How Jay Adams Would Counsel a Pedophile

Part 1 in the Series: Competent to Examine Jay Adams and His Nouthetic Counseling

I have posted about “nouthetic counseling” (later rebranded to be called “Biblical counseling”) more than any other tagged topic on this blog.

But this series will examine Jay Adams’ writings themselves, drawing from the work of Valerie Jacobsen on her Facebook page, with her permission.

Because all Christians have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit and life experience and access to the findings of brain science, so all of us can be competent to examine Jay Adams’ teachings.

Jay Adams, founder of nouthetic counseling, later rebranded to be called “Biblical counseling”

Jay Adams, who died in November 2020, was so highly regarded in the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian world that his influence can hardly be overestimated.

Through his long and prolific life—over 100 books telling us we need no book for counseling other than the Bible—his teachings can be reduced to just a few points.

Primarily, this one:  almost every single non-physical problem a person has can be boiled down to a problem of personal sin. (He does make exceptions for brain injuries.)

The solution, then, to every problem of the soul or spirit—including such a variety of experiences as anxiety, depression, obsessions, compulsions,  dissociation, nightmares—and much, much more …

… the solution is to be found in repentance.

Then the way to grow in the Christian life is to determine to change, do prescribed homework, and practice particular habits.

Four simple steps in helping people change

Second Timothy 3:16 is the Scripture on which Adams ostensibly formed his entire counseling model. According to that, he says, there are four steps in helping people change.

    1. Teach them what is right (“doctrine”).
    2. Press for conviction (“reproof”).
    3. Correct them (“correction”).
    4. Discipline them in righteousness (“instruction in righteousness”).

That, according to Adams, is the simple four-phase path to helping people change in any way involving the soul or spirit.

Each of these steps is accomplished through application of the Scriptures and no other means. Adams scorns the “mystical” idea of “hearing from the Lord in our hearts.” (You can see from my “Beliefs behind the blog” page that I disagree with this.)

I agree, of course, that the Scriptures are profitable for these things, but I want to point out that the Bible does not claim that this is the one and only path to change in the lives of all individuals. (Again, this is elaborated on in my “Beliefs behind the blog” page.)

Trigger Warning: Casual attitude toward child sexual abuse

The example I’m looking at today is from his book How to Help People Change, originally published in 1986. The edition I’m using was published in 2010.

I’m diving into the middle of the book, because it has an especially notorious section in chapter 14, “The Use of the Scriptures in Conviction.”

On page 126, Adams says,

Let’s take an example [of counseling people from Scripture]. You have been counseling with Ted, a Christian, who tells you of his “overwhelming desire” to fondle little girls.

So let’s get this straight.

This is a pedophile. We’re talking about a pedophile. (One who claims to be a Christian??)

The more benign word “fondle” should really be replaced with the more accurate word “molest.”

This is the kind of thing that can have deep and lasting negative impact on little girls, though it’s evident here that Jay Adams has zero concern about that.

Adams goes on to say,

He claims that he cannot help it and that he has tried to stop, but this “desire, like a power greater than myself,” as he puts it, just takes over before he realizes what he has done.

Please note that Adams is describing ongoing criminal behavior.

What if Ted had said, “I have this constant urge to go to the park and find women who are jogging alone and rape them. I’m currently raping about two a week.”

Try to imagine Adams’ casual attitude toward this sin problem (and yes it is a sin problem, though it is also far more).

Adams responds by instructing the pastor/counselor to read or recite 1 Peter 4:1-2, telling Ted that,

“it is now possible to live the remainder of your time in the flesh no longer following human desires, but following the will of God.”

First Peter is Scripture, and it’s true for anyone who is in Christ Jesus. (That’s what the “now” refers to.)

But criminal behavior in which children are being harmed cannot simply be treated the way we would treat impatience or chain smoking.

Adams goes on to say (page 127),

[The Apostle] Peter’s words, when pressed, explained, and applied to Ted’s situation, put an end to his excuse making, convict him of sin, and bring him to repentance, including an eagerness to change.

Well that was easy.

Adams then tells the pastor to file this verse away to use when someone argues that they can’t change, to refute people like Ted who have these overwhelming urges.

If after this Ted still puts up an argument, the pastor is to say (p 127):

“Yes, I know your desire can be strong, especially when you have submitted to it for years.” [Emphasis mine.]

So now it is revealed that the pastor knows that Ted has been molesting little girls for years.

No problem, though. Let’s just keep working through the program.

