Chapter 1.
A Brief History of Christians in Psychology

Eric L. Johnson

Followers of God have always been interested in his creation. After citing the stars in the heavens, the bestowal of rain, the growth of vegetation and the feeding of wild animals, the psalmist cries out, “How many are your works, O Lord! /In wisdom you made them all; /the earth is full of your creatures” (Ps 104:24). But of all the things in creation, of greatest interest to most of us is our own nature, for we are fascinated with the wonder of ourselves. As John Calvin wrote, a human being is a microcosm of the universe, “a rare example of God’s power, goodness, and wisdom, and contains within... enough miracles to occupy our minds” (1559/1960, p. 54). It is not surprising then to learn that Christian thinkers over the centuries have thought deeply about psychological matters, long before modern psychology arose.

Yet Christian interest in psychology has exploded over the last fifty years. Countless books have been written by Christians that describe our personalities, our boundaries, our dysfunctional development, our relationships and their problems, how our children should be raised, and so on. However, in the midst of this explosion has been an intellectual crisis that the church has been wrestling with for even longer: over the previous 140 years, a complex and rich body of knowledge and practice has proliferated, which has understood and treated human beings in some ways that vary considerably from Christian perspectives on human life. Since this modern psychology is largely secular, there is considerable disagreement about how much the theories and findings of this type of psychology should influence, be absorbed into and even transform the way Christians think about human beings. Some Christians have embraced modern psychology’s findings and theories with uncritical enthusiasm, naively trusting that its texts are a perfect reflection of human reality. Others have argued that any appropriation of modern psychology is “psycho heresy,” since it necessarily poisons the Christians who imbibe it (Bobgan & Bobgan, 1987). This book will examine neither extreme but will consider the vast territory between them — specifically five well-thought-through views from evangelicals who offer a fairly comprehensive representation of the ways that most Christians (including non-evangelicals) understand psychology and counseling in our day.

Before summarizing the five approaches themselves, I would like to trace the historical and intellectual background for the present debate.

Christianity and Science

We ought to begin by noting that Christians have commonly understood that the natural order is the work of a wise Creator who continues to providentially guide it, and that it, therefore, possesses an intrinsic rationality and orderliness that can be investigated. Discovering evidence of this design brings God glory, thus its continued investigation is warranted (Hooykaas, 1972; McGrath, 2001; Stark, 2003). Indeed, it was mostly Christians in the West who founded the scientific revolution, and the main contributors to the early developments in the natural sciences — astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology — were Christians of various stripes, including Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Francis Bacon, Newton, Boyle, Pascal, Descartes, Ray, Linnaeus and Gassendi. Throughout the history of Christianity, science has been seen, fundamentally, as a gift of God.

Christianity and Psychology

According to most introductory textbooks in psychology, psychopathology and counseling (and even some history of psychology texts), the founding of psychology occurred in the mid- to late-1800s. As we will see, though, that was the founding of modern psychology. A little mo reinvestigation reveals that there was a tremendous amount of reflection, writing, counseling, psychological theorizing and even some research going on during previous centuries (Brett, 1912; Klein, 1970; Leahey,2003; Watson & Evans, 1991). Unquestionably, the form of this older psychology was different in many respects from the empirically and statistically oriented psychology of the past hundred years. In contrast, this older psychology relied much more on the philosophical and theological reflections of Christian thinkers and ministers. Nonetheless, this was genuine psychological work and it pervades the history of Christianity (and all the major religions; see Olson, 2002; Thomas, 2001), even if most of it was characterized by less of the complexity evident in modern psychology.

The first sophisticated psychologies in the West were developed by Greek philosopher-therapists like Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus. They attempted to describe human nature, including its fundamental ills and its reparation, on the basis of personal experience and rigorous reflection in light of prior thought (Nussbaum, 1994; Watson & Evans, 1991). These thinkers explored topics like the composition and “inner” structure of human beings — memory, reason, sensation, appetite, motivation, virtues and vices, and various ideals of human maturation. The Old and New Testaments themselves contain material of great psychological import, and in the case of Paul, we might say with Brett (1912), a strongly religious “protopsychology.” However, in contrast to the more rigorous writing of contemporary science, the reflections in the Bible belong to the category of “folk psychology” or “lay psychology,” since they do not constitute a systematic and comprehensive exploration of human nature generated for the purpose of contributing to human knowledge (Fletcher, 1995; Thomas, 2001).Nevertheless, because Christians believe the Bible to be specially inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), revealing matters of essential importance, Christians have usually accorded the Bible’s teachings on human nature with a unique authority regarding how to think about psychological matters.

