I first read Jay Adams’ landmark work Competent to Counsel in 1990, 20 years after it was first published. At that time, I was an investment banker serving as a lay youth worker in a growing Southern Baptist church, and Adams opened my eyes to a ministry that I had never before considered. Three years later, I was in full-time counseling ministry and working on two masters degrees. Adams had taught me and many others that I was competent to counsel from Scripture, but the seminary I attended firmly believed that biblical counseling was inadequate unless the Scriptures were integrated with psychology. I graduated from my masters program firmly convinced that I could only practice biblical counseling as a pastor in a church, so I spent the bulk of the next 20 years in both the public ministry of the Word (preaching and teaching) and the personal ministry of the Word (biblical counseling) as a youth pastor, teaching pastor and church planter. But in those 20 years, winds of change were blowing in the biblical counseling movement through the work of second and third generation leaders such as John Bettler, Robert Cheong, Howard Eyrich, Mike Emlet, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Brad Hambrick, John Henderson, Laura Hendrickson, Bob Kellemen, Heath Lambert, Jeremy Lelek, Lee Lewis, Randy Patten, David Powlison, Deepak Reju, Michael Snetzer, Paul David Tripp, Ed Welch, Mike Wilkerson, Steve Viars, and others who have refined and advanced Adams’ seminal work. Because of the work of these men and women, I now practice the personal face-to-face ministry of the Word known as biblical counseling.
One of those leaders, Heath Lambert of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has chronicled the growth of the biblical counseling movement since Jay Adams in a new book, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Crossway). In his book, Lambert traces the history of the movement since its birth with Adams and describes three areas of advancement that have occurred:
- advances in how biblical counselors think about counseling (understanding the counselee as both sinner and sufferer and moving from an outward focus on behavior to an inward focus on motivation),
- advances in how biblical counselors do counseling (a more biblical understanding of the counseling relationship), and
- advances in how biblical counselors talk about counseling (advances in apologetic engagement with those who, like my seminary professors, believe in the integration of psychology and christian counseling).
Lambert is also clear to point out that, while advancements in the above areas have occurred, “no principal disagreement exists” between the more traditional biblical counselors and the more progressive biblical counselors with regard to the sufficiency of Scripture “and the relevance of outside information for the counseling task.” Lambert maintains that Adams was gospel-centered before gospel-centered was cool, and that the only differences between the second and third generation biblical counselors and Adams are “differences of emphasis, tone and application.” I would argue that Lambert downplays the significances of these types of differences, especially for those of us who are reformed in our theology, but would nonetheless agree that all the second and third generation biblical counselors are unified with Adams in their unmitigated belief in the sufficiency of Scripture and the insufficiency of all other approaches to the care of the soul.
Mindful that further advancement is necessary, Lambert suggests that biblical counseling could benefit by elaborating on our biblical theology of motivation. While noting that David Powlison’s “idols of the heart” language “has been both enlightening and important,” Lambert warns that, “biblically, idols do not exist in and of themselves but instead are concrete manifestations of every human’s deep-seated desire for self-exaltation.” Therefore, Lambert suggests that the movement articulate a theology of motivation that views heart idolatry as itself a symptom of a much deeper, more complex, reality – the prideful, self-exalting human heart.
I am thankful for both Adams’ initial work in Competent to Counsel that helped me see the need for biblical soul care practitioners and for the work of the second and third generation leaders who have expanded upon his work and helped me see biblical counseling through clearer lenses. And I am thankful for Heath Lambert for tracing the growth of the movement and helping to chart the way forward. The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams will be a helpful resource for biblical counselors, pastors, and lay persons who, like me, desire to become increasingly competent to counsel.
For further insight into Dr. Lambert’s background, I invite you to watch him share his testimony in chapel at Boyce College.
[Disclosure of Material Connection: Crossway sent me a free review copy of this book. I was not asked to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]