Chapter 2 of Eric Johnson’s book, Foundations for Soul Care(IVP, 2007) traces the use of the bible as soul healing agent throughout the history of the church. Eric explores the work of early church fathers, medieval church, reformation, and Puritanism as examples of soul care writings based on the biblical text.
The chapter then moves to consider the historical movement of the relationship between Christianity and science. While early scientists saw their field of study as something revealing evidence of God’s handiwork, a “fracture” begins with Enlightenment thinking.
Ironically, while Christianity contributed to the development of the scientific revolution, that revolution came to be increasingly linked to an alternative worldview: modernism (p. 63)
Eric does a nice job summarizing the transition. One moves from the use of metaphysics, tradition, and revelation (Eric’s words) to a focus on the specific object of study and the use of observation. Thus, human reason and empiricism rule the day.
At core what distinguishes modernism and Christianity as ways of thinking about human life are their different ultimate commitments. Christianity assumes a God-centered worldview in which the individual self (with its submissive reason) is seen as relatively important in relation to the rest of creation but relatively unimportant in comparison to the infinite God. In such a framework, science is a noble task done first for the glory of God and second for the benefit of humanity, a good means to a greater end. Modernism inherited the self of Christianity, but without its God to keep things in proper perspective, the self became the center of the universe (an anti-Copernican revolution!), eventually regarding its own experience, together with its autonomous reason, as the foundations of truth and morality…Consequently, individualism–and not relationship–was established at the base of the modern worldview. (p. 65)
Eric goes on to talk about how Christianity imbibed the modernistic assumptions (either trying to use empiricism to defend fundamentalism or accepting that psychology is the best way to understand human functioning).
Eric does a good job summarizing the modern pastoral care movement and capitulation to psychotherapy models. Further, he shows how a Barthian model of soul care was not quite liberalism nor evangelicalism. Finally, he reviews the postmodern turn and “postliberal recovery.”
Johnson’s take on modern pastoral care movement? It doesn’t offer much to the evangelical in the way of thinking biblically about souls. The postliberal engagement with the Bible does two things: re-engages the text of Scripture as a real dialogue partner while not dismissing the helps within positivist psychology.
If you are unfamiliar with the modern history of Christian counseling and pastoral care, this is a great chapter to start with. You can get a quick overview plus a bibliography to point you to original sources. The next chapters deal with evangelical and fundamentalist counseling models and how they dealt with Scripture (i.e., biblical counseling or integrationism).