“Perhaps you have tried to quit and failed,”

the pastor is instructed to say.

That is, Ted may have tried to quit molesting little girls just as a chain smoker may have tried to quit smoking.

Then the pastor is instructed to say the next appalling thing. In the context of how the Holy Spirit can help a person overcome sin, he is to say,

“Ted … there are many Christians just like you who have given up because they have failed in the past.” [Emphasis mine.]

Now, lest you forget, I’ll remind you once again that we’re talking here about a pedophile. One who sexually abuses little children for his own perverted pleasure.

A Christian pedophile, so Jay Adams tells us, assuming there is such a thing.

Jay Adams is normalizing pedophilia and treating it as if it will regularly be found in the Christian church in the body of Christ. Other Christians, he says, have failed to curb their perverted desires to molest little girls. They have given up and just keep on doing it.

He tells Ted it is a sin, to be sure, but he has no interest whatsoever in the impact of the abuse on the little girls he has been sexually abusing for years.

Ted sees the light

If Ted says he sees the error of his ways and says he wants to change, then we must assume he is to be forgiven and the sin is to be thought of no more (from Jay Adams’ other writings).

Perhaps in honor of his repentance he would then be promoted to a new leadership position, such as head of the children’s church. I have known this type of thing to be done in churches that practice nouthetic counseling.

If the pedophile resists the counsel

If on the other hand Ted is honest enough to express resistance to the idea of putting a stop to his molestation of little girls, then Adams has the next directive:

The counselor may wait a week or so to see if the Spirit will yet use the presentation of the Word that was given.

(“No, it didn’t work, pastor. I molested a few more little girls this week at the school where I work. Lost count.”)

The counselor will make it clear that counseling cannot continue until repentance takes place.

So when we have a confession that someone is committing criminal activity, endangering the lives of children, there is no mention of law enforcement. No mention of the fact that this activity is criminal. And no concern about the lives at risk.

Church discipline

Adams continues on page 129:

If at any length, there is continued refusal to acknowledge sin and repent, the counselor may have to institute the process of church discipline, in which one or two others (and eventually the whole church, if necessary), continue to bring relevant scriptural exhortation to bear upon the reluctant brother (see especially II Thess. 3:15). Throughout, he must be confronted with the Word in order to be brought to conviction.

Any thought about keeping him away from little girls?

No, not one mention of it. Doesn’t even cross the radar.

How much harm this one section of this one book has done through the years!

I ponder why Adams chose to use the example of a man who molests (“fondles”) little girls. If I didn’t know better, I might consider that this book was originally written in 1986 when these things were less understood. But indeed they were understood enough at that time by the secular world (which Adams spurned) for them to know this was a huge problem. (And besides that, the edition I’m working from was published in 2010.)

As I ponder it, I consider that Adams has most likely counseled men with a similar sin problem, and this is how he counseled them.

I wonder how it turned out.

I wonder if any of the women are still around who were “little girls” when the pedophile Adams counseled—or any of the pedophiles Adams’ thousands of disciples counseled—was abusing them. I wonder if any of them would give testimony about how it worked out for them.

The repentance

On page 133 Adams says,

[L]et me make it clear that conviction must not become a morbid, drawn-out exercise in introspection. The idea is not to make the counselee sweat it out. There are people in the church who have revived the notion of some Puritans that people must repent of their sins over long periods of time. No such thing is in view. The discussion should continue until the conviction has been carried out, no longer. When a counselee acknowledges that he has sinned, makes no excuses for his sin, is sorry and seeks God’s forgiveness, counseling must move on.

That is, counseling would move on to the next stages, correction and instruction in righteousness. Adams adds on page 134,

God …  tells us to look for the fruit of repentance in a changed lifestyle.

I would have thought that the fruit of repentance would include Ted’s willingness to turn himself into law enforcement and name all his victims so they can be properly helped and he can make restitution.

But this is not part of the picture for Jay Adams. In his teachings he makes quite plain that what he means is a particular list that he suggests and the counselor lays out: things like church attendance, Scripture memorization, and completing the counselor’s assigned homework.

Who is the real hypocrite?

On page 134 Adams writes,

[T]here are those whose consciences have been dulled, perhaps even “seared” by lies, hypocrisy, and a failure to listen to truth. Such people must be confronted about that dullness itself and the scriptural need for change must be freshly pressed upon them. Sometimes, however, the only thing that restores life to the deadened nerve cells of a seared conscience is the threat or actual pursuit of church discipline. Some people must be “taught by discipline” (1 Tim 1:20). That is unfortunate, but for their sakes, as well as for the purity of the church and the Name of Christ, such persons must be excommunicated if all else fails. [Emphasis mine.]

