Monday, November 23, 2015

The Case of the "Hopeless" Marriage

A Nouthetic Counseling Case from Beginning to End
by Jay Adams
142 pages / 2006

If you need marriage counseling, or know someone who does, read Hopeless Marriage.

In this fictionalized account, we are introduced to biblical counselor Greg Dawson and troubled couple Bert and Sue Lancaster. We follow them through ten sessions with the pastor as they attempt to repair their marriage.

At the start of things neither thinks Pastor Dawson can really help them. Both think divorce the most likely possibility. However they are Christians and are willing to submit themselves to what God is telling them from His Word. And because of that, Pastor Dawson can offer them hope. As Dawson explains:
I'm glad you came here before you made any rash decisions. I want you to know that I'll work with you for as long as necessary to help you solve your problems. And – let me say at the outset – they can be solved. I say that because you're both Christians. That means that you have newness of life to enable you to do God's will, you have the Bible to direct you how to do it, and you have God's Spirit to strengthen and help you do it.
What does this biblical marriage counseling look like? For that you need to read the book, but here's a peak at one matter that was addressed over the course of the first three sessions.

SESSION 1: At the end of the session Bert and Sue are given a homework assignment that involves composing "a list of 100 or more ways that [they] are failing God as a person, as a husband or wife, and as a father or mother." After they list their faults, then they are supposed to exchange lists to let their spouse add in any they might have missed! Why 100? Why so many? To provide some concrete material - as Dawson explains, "few people can come up with 100 generalizations." Instead of general he wants specific, because it is in specific small ways that people change. Just imagine if you were given the vague charge to "love your spouse more this week." How would you know whether you were meeting this goal or not? But what if things were more specific?

SESSION 2: Their homework assignment this time is to work on two of their faults, as picked by their spouse. This is the putting on of the new man spoken of in Ephesians 4 and while it's a small task – just two items! – that also means it's do-able! Bert is told to concentrate on taking out the trash and making sure his socks hit the hamper. If Bert wants to show his wife that the loves her, here are two very real ways he can go about doing so.

SESSION 3: When the couple shows up for week three it turns out that while Bert's socks hit the hamper six out of seven times, he completely forgot about the trash! Concrete goals reveal concretely whether they are being met or missed. Blame can be clearly assigned, sin shown, and therefore repentance sought – Bert can't evade responsibility, no real excuse is possible, for failing to attend to such a small task. Dawson explains to Bert that his lack of attention is going to be understood by Sue as a lack of love. Confronted by his sin, Bert has the choice of ignoring it, or seeking forgiveness for it. And because he really is a Christian man he shows his love for God by repenting.

That's a taste of the contents, but there is far more here. And what's wonderful about the fictionalized format is that it is a very easy read. This overview of what biblical marital counseling should look like will be useful to elders, deacons, ministers and anyone who is having difficulties or knows someone who is. You can pick up a copy of The Case of the "Hopeless" Marriage at by clicking here.

Author Jay Adams is the man most responsible for bringing the Bible back to biblical counseling – he started his own reformation and could properly be called the Martin Luther of biblical counseling. In addition to many other helpful resources and books he has authored (some of which we review here) Adams has also helped found the following three Christian counseling organizations which are good places to look for help. These are not perfect organizations, so discernment still needs to be used in picking a counselor from them, but this is a better place to start than any other I know of. Only a few Canadian counselors are listed, but there seems to be one in most major cities.

ACBC is the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and was begun by Jay Adams more than 40 years ago. You can find out how to get training and how to find a counselor at there website:

INS or the Institute for Nouthetic Studies is Jay Adams own, smaller, training website with much of the course material available via online delivery (it is not free, but it is online) at

CCEF is the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, and it was also started by Jay Adams, back in 1968 (along with others). It also offers courses, and other resources (books, lectures, etc.) which you can find by visiting

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