Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected.

He teaches that all mental illness and every counseling situation is, at its heart, either a sin problem or a difficulty understanding or living out biblical truth. The answer is always the same: Bring the truth of the Bible to bear on a situation, help the counselee to see that truth, and encourage them to start living it.

The Nouthetic counselor believes if the counselee does this, the mental illness will be cured.

I completely disagree. Mental illness has dozens of causes, many of which we have not yet fully discovered. Here is my difficulty with the premise that the Bible can solve all mental illness: Even the Bible says it is not the answer book for all of life’s problems. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, its primary purpose is to train people in righteous living, theological knowledge, and the understanding of God. It never claimed to be an expert on all other subjects.

Christians have practiced using the Bible as the only authority on all subjects for a number of reasons. A primary reason is to control others through manipulative interpretations of the Bible, causing this Book to say things it doesn’t say about subjects it makes only passing reference to.

Therefore, for Nouthetic Counseling to state that the Bible can solve all mental illness is beyond what the Bible itself lays claim to.

During this next month, I am going to review the book “Competent to Counsel” chapter by chapter. Admittedly, this is a harshly critical review. I do not like anything about Nouthetic Counseling, and I have seen it hurt the lives of many people. I will share some of those testimonies. If the Nouthetic group does not like my analysis, they can do their own.

Here is my take on the Introduction of the Book.


It is important to establish Jay Adams’ credentials to speak on the issues of counseling, psychology and psychiatry. What are his bona fides?

He took a course in Pastoral Counseling in his first undergraduate degree. He took a few more in his Masters degree in Theology. In addition, he spent a summer internship helping out Hobart Mowrer, author of “The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion”. Adams claims to have observed several group therapy sessions with Mowrer in state psychiatric hospitals in Illinois.

This 3-month internship was literally the complete extent of Jay Adam’s professional training in psychology at the time he wrote this book. And he spent it with a man whose work is especially critical of all things  related to psychotherapy. Dr. Mowrer is considered by most psychologists to be an outlier in the field of counseling, with little academic achievements to his credit to establish his theories.

To summarize, Adams has no background in Psychology, Psychiatry, or any related field. He did an internship for 3 months with a man whose work has never been proven by the scientific method.

Those are his credentials for claiming to be able to tell the world how all mental illness can be cured. To be fair, he is proud of not having any background in psychology. Here is how he puts it in the Introduction:

“My conclusions in this book are not based on scientific findings.”

and

“I do not wish to disregard science, but rather I welcome it as a useful adjunct for the purposes of illustrating, filling in generalizations with specifics, and challenging wrong human interpretations of Scripture, thereby forcing the student to restudy the Scriptures.”

In other words, Science is only good for stories, better naming of things, and as examples for stupid ideas that conflict with the Bible.

In the Introduction, Adams lays out his primary problem with psychiatry. (Note: He doesn’t understand psychology and lumps psychology and psychiatry together as if they speak with one voice). He contends that all psychiatry is Freudian or Rogerian (Sigmund Freud or Carl Rogers), and as such should be rejected because of their non-Christian belief system.

In the introduction, he rejects Mowrer as well because he is not a Christian and then, startlingly, William Glasser.

Glasser was a very strong Christian and espoused a biblical worldview. I have no idea why Adams would lump him in, except Glasser was not an Evangelical. Actually, that is probably why he felt he was not a Christian.

He took one course in psychology. He learned about Freud’s and Rogers’ theories and concluded:

“I found it ludicrous to nod and grunt acceptingly in detachment without offering biblical directives. I decided I was wasting valuable time.”

Later in the Introduction, he continues,

“I found myself asking, “Is much of what is called mental illness, illness at all?” This question arose primarily from noticing that while the Bible describes homosexuality and drunkenness as sin, most of the mental health literature calls them sicknesses or diseases…could the books be wrong in similarly misclassifying other problems like depression, or neurosis or psychosis as sickness?”

Adams is teaching right up front that there is no such thing as mental illness. All mental illness is really just sin. A person sinned and that is why they’re depressed. A person sins and that is why they hear voices in their head. A person sinned and that is why they stay up for 7 straight days with manic episodes.