Now, I can’t tell you how firmly I agree with this. All Scripture points to this, and I would draw our attention especially to Hebrews 12:15, which tells us that the “bitter root” (the sociopathic abuser) is to be cast out of the church. (More about that at this blog post, in my first Untwisting Scriptures book, and in this conference talk.)

However, I do want to point out that those whose consciences have been dulled, even seared, those who fail to listen to the truth, may be absolute masters of hypocrisy.

Adams assumes that the pastor-counselor will recognize the hypocrisy, but I know for a fact that they often don’t.

So, what has happened, notoriously, in those who follow Jay Adams’ teachings?

Not just once, but hundreds and perhaps even thousands of times?

First, let’s consider this scenario:

A man comes to the pastor for help because he molests little girls.

Because his wife found out.

She is utterly distraught, beside herself, doesn’t know what to do, in a moment of boldness tells him to move out of the house, tells him he can’t come back until he gets help, and assumes the pastor knows the answers and will help him appropriately.

The pedophile “sees the light” and “repents” (and secretly vows to become better at hiding his predilection).

The pastor is convinced that all is well and is elated to have such an eager new counselee.

And since he uses Jay Adams’ book How to Help People Change, it never even crosses his mind to go to law enforcement or try to find the little girls who have been harmed and tell their parents. (What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?)

The tables are turned

The wife, however, is afraid to let her husband back in the home. After all it was her own young daughter and her daughter’s friend that she found her husband molesting.

Suddenly then, to her shock, she finds that the tables have been turned.

“You must be confronted about your lack of forgiveness for this brother who has repented,” the elders tell her. “You are trying to act like a Christian but you are failing to listen to the truth. This means you’re living in hypocrisy and need to be church disciplined. If you don’t repent and let him back into the home, we’ll have to excommunicate you.”

The wife wonders, “How did I get to be the wrongdoer here?”

In Jay-Adams-following churches, the details may vary, but the basic scenario has been the same. The criminally abusive husband gains favored status by jumping through the designated hoops. The wife who wants to protect her children and herself—unless she allows him back in the home without mentioning his sin again—will find herself facing the possibility of losing almost every person in her life.

Is this the kind of counseling Jesus would have us do?

Or is this kind of counseling actually coming from the father of lies?

You will know them by their fruit. And not simply the “fruit” that is produced in the public image. But the fruit that is growing behind the scenes, in the dark.

*****

I have heard many stories from those who have experienced nouthetic counseling and from those who have been trained in it. I appreciate further commentary here regarding similar scenarios, as we expose the dark underbelly of nouthetic (“Biblical”) counseling.

*****

Edited to add: I’ve received questions from a couple of people about whether or not Ted, the pedophile in question here, was actually acting out on his desires, or was successfully struggling against them when he came in for counseling.

I replied to one of those below (another by email), but since that reply to this important question may be missed in all the many comments,  I’m copying my reply below here:

Regarding the possibility that Adams was describing simply the *desire* to molest rather than the actual act, I could be wrong, but this paragraph leads me to believe that’s not what Adams was talking about:

He claims that he cannot help it and that he has tried to stop, but this “desire, like a power greater than myself,” as he puts it, just takes over before he realizes what he has done.

Also this:

“Yes, I know your desire can be strong, especially when you have submitted to it for years.”

I would ask, what does it mean to submit to a desire except to carry out the action that the desire is pushing you toward?

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Quietrunner
Quietrunner
20 days ago

Oh my…i shudder to think of the horrific stories that might come forth … how true AND IMPORTANT exposing this terribly damaging counsel is‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️‼️

Valerie Jacobsen
Valerie Jacobsen
20 days ago

Thank you so much for doing this, Rebecca.

Nouthetic counseling is very big on the belief that a counselee who does all the homework is a repentant counselee.

We can see an example of this in a letter that Doug Wilson (who uses nouthetic counseling and follows Jay Adams) wrote to a judge on behalf of an admitted serial pedophile, who had numerous child victims in at least three states and perpetrated *extreme* levels of abuse against children as young as two.

