One Definition of Christian Psychology

At a recent conference, Diane Langberg submitted the following definition of Christian Psychology. I present it below, verbatim, for your consideration. In some ways she doesn’t say anything new. However, it is quite different from our usual definitions.

Let me explain my seeming contradiction by first giving you C. Stephen Evans definition of Christian psychology,

 [It is] psychology which is done to further the kingdom of God, carried out by citizens of that kingdom whose character and convictions reflect their citizenship in that kingdom… (p. 132)

As you would expect, Dr. Evans offers a philosophically astute definition.

Or, consider Eric Johnson’s tome, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal. In this book of 700 plus pages, he explicates a Christian psychology framework as doxological, semiodiscursive, dialogical, canonical, and psychological approach to soul repair. If you are looking for a theologically and epistemologically rich entry point to Christian psychology, I can’t point you to a better place than this book.

Like these two examples, many of our current definitions focus on matters of epistemology, theology, and psychology. Many definitions also emphasize the work of critical evaluation of existing psychological theory and research.

Now turn to Dr. Langberg’s definition. Notice how she emphasizes the character, the preparation, and actions of the counselor. Notice further that the focus on outcomes is bidirectional–on counselee and counselor.

Christian psychology as practiced in the counseling relationship is a servant of God, steeped in the Word of God, loving and obeying God in public and in private, sitting across from a suffering sinner at a vulnerable crossroad in his/her life and bringing all of the knowledge and wisdom and truth and love available to that person while remaining dependent on the Spirit of God hour by hour. That work, no matter what you call it, will be used by God to change us into His likeness; that work will result in His redemptive work in the life sitting before us; that work will bring glory to His great Name.

What I take from Dr. Langberg’s definition is an emphasis on action, the Spirit’s work and the counselor’s work (in self and other). While the epistemological definitions are necessary if we are going to think critically about our work, so to is this action-oriented definition. It reminds us that for all our thinking and theorizing, it is God’s work in our private and public lives that is used to bring healing and hope to others.

Your thoughts?


Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg

9 responses to “One Definition of Christian Psychology

  1. heartmissiontherapy

    I appreciate this post and absolutely love and “amen” the quote from Dr. Langberg. By the way, I really enjoy your blog. 🙂

  2. tom

    Well, the quote is fine, but it isn’t much of a definition for psychology. What it defines is the compassion and empathy we’d expect from a follower of Jesus. A good thing, A great thing! But as a definition of psychology it has two problems: 1) it doesn’t provide much in the way of boundaries for the practice of the discipline, and 2) it subtly takes away responsibility from the rest of the church community. We are back to the issue of Phil’s previous blog about “branding” and my comment abut Maia Svalavitz’s article in Time – “The Trouble with Talk Therapy.”

    I hate to be a scrooge. I deal with some darker aspects of (Christian) psychology and I’m not nearly as sanguine. Definitions are important, and Christian psychology needs to be way more precise.

    • Antoinette

      I found your thoughts rather interesting, however I’m wondering how can the defintion of Christian psychology be more precise if we as fallible human beings are not precise at all. It’s sort of difficult to pinpoint an exact defintion when there are so many different aspects of humanity and simply life that can be far too complex for even the most smartest intellectual person here on earth can comprehend. The only One who can fully define anything is God. I believe He uses us in this field as helpers to assist others in discovering what their unique defintion of their situation is for themselves which leaves us as helping professionals to try to guide them as best as possible. Or my question is, is a definition really necessary? We as people want so badly to define everything so that we feel more comfortable as it may carry out as a guideline to what we will possibly focus on. It’s difficult working in a setting where I am a Christian however everyone I see is not and the environment I work in is not specifically or solely a Christian one. I’d like to be a light to my clients. If anything I’d like them to see my character. If I try to define everything about them or my work, it wouldn’t give me room to be who I am as a woman of God in trying to serve and help them. Sometimes these ways are not always defined in my job title, it’s specific to the individual needs. The most important thing I think we need to define as helping professionals if any, is to share the true meaning of the word “love”, and be that reflection each and every day not only to our clients but to all we may encounter.

    • Tom, good to see you back here. I think (wink) you do like being a scrooge :). I also think that some of your experiences give you a pretty jaundiced and overly negative read on things. First, I could have been clearer but I nor Dr. Langberg were trying to define psychology. Its a brought field, much like your own, and has a habit of commenting or overlapping with most every other field since both deal with being human. Second, there is NOTHING in her post that takes away from the church. You’ve said that before but defining what Christians do in a counseling office doesn’t negate what others do elsewhere. Not sure why you would think so. A court judge adjudicates. His/her work doesn’t eliminate a church court having a disciplinary hearing, right? I can only see how you would think as you wrote if you thought only ordained pastors or lay leaders can sit with suffering, point to Christ in the context of the church. Third, try a peak at her entire 8 page manuscript. You can find it:

      • Tom

        Antoinette, your response illustrates my point. You identify the subjectivity of being a person. But that is exactly the reason for a precise definition when you claim the mantel of physician. If you don’t, where is the accountability – as in “do no harm.” I won’t defend anthropology on that score – talk about a “fraught” field. But we are not physicians. We have no license, nor do we contract with clients with the promise of “healing.” When you get licensed, you accept a measure of accountability above and beyond what the average loving and compassionate person brings to a friendship. Phil, I do think Diane’s definition lacks intellectual rigor and lowers the bar – for counseling, not Christians. No, I’m not a ecclesiastical elitist. I come from a very traditional “priesthood of believers” tradition. And I think psychology/counseling are valuable, helpful, professions – as long as they maintain transparent, verifiable, professional standards. Yea, I’ll work on the Scrooge thing…

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  4. I really like the definition because of the way in which it moves the profession of psychology out of the center and places Jesus Christ (and our response to Him) there instead. I disagree about bar lowering Tom – although I like your input and it caused me to think a great deal. I humbly offer that on the contrary – this definition raises the bar impossibly high, which I believe is the point. Only as we seek Him first (Matthew 6:33) can we ever hope to have “all these things” added to us, whether we be psychologists, or doctors, or professors or janitors. Those are my two cents – thanks for listening!

  5. Armando

    During my time at Biblical I was blessed to come under the tutelage of some fine professors of theology. During one of these courses we read a book that made the accusation of theology historically being an exercise in philosophical discourse by overstuffed racist academics (paraphrased). That was a little harsh but the truth be told our God is a God of action. God in the divine word makes it clear that the fruit or resulting action of faith is what bears witness to that faith. Dr. Langberg’s statement is a wonderful testimony to this. We can use all the big words we want but in truth it is the miraculous union of human action meeting the divine intervention that is fundamentally Christian and simple enough for a couple of uneducated fisherman to eventually grasp. As always Phil, have expanded our dialog and I thank you for being open to the spirit to do so.

    • Tom

      Hey Armando, God bless our professors. But if you believe the accusation here, you do not honor them. Ad hominem attacks are the basis of bigotry. What keeps anyone from substituting “overstuffed racist academics” with something else closer to home? No, you need to do the hard work and understand the arguments enough to refute or change them. I get the action thing, but it isn’t entirely Scriptural. “Enthusiasm without knowledge is no good. Haste makes mistakes,” says the wiseman. (Pv 19:2). Balance. Actually, I began interacting with Phil here because, even though we disagree on significant things, he provides an open forum for learning. Those are the best professors.

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