Thursday Review: David Powlison on Debates in Biblical Counselling

A review of David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, New Growth Press, 2010 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

The Biblical Counseling Movement is a republication of David Powlison’s PhD thesis with subsequent articles appended. Powlison is a counsellor and faculty member of CCEF, editor of The Journal of Biblical Counseling and the author of Seeing with New Eyes purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Speaking Truth in Love purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Theses do not often make good reading, but The Biblical Counseling Movement is a great primer for anyone interested in biblical counselling and its controversies.

Guest blogger, Jonny Woodrow, contributes a three-part review. Jonny is an NTI tutor and has a PhD in social psychology. He begins by looking at the strengths of Jay Adam’s nouthetic counselling.

Powlison documents the history of the nouthetic counselling movement with special attention to the inter-professional conflict among evangelical psychotherapists. Evangelical psychotherapists interacted with psychology, taking on insights from research and therapeutic practice. They became established as mainstream through institutions, publishing and accreditation systems. In contrast, the nouthetic counselling movement founded by Jay Adams set itself apart from psychotherapeutic methodology, theory and institutions. ‘Nouthetic counselling’ takes its name from the Greek word noutheteō which means ‘to rebuke’ or ‘to admonish’. It appealed to a ready-made constituency of Reformed evangelicals and so flourished as a break away movement until the 1980s. From the early 1980s the evangelical psychotherapy movement took off leaving nouthetic counselling as a crank voice within a particular fundamentalist corner of Reformed evangelicalism. In the 1990s there was a revival of interest in nouthetic counselling. One of the nouthetic counselling movement’s key institutions, the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation (CCEF), now enjoys wider influence. But this is as a result of addressing many of the criticisms directed at Jay Adam’s movement. Powlison outlines the key tenants of Adams theology and then organises the criticisms made by the evangelical psychotherapy movement on each point.

First, Adam’s was committed to the Bible as God’s manual for counselling. The Bible provided the correct categories for understanding humanity and the world. Second, he redefined problems with living in terms of moral choices we make. Problems with life were seen as expressions of sin. This relocated mental health issues and life struggles away from the mental health profession to the pastor’s jurisdiction. Third, since sin was the problem, Adams saw physiological problems and social issues as the context rather than the cause of mental health problems. Fourth, grace through the gospel was his prescription because sin was the underlying problem. Fifth, the proper context for treatment was the Church under a pastor. Sixth, Adams did not try to win over secular and integrationist psychologists. Instead, he tried to debunk them, undermining their theoretical support base. He has become infamous for writing polemical and abrasive critiques of psychological therapy that is not rooted in the Bible. Adams waged a jurisdictional war, carving out a new set of categories rooted in the Bible through which to approach mental health. He set up a rival set of institutions, publishers, and training courses.

In his next post Jonny outlines the critique of Adams by evangelical psychotherapists.
Bookmark and Share

5 thoughts on “Thursday Review: David Powlison on Debates in Biblical Counselling

  1. Pingback: Powlison talking about the history of biblical counselling « Tim Chester

  2. CCEF allowed my depression to go untreated for YEARS. I believe the Bible does have what we need HOWEVER we don’t need tell a cancer patient that they need to just read the Bible, be obedient and trust in God to get better. I can’t begin to explain how much pain I could have avoided if I had gotten proper treatment instead of condemnation from the CCEF counselors.

  3. Sadly, Melissa B, like many others creates a straw man by trying to parallel a psychological problem, with and physiological illness. This is not and apples for apples argument. There is still too much unknown about the cause of depression to support a genetic, organic, chemical imbalance theory. (Which comes first the chicken or the egg?).
    Depression for anyone is horrible but you can not blame CCEF for the poor outcome.

  4. Brian, my guess is that you are not an MD therefore unable to diagnose whether my “depression” is physiological or not. It is ‘opinions’ like yours being spouted to my parents that kept me from true treatment.

Comments are closed.