After the New Testament era, the Bible and the intellectual contributions of the Greeks both contributed to the psychological theorizing of Christians for the next fourteen hundred years. With only a limited grasp of the value of empirical study, the major teachers and writers of the early church and medieval periods were convinced that Scripture and rigorous reflection on it provided the surest route to psychological knowledge. Not surprisingly, then, the best psychological work by Christians was the result of biblical and philosophical reflection on human experience.

Though largely concerned with matters of faith and life, people like the desert fathers — Tertullian, Athanasius, Cassian, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory the Great — wrote with often penetrating insight into the nature of the soul and soul healing. However, Augustine, with his massive intellect, is widely recognized as the first great Christian “psychologist” (see Watson & Evans, 1991). Steeped in the Scriptures and the thought of the earlier church fathers, Augustine’s understanding of human beings was also flavored by the philosophical tradition inspired by Plato. Nevertheless, his work on love, sin, grace, memory, mental illumination, wisdom, volition and the experience of time provides a wealth of psychological insight and suggestions for further investigations.

Strongly influenced by Augustine but much more systematic (and, therefore, more directly helpful for developing psychological theory) was Thomas Aquinas (Watson & Evans, 1991). This meticulous thinker devoted his life to relating the Christian faith to the thought of another brilliant but mostly nonreligious philosopher, Aristotle. Aquinas unified the best of the Augustinian and Aristotelian traditions and produced an influential body of psychological thought, covering the appetites, the will, habits, the virtues and vices, the emotions, memory, and the intellect.

It is worth underlining that the two greatest intellectual lights of the church’s first fifteen hundred years, Augustine and Aquinas, drew heavily in their theological and psychological work on the philosophical traditions of the two greatest (non-Christian) Greek philosophers — Plato and Aristotle respectively. And the distinct approaches of Augustine and Aquinas contributed to genuine differences in thought and orientation, though these differences have sometimes been exaggerated (MacIntyre, 1990). In a very real sense, the works of both represent an “integration” of Christian and non-Christian psychology, though Aquinas was engaged in such integration more self-consciously than Augustine, who was more explicitly working out the differences between Christian and pagan thought (between the “City of God” and the “City of Humanity”).

Many Christians in the Middle Ages in addition to Aquinas wrote on psychological and soul-care topics, including Bernard of Clairvaux, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas, Anselm, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, William of Ockham and Thomas á Kempis. The more philosophically inclined writers typically focused on concerns like the structure of the soul and knowledge, whereas the more spiritually inclined focused on the love and experience of God and spiritual development. The latter was the special focus of the monasteries and the priests, and the healing of souls was understood to be central to the mission of the church — long before modern psychotherapy came on the scene (McNeill, 1951; Oden, 1989).

The Renaissance, Reformation and Counter-Reformation released a new psychological curiosity in the church. For example, Reformers like Lutherand Calvin reflected deeply on sin, grace, knowledge, faith and the nature of the Christian life, and Catholics like Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross and Ignatius of Loyola described spiritual development with unparalleled clarity.However, similar to much of the work of earlier Christians, the main focus of this quasi-psychological writing was more pastoral than scientific: the cure and up building of the Christian soul. It was, according to Charry (1997), aretegenic, directed toward the shaping of one’s moral and spiritual character and the enhancement of the believer’s relationship with God, and in some cases, it addressed what would be considered “therapeutic” concerns today (such as the resolution of severe “melancholy”).

In the Reformation traditions this pastoral psychology reached its zenith in the Puritan, Pietist and evangelical movements. Writers like Richard Baxter, John Owen, George Herbert, William Law, John Gerhardt, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards and John Newton developed sophisticated and nuanced understandings of psychospiritual problems — like sin, melancholy, assurance and spiritual desertions — and how to promote spiritual healing and development in Christ.

In addition, Christian philosophers after the Middle Ages continued to reason carefully about human nature in works of great psychological significance, including such luminaries as René Descartes, Giovanni Vico, John Locke, Bishop George Berkeley, Thomas Reid, Bishop Joseph Butler, Gottfried Leibniz and Blaise Pascal — some of these are recognized as figures who influenced the later founding of modern psychology.

Possibly the most significant Christian psychology author since the Middle Ages was Søren Kierkegaard, who used the word psychology to describe some of his works, and who wrote some profound psychological works. Over the course of a decade, he brilliantly described (in sometimes deliberately unsettling ways) the nature of personhood, sin, anxiety and despair, the unconscious (before Freud was even born!), subjectivity, and human and spiritual development from a deeply Christian perspective. Kierkegaard is, as well, the only Christian thinker who can be considered a father to a major, modern approach to psychological theory and therapy — existential psychology (though he would have vigorously rejected its secular agenda).

