseling movement (BCM) have grave biblical errors. We have repeatedly said that the undoing of the biblical counseling movement does not primarily come from their teachings, but from their practices and presentations of actual counseling when examined with the Bible. This book is an exposé of what seven of the recognized leaders and teachers of biblical counseling actually do in counseling and why believers should shun their counseling conversations.
In 1985 Moody Press published our book titled How to Counsel from Scripture.2 At that time we were an active part of the biblical counseling movement. However, after discovering what those in the biblical counseling movement were actually doing during their counseling, we departed from the movement. That was many years ago! At the time we asked Moody Press to put the book out of print, because we could no longer recommend it in the various ways it supported the BCM.
As we looked more deeply into the movement we could see that it incorporated the same kinds of sin-saturated conversations as the psychological counseling movement. To explain our concerns and the reasons for departing from the BCM, we wrote Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible.3
Since then we have extensively written material revealing that the literal counseling conducted by the leaders of the BCM fails when examined biblically. The chapters in this book expose the veiled truth that the leaders of the three generations of biblical counselors are in biblical error as they have imbibed from the polluted streams of psychological counseling in their integration, eclecticism, and pragmatism.
There is some excellent biblical material in the various biblical counseling manuals, books, and certificate and degree programs. However, we repeat: the major undoing of the biblical counseling movement is found in their literal counseling and case studies. It is their Achilles heel! The good biblical material is undone by their live counseling, which reveals what they actually do. However, many of the cases they describe in their writings lack the real conversations and dialogues that typically go on in biblical counseling.
There are thousands of biblical counseling books, videos, and audios, but not many have literal cases with detailed dialogue. The best way to recognize the unbiblical nature of biblical counseling is to read or hear and evaluate available literal, live (not simply playacted) counseling by using biblical standards. There one can see and hear how the counseling problems are discussed and what sinful conversations are actually involved. They are similar to psychological counseling in that they are heavily problem-centered in the most unbiblical ways and often involve sinful speaking.
In this book we critically review what the leaders of the BCM actually do in their counseling to demonstrate that what they do is definitely and decisively NOT entirely biblical! The chapter on Adams, who founded the movement, and the chapters on other recognized leaders who followed him will show how unbiblical they truly are as they actually counsel individuals.
Dr. Jay Adams
The Institute for Nouthetic Studies states that “Dr. Adams is the founder of the modern biblical counseling movement and is the author of the groundbreaking book Competent to Counsel. He is also the founder of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies (INS), the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), and the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF).”4 Adams has written over one hundred books, which have been translated into sixteen different languages.
In his book Competent to Counsel, Adams reveals that he worked one summer under Dr. O Hobart Mowrer, who was a research professor of psychology. Adams says:
During the summer of 1965 we worked in two state mental institutions, one at Kankakee, Illinois, and the other at Galesburg, Illinois. In these two mental institutions, we conducted group therapy with Mowrer for seven hours a day. Along with five others, I flew with him, drove with him, ate with him five days a week. I learned much during that time, and while today I certainly would not classify myself as a member of Mowrer’s school, I feel that the summer program was a turning point in my thinking.5 (Bold added.)
The turning point in Adams’s thinking resulted in the adaptation of the psychological counseling model in which sinful, problem-centered conversations become the means of cure. Adams’s psychological counseling model then became the gold standard for all the biblical counseling that followed.
Mowrer was a behaviorist and past president of the American Psychological Association, and his counseling conversations influenced Adams both in content and orientation. Adams’s pre- and post-Mowrer experiences led him to retrofit psychological problem-centered counseling conversations, which depended on data gathering, prying, and probing, which provoke sinful speaking, into what he named “nouthetic counseling.”
The sinful content of biblical counseling arises from Adams’s exposure to the kind of counseling that calls for transparency. Self-exposure during counseling has become a psychotherapeutic necessity. Adams’s use of the psychological format of transparency came out of what he experienced with O. Hobart Mowrer in 1965. The 1960s saw the rise of the encounter movement based on theories and techniques of group dynamics.