This pastor and nouthetic counselor wrote to Judge Stegner, in part–
“Not only have I provided counsel for him, but have also given him a number of assignments to complete during the time between our sessions. He has been faithful and diligent in seeking to do what I have asked, and I have good reason to believe that he has been very eager in this. It is important to note that I have not offered him any spiritual panacea or ‘quick fix,’ and I believe Steven understands the importance of his need to resist these temptations over the long haul. The assignments I have given him have included the reading of books on everything from the obvious issues of sex and sexuality, to the underlying issues of his discontent. In all this, Steven has been most responsive, and has been completely honest with me.”

This is incredibly naive. What it is, really, is an invitation from the nouthetic counselor to the person running a very successful long-term criminal enterprise, “Please, manipulate me.”

The whole corpus of Jay Adams’ work tells criminals in the church that there is an easy-peasy way to get around all that pesky justice out in the world. Just tell the counselor what the counselor wants to hear, and you’ll be good to continue just as before.

And if the same things happen all over again two, three, five, or ten years later? Just rinse and repeat. The criminal takes up the nouthetic counselor’s EAGER INVITATION to be manipulated and used, and more victims pay the price, because the model says that each new offense is approached as if no old offenses ever happened.

Oh, and btw. The victim’s responsibility in this? If the perpetrator says sorry, don’t bring it up, and never tell anyone. And do the mental work of denial–this is explicitly demanded–to come to a point where there is actually no more memory of the crime committed. Only bad, sinful victims go on through life remembering that a crime was even committed.

Rachel E Nichols
Rachel E Nichols
20 days ago

Wow. Client confidentiality should not apply if the client is thinking of hurting someone. That’s a legal reason to spill the beans. Studied psychological counseling in college.

Nadia
Nadia
Reply to  Rachel E Nichols
20 days ago

Yes, however, confidentiality in nouthetic and Biblical counseling seems reserved for the offender. Yet in those same settings, the victims don’t get confidentiality. Having a licensed counselor on staff at a church seems to just be a way for church leadership to access information that would be confidential in any other setting.

Ginny Barker
Ginny Barker
Reply to  Rachel E Nichols
20 days ago

Biblical counselors are often not licensed by the state and therefore do not have the appropriate professional standards and safeguards in place.

Sherry
Sherry
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
17 days ago

In many states, clergy are mandated reporters. When not specified, they fall under “any persons” with knowledge of abuse. There is no excuse for not reporting abuse. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/manda.pdf

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Nadia
Nadia
20 days ago

I encourage those who read this to read through to the end as the last section is particularly significant as it highlights a part of this cycle that is often overlooked.
Also, for those who would say that their church or religious group does not follow Jay Adams’ approach, then what exactly is your approach?
The greatest harm I and my children have endured came from a church who claimed to have a better approach. They claimed that they make reports to the police, DSS, and other legal entities when there were allegations of abuse. They claimed to always consult with the local sexual trauma center for help. They claimed that their counseling program was better as they included a licensed counselor on their counseling team. Each of those claims was true, but only in part.
In particular, they claimed not to be “nouthetic” and instead, they were “biblical.” “Biblical” counseling, however, is just better packaging for the same solution. In the end, it is horribly destructive to victims and enabling and protective to offenders.
If I could pick ONE thing that has the most power to drive people away from God, it would be nouthetic and/or biblical counseling. It is incredibly destructive. The second would trying to keep counseling in-house within a church, particularly when abuse is the issue. That puts even licensed counselors in a terrible position where they have to choose between overlook abuse or risking their jobs.

Nadia
Nadia
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
20 days ago

When I have heard the term “biblical counseling,” it seemed to be referencing a specific style of counseling. I first encountered the term after nouthetic counseling started to become exposed as abusive and harmful. It seemed that many just shifted to new terminology with a little bit of a better slant to try to re-market nouthetic counseling.
I know of many people, however, who love God and who use the Bible to offer comfort, kindness, compassion, and hope.

Ginny Barker
Ginny Barker
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
20 days ago

It seems that, in many (but not all) cases, Biblical counseling is a kinder, gentler form of nouthetic counseling. Whereas nouthetic counseling seems to view EVERYTHING as willful, personal sin, I have seen teaching in the Biblical counseling world that acknowledges suffering and the damage done by the sins of others. I think there can be good Biblical counselors but they HAVE to get additional training in the areas of human development, trauma, abuse, addiction, and abnormal psychology to be able to adequately care for their clients. I have rarely seen a curriculum in a Biblical counseling program that seems remotely comprehensive enough to address a wide variety of human experiences.

Ginny Barker
Ginny Barker
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
20 days ago

Oh, yes. Absolutely. It still treats all problems as strictly spiritual problems which can be a tremendous burden on those suffering.

