Jay E. Adams

By Ethan Berthiaume

I. Known For

Jay E. Adams is a reformed American Christian author who is best known for influential writings that helped found modern Biblical Counseling. He has written over 100 books, the most famous of which being Competent to Counsel. Jay Adams introduced the method of “nouthetic” counseling, which centers around conforming to scriptural principles for the purpose of spiritual growth. This method eventually became a movement which we know today as Biblical Counseling. Adams has been called a “father of Biblical Counseling” for his foundational influence on the methods and movements that shaped it (Powlison, 44).

II. Biography

Jay Adams was born to Joseph Edward and Anita Louise Adams in Baltimore, Maryland on January 30, 1929. He was married to Betty Jane Whitlock on June 23, 1952. They had four children: Holly, Todd, Clay, and Heather (“Jay E. Adams – Exodus Books”).

Jay became came to know Christ at the age of 15 after being gifted a copy of the New Testament by a friend. Adams became fascinated with God’s word, and he majored in Greek solely for the purpose of having an understanding what God’s word teaches (Adams, Ligonier Ministries).

Adams went on to study and receive formal theological and seminary training at several different schools. These include the Reformed Episcopal Seminary, John Hopkins University, Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary, Temple University School of Theology, and the University of Missouri. He then went on to pastor at several churches alongside the East Coast in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Adams began working as a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and eventually became the director of the Doctoral program at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Following this, he went on to plant churches in South Carolina, where he pastored until 1999 (“Jay E Adams, Ph. D.”).

Jay Adams first became interested in counseling early in his pastoral ministry after experiencing a difficult situation with the death of a man he failed to comfort in a difficult circumstance. After this, Adams asked the Lord to help him become effective in counseling ministry. While studying at the Temple University School of Theology, Adams took a course on psychological counseling. Here, he was discouraged by how foundationally speculative the methods were. Adams became more interested in the Biblical view of psychology while studying under Psychologist, O. Hobart Mowrer (1907-1982). Mowrer taught counseling techniques that integrated sin as an influence on mental health. While Adams did not entirely agree with all of Mowrer’s views, he became more fascinated with applying the Bible to the techniques of soul care. Adams continued to study and develop a model founded on Biblical principles known as “nouthetic counseling”. In 1970, he published his most famous work, Competent to Counsel, which argued that that all Christians can become fully equipped for the work and ministry of soul care if their methods were centered around biblical principles and views of man (Powlison, 35-45).

The publication of this book caused much controversy in the Christian community, as more and more pastors began to adopt Adam’s method of “nouthetic counseling” into their ministry. This movement eventually grew into what we now know today as Biblical Counseling (Powlison, 44).

Adams was honored at the first International Congress on Christian Counseling in 1988 in Atlanta as one of the three fathers of Christian Counseling, for his essential influence on the movement (Powlison, 43).

Jay Adams Retired in 1999 from pastoral ministry but has continued to write and lecture on Biblical Counseling. He founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies (INS) in the year 2001. At the time of this publication, he currently resides in South Carolina and is still involved in teaching at INS (“Jay E Adams, Ph. D.”)

Jay Adams was revolutionary for his time, as psychology had taken a preeminent role in the art of soul care. Adams challenged the skeptical theories of psychology and developed a model that helped push the church towards scripture-based methods of helping people.

III. Important Theological Views

Nouthetic Counseling

Jay Adam’s most prominent, and certainly most well-known accomplishment is his method of nouthetic counseling. The word nouthetic comes from the Greek word noutheteō, which means to “instruct” or “admonish.” Adams himself states that this method is based upon three scriptural principles: concern, confrontation, and change. Adam’s most famous work, Competent to Counsel, goes in-depth with this method, describing the role of a counselor to encourage believers towards the repentance of sin. This method also includes the factor of the Holy Spirit, whom Adams believes is the sole source of true Biblical change in a believer’s life (Adams, Ligonier Ministries).

An important distinction of Jay Adams models is their rejection of psychological theories and models that contradict the Bible. This mainly has to do with the issue of sin as it relates to a believer’s behavior, a factor that is most often excluded from modern psychological models. Adams’ method of nouthetic counseling is distinct in that it holds to the Bible as the sufficient and authoritative tool for equipping believers for all things needed for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

IV. Works/Publications

Jay Adams has written over 100 books that relate to pastoral ministry and counseling. These have been translated into 16 different languages. The most famous and influential of published works are: Competent to Counsel (1970), The Christian Counselors Manuel (1973), A Theology of Christian Counseling (1979), Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership (1974) (“Adams, Jay E. 1929- [Worldcat Identities]”.)



“Jay E. Adams – Exodus Books”. Exodusbooks.Com, https://www.exodusbooks.com/jay-e-

adams/2716/. Accessed 30 Nov 2018.

Adams, Jay. “Competent To Counsel: An Interview With Jay Adams By Jay Adams”. Ligonier Ministries. 2014. Accessed 30 November 2018

“Jay E Adams, Ph. D.”. Nouthetic.Org, http://www.nouthetic.org/about-ins/our-faculty/8-about-ins/6-jay-adams-biography. Accessed 29 Nov 2018.

“Adams, Jay E. 1929- [Worldcat Identities]”. Orlabs.Oclc.Org,

http://orlabs.oclc.org/identities/lccn-n50-36855/. Accessed 30 Nov 2018.

Collins, Gary R; Johnson, Eric L; Jones, Stanton L (2000). Psychology & Christianity. Downers

Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-8308-2263-1.

Powlison, David. The Biblical Counseling Movement. New Growth Press, 2010, pp. p. 35-44.

Ligonier Ministries, 2014, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/competent-counsel-interview-jay-adams/. Accessed 1 Dec 2018.