Can We Develop a Truly Christian Psychology?

No subject is more divisive, at least in many conservative churches in America, than Christian psychology, or better stated, Christian counseling. Hope_crisis
One reason for this problem is that Christians who engage the social science of psychology often do a very poor job of submitting their reflections to biblical authority. The result is that there are many Christians doing psychology and counseling who are not actively submitting their practices to the types of biblical patterns and principles that offer real solutions.

Because of this confusion a virtual “war” has broken out, over the past ten years in particular, between the various types of counseling done by Christians. One side we have what has been called “biblical counseling” while on the other we have what is often referred to as “integrationist counseling,” or, to some who are very critical, non-Christian counseling.

A recent reader of this blog, who is himself a Christian counselor (Rev. Rick Sholette of Norman, Oklahoma), recently sent me a link to his site, Paraclete Ministries. I find myself agreeing with Rick’s approach completely, or at least in so far as I have read his excellent work up to this point. I think he articulates clearly and succinctly what I have been trying to say (far more poorly I might add) for about twenty years now. If you are a pastor I suggest you look into this man and his work and if you are not you will still benefit by reading all that he writes on his site.

At Rick’s Web site he brings out a very interesting historical observation that I had no knowledge about until I read his comments last week. He believes that there needs to be a distinctive and carefully developed “Christian psychology.” This counseling should be developed by biblical theologians and Christian psychologists seeking to do this as partners. Rick writes: “Christian psychology initiatives predate focused Christian integrationism efforts by decades. Chambers
In 1912 Oswald Chambers’ wife published verbatim notes from lectures Chambers gave in 1911 at the Bible Training College, London. The book title: Biblical Psychology.” I knew that Chambers wrote this book but I didn’t understand its importance until Rick pointed it our. This may well be a case where going back to an older thinker, who wrote long before our current battles, will help us immensely. We seem, at least the moment, to be locked into a state of impasse and this results in more warfare in the Church about this matter.

Rick captures the very essence of the present struggle when he writes:

"All of these turbulent streams of difficulties are combining to create a torrential river of crisis for Christian counselors, as manifest by the recent decision of the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, to jettison its clinical pastoral counseling program and adopt a Nouthetic/Biblical counseling program in its place (David Winfrey. Christian Century, 1/23/2007, Vol. 124, Issue 2, pp. 24-27). The implications of this change for professional Christian counseling is significant, for in doing so, SBTS has essentially rejected secular standards and sanctions for professional Christian counselors, preparing their counseling students only for professional work in churches or para-church contexts. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina has done the same (Ibid), reflecting a June 2002 resolution by the Southern Baptist Convention to ‘affirm Christian counseling that relies upon the Word of God rather than theories that are rooted in a defective understanding of human nature.’”   

Rick concludes, again very wisely I believe, “Every conservative Christian school that currently provides secular-controlled clinical counseling programs will Counseling_2
eventually have to address this growing disillusionment with clinical psychology and psychotherapy among Bible-believing, spiritually sensitive Christians.”

It is Rick’s judgment, and I deeply share this view, that the best understanding of "Christian psychology" is to be truly found in a careful effort to understand people from within a Christian worldview. The results of that activity, including the development of models, methods, and materials (from within a Christian worldview) that are then made genuinely useful for further research, teaching, and counseling.

John Frame has written an incredibly important article titled: “Machen’s Warrior Children.” Images
In it he cites a number of issues that have divided the Reformed children of the late Presbyterian conservative, J. Gresham Machen. One of the major items on his list is counseling. I think we would all do well to pay more attention to this issue with an eye on solving the crisis it has created in the churches. It is literally ripping apart churches, families and ministries. There are likely hundreds, or even thousands, of my readers who have experienced this pain and division firsthand. This issue will not go away since dogmatic ministers and lay people have made their view of counseling synonymous with faithfulness to the authority of Scripture.

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