Though in this introduction, and indeed in the entire book, Adams gives no real evidentiary proof that his methods work, he claims they are true by virtue of his ability to read the Bible and find counseling advice inside of it. He wonders in several places why everyone has not found this to be true. He attributes the church’s lack of bible use in counseling to its adherence to the demonic secularism attacking the church.

In this introduction, Adams creates an convenient Straw Dog and then tries to tear it down. The Straw Dog is the idea that the “Medical Model” of mental illness is accepted by all of psychology and has been proven by the Bible to be wrong.

First, even in 1970 when he wrote “Competent to Counsel” the majority of psychologists did not believe all mental illness was a disease. Though some certainly did, many more non-psychologists taught it. Take for instance the field of addiction. The idea that alcoholism was a disease comes from Alcoholics Anonymous, not psychology.

Since 1970, the majority of psychologists have a nuanced view of illness as it relates to mental difficulties. Therein lies the strength of the Scientific Method. Science is not always right. But at its core, Science is always re-examining its beliefs and principles, challenging them to see if they can stand up to scrutiny. The hypotheses that cannot stand are discarded for better ideas. Psychology is always doing that. Theology lacks that feature and thus remains relatively static.

But in seeking to tear this Straw Dog down, Adams says that the Bible is the proof that no problems exist apart from sin.  Adams is claiming that all problems can be reduced to just a simple formula–with attending simple solutions. He states it very clearly:

“From my protracted involvement [note: 3 months of internship…that is his protracted involvement] with the inmates of the mental institutions at Kankakee and Galesburg, I was convinced that most of them were there, as I said, not because they were sick, but because they were sinful. In counseling sessions, we discovered with astonishing consistency that the main problems people were having were of their own making.”

If he thinks he came up with that observation, I have to object strenuously. This is one of the biggest contentions of psychiatry and psychology since its inception: All people are responsible for what they believe. It is the cornerstone of all memory re-processing therapies, EMDR, Choice Theory and dozens of other therapies.

Adams shows his complete ignorance of the field of psychology right from the start.

It only gets worse as one goes through the book.

Book Review: “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”

In the 90s, I attended a conference at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. The speaker was one of the translators of the NIV, and I had the privilege of sharing a meal with him. I told him I had two New Testament translation questions for him if he had the time and the inclination. He was fine with answering those questions as long as we talked sports after.

But then he added, “And I will not address 1 Timothy 2”. Unfortunately, that chapter was one of my two questions. I actually had a three-parter: What does the word “authentein” mean (1 Tim. 2:12, often translated “to have authority”). I also wanted to know what “saved” meant in v. 15, and if “keep quiet” really implied women be silent in verse 11. Sadly, I was not about to find out any of those answers that day.

What I didn’t know was that same year a female professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Sharon Gritz, was publishing a book which would have given credible, plausible answers to all those questions–and many more. This book “Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess of Ephesus”, was given a limited distribution by University Press, a publisher of academic books, and so it was not read by many people and is very difficult to find.

As with many academic books, I find the best route is to use some version of Interlibrary loan. In California, this is called “Link Plus”. I received a copy of Dr. Gritz’ book from Biola University’s library and quickly devoured the contents.

For an academic book, this is highly readable and the central concept easy to understand. Yet, even with its accessibility, this is still an academic book. A good third of the book consists of endnotes and bibliography. As such, it joins all the other studies done on this famous second chapter of 1 Timothy. I doubt any chapter in the Bible has had more recent essays written about it than this one.

It examines the ancient church’s approach to how women were viewed and treated. 1 Timothy 2 seems to set limitations on the entire church about women’s behavior in public. Because of this, many people question whether it has any relevance today.

For those who view the admonitions and instructions of Paul as valid today, their focus in studying 1 Timothy 2 is on understanding the context and the content of this chapter. Dr. Gritz addresses these exegetical and cultural questions more than some. She especially focuses on verses 9-15 for this book. And what she discovers has powerful implications.

First, she takes the reader on a broad study of all the cultures of the Ancient Near East (ANE). She examines in detail how each culture viewed and treated women, and how the women of the ANE practiced religion. One of the interesting details she highlights is that Israel’s view of women was radically different in the era of the Kings/Chronicles than it later became after the Exile.

