I rise today to share some urgent advice with students of biblical counseling. My target audience are those students especially who are studying in College or Seminary as well as those who are learning in a number of church-based training centers. You are involved in an important study which you will find to be life changing, not only for those to whom you will be ministering in the counseling room someday, but for your own life as well. Diligence in your studies now will produce fruit you are not yet able to envision.

My advice for you is simple, but urgent. If you will take my admonition to heart and embrace my counsel, your studies will be enriched exponentially. Those who will heed my advice will quickly recognize the wisdom of my exhortation and will be rewarded with a renewed vigor for their studies.

Now, you may think I am over promising and that there is no advice or instruction I could offer that could possibly live up to my hype. Trust me, I wish I were articulate enough to make my case even stronger. If you will implement my simple guidance here, the benefits you will reap will change the trajectory of your studies profoundly.

So, without further buildup, here it is. Students of biblical counseling, do this one thing—READ JAY ADAMS!

Now those readers who have been students of biblical counseling for some time are scratching their heads at this. They are thinking, “Donn, these are biblical counseling students you are addressing, of course they read Jay Adams. What are you talking about?”

If that was your reaction I fear I have bad news for you. Generally, young biblical counseling students today do not read Jay Adams—they read about Jay Adams. And sadly, what they read about Jay Adams, and often what they are told about Jay Adams, gives them no incentive to actually read Jay Adams.

I recently talked to a young man who had just graduated with a degree in biblical counseling from an otherwise fine Christian college. He confessed to me that he had never read a book written by Jay Adams. This past week one of our students sent me a link to a page describing a seminary course entitled Intro. To Biblical Counseling. I will not identify the Seminary other than to say I know it to be a fine school. The pastors I know who are graduates are well trained and number among the most effective pastors I know. But here is the course description:

An introduction to the basis of biblical counseling, covering topics such as the theological basis of discipleship/counseling, the definition of biblical counseling, the essentials for the discipler/counselor, a comparison of counseling philosophies, and the biblical view of change, guilt, and self-image. Also included are the key elements of the counseling process, handling one’s past and one’s attitude.

Textbooks Required:

Descriptions and Prescriptions, by Michael Emlet. New Growth Press.
The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams, by Heath Lambert. Crossway.
The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, by Jeremy Pierre. New Growth Press.
The Biblical Counseling Movement, by David Powlison. New Growth Press.
The Pastor and Counseling, by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju. Crossway. (ThM students only)
How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison. Crossway. (ThM students only)
Counseling One Another, by Paul Tautges. Shepherd Press. (ThM students only)

Textbooks Recommended:

A Theology of Biblical Counseling, by Heath Lambert. Zondervan.
Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically, by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson.
No Quick Fix, by Andrew Naselli. Lexham Press.
Seeing with New Eyes, by David Powlison. P&R Publishing.
Speaking the Truth in Love, by David Powlison. New Growth Press.
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, by Paul Tripp. P&R Publishing.

My purpose in reproducing this list is not to criticize these books (well, most of them anyway). There are many fine books listed which biblical counselors should eventually read. I would simply point out that each of these authors either studied under Dr. Adams himself, or one of his students. Most build on Jay’s foundation. Reading any of them without a familiarity with Adams’ work first hand is like building a house starting with the roof and working down.

Let me list just a few of the reasons students of biblical counseling should read Jay Adams.

  • Adams is clear. I have seen early manuscripts of a number of his books. They bleed with red ink where he has crossed out, revised, simplified, clarified, and otherwise amended his text. He has labored to be clear. Where a simple word will communicate well, he forsakes a complicated one. No one has ever had to “plough” through a Jay Adams book. In his books one will never encounter such words as “heretofore,” “aforementioned,” “advantageous,” “disseminate,” “deleterious,” or “promulgate.”
  • Adams is biblical. He begins with Scripture and leads his reader from the text to its logical application in the counseling room. He is one of the leading Greek scholars and Bible exegetes of his generation.
  • Adams is practical. He does not speak in abstractions. Reading Jay Adams will not only show you how Scripture intersects with life, you will learn by his example how to make the Bible live for those you counsel.
  • Adams is direct. You will not have to wade through a swamp of indecision and equivocation. You will encounter no “nuances” to consider.
  • Adams is provocative. Note that I did not say “combative.” His books will provoke deep thought, thought about issues you may have never encountered before—and issues you may have not wanted to think about.

Unless students actually read Adams for themselves they will know none of this. One of the required books in the list above paints an unflattering picture of the man and would give the student reason to avoid his books (see my review here).

“But Adams has written over 100 books in his lifetime. Which one(s) should I read first?”

Good question. Obviously his foundational books are must reads—Competent to Counsel, Christian Counselor’s Manual, Theology of Counseling. But let me urge you to consider three titles which are not as well know but will richly reward the biblical counselor’s investment of time and money—Committed to Craftsmanship in Biblical Counseling, Insight and Creativity in Christian Counseling, and The Grand Demonstration.

Biblical Counselor, do not be part of a generation who knew not Jay Adams. One hundred years from now our descendants will be reading and discussing Jay Adams in the same way that we read and discuss Spurgeon, Calvin, Machen, and C.S. Lewis today. Read Adams and profit from him now!

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