06 September 2011

Jay Adams reviews The World-Tilting Gospel

by Dan Phillips

My short list of most-influential-books includes works by J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til — and Jay Adams' seminal volume Competent to Counsel. Adams' exposure of the church's acquiescence to the priesthood of psychologists, and his robust insistence on the sufficiency of Scripture in the care of souls and on the role of pastors and the church (as defined by Scripture), were pivotal in my thinking.

This post, by the way, is not about that. Please save that discussion for another day.

My point is that Jay Adams is a huge name to me. His work was helpful and instructive, and I believe he solidly started something very badly needed, which others have furthered and developed to God's glory and His people's good.

Knowing all that, you can understand why my heart felt as if it literally stopped in my chest when I saw an email from Adams' associate Donn Arms, beginning colorlessly (— ominously?) "Thought you would be interested in Jay Adams’ review of your book."

Um, yeah. "Interested," you bet. Interested... in seeing that he hated it? Loved it? Laughed at it? (This is how my mind works; you knew that about me, right?)

So, not breathing, I read it. (Chest still literally aches.) Got permission to reproduce, and am sharing it with you, below. The review has been submitted for the Journal of Modern Ministry for later publication.

Let me first ask you all to join me in praying for Dr. Adams, who is in his eighties, who blogs, and who had a heart attack several weeks ago. He is recuperating at home currently, and I know our prayers would be appreciated.

Normally you might think that "There's nothing new in this book" wouldn't be words an author would want to read in a review of his book. In this case, they're sweet, sweet words to me. Here, see why.

A World-Tilting Gospel
By Dan Phillips
Kregel (Grand Rapids): 2011
Reviewed by Jay E Adams

There's nothing new in this book. It presents the Reformation and standard Protestant view of salvation. And—that's good! We need a book that can be handed to someone with the confidence that it will not present a "tilted" view of the Gospel! Today, on every hand, people are offering strange, unbiblical views of the Gospel, many saying that it is an all-encompassing "something or other" that will not only justify those who believe, but also sanctify those who delve more deeply into it. The idea that the Gospel is no longer "good news" but, instead, is something more is being touted everywhere. This book, however, plainly presents the "old-fashioned" truth that the Gospel is good news to be believed; not good efforts to become sanctified. Here is a book, then, which--unlike too many today—you can safely hand to an unbeliever or believer alike, which will explain the clear, scriptural distinctions between justification by faith and sanctification by Spirit-enabled efforts to obey God. Thank God that this is so!

Thanks, Dr. Adams. For this, and everything. To God be the glory.

Dan Phillips's signature


lee n. field said...

"Sweet words."

I see what you mean.

Rachael Starke said...

Sweet indeed.

Robert said...

Must have been very sweet words to read and give you comfort about your work. I agree wholeheartedly and my lament is that there is such a need for a book like this in the world. I am guessing that you feel the same way and that this is why you wrote the book in the first place.

Definitely praying for Jay Adams. He has had a strong influence on the world of biblical counseling.

donsands said...

It's good to read the Gospel is being proclaimed truthfully, and at the same time our Lord builds us up in our faith and joy through one another.
Jay Adams is a genuine elder of the Church to us all; and what an encouragement with such edifying words about your book.

The devil tryies to tear us down, but the Holy Spirit builds us up.

St. Lee said...

My copy of "The World Tilting Gospel" arrived just a few days ago. I need to finish another book before I start reading it, but I have to say that this review makes me even more anxious to start!

Aaron said...

great review.

John said...


My wife helps lead the women's ministry at our church and is always looking for study guides/helps. Do you think TWTG is adaptable to a group setting?

DJP said...

Thanks, everybody.

John, thanks for such a low, hanging curveball. (c:

Rachael Starke, Kim Shay and other sisters who have read or are reading are welcome to weigh in. I would say "Yes," because the chapters have section divisions that would lend themselves to breaking the book up to suit whatever pace best serves the class. Plus, many Scriptures are cited in the course of each chapter beyond the Scriptures that are made focal points. It gives opportunity for extra reading, study, interaction, and guidance by the leader.