Julie Zepnick
Julie Zepnick
Reply to  Nadia
20 days ago

Yes, it’s all about submission until it’s about them submitting to the actual authorities. Then submission doesn’t apply. They put themselves above the law. I was reprimanded for going to the police IN FRONT OF MY HUSBAND after he left a handprint bruise on me. I was told “even if he hits you upside the head, don’t go to the police, come to us.”

But, you know, they have it in their policies to involve authorities so we are all good.

Megan Sweede
Megan Sweede
20 days ago

SO!! MUCH!! TRUTH!!
As a victim of domestic violence and neuthetic counseling I can tell you this is EXACTLY what happens!! The pastor goes before the court and attempts (often successfully) to minimize or dismiss criminal charges because of the great success of their counseling.
The victim is continually put in harms way and it is insisted that she NOT go to the authorities for help because that would be choosing a humanistic approach and not trusting God. The counselor ABSOLUTELY does not understand the manipulation that is going on by the abuser to get his life back the way he likes it and how the abuser is using the counselor to push the abused wife to not only never bring up any incident in the past (bitterness) but to let her unchanged abuser move home. The abuser revels in watching the further abuse of his wife while walking free of repercussions of his actions. 

Grief-stricken mom
Grief-stricken mom
Reply to  Megan Sweede
19 days ago

Not only that, but the Christian wife is taught that anything outside the church is BAD. She is taught to be suspicious of the worldly Children’s Aid (Child Protective Services) and of any kind of social worker outside the church. So she submits to the church leaders and biblical counselors because after all, they are God’s children, and they are the wise ones.

Sandi Joy
20 days ago

This is such an important series. Thank you, Rebecca (and Valerie), for taking it on.
Many, many years ago, I was trained in Nouthetic counseling. I believe it can be so damaging. A sin I have definitely repented from (using their model) is hurting people I cared about with this narrow, unskilled, and uninformed kind of “counseling.”
I have been the recipient of it as well and felt gaslighted, silenced, unheard, and further traumatized because of it.
Five years ago, I began the “no-no” journey of licensed professional counseling for trauma. Oh. My. Word. What a difference! My faith community taught me that it was of the world and evil. Yet, it has
transformed my life and strengthened my faith. Imagine! I look forward to reading the rest of your series. Thank you again!

Julie Zepnick
Julie Zepnick
Reply to  Sandi Joy
20 days ago

I could have written the first part of this myself!

Shelley Mills
Shelley Mills
20 days ago

Rebeca, Thank you for your stand on Biblical Counselling. I went for biblical counselling in the past. It is criminal that “Christians” view sexual abuse so relaxed, like it is “Normal” . It has infiltrated in the Church Culture.

Tamara Church
Tamara Church
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
19 days ago

Wish this was accountability within ACBC but they themselves enable and perpetuate the abuse and bolster the reputation of the abusive leaders and the abuser! More to come!

Sherry
Sherry
20 days ago

I’ve never heard of Jay Adams but am very familiar with this type of teaching. It was I, at 16 years old, who was told that I had a ‘seared conscience’ because I refused to associate with my abuser. After all, he’d been to counseling and “only liked little girls”. I was given stacks of detailed documentation of the “help” he’d received to prove to me that the “matter” was properly handled. And yet, I who suffered at his hand my entire childhood, never received a day of counseling, was never told it wasn’t my fault (in fact was told not to ‘tempt him’), charges were never brought against him and his family made sure dad was ‘comfortable’ until he died. Only once was I told that my father didn’t believe that my abuser was repentant, but even that was brushed off because my sin of unforgiveness out trumped anything my abuser did or did not do. The only conversations about my abuse were arguments about how wrong I was. My parents liked to call these ‘explanations’.

Jenn R
Jenn R
Reply to  Sherry
20 days ago

I’m so sorry you were treated that way!

Sherry
Sherry
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
18 days ago

Thank you. I tell my story in small doses where I find opportunity and feel it’s appropriate. Especially in instances like this blog post where I can be a witness for what this teaching does to a person.

I know my experiences have value to others either to learn from when their experiences were different, or to find community when they’re fighting the same fight. The abuse itself forever changes who you are and that is so crippling and frustrating. There is not any part of my life left untouched by my experiences.

