Written twenty years after the founding of CCEF, John Bettler offers his recollections about how it all got started. John’s involvement began in 1967, when Jay Adams invited him to come along as a trainee to observe the counseling he was doing in a small church office in Short Hills, New Jersey. During their weekly drives from Philadelphia, counseling ideas would be discussed and the theory of biblical counseling began to take shape. CCEF was founded in 1968 with John serving to direct its operations, and it was under his leadership that CCEF continued to develop its counseling model. Enjoy this personal account of these important events in CCEF history.
I long have believed that we shape the past more than the past shapes us. That is, we remember our past as we are at the moment of remembering, not as we were at the moments remembered. Just think about the last time you had an argument with your spouse or close friend. If several days or weeks of close and loving experience with that person have developed, you no doubt will remember the quarrel as “not so bad” or “a silly little spat. ”But if you just have had another experience of what you think is betrayal with that person, you will recall it as “a major fight” and another significant indication “of a relationship gone sour.”
The fact is, facts are hard to come by-especially historical facts. As Van Til reminds us in the area of apologetics and Kuhn in science, all facts are interpreted by the belief system of the interpreter. When one tries to recall facts of twenty years ago, he must add to his belief system the historian’s prejudices, how much sleep he got the night before, and how much personal investment he has in the events remembered. History easily becomes nostalgia.
To write about the twenty-year history of CCEF is for me, indeed, nostalgia. As a student of Jay Adams in seminary, his very first pastoral trainee, the pastor of the church where CCEF offices first were established in Pennsylvania, and its Executive Director for seventeen of its twenty years of existence, a good chunk of my personal history is synonymous with that of CCEF. So be warned. This is history seen through the eyes of a very biased historian.
One place where bias comes through is treating familiar current ideas as if they were always around. We forget that today’s most commonplace themes among biblical, even most Christian, counselors (e.g., the Bible is a trustworthy authority in counseling, the counselor cannot and ought not to avoid moral judgement in counseling, counseling is merely an expression of the sanctification process, etc.) were revolutionary twenty years ago. So to appreciate fully the complete impact of CCEF over the last two decades we must attempt to capture the spirit of 1968.
The late 60’s were revolutionary times. The American innocence of the 50’s and the early Kennedy years were shattered by assassins’ bullets, Viet Congjungle fighters, and black rage. In the year CCEF was founded both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were shot. Race riots in Cleveland, Detroit and Newark released some of the almost two hundred years of festering black fury; and anti-war protests began on college campuses. The iconoclastic “Hair” premiered on Broadway, depicting youth’s vain search for something that would make life work. The best seller, John Updike’s Couple, revealed that moral bankruptcy was not limited to politics, the Pentagon, and college campuses but had infiltrated suburban bedrooms as well.
But the field of psychotherapy remained tradition bound. Although some dissenting voices like Thomas Szasz, O. Hobart Mowrer and William Glasser could be heard, the approach to counseling largely remained, in H. Clinebell’s words, “Rogers with a dash of Freud.” Social unrest might have increased the psychologist’s business, but there was little indication that it would change his methods.
This was especially true in pastoral counseling. While evangelicals spent the first half of the twentieth century defending the faith and struggling to save their seminaries and churches from liberal takeover, those same liberals were free to define and develop pastoral counseling as they wished without input or opposition from those upholding full biblical authority. Through the leadership of self-conscious liberal theologians like Anton Boisen, Seward Hittner, Carroll Wise, and Paul Johnson, among others, the newly emerging field of psychotherapy was welcomed uncritically within the churches’ walls. As E. Brooks Holifield says in his fine history of pastoral counseling:
The goal of this new discipline was not salvation but self-realization; its agenda was not reconciliation with God but with my own inner goodness . . . It was the trust in the powers of growth within the self – and the distrust of moralism and “authoritarian” institutions – that lay in the background of the Rogerian revolution in the liberal churches (pages 275 and 294).
‘Legalism,’ advice-giving, and exhortation were ‘out’ as functions of the pastoral helper. Through the tremendous influence of Carl Rogers emerged a new office of pastoral counselor, distinct from general pastor care, an office of facilitator of human growth.
By the 1950’s the function of that office was clearly defined. Clinebell says it was characterized by these ideas:
- The formal, structured counseling interview as the operational model;
- The client-centered method as the normative and exclusive methodology;
- Insight as the central goal of counseling;
- The concepts of unconscious motivation;
- The childhood roots of adult behavior.
(H. Clinebell, Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling, 1966, p. 28)
What amazes me is not the incorporation of these ideas (some of them have real merit) but rather their uncritical incorporation by unsuspecting churches, even evangelical churches. No one seemed to ask, “What does the Bible have to say about these things?” So, a most peculiar situation developed. In Bible-believing seminaries in which the camel noses of Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth,and H. Emerson Fosdick could not begin to enter the tents of Systematic Theology or Apologetics, their entire bodies were welcomed into the departments of practical theology.
