Monday, July 6, 2015

Review: How to Help People Change by Jay Adams

I've been working on development reading during the summer months, and recently finished a book review on Jay Adams' book, How to Help People Change. I've posted my review along with applications I hope to make from it during the next year.

Jay Adams’ book is subtitled, “The Four-Step Biblical Process,” which he derives from II Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction, and for disciplined training in righteousness in order to make the man of God adequate, and to equip him fully for every good task.”[1] The italicized words or phrases comprise the four steps, which Adams proceeds to define and detail in order. There is a lot of very straightforward, easy to grasp exposition in this book, but it is only simple in that regard. Most of Adams’ claims are very challenging, convicting, and will require serious effort to apply in one’s life as a teacher (churchgoer, parent, spouse, etc.). In order to facilitate my own application of Adams’ fine book, I’m going to limit this review to one insight from each step, with one goal for application that I plan to revisit during the course of the year for accountability.

One of the key insights in Adams’ discussion of teaching is the need to teach in the milieu of life, that is, through concrete experiences, anecdotes, situations, and so on, that allow the person being taught to understand the Biblical principle in action in his or her own life as opposed to in abstraction as a truth worthy of assent. I think I’ve improved in recent years in my ability to structure a milieu in class and to respond to disciplinary situations with “milieu-thinking,” but one of the points Adams brings up that I haven’t been doing is in assigning students homework. I usually give students a way to replace a sinful response with a biblical one, but I have been less inclined to follow-up with them on their progress, or to offer specific instruction with a time-table for evaluation. While not all situations can be handled in such a intensive fashion, I need to be more thoughtful of those opportunities, look for them, and then commit to require the work of students and evaluate it so as to help them learn what the principles of God can look like in their daily lives. This should help to make the teaching of the principles viable for them as individuals, rather than as truths that “the teacher believes, but I just don’t get”. Action: require at least one student at least once a quarter to do “homework” that I will evaluate according to the students grasp of a Biblical principle.

There are many things from Adams’ chapters on conviction that I need to apply, as I have labored in sinful weakness by either avoiding seeking it our of a fear of man or seeking conviction out of personal gratification rather than to have the other person be pleasing to God. Both of these “ditches” result from emotionalizing conviction, an error that Adams does very well to point out. Adams shows that the Biblical meaning of conviction is to bring a case against someone in order to objectively demonstrate the person’s guilt before God by the standard of his law. In other words, bringing conviction is a matter of truth-telling based upon a sufficient amount of evidence classified according to the appropriate Biblical law or principle. Hasty judgment (insufficient evidence) and worldly labels (inappropriate Biblical law/principle) are two errors that Adams details, which counselors must avoid. I have also been guilty of judging prematurely and omitting/supplanting the appropriate Biblical law or principle. There is no justice in addressing a sin without enough evidence or in ignorance of God’s requirements—it would be better to conclude without judgment than to offer an unjust one, since God is able to judge where we are not. However, God’s justice is not an excuse, since we are commanded to know and apply the Word of God to bring about justice (in mercy and humility; Micah 6:8). I’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding hasty judgment in the classroom, but I’ve been less adequate in bringing God’s Word to bear from specific Scriptures that are exposited to the student. Action: open the Scriptures to reflect upon the situation that requires judgment before meeting it out as often as possible, both to help avoid judging from emotion, and to appropriately identify God’s standard that has been broken or omitted.

Adams’ chapters on correction are very instructive, showing that correction isn’t mainly about telling people what is right, but about helping them to return to righteous orientation to God, to be righted. He shows that correction requires repentance in response to conviction, and the process includes four steps toward completion: 1) confessing sin to God and to others (when required), 2) seeking forgiveness, 3) forsaking the sinful way, 4) beginning the alternative, godly way. To exemplify the steps: suppose a student has a problem with lying by continually describing his own or others circumstances in exaggerated language (e.g. “always” and “never”). Once the student believed his exaggerations were indeed lies, and had acknowledged his guilt, he would confess his sin in prayer to God and to those involved (“I was wrong to lie by using exaggeration to describe what happened”), then seek forgiveness (“Will you forgive me for lying to you?”), then he would put aside the sinful way (begin the work of identifying when he is tempted to exaggerate) and begin practicing a godly way (think of what words are truthful to say instead of exaggerations, and practice scenarios to habituate the change). One of the key community aspects of correction is the acceptance of forgiveness. It is difficult for the community to put aside and not recall the sins of others, even when forgiveness has been granted. A person who exaggerates is difficult to take seriously, and for good reasons. However, the community must strive to not use forgiven sin against one another, even as they seek to be wise as each member is striving to replace sin with righteousness. Adams’ discussion of putting off and putting on seems to be the most helpful in ensuring that forgiveness “sticks”. If a sinner commits to self-denial in the area of sin, and the community surrounds him with encouragement (i.e. positive, hopeful reminders of the right action; praise for successes; merciful responses to failures; refusing to be party to the sinful way) to put on righteousness where he has committed to put off sin, then everyone’s efforts are oriented toward right relationships to God and one another. Action: begin praying with teachers for individual students; first, that we would be wise in identifying their patterns of sin; second, that we would give “homework” that allows them to put off sin and put on righteousness; third, that we would draw the whole community into the mutual efforts of encouraging righteousness in the things in which we each are struggling.

The final step in Godly change is disciplined training in righteousness, which is similar to the putting off of sin and putting on of righteousness, but differs in emphasizing the elements of discipline (punishment and reward) and training (self-denial, rigorous and correct practice). Pain and perseverance are unavoidable aspects of overcoming sin and instilling righteousness, since the body becomes habituated to sin in ways that require uncomfortable self-denial and rigorous re-habituation. Adams makes at least two important points here: 1) the standard of righteousness must be correct (i.e. Biblical standard) and the final goal of training, 2) the process of training must be pursued with faith in God (that He can do what He has promised—to grow us into Christlikeness) and hope (positive, goal-oriented approach to the circumstances where sin is battled). An illustration is helpful to see what Adams means. Suppose Billy is the name of the example above of a student who lies by habitually exaggerating. God’s standard is clear (one should not use words against one’s neighbor, bearing false witness), but since Billy has been habituated to protecting his pride by lying about his neighbor (or God), it will require thoughtful examination of where Billy is tempted, and then strategic preparation for seeing and responding differently. This is the rigorous and right practice: Billy will need to practice responding in a way that assumes the best about his neighbor and God (using past failures, hypothetical situations, etc. to help craft situations “in the milieu”), which will orient him toward speaking truthfully rather than lying by exaggeration. Then, Billy will have to deny himself in the moments when temptations rise, since his emotional response will be to default to prideful self-protection. When he fails, some form of bodily punishment (another form of self-denial) should accompany. If Billy is young enough, a spanking is appropriate, but an older Billy will need something different. Adams emphasizes the importance of bodily punishment, not as a behavioristic way of changing the heart of a person, but as the means by which changed hearts can gain successful mastery over their bodies. Just as one can train in habits like brushing teeth, driving, or writing so as to unconsciously do them correctly, sinful habits or righteous habits can be trained. Overcoming sinful habits requires mental and bodily training. Adams uses, like Paul, the analogy of “coaching” for athletics—a coach trains athletes through physical skills practice, which he evaluates, corrects, and refines through constant attentiveness, wisdom, and disciplinary action. Action: pair up teachers with one another to identify sinful habits that need to be replaced with righteous habits and design a specific training program and accountability structure for success.

[1] I believe this rendering is taken from Adams translation of the NT, The Christian Counselor’s New Testament.

No comments: