A Critique of Jay Adams’ Booklet, “Godliness Through Discipline” — by Rebecca Davis

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


Rebecca Davis has posted part one of a three part series over at BJUGrace. She explains her introduction to abuse:

For about four years I walked with a friend through a domestic abuse situation which involved a difficult court case. That was my introduction to hypocrisy whereby a man can be a respected elder in his church while living a life of manipulation, intimidation, and abuse at home.

In the course of helping her friend, she read a booklet by Jay Adams (“father” of nouthetic counseling) called Godliness Through Discipline.  Here in this series of critiques, she shows why the methods taught in that booklet are unbiblical and really, pure legalism. So here is the link [Internet Archive link] to her first of three. Thanks Rebecca!

20 thoughts on “A Critique of Jay Adams’ Booklet, “Godliness Through Discipline” — by Rebecca Davis”

  1. So here I am coming out of the fog with Jesus clearing my mind of so much that has kept me bound. I feel foolish for “being” a Christian for over 20 years and not “getting” the concepts of grace and freedom.

    I am a rules girl, it’s just sort of the way I am geared. I operate best with rules in place to guide me, instruct me, keep me in bounds, and help me know what I am responsible for. Just realizing after writing that…that is the perfect set up for an abuser! Sheesh! Anyway, I am realizing I have parented that way and formulated my life that way…by following the “rules” of others on how my marriage was supposed to look. how my kids are supposed to look, how my Christian life is supposed to look.

    Now that it is all unraveling, I am feeling exposed and naked and insecure. I could easily get caught up in the next lie that sounds “right” about how to live and be. I am not sure I know “how” to live in/by the Spirit. God has revealed glimpses of it to me recently, but I am so used to a “rules structured” life that I am constantly questioning myself if I am doing “it” (meaning anything at all) right.

    My perfectionist ways have driven me toward this “living by the rules” lifestyle/mindset. I am realizing it is a fear-driven mentality. Add to that I have a great desire to one day to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” This drives me on to working harder, trying to do things well / right / to the best of my ability. Perfectionists are often reward and performance driven; therefore, to hear the Lord say well done (to me) is the ultimate “prize” in all of life.

    I know my salvation is secure, but I feel I must perform in order to hear “well done.” The parable of the talents also makes me “feel” like I need to perform. Who wants the Master to scold him/her for not using what they were given to enhance the kingdom? Work is involved in spreading the gospel. So for people who are like me in this regard, it is easy to get caught up in the works-based/performance-based/rules-based way of thinking and operating. Add to that a husband who was frequently complaining about my not performing well in the area of criticism of the day, and you’ve got someone like me who was continually trying to find the right way / method / formula for doing life (rules / structure / discipline).

    How does one like me come in to the light of living in the Spirit…in peace and freedom and grace…without the rules? For years I have read Christian “self-help” books trying, trying, trying to better myself in every way. Help me understand how to become more Christlike without following a 10-step method. I regularly spend time with the Lord and he is leading me on a journey of listening to him and working on areas of my life he brings to my attention. (I have so much to work on.) The list of flaws is weighty and can cause me to feel defeated…and I know that it is not the heart of Christ to condemn me and make me feel like I am a constant disappointment to him.

    Jesus is kind when he reveals my flaws, but I feel like I need to “hop to it” and get busy working on the junk he shows me. Once again, the cycle starts of feeling like I have to “do” something to fix myself. After all, if the Lord himself if showing me these areas, shouldn’t I be “doing” something about it? I understand I am righteous in God’s eyes because of the Son, but I also know I need to be becoming more like him all the time. So it’s the becoming I am struggling with…the how to “do” this without feeling like I am putting myself under the law. I hope this is making sense. As I said, I am not completely out of the fog from over two decades of abuse and a spouse who clearly did not understand grace. So, please forgive me if this sounds infantile.

    Thank you for reading all this and helping me make sense of it.

    1. Freeatlast8,

      I’m sitting here so thankful you wrote this as it is how I have lived also. I need the answer too.


      1. 7stelle:

        It’s always comforting to know someone else is struggling with the same thing I am, but so sad at the same time to realize there are more of “me” out there.

    2. I could have written every word of your post. And there are big portions of me still written there. I am still learning.

      I think the following things have helped me walk in freedom thus far:
      More Mary less Martha, which is to say – falling in love with Jesus, loving Him and allowing his love to wash over me and fill me so completely that I marvel in it, in Him. That sounds so simplistic yet somehow, it’s true. When I am less do-ing and more be-ing, life is naturally quieter and I am drawn back to Him.

      For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
      In returning and rest you shall be saved;
      in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. ~Isaiah 30:15

      It is a terrible & frightful thing to have your spirituality measured against the yardstick of exhaustion. “No” became my best friend: I remember the year I systematically stepped down from ministries and further said “no” to anything that would drain me or not produce Joy – anything that I could not gift from a deep well. This was hard. People expect me to say “yes.” But, I was not a deep well, only a trickling stream, so nearly every time someone asked me to do something, the answer was a “no.” Many people didn’t understand and I got some odd looks, cold shoulders. I didn’t always provide them an answer. I took the next few years to cultivate a deep well. Eventually I could once again begin to say “yes” and even then, I carefully evaluated my well before saying “yes.”

      Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
      whose trust is the Lord.
      He is like a tree planted by water,
      that sends out its roots by the stream,
      and does not fear when heat comes,
      for its leaves remain green,
      and is not anxious in the year of drought,
      for it does not cease to bear fruit. ~Jeremiah 17:7-8

      Finally, it is not my job find the elusive “pinpoint” of God’s will. His will is so much bigger (and more beautiful) than that. Amazingly so. It took me way too long to learn this. For decades I kept myself on a short leash and wore my spiritual fingernails down to shreds looking for the perfect pinpoint of God’s will. No more. Grace is the garden. We live in Grace. Stop and smell the roses. Have a picnic. Walk to the edge and back. Kick off your shoes. Go fishing. Explore His Grace – there’s nothing finer.

      For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:16-17

      1. Well said, Charis. I, too, have heard the Lord say, “Just be.” I find that hard to do most of the time. But when anxiety kicks in, I tell myself to just be. Being doesn’t mean doing. I understand the Mary / Martha thing perfectly. And some mornings I stay a little longer at the feet of Jesus than my “schedule” allows for, but it’s always worth it, and the “lost” time, which is not really loss but gain, never really seems to matter.

        I like your well analogy. Great picture. I have come to feel I am always on the “take” in relationships because for years I have been searching, searching, searching for answers to my marital mess and seeking help at every turn. I really want to give out, but don’t feel equipped to do it. So, I am considering what you said about deepening my well in order to have something to give.

        I also love your tree planted beside water verses. Just last weekend we were at a place along a river where the roots of a very large tree were exposed on the riverbank. I observed the cross-section sort of view of the roots and this very verse came to mind. I even talked to one of my kids about it as I pointed out how the roots will never go dry as long as the water keeps flowing.

        So several of the things you said resonated with me.

        I am learning to just live. Day by day. Moment by moment. This morning a little phrase popped into my head: Just be and trust Me. I like it!

  2. I am fortunate to have found this blog with another person who understands abuse, and posts here.
    She is a dear friend, and I appreciate being able to talk to her when I need to sort out my thoughts.
    We talked today about how the Lord is always intrested in the “Spirit”- (or the Heart of a matter), and not so much the outward appearance, for that can be decieving.
    And the “issue of the heart” was what Christ was always concerned with.
    The abuser wants to create the focus to be on the outward or legalism of a matter.
    To them, Its all about outward appearances so they can maintain the “look of righteousness” (their facade) without a heart for it, and they use the law to try to bind their targets by.
    This is the great lie, and these types are what Jesus referred to as “whitewashed sepulchres with dead mens bones inside.”
    These types want to control their subjects by their self imposed outward laws because their hearts are hardened, and they have no holy spirit to guide them in Gods Greater Law of Love, from the heart.
    They are fearful that they will lose control over others, so they broaden their position of legalism.

  3. I’ve been in the process of leaving my legalistic background the last 3 yrs….and this article really resonated with me!!
    Just today I met with a new friend from my church, shes a young mother, in a VERY abusive marriage….I’m encouraging her to read this blog and Leslie Vernick’s, to educate herself about her situation…and I started to feel GUILTY as I was talking to her, the old mantra was running through my head…no divorce unless adultery….what God has joined together let know no man (or woman) put asunder, etc!!
    I know for a fact that God brought the two of us together as friends, so that I could help her…I’ve been in an emotionally abusive marriage for years…and have read and researched and prayed about abuse in the church and what my part is in helping other women to see that we don’t have to “endure abuse in silence” but I was still questioning if what I was doing in was right and would God be angry with me and “punish me!” UGH!!!

    Looking forward to the next article in this series…BTW, today’s conversation also included the counseling advice our Pastor gave to her….to stay in the marriage, to pray for her husband even more…and she told me that every time our pastor sees her, he looks at hand and ask where her wedding rings are….telling her, “Put those rings on, you need to work on your marriage.” He knows her husband is addicted to porn….he knows he’s verbally abusive, and yet, that’s his response to my friend.
    I’m soooo disappointed to hear this…I love my Pastor, but he’s like most Pastors, and he has no idea about the true state of abuse within our churches today!

    1. Same thing here with the years of porn, lonelywife.
      I do believe that this correlates to what proverbs warns about when it admonishes men to stay away from the adulterous women.
      Proverbs states that “The adulterous woman has taken many strong men down a pathway to hell, from which they do not return”.
      Perhaps this is why many abusers that are addicted to porn, cant stop once the habit has been established.

      I also noticed that our Lord made a point of showing equal emphasis to the “Heart of the matters”, being just as important as the actual “act of matters”.
      Such as when he said in Matt 5:28,

      Whoever looks at a woman- to lust for her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

      And Matt 5:27

      Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgement.

      Notice Jesus prefaces these heart sayings with Matt 5:20,

      That unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

      (Because the Pharisees performed their deeds with an “outward motive”, to be only seen and recognized by men.)
      Where as the motive in our heart is “to seek to please God.
      When I look back at my marriage wedding vows that involved the words “Til death do us part”, I can see how my heart was repeatedly and systematically murdered over time by my spouse without remorse, until there was nothing left.
      When he chose to “practice abuse” towards me, it created “the death of our Marriage”.
      (Hence death did us part)
      So I can tell the legalists in my life, that because my spouse repeatedly murdered my heart with his words and behavior, that God also sees it as just as serious a violation as a physical crime that he could have done to me.

      1. Reading through both your comments LonelyWife and StandsforTruth, I connected Scriptural dots that I had not before. These dots would be hard for the legalists like the Pastor to refute. Lonelywife’s comment from Scripture “…no divorce except for adultery…” + StandsforTruth’s Scripture reference, “If you look at a woman with lust then you are guilty of adultery…” Now let’s go to Lonelywife’s reference to the Pastor, “‘Put those rings on. You need to work on your marriage,’ He knows her husband is addicted to porn…” It seems to me that the pastor is commanding something that God does not.

    2. Lonelywife, I get what you are saying about helping your abused friend. I feel that if I step up to help someone, it very well may lead to that person leaving her marriage. My ex has drilled me with Matthew 19:6 and “no divorce except for adultery” for over a year now, even after the divorce. He even used Matthe19 with some of my kids and friends to dissuade them from helping me move when I left my home, telling them God will judge and punish them for helping separate what God joined together. He won’t let it go. So I have to get my head clear and decide once and for all it is okay. I know the decision I felt I had to make (divorce), but I certainly don’t want to be the Pied Piper leading other women down this path (although that is a very possible reality if I step up to help). I have read Barbara’s book, Not Under Bondage, which is excellent. I may need to read it again since it was soon after my divorce that I first read it. I have learned so much since then and it may speak to me anew reading in now.

  4. Well that certainly explains why this “nouthetic” counseling is so darned dangerous! Destroys people and I can share that from my own personal experience with it.

    I also have never understood how Mr. Adams believes that you only need a Bible to counsel, but then has an entire shelf of books he has written, for you to purchase and read, to explain to you “how” to use your Bible to counsel. Wow! I guess the truth is, you need your Bible and all his books to do it properly –

    1. I might also add that the “bootstrap” theology we see implemented from Adams is from exact wording in the federal vision camp. It is works theology and this is how I believe they come to the theology that as long as one is baptized and a legit member of a Church, they are to be considered a Christian.