Finally I'm grateful to God that the positive feedback I'm receiving comes from folks in all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds. I would hope that this means the book could be useful and adaptable to a wide variety of groups.

Rachael Starke said...


The book would be excellent for a "What is the Gospel" Sunday School class for anyone high-school age up. To be really effective, it would have to involve a gifted teacher formatting some notes to call out the key questions and how they're addressed, then (especially) helping them work systematically through the plethora of passages Dan references in each section.

All that being said, if your womens' group prefers more traditional fill-in-the-daily-blanky format, this would be a tougher book for them. Again, a skilled teacher could write up daily study notes accordingly, but that would take some work.

JR said...

See, now you are just showing off. ;-)

Herding Grasshoppers said...

I love that first sentence with the third... And - that's good!

Still working through my copy (very busy time in the Grasshopper house right now) and I concur with Rachael. This is foundational, "Gospel 101" material, but not like a workbook/fill-in-the-blank style.

Congrats, Dan :D

James S said...

Adams is an honorable warrior for truth. Way back in '87 I bought a book of his "A Call to Discernment" which helped set me on a good straight path. I've always looked out for any material by him since then, writings, audio, anything, and I've never been disappointed by his teachings.
His work is always top-notch and he is a man you can can rely on to put forth clear truth in all he does.
No doubt, if Jay E. Adams calls a book good, it's good.

JackW said...

I knew it was a good book long before I read Mr. Adams' review. Nice to know I'm in good company though.

Anonymous said...

This got me excited to read The World-Tilting Gospel AND Competent to Counsel. Thanks! :D

mike said...

I recently finished reading TWTG and will be sending a copy to the elders at our Church, for prayerful consideration on that issue.
more readily to the point however, i heartily recommend this book to anyone who will be in a teaching or leadership position. Again, not because it contains anything new, but because far too many have wandered about in search of cool and new, and have lost the very gospel that has the power to save sinners.
it would be a fine reminder to those who have lost the narrow focus, and a meat chub to the forehead of those who have discarded the truth for new and shiny.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Dan! It is always encouraging to receive good reviews; esp. from someone of the stature that Adams represents. His "psychobabble" helped me immensely when I was in my undergrad years, and forced to take a psychology class at my Bible College. Anyway, good review for you!

Aaron said...

What is Adams's angle of attack that he alludes to here? Is he saying the gospel has no sanctifying impact on us? That we begin with the gospel and then move on to something else for spiritual growth (presumably the law)?

I have great respect for Adams, but I wonder what he is getting at here.

Chris Poe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Poe said...


What an encouragement and thrill it must be for you to get this kind of affirmation from such a pivotal leader. Few have had the kind of positive impact that Dr. Adams has had over the past 40 years.

Reading this review makes me all the more eager to read and review your book. My copy has been delayed but hopefully it will arrive soon.

Aaron, if you've been following the recent debates on sanctification on Ref. 21 and the TGC blog, you'll have an idea about what Dr. Adams is referring to. He is objecting to the idea that sanctification is derived simply by "preaching the gospel to yourself" and is reacting against those who treat any talk of imperatives and effort in sanctification as the plague.

Dr. Adams is a subscriber to the Westminster Standards, so yes, he sees a definite role for the law (the Third Use) in sanctification. But some of those who seem to equate talk of effort and striving with regard to sanctification with legalism and "performance-based religion" (in an apparent overreaction to genuine legalism) would seem to have issues with the many NT imperatives as well.

Spike said...

Aaron, I too was suprised and confused by Dr Adams short reference to gospel sanctification / spirit led obedience sanctification. However, a quick look at his blog, the link is in Dan's post, and you can see in his Sept 3 post, which is his Morning Meditation, that Dr Adams humility is from a deep understanding, even in his advanced years, of just how bad he (we) needs a savior. He surely relies on gospel (Jesus' work) forgiveness to have peace as the spirit leads him, the crux of a gospel centered life.