You’re right, when a survivor is met with demonic teaching such as this, it is truly miraculous if that person does not leave the faith entirely. Only by the grace of God have I not walked away, but I rarely attend church. I hope as healing continues my future will be able to include corporate worship. I believe it will. But it is a long and terrifying road. I have a small group of Christian friends on Twitter who I learn from, who are not part of the denomination of my past, and who are, for the time being, my church. I have found it to be a comfortable and yet challenging way to stay in touch with fellow believers, to grow in my faith and to learn who God truly is.

HealingInHim
HealingInHim
20 days ago

“The wife wonders, “How did I get to be the wrongdoer here?”

“—will find herself facing the possibility of losing almost every person in her life.”

Such a good article. Look forward to the series. In my quest to be an obedient wife and most importantly to be following the Scriptures faithfully it took a long time before I discovered ministries that helped me untwist the Scriptures.

The man I married is a quiet, passive abuser, however, the local women’s shelter advised me that those are often the most dangerous as you never know what will set them off. 🙁

And sadly, I have lost my adult children to ‘him’. God is not their source of wisdom or love.

I apologize for the long comment but I can’t believe how this is still affecting me?

Grief-stricken mom
Grief-stricken mom
Reply to  HealingInHim
19 days ago

The man I was married to for nearly 45 years was a quiet, passive abuser, too. I was the one who was feisty and furious when he abused my children. I also strove to be an obedient wife and a godly Christian, and because of that I was willing to put up with neglect and abuse for decades. I thought I was protecting my family, but my staying has left permanent scars. I’ve lost most of my children, and this will affect me the rest of my life.

Dee
Dee
20 days ago

Rebecca, Thank you for your insight and truth to this type of counseling.
I was told when my ex “repented” that “time tells truth” which I learned to watch snd wait as he had more than one revelations of his abuse.
So thankful you are speaking out against false counseling, and exposing these wolves just keep putting in sheep’s clothing and the church so desperately wanting to celebrate a soul repented.

Danielle
Danielle
20 days ago

I wonder if we aren’t seeing the w
fall out from this type of counseling within the Sovereign Grace churches sexual abuse disaster. I’m not sure if they subscribe to the biblical counseling model. It’s worth looking into.

Thank you for putting together this series. I look forward to reading more. Having been trained in biblical counseling, I appreciate the critiques and cautions. I’ve learned so much by listening to other perspectives. They’ve helped me to sort through my own faulty thinking, as well as personal hurts from the movement.

TS00
TS00
20 days ago

These are difficult but necessary discussions to have, because this type of counseling remains common, particularly in Reformed churches. Even without having participated, many of us were exposed to the principles of nouthetic counseling on Focus on the Family or other such christian thought shaping sites.

First and foremost, it needs to be understood that true repentance does not involve freedom from consequences. It is one thing to repent of drinking too much alcohol, whether the party genuinely turns from his addiction or continues. It is another to repent of an active crime against another human being. Although, in reality, both are dangerous, as the harm from alcoholism continues, albeit to the one counseled.

However, if the ‘sin’ being dealt with involves a crime against another, the harm done and future risk of all victims and other potential victims cannot be ignored. If a man has committed murder, rape or child abuse – or any other crime – this must always be reported to the authorities. If victims are known, or can be determined, contact must be attempted to provide any needed assistance in recovery.

Crime can NEVER be dismissed. Genuine repentance means not only openly confessing the crime, but suffering the necessary legal consequences and, where possible, making restitution.

And, as suggested, the crime is only multiplied when the victim is compelled to ‘forgive’ and often even continue in a relationship with her abuser. When, as in my relative’s case, the abuser – a close relative – is caught and goes to jail, what happens when he is released and one is expected to invite him back into the family circle? He has ‘paid his dues’, even though, after initial confession, he later denied all wrongdoing and never apologized to his victims or the entire family. And he was a retired pastor. Nothing was ever done to see how many victims likely remain unknown from decades of access to trusting children.

The church simply does not know how to handle such criminals, repentant or not. By practicing a naive form of ‘forgiveness’ they often perpetuate abuse, and multiply the suffering of the victims.

You will likely receive condemnation for opening this discussion, Rebecca, but it needs to be done. Not only to bring healing to the many who have suffered at the hands of ‘Biblical counseling’ but to shine the light brightly upon dangerous, harmful practices that continue to this day. Thank you. And my heart goes out to all who suffered from this evil ministry. May they find comfort, healing and peace.

