Book Review: The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams

The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams
Heath Lambert
Crossway; 170 pages

9781433528132In 1970, Jay Adams wrote Competent to Counsel. This book began what has come to be called the Biblical Counseling Movement. The name of the movement seems innocent enough, but it does not mean it came without controversy. (Imagine the response of those using other methods. Are you suggesting we aren’t Biblical?) Adams was–in some ways–forging a new path. Both Adams pioneering work and his pioneering spirit certainly created mixed reviews!

I have not read everything by Adams (his bibliography extends to over 100 works) but I have read several of his “classics.” While I don’t agree with everything Adams teaches, I do find may of his works helpful and practical fruit of believing in the sufficiency of Scripture. From the time I was introduced to Nouthetic counseling, through the training classes I took, I found myself growing in my understanding that the Scriptures say a great deal about how God’s people can counsel one another.

However, every once in a while, Adams would say something that caused me to scratch my head. More often, it was what Adams didn’t state, or neglected to elaborate upon which was most curious. I often felt like Adams was right, but there must be more that could be said. But when I read “Finally Free,” I found myself quite encouraged, not just by the counsel toward fighting porn, but by the approach as well. It was fully Biblical, even Nouthetic, yet it also seemed to be more. I wanted to understand more about Lambert’s approach, so I picked up The Biblical Counseling Movement after Adams.

Lambert begins the book by explaining that Adams’ approach was not completely new, but it was a return to convictions that had been abandoned. Lambert carefully walks the reader through events that caused Biblical counseling to fall out of the norm (even the Civil War!), and then traces through Adams’ steps toward returning to the ancient approach. His approach allows the reader to see that Adams is not creating a counseling method “ex nihilo,” yet he had very few contemporaries to bounce things off of, or be sharpened by. Lambert’s retelling of the movement causes one to sympathize with the disadvantages Adams faced without presenting Adams as faultless or perfectly innocent. In fact, his retelling of the past makes it obvious that the work was–and still is–in need of advancement. Lambert lays out the advancements in four categories:

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Think about Counseling
Lambert does a fair job of explaining why Adams so emphasized the sinful actions of the counselee. In many ways, Adams was swimming against a current that placed responsibility anywhere but on the one seeking counsel. However, Lambert shows that as the movement has advanced, it has recognized the need to discuss suffering and motivations. The Scriptures offer much (particularly the Psalms) for a believer seeking to faithfully address his suffering caused by living in a sin cursed world. The entire discussion of idols likewise provides a counselor a host of Scriptures to speak toward motivations within the life of a counselee. In fact, Lambert concludes the book with the exhortation that there is much more work to be done in understanding the nature of idolatry.

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Do Counseling
Adams put a high premium on professionalism. This is understandable as he was seeking credibility for the Biblical counseling movement. However, as the movement has advanced, there is more of an emphasis on letting the gospel fuel our methodology. There is a great emphasis on being part of the family of God, of acknowledging the sinfulness of the counselor, of bringing compassion and focusing on the person and not just the sin.

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Talk about Counseling
Possibly the most informing section for me, Lambert provides a lot of history into the discussion that Adams had with other counselors. Lambert is willing to show that many of Adams interactions with other Christian counselors were bombastic and rather caustic. Interestingly however, he also shows evidence that Adams was quite winsome and gentle when speaking to nonbelievers. Lambert suggests that most of the discussions about Biblical counseling are happening among biblical counselors. If the movement is to advance, and perhaps even recruit others, we must do a better job of speaking to brothers and sisters who use differing counseling methods.

Advances in How Biblical Counselors Think about the Bible
In this chapter, Lambert actually points out that the differences aren’t as extreme as many interpret. Some have wrongly concluded that more recent Biblical counselors are less committed to the sufficiency of Scripture. Others have also suggested that Adams was not as gospel-centered as current writers. Lambert points out that language may change and the approach may sound slightly different, but the movement is still the same at its core. Adams was committed to the gospel, and quotations can be found throughout his writings, even if they seem brief and without elaboration. Likewise, the “new generation” is just as committed to the sufficiency of Scripture as Adams. The movement continues to advance and grow, but it remains true to its initial core.

I was seriously impressed with how Lambert handled the discussion. He takes a realistic look at Adams. He does not present him as perfect or superhuman. He presents the origin of Biblical counseling; warts and all. But he also presents the movement in such a gospel informed way that honors Adams. There is no element of looking down at Jay Adams, nor is there any attitude that we have moved beyond him. Lambert seems to have done an excellent job at assessing the movement as a whole, and points ahead to future development.

At the beginning of the first chapter, Lambert states, “This is not a book about counseling. Even though you might be tempted to think it is a book about counseling, it is really a book about ministry.” Therefore, if you’re tempted to turn away from such a book because “counseling isn’t my thing,” I’d encourage you to give it a second look. If you care about the souls of people, you will benefit from reading this book.

Perhaps you are already a part of the Biblical Counseling Movement (as am I). I think you will benefit and be encouraged by reading this book. I know my ministry has already been sharpened by reading from Lambert’s account.

And if you do not agree with the Biblical Counseling Movement, I really wish you’d read this book. As a Biblical Counselor, I find I’m regularly fighting against stereotypes and caricatures that aren’t accurate. Please read the book to see how the movement has advanced…and prayerfully consider joining us!

I look forward to reading more works by Heath Lambert in the future, and am excited about his leadership with ACBC.

About dannywright2

every day growing older, but not necessarily wiser
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