Family Blogs said...

Well done Dan. Still looking forward to reading this.

That recommendation will be very handy when The World Tilting Gospel hits its third or fourth editions eh?

Aaron said...

Here is a website of someone who, to my understanding, was mentored by Adams.


A quick perusal will reveal that this gentleman is diametrically opposed to what organizations like The Gospel Coalition stand for (a gospel-centered approach to the Christian life).

I know that we cannot attribute these thoughts to Adams. However, given that he went out of his way in a book review to take a passing shot at this issue indicates to me that this stuff is definitely on his radar. Adams's disciple comes close to declaring the whole gospel-centered movement (TGC, T4G, etc.) heretical. I wonder where Adams himself stands on this question.

I wouldn't have brought this up except for the fact that Adams apparently inserted those comments into a book review at a place where it did not seem necessary to me at all to bring it up.

DJP said...

Have you read World-Tilting Gospel, Aaron? As Jay Adams did, before he said anything about it or the connection?

Aaron said...

No, I'm not attempting to comment on the book. I'm just trying to understand where Adams stands on this question.

Prior to reading his review, I didn't think much of this question at all. I was familiar with the website of the gentleman whom Adams had mentored, but I did not assume that Adams shared the views presented on that website.

I still do not make that assumption. I do, however, see that Adams evidently does share some of the same concerns about the gospel-centeredness that has arisen within certain sectors of evangelicalism within recent years, and, not knowing the full import of what Adams's position entails on this, it is somewhat troubling to me, though I hope needlessly so, to see him making the kind of comment that he made. In other words, his comment seems like the tip of an iceberg that could either be a very understandable iceberg or a deeply troubling one, at least from my perspective.

If this is too far off topic, I can understand why this conversation need not go any father, and that would be fine with me. I was just hoping, however, that in a forum with a large pool of input from a number of wise and informed people, I might be able to get a more comprehensive understanding of where Jay Adams stands on this issue. And the only reason I care to know is because, as I mentioned before, I respect him and his work.

Yes, it may be that I should read the book to see if it addresses these concerns at all. And if that is a prerequisite for continuing in the conversation, then I am happy to oblige, though it will probably be some time before I could get around to reading it.

Let me be clear here that I am not in any way making accusations against anyone. I think I have gone out of my way to word my concern very carefully so as to avoid that appearance. I am merely seeking greater understanding.

DJP said...

Before suggesting that Adams went out of his way to make an irrelevant comment unrelated to the book, one would think that having read the book would have been a good idea. Then you might have seen that the book actually is very relevant to the discussion about how the Gospel frames and empowers and applies to the process of sanctification. In that case, one might instead think that Adams may be ahead of a curve, rather than off on a tangent.

Aaron said...

"Then you might have seen that the book actually is very relevant to the discussion about how the Gospel frames and empowers and applies to the process of sanctification."

See, this is where I would give a hearty amen! I agree wholeheartedly that the gospel frames and empowers and applies to the process of sanctification, and I think it is crucial that we recognize this. If there truly is nothing new in your book (and that is a good thing!), then I probably don't have to read it to have a basic idea of what it is about. I'm sure that if I read it I would have no trouble endorsing it.

But this is what Adams actually said:

"Today, on every hand, people are offering strange, unbiblical views of the Gospel, many saying that it is an all-encompassing 'something or other' that will not only justify those who believe, but also sanctify those who delve more deeply into it."

I don't think Adams agrees, Dan, that the gospel is something that empowers sanctification. And that's what I find so troubling. I hope I'm wrong.

Aaron said...

If I am talking too much and taking us too far afield, then feel free to delete me (you obviously don't need my permission, but I will understand if you feel the need to do so).

