Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why the Biblicism of Jay Adams is Bad

Jay Adams
Christians are called to be Biblical, but they are not called to be Biblicist. This is because being a Biblicist is unbiblical. But what do I mean by these terms? To put it simply, Biblicism is an approach to scripture which emphasizes the Bible’s complete clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning and, above all, emphasizes the direct applicability of the Bible to every department of human life.

The key here is the word ‘direct.’ Ranald Macaulay once explained Biblical authority like this. He was speaking in a cathedral which didn’t have any electric lights but was lit up by shafts of light coming through the windows. The shafts of light came down in spotlights, directly lighting up certain areas but indirectly lighting up the entire building. He then said that  Biblical authority to that. I think that's a good analogy. The Bible does not address every area of life, just as the shafts of light did not spotlight every inch of the inside of the cathedral. In order to do that the Bible would have to be not only true, but exhaustive. Instead the Bible spotlights certain areas and through them the light of God’s truth difuses to every other area of life. While there is no department of life that the Bible does not address indirectly, in only addresses some areas directly. To be a Biblical thinker means that in every area of life, one will seek to see how the Bible applies either directly or indirectly.

The Biblicist, on the other hand, acts as if every department of life is lit up directly by scripture. This is the approach taken by Jay Adams, whose Biblicism entails him to argue that the Bible is a textbook on counseling, a view he defends here. Jay Adams has made clear in a number of places that although modern psychology can lend insights to our understanding of human behavior, in principle all such insights can be inferred directly from scripture. For Adams the Bible is sufficient in the sense that it directly addresses all human problems. Consequently, the Bible could be treated as a textbook for counseling. As he writes here, speaking of the Christian counselor:
"He does not confront him with his own ideas or the ideas of others. He limits his counsel strictly to that which may be found in the Bible, believing that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction and for disciplined training in righteousness in order to fit and fully equip the man from God for every good task." (2 Timothy 3:16,17) The nouthetic counselor believes that all that is needed to help another person love God and his neighbor as he should, as the verse above indicates, may be found in the Bible.”
No Biblicist is ever entirely consistent since it is impossible to use technology and live in the world without implicitly endorsing disciplines or fields of study not directly addressed in scripture. But the Biblicist tries his hardest to infer everything directly from scripture. Jay Adams did this through frequent word studies and exegesis that theologically conservative Bible scholars often found highly questionable.

Stan Jones and Richard Butman pointed out the problem with this in their book Modern Psychotherapies and in Psychology and the Christian Faith: An Introductory Reader: “While the Bible provides us with life’s most important and ultimate answers as well as the starting points for knowledge of the human condition, it is not an all-sufficient guide for the discipline of counseling. The Bible is inspired and precious, but it is also a revelation of limited scope, the main concern of which is religious in its presentation of God’s redemptive plan for people and the great doctrines of the faith.”

Make no mistake – in giving us insight into religious categories and God’s redemptive purposes, scripture sheds light indirectly on all areas of life. However, since this light is indirect, Christians must work responsibly with other subordinate authorities such as science and empirical observation, using these tools within the Biblical framework. For example, Christians should not be afraid to use with discernment the insights of a man like Freud, since his observations about the human unconscious (much of which is now being verified through advances in neuoroscience) may help to shed light on areas that the Bible only indirectly touches upon. Since the Bible teaches the existence of an objective world, observation about how the world works, including the human brain, can be seen as a further application of the dominion mandate.
The key question is this: has the Bible really given us all we need to construct a system of counseling, or has it given us the framework in which we can use subordinant sources of knowledge (i.e., science and eimpirical observation) to construct a system within the overall umbrella of the Biblical worldview? The same question could, of course, be asked of other disciplines. When we construct automobiles or study the composition of soil, we are working indirectly under the Biblical paradigm, since these are expressions of the dominion mandate. But the Bible doesn’t contain any verses that will tell me how to fix my Dodge. I have to use the subordinate authority (endorsed by scripture) of empirical observation for that.

In order for Adam’s Biblicism to work, we would have to grant that the Bible is not only true, but exhaustive. For Adams the Bible didn’t simply give us a grid by which we can sift the questions of life, but was a counseling cookbook. This led him to de-emphasize the legitimate role that science can play in helping us to understand and even to treat human problems. He wanted to circumscribe psychologists to the domain of science and medicine treating only physical problems while pastors would treat the behavior issues. He once said, “I deplore psychology’s venture into the realms of value, behavior and attitudinal change because it is an intrusion upon the work of the minister…” It is hard to see how these statements do reality to the doctrine of God's common grace.

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