Another shot at understanding integration of psychology and christianity

Over the 40 plus years of our profession’s existence, Christian counselors have tried in numerous ways to model the relationship between Christianity/theology/bible and the study of psychology. Unfortunately, many model building efforts created more barriers than dialogue among brothers and sisters. Counselors staked out territory with titles such as biblical counseling, integration, levels of explanation.

However, in recent years, more authors have tried hard to articulate a distinctly Christian view of persons and a humble articulation of the change process that builds on the good insights of others (e.g., McMinn & Campbell’s Integrative psychotherapy, Johnson’s Foundations of Soul Care, Malony & Augsburger’s Christian Counseling, etc.). These authors have taken the time to examine their control beliefs, theological assumptions, and more in order to make their psychology truly Christian and not merely a rehash of secular ideas.

If you like thinking about epistemology and yet still interested in application to real life, you ought to check out John Coe and Todd Hall’s Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology (IVP, 2010). I’m just getting into it and so do not have much to say just yet. However, this is a great time to be a Christian psychologist. After a decade or more of avoiding these kinds of treatises for being practical (to a fault) and superficially Christian in our psychology, we have something substantive to sink our teeth into. This is no superficial treatment of Christian theology and human efforts (and their failings) to understand the nature of persons-in-relationship. For example,

1. They start out with the Fall. They acknowledge its full impact on human knowing and observing, that psychology from human eyes will always contain some distortion.

2. They acknowledge that redemption and not merely creation is what shapes our identity. “By creation, human love, and natural goods, we discover a “self.” By redemption and transformation, we are enabled to slowly die to our autonomous self and open to our new identity as self-in-God.” (p. 35)

3. “Ultimately, we are not merely arguing for a new model or a way to relate psychology to Christianity; rather, we are arguing for a new transformational model for doing psychology and science, which inherently and intrinsically is already Christian and open to the Spirit.” (ibid)

4.   They are interested in a spiritually formative and relational psychology that cares about the person, the process, and the product (p. 37)

I’m looking forward to the ride. Not sure I’m going to be happy. I’ve read a bit further and am not sure why they spend more time knocking down models that most of us would consider their first cousins (e.g., Christian psychology). That seems to be something from our profession’s past that isn’t as helpful. However, I really appreciate that an early chapter tells both of their stories; their maturation through a period where their faith wasn’t as central to their work as Christian professors of psychology. Often, these kinds of books do NOT include admissions of growth and change. Too often, authors act is if they have always thought this or that way.

I’ll keep you posted with book notes as I go.


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, counseling science, counseling skills, Doctrine/Theology, Psychology, teaching counseling

6 responses to “Another shot at understanding integration of psychology and christianity

  1. Jackie

    Just heard John Coe speak at a seminar about the coming book Psychology and Christianity: Five Views. He is one of the contributing authors. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology (IVP, 2010). Purchased it at the seminar because I had read other articles of both John Coe and Todd Hall that have both stretched my thinking and resonated with me. I wasn’t surprised to read your comment, “I really appreciate that an early chapter tells both of their stories; their maturation through a period where their faith wasn’t as central to their work as Christian professors of psychology. Often, these kinds of books do NOT include admissions of growth and change.” I would have to say that each work of theirs I have read has exhibited that same level of authenticity. Unfortunately my copy of “Psychology and the Spirit” will have to sit on the shelf until the semester’s required reading is behind me :o) Hope to hear more of your thoughts on this book!

  2. Scott Knapp

    I picked up a copy of “Modern Psychologies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal” by Jones & Butman off eBay recently at a great price (what author wants to hear that?), and have been working my way through it. I realize it’s a bit dated (pub. 1991), but not coming from a CACREP program, I’d like a little better familiarity with the “secular” positions than I have, so I can dialogue more intelligently. I still think Crabb did a nice work of explaining integration in “Understanding People” but it doesn’t get much press.

  3. Pingback: harmonicminer » Christian Psychology? We really need it to be developed further.

  4. When I first began my educational studies I was leaning more toward the nouthetic side of the integration debate. The only exposure I had was to the humanist backgrounds of the secular psychology side and they seemed to clash with my Christian beliefs in many cases. It wasn’t until I heard a healthy view of integration presented that I was able to see the benefits from secular psychology. I am very thankful for the professors in the counseling department and the way they modeled and taught a healthy view of integration. I now have 10 years experience serving in various positions within the church and 10 years experience working in the mental health field. One challenge that I see is for churches to understand the mental health and substance abuse needs that sits in their sanctuaries on Sundays and surround them in their communities.

    • JoshVU

      ctmcnatt, this is exactly what I need to hear! Needless to say, it is a breath of fresh air to see someone who has ventured into the realm of Christian psychology integration and has come out the other end unscathed and uncompromising in regards to your faith. Im a psychology major just starting out at a 4-year university and this conflict has consistently been coming up in my classes as well as my personal walk with God. I pray that God can walk with me through this educational/spiritual journey this clear eyes and an eagerness to serve his kingdom through the field of Psychology.

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