The encounter movement, as experienced by Adams under Mowrer, was a huge leap into the public undressing of persons in front of as many others as happen to be in the group. One of the basic assumptions of most encounter groups is that it is emotionally beneficial to be totally transparent and open. In other words, “let it all hang out,” meaning to be completely candid and straightforward, saying whatever you want and condemning whomever you wish, without any need to prove anything.
Transparency leads to deceptive feelings of intimacy, especially when the sharing majors on personal struggles with temptations and behaviors the Bible would label as sin. Such exposure can be very enticing with its focus on self. It is like a big story-telling session all about me, myself, and I and everyone else involved in my life. Sharing biased stories engenders emotional involvement in group, family, couple, and individual therapy. The therapeutic necessity of sharing personal sins and the “sins” of others is the foundation on which the sinful conversations of counseling rest, where self is center and sinful speaking of others is accepted and expected.
Learning the techniques for encouraging transparency in encounter groups influenced Adams’s thinking. Thus, for Adams, self-exposure became a therapeutic absolute in the formation of his nouthetic counseling and set the gold standard for biblical counseling from Competent to Counsel in 1970 to this day. The biblical counseling movement (BCM) is predicated on Adams’s gold standard of transparency and most all counselors today follow this same sin-saturated method of counseling.
Because of the problem-centered conversations of both psychological and biblical counseling, the counselor will ask numerous questions to find out what the problems are and then ask further probing questions for clarification and detail. Considering that counselors direct the counseling conversations through their questions, they are truly the instigators and enablers of the resulting sinful communication. That does not excuse the participating counselees who are ready and eager to speak their minds (generally filled with sinful thoughts when one considers what is said).
Biblical counselors precipitate the sinful expressions of Jeremiah 17:9 as they probe for problems, dig for details, and thereby conduct counselees into sinning with their tongues in violation of many biblical prescriptions, proscriptions, admonitions, expectations, and warnings.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10.)
Jeremiah 17:9 hearts contaminate problem-centered counseling as counselees are given free rein to talk about the sins of others not present, including unsubstantiated talebearing and hearsay, without being restricted, contradicted, or investigated. Because counseling is considered confidential, counselees may naturally skew their stories, which are generally filled with much unsubstantiated self-bias, gossip, and hearsay. In addition, the counselor’s flesh may also be activated in a number of ways, particularly in the pride of being the wise one to counsel the needy one in the one-up/one-down counseling environment.6
Not only can counselors be self-deceived as far as their own importance in the lives of fellow believers, but these seven counselors are sinning dreadfully by permitting and enabling others to sin through their speaking. These counselors not only precipitate sinful communication through questions that elicit evil speaking; but they also provide a private place and an ear to hear corrupt conversations as they continue to pry and probe. Perhaps they would say that the end justifies the means, but when does God ask us to sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1)?
Words are powerful and revealing. James describes the power of words in the human tongue:
If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body…. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell…. But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:2b, 6, 8.)
Words can carry great destructive power. A few unkind words can ignite a battle between persons, groups, and countries. Words can be poison to the soul, both of the speaker and hearer. The fire kindled by the tongue can start with a spark of talebearing, which can lead to misunderstanding, ill feelings, acrimony, animosity, bitterness, and the destroying of other people’s privacy to the point of growing into a wildfire.
However, Bible verses that warn about the danger of the tongue were never used by the seven counselors to curb a counselee’s communication during these counseling sessions. Neither did these seven counselors take the biblical responsibility to protect their counselees from violating biblical restraints on the tongue.
How important is our conversation with one another? The Bible has much to say about how individuals are to communicate with each other. Jesus Himself taught about the serious significance of words:
But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Mat. 12:35-37.)
When people describe their problems as being communication problems, they are talking about talk—conversation—both speaking and listening. We are living in a day of unrestrained talk, much motivated by hurt feelings, anger, frustration, self-protection, victim-mentality, and various sinful responses to circumstances and people. One book criticizes Americans as being A Nation of Victims7 and another book documents A Narcissism Epidemic8 running amok in the nation. How grievous to see how much of this is going on in much of the biblical counseling being practiced and promoted today.
