In my previous posts I have introduced Everett Worthington’s, Coming to Peace with Psychology: What Christians can Learn from Psychological Science (IVP, 2010). Dr. Worthington wants to explore a better conception of the relationship between psychology and Christianity—something better than ideas in conflict or even dialogue partners. Rather than being suspicious of psychology, he wants us to see that we can learn much about human nature and God from psychological science. He argues that use of scientific research can overcome some of our tendencies to use anecdotes and partially supported theories to explain behavior or predict outcomes.
In chapter five, Dr. Worthington begins by saying, “I want to see God more clearly. Psychological science can help” (p. 75). Without denigrating God’s self-revelation through the Bible he focuses on the human side of the relationship, “…I have a part in this two-way relationship. I must try to discern what God has revealed to us….The more I consult, the greater chance I have of knowing God better” (p. 76). Just how does he consult? He reads the Word, he listens to the Holy Spirit, he consults with fellow believers, reads theologians, and uses spiritual disciplines to reflect (think) on truth. “To see God more clearly, know God better and love God more, I might supplement God’s special revelation (and associated practices in the church ) by consulting God’s general revelation…as revealed by clinical psychology, sociology…or psychological science” (p. 77).
Thus, Worthington states that though Scripture is sufficient for the “necessities of salvation,” it does not answer all the questions we ask and so is not the only resource we need for certain subjects. So, can psychological science teach us about human nature (and by extrapolation, God)? Yes, says Worthington. Using the example of self-control he argues that scientific method can teach you about your “moral muscle and how to strengthen it” (p. 81). Now, readers of this blog will quickly point out that sometimes psychology seems to develop answers/descriptions to human problems that seem in opposition to the answers/descriptions given by Christianity. In response, he focuses on two problems: the failure of some in psychology to use rigorous scientific methods (thus encouraging biases) and the failure to discern the difference between description of human corruption and prescription (of who God is or what he wants).
Finally, he concludes this chapter by stating that though psychological science and theological inquiry speaks different languages (scientific methods vs. literary analyses) from different perspectives (human vs. divine), we ought not believe that the two ways of knowing are unable to “enrich and cross-pollinate each other.” Instead, they perform checks and balances on each other’s findings and interpretations.
Those of you familiar with the Levels of Explanation theory of integration will note that Worthington’s view is a bit more relational (hence that is what he calls it) and interactive than merely consigning the two methods to opposite corners of the ring. In my next post, I’ll give more of his detail regarding his “relational model.”