Last edited 20 days ago by TS00
Valerie Wolff
Valerie Wolff
20 days ago

I will never forget the little girl I was counseling many years ago who was molested by her youth minister. She had great courage and testified in court. The pastor of the church (who was counseling the molester and his family) appeared in court along with other members of the church community showed up in court – all in support of the molester. Ugh. The court prevailed and the molester was sent to prison.

Sam Powell
20 days ago

This is so bad. Thank you for exposing it. I was trained in the nouthetic counseling model. The damage is immense. Most of the stories I can’t tell because they aren’t mine. But it is as bad as you describe, and worse in many cases.

Julie Zepnick
Julie Zepnick
20 days ago

I was ACBC certified myself and in an abusive marriage. I formally complained to ACBC after parents (I was counseling the mom) were arrested for child abuse and charged with multiple counts each of child abuse and neglect with intent to cause great bodily harm. I knew the girl had been locked in her room with the door tied shut with a rope. My ACBC certified pastor kept telling me not to call CPS. I was a new counselor and as a member their covenant, I was expected to obey him. Obviously I now realize my responsibility to report regardless here, which I did when I left the church. I wept hysterically when I saw the news article about their arrest. ACBC got their lawyer(s) involved and they basically said I was the one at fault and “we thought you would want to know this for discreetness moving forward”. (How’s that for a threat?) This church was also an ACBC training center! There’s been no humility, no remorse, just image control on the part of the church and ACBC. These men want all the “authority” with no accountability or responsibility.

Jennifer Grant
Jennifer Grant
20 days ago

I personally think that this terribly naive and destructive “counseling” as well as other misguided church practices occur because we believers desperately want Jesus and the Bible to ” work.” In other words, how could it be that a supposedly godly person has a dark side? And why wouldn’t Jesus and the Bible be able to quickly heal the dark side? It’s painful for us to admit a lack of transformation and sanctification. But we must, and seek God to discover why we are more powerless over sin than we care to admit. And also we must address that there are those in the church who are just playing along; they have never been truly born again; they are living still out of their sinful nature.
By the way, is it possible that the Jay Adams quotes are based on a desire to molest but not the actual act? Still terrible counsel…and terribly dangerous.

Julie Zepnick
Julie Zepnick
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
20 days ago

Even if he wasn’t physically acting out this desire, which it sounds like he was to me too, shouldn’t there still have been safety measures put in place?? I wouldn’t want a man with this kind of strong desire around my daughter. There was no mention of this in the book.

Ginny Barker
Ginny Barker
20 days ago

I first became familiar with Jay Adams in the late 80s when I worked for a Christian organization. A coworker was a big fan of his and I will never forget how appalled at the teachings she had absorbed (Postpartum depression is a sin? Really?). Years later we were in a church where, best I can tell, the pastor totally took Adams’ teachings to heart and it did so much damage, not only to those he counseled, but also to us who looked on, knowing how our struggles would be understood and handled. Adams’ ideas also spread throughout the church and the leadership a distrust in anything connected to psychology or emotions. Much of the leadership had the view that counseling was unnecessary as long as you listened to a good sermon.

There was the belief that the “right” theology fixed everything and there seemed to be no interest whatsoever in understanding issues that came up, such a domestic abuse, sexual abuse, depression, etc. After all, Jay Adams says that the scriptures made them “competent to counsel.” Who needs more?

It was the classic toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance: ignorance of the complexities of life, of suffering, and the impact they have on mind, body and soul, and the arrogance that because they know theology they can and should (because of their “authority”) be able to address any issue with a few Bible verses and some admonition….that ignorance and arrogance left so many people bloodied and bruised and crawling out the back door, including me.

Tamara Church
Tamara Church
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
19 days ago

And WILLFUL!!!

Helen
Helen
20 days ago

There are so many aspects to Adams’ scenario that are being overlooked by the counselor.

The girls he is molesting: Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done it unto Me. Whoever causes these little ones to stumble, it would be better if a millstone were tied around his neck and he be cast into the sea.

If the little one is his own child, he is worse than an unbeliever.

His wife: He has broken his vows, his covenant with her. He is an adulterer.

The pastor: His duty before God and man is to act justly and in protection of the sheep. “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness… to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6-12). That’s the IF part; here’s the THEN part: “Your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer.”

They call it “biblical” counseling but it ignores so very much scripture.
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Tamara Church
Tamara Church
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
19 days ago

As u said cherry picks!! What about God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble!??

Grief-stricken mom
Grief-stricken mom
19 days ago

“In hundreds of Jay-Adams-following churches, the details may vary, but the basic scenario is the same. The criminally abusive husband gains favored status by jumping through the designated hoops. The wife who wants to protect her children and herself—unless she allows him back in the home without mentioning his sin again—will find herself facing the possibility of losing almost every person in her life.”