The sinful heart of Jeremiah 17:9 can erupt in all forms corrupt communication that is sinful, depraved, evil, contaminating, harmful, obscene, or offensive and that would devalue another person. The Bible says: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). However, such corrupt communication is a crucial component in the counseling of the seven significant leaders of the biblical counseling movement.
Counseling is full of sinful, self-biased conversations when the natural man speaks from a deceptive heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The counseling environment will free the counselee to justify self, put self’s desires and so-called needs high on the priority list, and distort truth, directly or indirectly. People generally do not think of themselves as being part of the reason for their interpersonal problems. Many directly or indirectly deny their own penchant for sin and overlook actual sins they have committed.
However, the Bible says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).Therefore, there is much sinful self-deception in the counseling room, to the degree that the counselor will be hearing slanted tales. One has to wonder how counselors can really know what is truly going on with all the deception and self-deception on the part of both the counselees and the counselors. In fact, the more counselors dig for details, the more misinformation they will be receiving.
Such sin-saturated conversations did not originate from Scripture or from sound biblical teaching. They came from the sinful conversations of the psychological counseling movement as counselors followed the lead of Adams, who set the gold standard, which others followed. Instead of fully replacing the worldly, sinful, secular models and methods of psychological counseling, the leaders of the biblical counseling movement simply retrofitted the pattern of their conversations into their so-called biblical replacement. Then as many of the leaders of the biblical counseling movement recycled conversations from the polluted behavioristic, psychoanalytic, humanistic, and family systems streams of counseling psychology, they picked up the practices of sinful secular talk from these various psychotherapies. Reading the seven counselor reviews in the book should make it apparent that, because of the many sinful conversations that occur in both psychological and biblical counseling, Christians should not be participants or practitioners in either one.
We have written a number of books that describe what can be done in the local church by those who are members of the local fellowship.9 The local church is the place for preaching, teaching, and pastoral care for the edification of all believers, under the authority of the foundation laid by Scripture and as given by Jesus Christ. As believers mature in the faith, they are equipped for mutual care of one another.
All truly biblical ministry builds up the Body of Christ through preaching, teaching, evangelizing, and caring for one another through mutual encouragement, instruction, admonition, confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration, consolation, and comfort, as believers remind one another of all that Christ has accomplished for them.
When the goal is to edify, there is no room for corrupt communication, evil speaking, gossip, blame, or expressions of bitterness, unbiblical anger, or malice within pastoral or mutual care in the Body of Christ, as they occur in the biblical counseling movement. All would be done to glorify God and nurture the spiritual growth of believers into the image of Christ, rather than glorifying the counselor and nurturing the flesh.
The End of Biblical Counseling will come when the church returns to its high calling of evangelizing, preaching, teaching, and living the doctrines of the cross and the new life in Christ; when believers are learning to walk according to the spirit rather than the flesh; and when mutual care in the Body of Christ thrives. We pray that those believers who have a heart for personal ministry, who desire to strengthen fellow believers in their faith as they are struggling with the difficulties and trials of life, will give heed to these serious faults that impede rather than inspire spiritual growth. We further pray that those Christians who are psychotherapists will realize that they are in even greater biblical jeopardy than the biblical counselors.
1 Excerpted from Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Biblical Counseling Reviews. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 2018, available at amazon.com.
2 Martin & Deidre Bobgan. How to Counsel from Scripture. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985.
3 Martin & Deidre Bobgan. Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers, 1994, available at amazon.com.
4 Institute for Nouthetic Studies, http://www.nouthetic.org/.
5 Jay E. Adams. Competent to Counsel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1970, p. xv.
6 Bobgan, Against “Biblical Counseling”: For the Bible, op. cit. p. 87.
7 Charles J. Sykes. A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
8 Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York: Free Press, 2009, 2010.
9 Martin and Deidre Bobgan. Christ-Centered Ministry (2003); Competent to Minister: The Biblical Care of Souls (1996); Person to Person Ministry (2009); Stop Counseli
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, November-December 2018, Vol. 26, No.6)