During the era of the Kings, women had much more freedom in society and often worshiped the goddesses of the Canaanite nations. In particular, Jewish women were enthralled with Asherah. Gritz postulates through her reading of many rabbinical sources that the exiles coming back from captivity to Jerusalem began to blame women for the fall of Jerusalem. They especially blamed the worship of Asherah and the inter-marriage with foreign women.

In seeking to be back in God’s favor, the men decided to exclude women from many of the worship processes which they had access to before the exile. Significant among these changes was the building of the Court of the Women. This court was built around the main part of the temple. Women could not actually enter the Temple proper at any time. Yet Gritz shows that back in Solomon’s era they did not exclude women from the Temple. This came later.

This book shows how the post-exilic nature of the Jewish attitude toward women affected certain churches in particular. She points out that only in Ephesus and Corinth did the women face restrictions regarding leadership and public speaking. In Galatians, Philippians, Romans, and the Book of Acts, women play prominent roles in leadership. Yet in Corinth and Ephesus, women were restricted from both speaking and leadership.

Gritz addresses this adequately. Corinth and Ephesus had two things in common. First, they were centers of the Jewish Diaspora. Large numbers of Jews worshiped in both cities. Though this is also true in Philippi and Thessalonica, it is clear those churches were mainly Gentile. But Ephesus and Corinth had many Jews in the local church.

The second factor in common with both Ephesus and Corinth was the emphasis on goddess worship. Though goddesses were worshiped elsewhere, in those places the goddesses were not more prominent than the gods. But this is not true of these cities. Gritz speculates that only in Ephesus and Corinth did Goddess worship become the central religion along side Gnosticism.

The author does a good job at documenting every speculation she makes. Perhaps her greatest addition to the weight of scholarship on 1 Timothy 2 is her understanding of the nature of the Artemis cult. Artemis of the Ephesians and her temple were the main tourist sights of Ephesus.

Much has been written about Artemis. Gritz maintains some of what is written is misleading. She believes too many scholars have not taken into account the blending of cultures which resulted in the creations of Artemis. She shows clearly that the Artemis of the Ephesians was markedly different than the Artemis of Northern Greece.

Her contention is that if one misses that point, 1 Timothy 2 gets muddled and confusing. She’s right, of course.

When Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus, the locals had to change their religious allegiances. Greek culture was forced on them. But like many of the peoples whom the Greek conquered, they were syncretistic with their adaptation.

The Ephesians already worshiped a goddess. Her name was Sybele, and she was a goddess of fertility and sensuality. The worship of Sybele involved prostitution, orgies, and sacrifices. In addition, Sybele worshipers would work themselves up into frenzied states through the use of hallucinogens and alcohol. The more established priestesses could maintain emotional heights through dance and sexual dramas. Most temple priestesses of Sybele became ritual prostitutes.

When the Greeks took over, they imposed Artemis worship over top of Sybele worship. The result though did not look like the Greek version. The Greek Artemis (or Diana) was aloof, virgin, and sedate. Her worshipers were more Stoic and subdued. The worship of Artemis in Northern Greece was more inclined to be intellectual and ritualistic. When Greek Artemis met Ephesian Sybele, they formed an interesting symbiosis. They became Artemis of the Ephesians, an aloof Huntress who liked sex and music.

Her acolytes were the same. Some of them had polite social clubs. Others danced and partied into the night. Many members of both groups would have made their way into the church. Gritz describes how that must have looked and how the Jewish men in the church would have reacted to it. Paul, who at one time had been the pastor of this church, knew that some regulations should be established.

The book goes then into a detailed description of the passage and examines all the key words in detail. Others have done a better job of this. I commend the book “Exegetical Fallacies in Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15″ by Rebecca Groothuis and Ronald Pierce for a much better approach. Their conclusions are more skilled as well.

This is the biggest disappointment with Gritz’ book. After spending 200 pages showing how the Pauline rules on women speaking, teaching, and having leadership in church were probably specific to this church only, she then reverses herself and draws some conclusions for the modern church which no Egalitarian could accept.

I can only guess she did this because she wanted her work to be acceptable to the Southern Baptist Convention, of which she is a member.

Read this book for its wonderful scholarship then, and not for its last chapter of conclusions.