This is true. Add to this the horrific teaching of the permanence of marriage. It would be a sin for her to divorce, because God hates divorce, and she made her bed and must lie in it. In fact, she is bringing glory to God through her patient suffering. She feels trapped but constantly seeks to die to self in order to be a good Christian. She prays and prays and prays for her husband’s salvation, for her children to be safe. She is vigilant and sets down rules meant to protect, and she projects her own shame and sorrow onto her pedophile husband, figuring he must be so very ashamed and trapped in his sin. She is required by the NANC certified Biblical Counselor to think of ways she can put up barriers in order to help her husband. It’s all on her…she is completely responsible. The counselor has repeatedly told her to look at her own sin…that the problem is always in her heart. She repents again and again, not realizing that sin-leveling is from the pit of hell.

Helen
Helen
Reply to  Grief-stricken mom
19 days ago

Dear Grief-stricken mom,

I sorrow with you. You and your family were handled in a most destructive way. The counselors are culpable, accessories to crimes committed by the abusers. God sees and He is just.

May God give you and your children comfort and healing, and restore fellowship among you.

NGal
NGal
19 days ago

There is another kind of Christian councelling / prayer ministry: the type where the counsellor / minister claims to hear revelations from the Lord and find reasons behind their ‘clients’ issues. It doesn’t matter if the ‘victim’ agrees or not, since the one with a ‘prophetic gift’ has decided something, that is the absolute truth, and trying to disagree or deny is considered rebellion.
I know horror stories of such treatment sessions, and I have been in the receiving end of them. When someone is weak and in need of support, they aren’t always in the mental and emotional state to stand against and be on guard against the ‘ministry’ and its effects… When you expect to get encouragement and instead get a whole barrel of accusations and reasons why you’re in the predicament you’re in, it can be a totally numbing and shocking event.

In my country, most churches are not against secular & professional therapy and councelling… the situation being that many Christians go to psychoanalysis for years, keep on digging and re-digging the same childhood issues (which don’t get any better or easier when the time goes by), obediently take psych meds in order to survive, without having any change or feeling better.
That isn’t the solution either…

The only lasting and life-giving solution I know is God Himself, His love and miraculous intervention (whether day by day, or suddenly..)..
Since I don’t have any councillor I would trust to give me comfort or insight for the events of the past few years, the positive side has been that I’m learning to be my own – asking God and myself what kind of wise advice I would need and want to hear from someone, and then telling it myself. At least, that way I am not exposing myself to fruitless repeat of painful issues and endlessly rehearsed cliches.

NGal
NGal
Reply to  Rebecca Davis
17 days ago

The common denominator in all these abusive patterns is… lack of compassion.

It’s surprising how similarly some staunchly anti-Charismatic and ultra-Charismatic groups often react towards people who suffer, and go through hardships.

As has been mentioned in this blog before (and other sites): If someone has been through trauma, it’s easily explained either as
1) the person’s own fault, or sin or lack of faith;

.. in which case, there is no need for support…

OR,
2) God’s training lesson / sanctification for some glorious future and ministry, in which case, again, no help or compassion is necessary..

It’s really really twisted.

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13 days ago

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Survivor
Survivor
2 days ago

I am speaking as a survivor of abuse within a conservative church where the former pastor was trained in nouthetic counseling and trained others (including the current pastor) in the same.

I am also speaking as a survivor who, after experiencing the dark side of nouthetic counseling (the side that tries to cover everything “for the glory of God” and silences the victim), has sought counsel from an ACBC certified counselor.

The first experience was one of extreme pain, double abuse, deception, PTSD enhancing condemnation, shame, punishments, and an experience I would call a “holy” terror.

The second experience has been an experience of healing, genuine care, help, answers, and compassion.

Both claim to represent “Biblical counseling”, but only one represents Jesus’ definition of biblical counseling. The first still haunts me. The second still helps me. The first harmed me. The second is ministering healing to my soul.

I say that to say this… Not every biblical counselor out there is a villain, the same as not every psychotherapist is a hero. I recently came in contact with a secular therapist who was verbally abusing and berating their own children when they did not know I was listening, then acted as though they were an angel when I approached.

To the survivor… Do your research on the individual you will speak with as well as on the method. Don’t simply accept the title. I cannot emphasize this enough as a fellow survivor.