I remember, as a student at Westminster Seminary in the mid-sixties, leaving a class in Apologetics in which Cornelius Van Til railed against the incorporation of unbelieving thought into a consistent Christian world-view and then walking to a class on pastoral care where Rogerian methods were taught and practiced uncritically-and nobody blinked. One year later Jay Adams began teaching that course, and the counseling revolution began.
That was in the Fall of 1966, two years before Jay was instrumental in the founding of CCEF and more than a year after his own thinking had been changed radically for good. His own words tell the story best:
Like many other pastors, I learned little about counseling in seminary, so I began with virtually no knowledge of what to do . . .
In my first efforts to improve, I bought, borrowed, and devoured as many of the current volumes on counseling as I could, but in these I found little help. Almost all commended non-directive Rogerian methods or advocated Freudian principles. Uneasily I tried to put into practice what I read, but I could not help wondering how as a Christian minister I could retranslate [them] . . . I found it ludicrous to nod and grunt acceptingly in detachment without offering biblical directives. It soon became apparent that I was helping almost no one by such procedures, and I was wasting valuable time . . .
Gradually I drifted into hit-or-miss patterns of counseling growing out of on-the-spot applications of scriptural exhortations as I remembered them. Surprisingly, I became a more successful counselor than ever. Of course, age and experience might have accounted for some of the difference. Yet, I could not help but notice that the more directive I became (simply telling counselees what God required of them), the more people were helped . . .
I began to exegete every passage I felt had any bearing on the subject [of counseling]. It was not long before I found I had taken on a mammoth task. The Bible, I discovered, says much about counseling people with personal problems . . .
Not very long afterward, I found myself asking, “Is much of what is called mental illness illness at all?” This question arose primarily from noticing that while the Bible describes homosexuality and drunkenness as sins, most of the mental health literature called them ‘sicknesses’ or ‘diseases.’ Believing the Scriptures to be true, I had to say that the mental health viewpoint was plainly wrong in removing responsibility from the sinner by locating the source of his alcoholic or sexual problem in constitutional or social factors over which he has no control . . .
When this sort of psychiatric heresy began to rattle around in my head, I remembered the name of a man whose works a Christian psychologist had once mentioned to me. That man was O. Hobart Mowrer . . .
I corresponded with Mowrer over certain points. In that correspondence Mowrer invited me to participate in his Eli Lilly Fellowship program at the University of Illinois, where he is Research Professor of Psychology . . .
During the summer of 1965 we worked in two state mental institutions, one at Kankakee, Illinois, and the other at Galesburg, Illinois. In these two mental institutions, we conducted group therapy with Mowrer for seven hours a day. Along with five others, I flew with him, drove with him, ate with him, counseled together with him, and argued with him five days a week. I learned much during that time, and while today I certainly would not classify myself as a member of Mowrer’s school, I feel that the summer program was a turning point in my thinking. There in those mental institutions, under Mowrer’s methods, we began to see people labeled “neurotic, psychoneurotic, and psychotic” (people of all stripes) helped by confessing deviant behavior and assuming personal responsibility for it . . .
During that time I made a study of the principal biblical data on the subject of counseling, with special reference to what Scripture says about conscience . . .
During the years that followed, I have been engrossed in the project of developing biblical counseling and have uncovered what I consider to be a number of important scriptural principles. It is amazing to discover how much the Bible has to say about counseling, and how fresh the biblical approach is. The complete trustworthiness of Scripture in dealing with people has been demonstrated.
(Adams, Competent to Counsel, pp. xi – xix)
Armed with this new confidence in the Scripture, Jay not only began teaching counseling at Westminster, he also met on a regular basis with two other men who had concerns similar to his to explore ways to make this type of counseling available to the Christian public. CCEF’s earliest roots are embedded in those meetings.
They occurred at the tiny White Oak Ridge Chapel in Short Hills, New Jersey. The pastor of that chapel, Gardner McBride, had developed a friendship with Jay while he was pastoring the Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in nearby Westfield. Soon was added a third member, Howard Blandeau, a recent Dean of Students at King’s College who at the time was completing his doctoral research. United by a commitment to a model of counseling that faithfully reflected Scripture at every point, they began to offer counseling services for a few hours a week. As people were helped, they told others and the case load grew dramatically. A training program was begun in the Fall of 1967 for pastors, and one year later the growing ministry was organized and incorporated officially as The Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation.
