The 50 years between publishing Competent to Counsel in 1970 and meeting Jesus face-to-fact in 2020 doubtless had many ups and downs. I can only imagine that periodically, Dr. Adams had to wonder, “How much influence will my life’s work have?” I hope it was satisfying for Dr. Adams to realize that because of his faithfulness, even Christians practitioners who do not embrace Nouthetic Counseling as their methodology, were moved to become biblical in their work because of his labors.
Two pivotal figures who shaped the modern biblical counseling movement have passed away in the last 16 months. In June of 2019 David Powlison passed away. Now, this pass weekend on November 14th, Jay Adams also died. I cannot think of two individuals who have shaped the discipline of biblical counseling more than these two. When David passed, I had the opportunity write of his life and legacy for The Journal of Biblical Counseling. I would like to do the same for Jay Adams here.
I never had the privilege of meeting Jay Adams in person, therefore, his influence on my ministry has been through his writings. For any of my readers who are not familiar with Dr. Adams, he is commonly referred to as “The Father of the Modern Biblical Counseling Movement.” His first major book, Competent to Counsel, and forming the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC; now called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, ACBC) sparked what is currently called biblical counseling. You can read a brief biography of Jay Adams here.
Opinions regarding Dr. Adams are held almost as strongly as he held his own convictions. People who profoundly shape a discipline, such as Christian counseling, are rarely viewed as neutral figures. Debates regarding the strengths and weaknesses of biblical counseling can wait. This is not the time for them. Here I would like to reflect on some of the standout qualities that Jay Adams exemplified and the life lessons that emerge from them.
Jay Adams Spoke to Pastors
If you ask the question, “Who was Jay Adams’ primary audience?” the broad answer would be the church and the narrow answer would be pastors. Jay Adams wanted to call the church back to confidence in the Bible by enriching how pastors did counseling. The influence of Jay Adams’ life and work can be attributed to how effectively he appealed to pastors. He knew and loved his audience.
A life lesson from the biography of Jay Adams would be, if you want to have a significant impact with the great idea that God has laid on your life, know your audience and learn to speak to that audience well. If you read one of Dr. Adams’ books, you will understand it better if you realize his primary audience is pastors. He wrote as a pastor making an appeal for the Bible. This meant his books translated naturally to the sermon and the pastor’s study where counseling occurs. Dr. Adams wanted to bring greater congruence to the public and private ministry of the Word.
Jay Adams Had the Courage of His Convictions
Jay Adams was no Monday Morning Quarterback, rehearsing what should have been done differently after-the-fact. Jay Adams knew what he was working towards; namely, greater confidence amongst God’s people for the practical effectiveness of the Bible to speak to the breadth of life’s challenges. Whenever he saw an opportunity to advance this cause, he took it. Whenever he saw what he believed was a compromise in this cause, he called it out.
Another life lesson from the biography of Jay Adams would be, good ideas without courage amount to little. Change is hard. It is hard personally (counseling) and hard professionally (refining a discipline like Christian counseling). Silence and passivity fuel the status quo. Action and words towards change, even needed change, are likely to be met with resistance. Therefore, to experience change requires courage.