  5. In Part One of Rebecca Davis’ review of Adams’ “Godliness through Discipline” pamphlet, this paragraph stood out to me:

    He says that the way to godliness is through applying principles, guidelines extrapolated from the law. But the Scriptures clearly say again and again that the only thing that the law can accomplish in us is to show us our inability. So let’s say I see a Biblical injunction to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. So I say, “All right, I am going to exercise determination and perseverance and endurance to discipline myself to love. . . . Well, I failed, but I won’t give up. I’ll keep trying. Oh, I failed again. But I will grit my teeth and persevere, because that’s what God wants me to do.” So I try again and again and again, and during this time I find my heart becoming more and more shriveled in love, a dry leaf, because I cannot accomplish it. But this is the very greatest law! If I can’t keep that, I can’t keep any! I will despair! Do I despair because I didn’t get the godliness instantly? No! I despair because I can’t get it at all. I’ll despair because I was studying the demands of the law, but I was not realizing that the purpose of the principles of the law was to show me my inability. This is made clear from Rom 7:21-25. The next passage, Romans 8, makes clear that the Christian life cannot be lived by trying to follow principles, but by walking in the Spirit. The law could not do it, because it was weak through the flesh. The nation of Israel (Rom 9:31-32) could not attain to the righteousness God required. Why not? Was it because they didn’t keep trying? Because they didn’t persevere and endure? No. It was because they didn’t seek it by faith. “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain,” Gal 2:21.

    How I process this: Faith without works is dead…and works without faith is dead.

    Faith is a gift of God delivered to a person by the Holy Spirit (not of human works) resulting in a NEW heart, not just changed habits like a rat can do (remember the science lab in college?) Once given this gift of faith, the person becomes a NEW creation with all they need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and will begin the process of working out what God has worked in…walking in faith. This new creation now has new desires and ability to produce good and acceptable-to-God fruit on their tree (Romans 6, John 15).

    Behaviorism and mere changing of habits without God-breathed faith and His “heart-transplant” only produces dead works…or a dead tree…only good for firewood.

    Peter’s faith-filled prayer shows us our absolute need for Jesus every hour and the way to Him: “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30).

  6. Bright Sunshinin’ Day said:

    Behaviorism and mere changing of habits without God-breathed faith and His “heart-transplant” only produces dead works…or a dead tree…only good for firewood.

    So, what exactly does this “faith” you speak of above look like? I can say I still struggle with a few things that have been in me since my conversion over 25 years ago, even though I have had the “heart transplant” you mentioned. Yet, I seem to not be able to get to the next “level” in a couple of areas. I have faith these annoyances can be overcome, yet I still deal with them regularly. That is part of the reason I am semi-sympathetic toward my abusive ex. I see my own negative behaviors still plaguing me in some regards, and it is a constant reminder that I have certainly not “arrived.” So I often would extend mercy toward him for not arriving in his areas of setback, too.

    I listened to a pastor’s series on “identity” lately. He was talking about habits/behaviors that trip us up vs. freedom from those things via true repentance. He likened it to a baby whose diapers keep needing to be changed, over and over and over again. UNTIL…one day he becomes potty trained and he no longer needs the diapers. The baby / toddler has advanced to the next level, so to speak. He will not keep reverting back to his former behavior because he has gained mastery over it and has a new and better way of functioning. The pastor was saying this is what “repentance” looks like. It is not just changing my diaper over and over as in clean for now, oh no–dirty again, okay–clean again, oops–dirty again, clean, dirty, etc. (sinning, saying I am sorry, trying again, sinning the same sin again, saying I am sorry, trying again, sinning again, etc). The new level-up shows / proves growth in an area and a true CHANGE from the former behavior.

    I totally get that. It’s the HOW of getting to the next level that I am curious about. I know from time to time I will get a mental / spiritual revelation (an “Aha!” moment) that brings about a mind shift about something that can cause this “level up” for me. It is a change in my mind and way of thinking that frees me from the former stronghold. So I do understand how it can happen. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…Romans 12:2.

    But I am trying to get my mind around your statement about “God-breathed faith” being a part of this level-up process. Would you expound on that, please?

  7. Good question, Freeatlast8. You answered it for me when you said this:

    I can say I still struggle with a few things that have been in me since my conversion over 25 years ago, even though I have had the “heart transplant” you mentioned.

    and this:

    It is a change in my mind and way of thinking that frees me from the former stronghold. So I do understand how it can happen. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…Romans 12:2.

    No Christian reaches perfection this side of heaven, but God does transform true believers and true faith is visible: “…you will know them by their fruit.”

    This “change of mind” you speak of can ONLY happen if God “opens the understanding” (Luke 24:45, Ps 119: 18). With God renewing the mind and understanding come hope and true repentance that leads to life and real change (putting sins off and putting on righteousness) vs “fake” repentance as seen in Judas Iscariot when he threw the money down in the temple after betraying Jesus.