The first Board of Directors consisted of five men. In addition to Adams, Blandeau, and McBride, the others were Anthony Florio, a marriage counselor in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and William O’Rourke, a close friend of Jay and a physician from Westminster, Maryland. A branch center was opened in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, that same year, a significant development since the original Board soon dissolved, the New Jersey office closed, and the entire operation moved to Pennsylvania.
I have rushed too quickly through these facts. This period deserves a more lingering look. My personal involvement with CCEF began in the Fall of 1967. Having just graduated from seminary, I began to pastor a church in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, where Jay and his family worshiped. He invited me to accompany him on Monday jaunts to Short Hills to observe the counseling as a pastoral trainee. We would leave early on Monday mornings for the two-hour drive, see clients from ten o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night and get back home at one o’clock Tuesday mornings.
I had the privilege of seeing the theory of biblical counseling take shape. Ideas hatched on the way to Short Hills were applied in counseling that day, evaluated on the trip home and, in many cases, taught the next day in classes at Westminster. This was virgin territory. No one had attempted to apply systematically the Bible to life’s hurts before (at least not since the Puritans; cf. Tim Keller’s article in this issue). The only authority was God’s Word, and in the crucible of real life situations a community of believers taught, corrected, and encouraged one another and forged a counseling tool that was distinctly biblical and powerfully practical.
From the present vantage point of an established ministry, it is easy to forget how threadbare was the early fabric of CCEF. The small office in the chapel was often unheated, and we would begin counseling bundled in winter coats. Once when clients couldn’t make it to an appointment, Jay met them in a parking lot and counseled in the back of his Volkswagen bus. And there was sacrifice. I remember going to a diner in Summit, New Jersey, for dinner one Monday and watching Jay count his change to see if he had seventy-five cents to buy a bowl of soup. There was little money and certainly no glory – only a burning zeal to see God’s Word work in the lives of His people.
Soon after the Board of CCEF was formed, I was asked to open and direct a branch in Hatboro, Pennsylvania. Not only was this closer to Jay’s home but also provided a training site for Westminster students. Utilizing the office of Trinity Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the new center was launched in the Spring of 1968 with a special counseling conference at which Dr. Henry Brandt was the principal speaker. With Jay and I providing the counseling services, the case load grew rapidly, and training programs for pastors and seminary students began that fall.
Jay’s focus shifted more to the Hatboro center. Through the efforts of that center a grant was secured from the De Moss Foundation to finance the writing of Competent to Counsel (eventually published in 1970). Now the newly emerging theory was defined and systematized. The book would burst like a bombshell on the church, some welcoming it as the answer they had been waiting for, others aggressively attacking its claims for radical biblical counseling.
These differences began to appear on the original Board of Directors at CCEF. The crucial issue was ‘professionalism.’ Is the pastor “competent to counsel,” or does graduate training in psychology prepare one to counsel? Although never developing anything approaching rancor, these differences, along with some managerial problems, led to the closing of the New Jersey office, the reconstituting of the Board, and the complete shift of operations to Hatboro, Pennsylvania.
The history of CCEF from that point is marked by expansion. Allow me simply to list the notable facts:
- First full-time director hired (1974).
- Purchase of and relocation to the Dickey mansion directly adjacent to Westminster Theological Seminary (1975).
- CCEF establishes the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (1978).
- Westminster Seminary contracts CCEF to teach courses in its new D.Min. in Counseling (1980).
- Opening of San Diego office with George Scipione as Director (1982).
- Westminster hires CCEF faculty to teach the MAR in Counseling (1984).
- CCEF begins teaching counseling courses for Biblical Theological Seminary (1984).
- Branch center opened in Princeton, New Jersey (1987).
- Branch center opened in Allentown, Pennsylvania (1987).
Those are the facts, but they fail to capture the fullness of God’s hand of blessing on this work. Twenty years ago Jay emptied his pockets to find seventy-five cents for a bowl of soup; today a budget of $750,000 sits on my desk. That’s a million-fold increase! From a borrowed office to a refurbished mansion; from volunteer help to a payroll of thirty people; from an office in a VW to four permanent facilities in three states!
But even these statistics don’t capture the true impact of CCEF. That only can be measured by the thousands of individuals and families dramatically helped through counseling at CCEF; by the thousands trained to use the Bible effectively in counseling; by churches which referred people away now equipped to minister to their own; by a network of biblical counselors within the United States and more than a dozen countries throughout the world; by a church that declares with greater confidence, “thus says the Lord.”
Samuel celebrated God’s routing of the Philistines by erecting a stone monument bearing the single word, “Ebenezer,” which means, “This far has the Lord helped us.” The twenty years of CCEF are written with the same words. May they also mark the next twenty and beyond.
*This article was originally published in The Journal of Pastoral Practice, Volume IX, number 3, 1988.