Here's something that Adams wrote directly on the issue:


I find it just provocative enough to be troubling, and yet just short enough to be frustrating.

Here is a response to Adams that echoes many of my concerns (though there are a few things in it that I would not agree with):


Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donn R Arms said...

It seems that not only have you not read WTG you have not actually read Adams, only others who have an ax to grind about his theology (as per your link). For someone who “has great respect for Adams” you are affording him little respect here. Let me help with a few things.

First, if Paul Doshe was mentored by Adams it is only in the sense that over the years I have been mentored by Spurgeon. Jay and I met Paul Doshe for the first time about three months ago.

Dan is correct, Adams has been ahead of the curve on this sub-orthodox view of sanctification. Ten years ago he wrote a small book warning about Jack Miller’s Sonship theology (the fountainhead of this newly popular monergistic view of sanctification). He has also written at least three books dealing with sanctification which I would comment to you if you weren’t already so far behind on your reading.

One of the reasons Jay liked the book was that it dealt with this issue. There are other things to commend WTG as well but since this is on Adams’ mind these days why is it wrong to cite it in his review? I trust you understand that Adams’ review was not a full blown examination of the book. He read it, thought it was valuable, and wanted to commend it to others.

Glad I could help.

Aaron said...

Hi Donn. Thanks for your helpful comment.

What are the titles of those three books? I should be able to get around to them eventually.

Aaron said...

Donn, if you don't mind me asking a couple of questions here, I would be grateful, since you know Adams personally:

(1) Is Adams aiming his criticisms at groups like Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition? Would they be part of the mix of what Adams believes is a sub-biblical view of sanctification and thus a distortion of the gospel?

(2) Would Adams agree with Dan's prior statement that "the Gospel frames and empowers and applies to the process of sanctification."

I know you don't speak for him, and thus your ability to respond may be quite limited. But if you know him really well, I thought you may be able to speak to these two issues in particular. It would really help me gain some clarity.

Donn R Arms said...

Winning the War Within
Growing by Grace
Biblical Sonship, An Evaluation (now out of print)

Adams does not aim his criticisms at groups. His concern is with doctrine, what is taught. These kinds of groups are not monolithic. There are those who would identify with these groups who do teach such things, others would not.

Correct, I do not speak for Jay. Personally, I have no problem with it.

For more, see Jay’s blog articles on the subject:


FYI, Jay read WTG and wrote this review in the midst of great personal trial. His health is in serious decline and he is not able to do much reading or writing these days. We are hopeful that his health will improve after dealing with his present trials but I know he would appreciate knowing you are praying for him.

Aaron said...


Please tell Dr. Adams that I will intercede with the Lord on his behalf. May his sufferings refine him ever more into the image of Christ, and may the Lord grant him the blessing of a quick recovery.

And thank you again. You have been very helpful.

I think that's all from me.

DJP said...

Yes, Aaron, it really is all from you on this. I regret not being in a position to moderate this thread more actively, and I would have (as I tried, evidently too subtly) stopped you earlier.

Jay Adams did me an extraordinary kindness in reading this book, period, and in commending it. It was exciting and a blessing to me, and blogs are places where the authors share (among other things) what interests and excites them.

This thread was in no way the place to take off after him, insinuate that he was off-topic off a book you hadn't read, and link to his critics. I am only going to leave your comments because Donn was kind enough to take the time to respond to them.

I appreciate your gracious and brotherly response to Donn's response.

So please, leave it there.

And if I'm unable to moderate, I ask Frank and/or Phil to make sure we don't pursue this line further.

Kim said...

I realize I'm coming in late, here, but I just saw the question about whether or not the book could be used in a group setting with women. I would give an affirmative on that, provided the leader delved into the Scriptures Dan refers to. I teach women and I would be willing to say that many do not know the depth of the gospel, but rather only enough to be saved and then they move on with wanting to share their "feelings" and whatnot. What is needed, perhaps, is a woman to put together a study guide for it.