Tag Archives: John Coe

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

The way out of moralism?

What is the way out of Christian moralism? Continuing from the last post, Coe says we have to

[open] our heart and mind deeply to (1) the reality of Christ’s work on the Cross in justification and (2) the ministry of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and in-filling. (p. 73)

If there is no more condemnation then “come out of your hiding in your prayer life and be honest with God.” And if Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to you, “then stop trying to cover your badness by being good.” (p. 74).

Coe says we often feel forgiven for failures but still feel unacceptable. And so we tend to respond with moralism in an effort to get to that point that we feelacceptable. Instead we are to meditate on the truth of our acceptance on the merit of the Cross AND need the transformation of the Spirit. Coe reminds us that spiritual disciplines do not transform us but “only become relational opportunities to open the heart to the Spirit who transforms.” (P. 77)

So, what do you think about his way out? Are you left wishing for more direction? More objective activities? Then in his mind you might be a moralist…

Maybe we should start by talking to others about our propensity towards moralism and quick fixes to our deepest problem. Also, we may need to explore how little we rely on the Spirit and how infrequent we are mindful of our needy state without moving toward shame or dulling that feeling.


Filed under Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, Uncategorized

Are you tempted to moralistic formation?

At the ETS meeting, someone handed me the inaugural issue of Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care. Despite the fact that I’m in the business of these activities I have to admit that I am often turned off by writings about spirituality and soul care. Maybe its because the words can mean so many different things.

Anyway, I finally had a chance to look at the articles and found this little treasure by John Coe, “Resisting the Temptation of Moral Formation: Opening to Spiritual Formation in the Cross and the Spirit” (p. 54-78).

Coe tells his reader that he is writing to dedicated Christians (rather than consumer Christians) who are very serious about their Christian growth and have a sincere desire for increased holiness. He says he sometimes calls this group the “dedicated neurotic.”

What I have discovered, however, is that these same dedicated persons often struggle with a secret, and sometime not so secret, burden of guilt and shame that they are not as mature as they should be, that their lives often feel spiritually dry and withered, that the Christian life feels more like work than joy. They wonder at times, “God, what is wrong with me? Where are the rivers of living water? Why do I still struggle with the same sins year after year? Why is my spiritual life so dry?” And so they might pick up a Dallas Willard or Richard Foster book or come to our Institute for Spiritual Formation with a hunger to grow, hoping to find something that will make their spiritual life work. (p. 55)

Ever experience this?

Coe goes on to say that he wants to tell this person,

…what they may not know is that they are in the grips of a great temptation… For some, there is a temptation to despair of their spiritual life, to despair that God will come, to tune out, to accept a spirituality of “dry bones.” For others there is the temptation to act out immorally, so that when frustrations mount in the Christian life, the temptation is to say in one’s heart, “I cannot take it anymore, I just want to escape for a while.”

However, I want to address a peculiar temptation, one especially relevant and (I think) universal to those who are dedicated to the Christian life and to ministry. It is what I call the moral temptation. (ibid)

What is a moral temptation? In Coe’s mind it is to,

attempt to deal with our spiritual failure, guilt and shame by means of spiritual efforts, by attempting to perfect one’s self in the power of the self. It is the attempt of the well-intentioned believer to use spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines, ministry, service, obedience–being good in general –as a way to relieve the burden of spiritual failure, lack of love and the guilt and shame that results. (ibid)

How do you know if you are a Christian moralist? Coe uses the following diagnostic?

Question one: When you are convicted by sin, what is your first response?Is it “I will do better…I need to work on that…” then you are a moralist. If this is not just your first response, but also your most abiding one then he really thinks you are positively a moralist. The law, Coe says, is our tutor to lead us to Christ. And we can tell the difference based on our response. Are we feeling condemned versus culpable. Are we feeling the “should do differently” versus “I cannot do it apart from Christ.” Are we thinking we should try better versus sorry for our failing. Are we making moralistic efforts versus seeking the spirit.

Question two: When you are aware of your guilt and failure, does it lead to“overwhelming and abiding feelings of frustration, sense of failure, and self-rejection so that you do no want to feel things things but, rather want to repress them from awareness…”? (p. 68) Or do you pray with the ancients, “O blessed vice, for it was you who taught me to cling to Christ”?

The next post we’ll look at some ways out of this moralistic pattern.


Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Christianity, Evangelicals, Gospel