Since beginning my formal course of training in biblical counseling about a year and a half ago, I have come to understand much better the process of what counselors call "total restructuring", the practice of "putting off" sinful behavior and thought processes (Eph. 4:22), and being enabled by the Holy Spirit to "put on" the new self - thoughts and practices which are pleasing to God (Eph. 4:24). It should go without saying that walking in obedience is not a one-time event as salvation is, but the way of life Christ expects and demands from His followers. (John Piper wrote an excellent book, "What Jesus Demands from the World", exegeting each one of His imperatives to believers.) Of course, there are those who would distinguish between what they term a "Pauline Christianity" and the Gospel, but this is a false dichotomy. Paul consistently preached Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
Jay Adams, the founder of the modern biblical counseling movement, does the same thing.
During my course of study with INS, the subject of so-called "Keswick sanctification" was covered and Dr. Adams explained what was wrong with it (he also terms it "quietism"). This philosophy is similar to the "let go and let God" bumper-sticker mentality that if we are simply "empty vessels" fully "yielded" to God, the Holy Spirit will achieve progressive sanctification on our behalf. In this pseudo-pietist formula, it is NOT considered spiritual, or even correct, to strive for our own holiness and sanctification. We are to remain completely passive. This erroneous view of Scripture struck a chord with me, as I had been exposed to it years earlier in a charismatic church. In fact, when reviewing my book manuscript, Martha Peace urged me to remove the words "yield" and "surrender" from the chapters on repentance - NOT because the terms don't occur in the Bible (they do;) but because of how they have become mis-used in the modern Church to promote a passive, almost mystical view of sanctification.
I have spent hours on the phone with Martha, scrutinizing the precision of my terminology when discussing heart change and love of God, the believer's responsibility to repent, and how to walk in obedience. I have spent many MORE hours viewing lectures of Dr. Adams and studying the requisite texts for a certificate in nouthetic counseling (from noutheteo,translated "admonish, correct or instruct;" see Romans 15:14). If I have learned nothing else from Dr. Adams, it is that we are to (and help our counselees learn to) honor and glorify God, whether we feel like it or not. Our motivation is NOT to please ourselves, but to please God. This is the only appropriate response to the One Who first condescended to love us sinners, and gave Himself up for us (Gal. 2:20).
True, inner heart change (conversion) is a work of God. We can do nothing to save ourselves (Eph. 3:23); it is entirely His doing - hence the term "monergism". However, the Bible is clear from Genesis to Revelation that God expects His people to obey Him. This is a synergistic effort (the Holy Spirit enables blood-bought disciples, and we are to "will and to work for His good pleasure"; Phil. 2:13). Justification (being declared righteous before God because of faith in His Son) will always result in increasing holiness and sanctification. Unfortunately, even within the biblical counseling movement, there is a school of thought which considers sanctification entirely a work of God (as if the believer need not practice discipline or "work" towards taking his or her own thoughts captive; put on self-control; etc.)
It is from this misunderstanding of the Scriptural teaching on sanctification that Dr. Adams has wrongly been called a "behaviorist". The term may more accurately be applied to secular psychiatrists who follow the Skinner theories of behavior modification - known more simply as "conditioning". Nowhere, in any of his more than 50 books, has Adams ever promoted the view that by changing one's outward behavior, one becomes acceptable to God. Nor is it accurate to say that a more disciplined lifestyle results in true holiness. In fact, Adams cautions against counseling non-Christians for this very reason: an unregenerate person may only move from one lifestyle that is displeasing to God to another, equally displeasing lifestyle (Heb. 11:6).
Part of the tendency on the part of his critics to misrepresent Adams' teaching comes, I believe, from taking citations out of context. Jay Adams is a man who has been teaching, preaching and writing for quite a few decades on more subjects than I could mention in a blog post. Three of the required texts for students of biblical counseling are "Competent to Counsel", "The Christian Counselor's Manual", and "More than Redemption" (the last one is a systematic theology text). These three books are around 400 pages EACH. In addition to these, there are many of his shorter, "summary" type books on specific subjects (forgiveness; hermaneutics; divorce and re-marriage) we are to read. It is both inaccurate and unfair to take (for example) a paragraph on what specific behaviors a counselee might take to overcome lust from page 402 of one of his books and treat it as if it were the only and final word Adams has written on the subject. By the time the reader arrives at Chapter 35 of CCM, Adams presumably takes it for granted the reader has read the first 34 chapters, AND perhaps CTC (which is a precursor to CCM). It should not be necessary for him to re-lay the groundwork of God's great love, conviction, confession of sin, heart-felt repentance and what may be going on in the counselee's heart that causes him to rebel against God each time he gives a counseling scenario.
