Coming to Peace with Psychology I (Review)

I’ve arrived as a blogger! No, I’m not getting paid to write and I’m not getting millions of hits each day. But I am getting a new perk. Someone has seen fit to send me complimentary books just in case I might wish to review them here. Free books! Do you know how cool that is? To an academic and book lover, it is just about the best perk ever.

[I guess this is a good time for a disclaimer. I only review books I find interesting. And even if the book comes wrapped in Ben Franklins (this one wasn’t for some reason), I promise to tell you what I really feel about the book]

Today, I received Ev Worthington’s new book, Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians Can Learn From Psychological Science (IVP, 2010). You may be familiar with Dr. Worthington’s work on marriage enrichment, marriage and family therapy, and forgiveness. This is my first experience with him writing about the relationship of psychology and Christianity. Here are a few of his thoughts from the introduction and the enclosed “Author Q & A” about why we might need a new book on this topic:

  • “In this book I will claim that we can know people better, and even know God better, by heeding psychological science.” (p. 11)
  • “People have been integrating theology and psychology for years, but a vast majority of the integration has come from psychotherapists. Only a small minority of integrators have been psychological scientists…. While psychotherapists try to generalize about human nature on the basis of the clients they have seen and the models of helping they were trained in, psychological scientists measure the whole range of people–those 15 percent who were clients with some psychotherapist and about 85 percent more who are not.” (Author Q & A)

Wow. He lays down the gauntlet. The problem with previous integration has been the emphasis on anecdotes from therapists. If only we had more integration models by scientists. In fact, he is right–to a degree. Much of integration is highly theory driven. But is that bad?

[Rabbit trail: What are the common “sins” of theologian integrators? Clinician Integrators? Research Integrators? Theologians put far too much emphasis on their constructs and exegesis; clinicians put too much emphasis on “what works”; researchers put too much confidence in p values. In fact none have the corner on the market of truth. But again, Worthington’s book may be very helpful. He is right that both clinicians and biblical counselors fail to interact deeply enough with psychological research. Either they dismiss scientific methods by pointing out its weaknesses or they generalize from a small data point into a grand theory even though the data cannot bear the weight of the theory.]

Let’s hear some more from Worthington about the direction of his book:

  • His theses: Psychological science helps both Christians and non-Christians (a) understand God’s creation in human beings, (b) know about God more because the study of image bearers points to God, and (c) live more virtuously. (p. 13)
  • So, he sees psychology as a common grace to refine us all. This is very interesting. Usually integrative literature has cited common grace as what allows humans to rightly perceive. Here, the discipline IS common grace.
  • The relationship between psychology and Christianity is an “emerging marriage”– one that has possibilities of conflict and yet greater intimacy.

Finally, you might be interested in just what approach Ev Worthington will take in connecting psychology and Christianity. In the past some have described integration as a recycling project, a filter to get rid of non-Christian worldviews, a recasting effort, or a perspectival or level of explanation project. He mentions two: filter and perspectival approaches. The filter tries to have theological/biblical constructs as interpreting science. He finds this problematic. The perspectival model tries to separate the two disciplines as different ways of knowing.

So what does Worthington suggest? A new model he calls a relational approach.

That’s enough for this post. Next post I’ll make some comments on his first section (where he addresses some of the problems in previous integration by pointing to some psychological science).


Filed under biblical counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling science, philosophy of science, Psychology

4 responses to “Coming to Peace with Psychology I (Review)

  1. Hi Phil:

    Trust you are well. Sorry that you were not able to get to the retreat in the spring. Great time. Just found your blog through a link on an e-mail from Dave W. Thanks for sharing the PPTs, etc. I may use something at some point. No time to surf around today. Just wanted to let you know that I am doing well and say thank you for the words of guidance and truth during my journey.


  2. I enjoyed reading the various thoughts on integration from …. Care for the soul: exploring the intersection of psychology & theology

    Edited By Mark R. McMinn, Timothy R. Phillips

  3. D. Stevenson

    I like the book cover! 🙂

  4. Carm

    After reading your reviews, I look forward to my semester break so that I can read the book.

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