    Judas never looked to Jesus as Peter and cry out, “Lord, save me.” His eyes and mind were darkened (even though he walked and talked with Jesus) and the many truths heard fell on “deaf ears” which led to no hope, but rather, only guilt which led to his eternal death…dead tree…hay, wood, and stubble…only good for firewood.

    I hope this helps.

    1. Yes, it does, Jeff. Thank you. I get upset with myself over the things I want to change but haven’t overcome yet. I was “complaining” to the Lord the other day about my mess ups and how I am this far in to my Christian walk and still so ignorant of so much…feeling like I lack wisdom and that I should be farther along than I am. I know my sick marriage contributed to my weak faith and half-hearted pursuit of truth in Christ. I made such an idol of fixing my marriage that I neglected a deeper relationship with Christ. I had no idea how much I was missing because my mind was so preoccupied with the daily stress of my mess.

      Your word to me above, (This “change of mind” you speak of can ONLY happen if God “opens the understanding” (Luke 24:45, Ps 119: 18)), correlates in very similar words with what I heard the Lord say to me through my pen and journal the other day. Maybe it will help others. He said:

      Do not despise your former lack of wisdom. I open up the pathways to wisdom in MY TIME. You are on a journey and I am your guide. I lead you down paths of MY choosing. You are along for the ride. I share with you as you surrender and follow me. I have access to every reserved and restricted place. I have all authority to take you in deeper behind the “no trespassing” signs. Those places are not accessible to the ones who are not abiding in the vine. Your abiding gives you freedoms and privileges to my secret places where I store up wisdom and give it out to those who press in and venture on to find it. It is a lifelong quest and a journey. With each expedition, you blaze new trails and take new ground. Each day on the path with me is progress. Together we forge on.

      The theme seems to be dig in, dig deep; seek, knock, ask; keep on keepin’ on. Don’t look back, just press on. His mercies are new every morning. We are a work in progress. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all the other stuff will be given to you because he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. I love how he said “together” we forge on. He is in it with us.

      So I guess this sincere, steadfast, earnest abiding, and pressing in and moving forward is the “faith fuel” needed to move God to work in us and bring about the changes we seek and desire in every area of our lives. One rhema word from God from spending quality time with him beats hours of counseling with man any day. It’s so much easier to press in now without the daily distractions of my former relationship. I am still exposed to some occasional post-divorce verbal tirades from my ex, but being out on my own gives me so much space to explore the past, present, and future with God. He is so faithful in helping me sort it all out.

      I was so wrapped up in being Mrs. Right to my husband that I was not seeking God in this way before. I was only seeking my husband’s approval and seeking to keep him peaceful and happy. I was doing my own work on myself to please man, instead of looking to God to make me who God wants me to be.

      The Lord also told me it was dangerous for me to be overly concerned with remaking myself into who I thought my husband wanted me to be. God said if someone is not in their right frame of mind, their perception of you will be wrong. You will identify with and become what they project upon you, and you will end up not being a true reflection of who GOD says you are and who HE made you to be. He told me, “You worked so hard at being someone else’s vision of who you are supposed to be that you lost the watermark on your life that I put there from the beginning.” Wow. That took me some time to unpack. My Jesus-given, Holy Spirit seal of authentic identity was washed out and faded. I had removed myself from his potter’s wheel and reshaped myself into who I thought was supposed to be (perfect wife, perfect mom)–someone I wasn’t intended to be. Wife and mom, yes. Perfect, no. Add to that the expectations from my ex that I was not meeting. It was a losing battle, but I kept trying.

      This whole identity shake up has gone to my very core. But it’s okay because I am back on the master’s potter’s wheel and he is making me new. No man can make me who Jesus is making me.

      So, I am learning so much from just sitting alone with the Lord in the morning. He speaks to me, and his words unravel lies and bring me freedom. God is renewing my mind so that I can see the err of my way. We spend much time here talking about our experience with abuse, and the abuser in particular. I am glad when we can also explore the healing we are experiencing and give hope to those who are still trapped and hurting. It’s good to explore our own issues outside of the abuse that make us react and respond the way we do. I do realize how difficult that is to do, though, when you are just trying to survive another day in the fog.

      1. So I guess this sincere, steadfast, earnest abiding, and pressing in and moving forward is the “faith fuel” needed to move God to work in us and bring about the changes we seek and desire in every area of our lives.

        I’m wondering if “needed to move God” is true??? The verse, “It is God that worketh in you to will and to do of His good pleasure” says to me it’s all of His doing. Am I thinking wrong here?

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