Jay Adams, longtime Professor of Pastoral Counseling at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Westminster is a very conservative evangelical Reformed seminary. Adams burst on the scene in 1970 with his book, Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. The very popular book has been used by thousands of Pastors to guide them in their counseling methodology.
According to Adams,
[N]outhetic counseling consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires.
By confrontation we mean that one Christian personally gives counsel to another from the Scriptures. He does not confront him with his own ideas or the ideas of others. . . . 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.
By concern we mean that counseling is always done for the benefit of the counselee. His welfare is always in view in Biblical counseling. . . . Christians consider their counseling to be a part of the sanctification process whereby one Christian helps another get through some difficulty that is hindering him from moving forward in his spiritual growth.
By change we mean that counseling is done because there is something in another Christian's life that fails to meet the biblical requirements and that, therefore, keeps him from honoring God ("What Is Nouthetic Counseling?").
This "biblical counseling" methodology has become increasingly popular among the more conservative evangelical Pastors. As a result of the fundamentalist take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention, it is now taught in all of the SBC seminaries. In a 2007 article entitled: "Biblical Therapy: Southern Baptists Reject 'Pastoral Counseling,'" (The Christian Century 124 : 24–27), David Winfrey discusses how this came about. He writes:
It was not a big surprise in 2005 when Southern Baptist Theological Seminary announced that it was makiing a "wholesale change" in its counseling program. The Louisville school, flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, declared that it was jettisoning the "pastoral counseling" model [which attempted to integrate psychology with Biblical principles] in favor of "biblical counseling" [a purely biblical approach].
The switch was foreshadowed three years earlier when Southern' dean coauthored a resolution at the SBC's annual convention on "The Sufficiency of Scripture in a Therapeutic Culture." School officials say the new approach is "built upon the view that scripture is sufficient to answer comprehensively the deepest needs of the human heart" (p. 24).
"if [the person is] not a Christian, there's hope through Jesus Christ, the gospel, for salvation. If [the person is] a Christian and [is] disillusioned and discouraged, there's just the various promises of God and the hope that's there" (p. 26)
"All issues are in some way related to the fall of Adam," Scott maintained, adding that some of these issues can be traced to a person's sin and others traced to trials that the person is facing in a fallen world . Thus, the first place one is to look when one is depressed is inside to see if maybe there is some unconfessed sin there. Perhaps there is someone he has not forgiven. Perhaps there is some action that he has not taken responsibility for and confessed to God (p. 27).
How would a "biblical counselor" deal with an issue like bulimia?
Scott says scripture is sufficient to treat even dysfunctions such as anorexia or bulimia. Though the term "bulimia" is not in scripture, the principle for treating it is. "We would look at that as lusting over something so much that you're willing to do what you are doing . . . . Another word for lust would be "idolatry." Persons suffering from bulimia "want something so much they're willing to sin to get it or sin if they don't. So what we would ask is, "What is it that you want so much that you're resorting to gorging the food down and then throwing it up?" And oftentimes it centers around appearance" (p. 27).
Fortunately not all Christian counselors agree with this form of counseling.
Loren Townsend views biblical counseling as a very flawed model. Townsend, who teaches pastoral counseling at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, just down the road from Southern, said he sees many clients who have been hurt by biblical counseling. These patients, he said, are deeply
burdened: "Not only haven't they been able to get over their depression following the biblical example, but now they're also a failure as Christians because they had inadequate faith to be able to do that."
He recalled one woman whose marriage was falling apart and who had experienced abuse in the relationship. "The biblical counselor [gave her] no choice. "You stay married. That's the way it is, and here's how your're to organize it." The way it was organized was the woman being subjected to this man's abuse," Townsend said.
"What ended up happening was that this woman finally just came apart at the seams. She wounded up psychotic as a result of that and ended up in our system of care. Now we have to deal with her psychosis and the fact that she has the religious ideation that's eating her alive as a result of failing as a Christian" (pp. 25-26).
Bill Gothard, a very popular evangelical speaker [I attended his week long seminar in 1979 in Atlanta at the Omni with 19,000 other people], has taught for years the "umbrella of authority" concept. In his view, most of the problems that people face are due to getting outside of the umbrella, i.e., not submitting to the legitimate authorities in their lives. For a woman, this is his her husband or her father. And for all Christians it is their Pastor, who of course, is male.
So in this model, the woman, even if abused, is still under the authority of her husband or father and her Pastor. Is it any surprise then that women who are victims of abuse have little recourse in conservative Evangelicalism?