Yesterday, in an entry by Dr. Adams called "Gospel Sanctification" on the Institutes's blog, a conversation ensued in which the usual arguments about "behaviorism" were dragged out. I had been planning to write about this issue anyway, since learning that some in the biblical counseling movement have been leaning towards a passive, "resting and feeding" faith* while omitting our responsibility to be co-laborers in our own spiritual growth. One nay-sayer wrote:
"Marie, from what I have read of Dr. Adams, he is a behaviorist/moralist. He teaches that changing the behavior is the way to change the heart. At least that’s what I read on the pages of Competent to Counsel. I was so shocked at what I read that I withdrew my application to a seminary that uses Dr Adams as its text. Check it for yourself."Of course, I HAVE read CTC for myself, as well as the books mentioned above and a great many more. What this straw-man argument fails to acknowledge is that Adams himself has written specifically and succinctly on the subject of progressive sanctification in a small, highly readable book, "Growing by Grace". At less than 100 pages, (I read it at McDonalds' PlayPlace last summer), it is a useful overview of what the Christian life should look like for anyone desiring to follow God. He discusses the New Birth and why it is necessary for any true, inner change; then goes on to describe how God enables His children to live lives "worthy of the calling" they have received (Eph. 4:1). This is a basic, fundamental calling of every believer throughout his/her entire life; it is not limited to those in the counseling room. Adams writes,
"When counselors help counselees to develop new biblical habits to replace old ones, for instance, they encourage them to ask God to change not only externals but also to change their hearts. Peter speaks of "hearts trained in greed" (II Peter 2:14). The heart is where the habit is.....The heart must be changed as the habit is; the habit will be changed as the heart is. The one cannot be divorced from the other. Holiness is first and foremost an inside job! To encourage counselees merely to change their outer behavior is to create hypocritical counselees and to make God out to be nothing more than a decorative God who superficially paints over the rotten wood beneath! The biblical counselor must stress prayer, the work of the Spirit, and the Word in enabling him to obey. God is an Interior Decorator."Big, fat 'Amen'! The insight that working on changing the behavior right alongside the heart is one that rings especially true for former addicts. More than once, I have received the question from young women with eating disorders, "When will God change my heart? Did you stop [bulimic behavior] after God changed your heart, or did it all happen at the same time?"
Teaching that deep reflection on the Cross and meditating on the sufferings of Christ is all that is needed to 'change our hearts' confuses and frustrates people stuck in life-dominating sin. YES, it is necessary. It is, after all, God's kindness which leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Without being broken over one's sin and staying in fellowship with the compassionate, gracious Savior Who loves us, no real change can occur in our hearts - nor, consequently, in our behavior. BUT, and this is the key difference, "preaching the Gospel to ourselves" doesn't stop with recognizing Christ's great love and our redemption. It continues - by recalling His command to "follow Me" (die to self-centered desires) and "go and sin no more".
A simple, common-sense application of this heart+disciplined action = change is as follows: I used to smoke cigarettes. Somewhere around 2002, as God was pricking my conscience over several long-standing sins, I began to feel convicted that God wanted me to stop smoking. I realized that when under stress or angry, I would "stuff" my angry thoughts and feelings by using this habit; that it was unhealthy and therefore in violation of 1 Cor. 6:19; and that since cigarettes had now hit $5.00/pack in Massachusetts, it was poor stewardship. I decided to quit.
I prayed about it. I "shared my feelings" with the Lord. I re-affirmed His love for me from the pages of Scripture. I recognized that Christ had died on the Cross for me. But you know what else? I stopped going to the mini-market for Marlboros. I quit hanging around the designated smoke area out back at work, with my homegirls from the temp agency. I threw away my ashtray and lighter, and then....most significantly of all, I told my husband I wasn't going to smoke anymore. Ah...the accountability factor. Once you tell your husband or wife, it's written in stone.
I never lit another cigarette again.
Now, smoking may be a fairly benign example of this principle, but anyone can see how making changes in one's habitual behavior concurrently with the heart change God brings about will lead to victory over a particular sin (or bad habit). So, is this 'behaviorism'? Let's let Dr. Adams himself answer that charge:
"Not if what he does is done out of love for God! One must have the inner desire to please God when out of duty he obeys a commandment that is not pleasant to obey. A housewife cleans the toilets not because she enjoys the chore but because she loves her family. A counselee may be called on to obey a command out of love for God and his neighbor, even when he does not look forward to the task itself. That is what must be stressed. The counselee must understand that in his inner person, he must not do anything God commands for brownie points; he must obey out of love."(Emphasis mine)
I truly hope that these illustrations and Dr. Adams' own words help any would-be critics understand progressive sanctification. This critically-important doctrine is one which biblical counselors strive to present from the pages of Scripture; not from feel-good, needs-based psychology. Insisting on obedience (as Christ Himself did repeatedly) by means of the Spirit is neither legalism nor 'behaviorism'. As one grows in his/her relationship with Christ, he/she naturally becomes increasingly conformed to His likeness (Romans 8:29). This is true "Gospel Sanctification", and is what Dr. Adams has preached from day one.
* See "The Journal of Modern Ministry", Vol. 8, Issue I.
Excerpts taken from "Growing by Grace", Dr. Jay Adams, published by Timeless Texts, 2003. Pgs. 92-93,