So if we define psychology broadly as a rigorous inquiry into human nature and how to treat its problems and advance its well-being, Christians have been thinking and practicing psychology for centuries. Believing that God had revealed the most important truths about human beings in the Bible, they learned there that God created the world and that human beings were specially created in his image. But they also learned that something was terribly wrong with human beings — they were sinners and needed to be rescued from their plight, for which they bore responsibility. Because humans were created in God’s image, they were endowed with reason, so they could apprehend truth in the Bible and in the created order. In the Bible, they found God’s norms for human beings and his design for the flourishing of human life through the salvation obtained through faith in Christ on the basis of his life, death and resurrection. Using this world-view, Christians were able to contribute novel and significant psychological insights in such areas as the nature of human reason, sensation, memory, attention, the appetites, the emotions, volition, the unconscious and the experience of time. In addition, Christians developed hypotheses about moral, spiritual and character development; the role of God and grace in human and spiritual development; the nature and impact of sin; techniques for overcoming sin and brokenness (the spiritual disciplines, as well as herbal remedies and common-sense helps); the psychology of religion; the relation of free will and determinism; biological and social origins of psychopathology; body-soul relations; and even some of the bases for scientific research. Thus, Christians had a broad and rich tradition of understanding human beings and treating their problems long before modern psychology came on the scene.

Late Modernism and the “New Psychology”

Modernism is generally considered to be a worldview or framework of Western thought that arose in the 1600s, advanced considerably in the 1800s and became dominant in the West during the twentieth century. To some extent, it was a reaction to the religious conflicts that had dominated Christian Europe since the Reformation, reaching a sad denouement in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Modernism’s main assumptions include the following:

  1. Special revelation and tradition can longer be regarded as ultimate authorities, because appeals to such sources obviously can not resolve the serious religious-intellectual (and societal) conflicts confronting Europe.
  2. Human knowledge must be based on a more sure foundation, and that foundation is presumed to be located in human reason especially but also in human consciousness and experience — basically all aspects of the individual self.
  3. The goal of human knowledge is universal understanding, obtained by objective means that all interested parties can use, thus privileging no one perspective and granting a fundamental epistemological equality to all.
  4. The natural sciences are held up as the model for human understanding, since they demonstrate the power of human reason and observation (experience) to yield universal knowledge. The natural sciences are characterized by the combination of careful empirical investigation with the application of mathematics (one of reason’s most powerful tools), which can yield formulas that correspond to causal relations in the world, as demonstrated magisterially in Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

Modernism can be broken down roughly into two periods. The philosophers Descartes, Locke and later Kant (among others) were primary contributors to early modernism, which was distinguished by philosophical explorations based on the above assumptions, as well as on continuing adherence to some measure of religious faith, usually Christian (Hume would be the main exception).

However, by the middle of the 1800s, late modernism was developing asa result of four new, largely interrelated, intellectual trends. The most significant for our purposes was the widespread secularization that began to appear in the West during this period. As with any complex and controversial concept, understandings of secularism differ. According to theistic philosopher Charles Taylor (2007), there are three facets: (1) the exclusion of religious discourse from the public square, including government and science; (2) the reduction in religious belief and practice; and (3) the increased viability of other worldview options. Smith (2003) argues that secularization has been nothing short of a revolution, promoted by an avid, growing intellectual elite, who perceived current Christian attitudes and beliefs as regressive (i.e., characterized by censorship, moral repression, and anti-evolution and anti-fundamentalist sentiments). It was also fostered by many cultural and psychological factors, like the theory of evolution, positivism, common-sense realism, a new economic power-class, changing academic standards, and anti-Catholicism and division among Protestant leaders.

As a result of such dynamics, explicitly religious speech, values and norms were gradually evacuated from public discourse and relegated to religious institutions and the private sphere. This process is by no means complete, and is still being contested, particularly in the southeastern United States. However, by most accounts, the revolution has been over for many decades (with a few “faith-based” qualifications) in the centers of intellectual and therapeutic power in the West — that is, in its educational, government, medical, social welfare, mental health and media institutions (Marsden, 1994; Smith, 2003; Taylor, 2007).

Evidence that the revolution is over abounds. For over a century, the majority of the West’s most influential authors, thinkers, scientists and celebrities have not been religious, and of those who have been, their religion has generally not been public. On the contrary, many of the shapers of Western culture over the past hundred years have publicly disparaged traditional religious perspectives (e.g., Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, H. G. Wells, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins). Perhaps the most telling example of this revolution is the shift of European and American institutions of higher learning, which have so markedly moved from their Judeo-Christian origins to secular sensibilities. Institution by institution, colleges and universities have shed their original commitments to glorifying Christ and proclaiming the Christian gospel to embrace a secularized definition of mission and identity (Marsden, 1994; Smith, 2003).

Doubtless, some secondary benefits have accrued in Western culture that we take for granted today, which occurred as a result of secularism’s loosening of religious cultural restrictions. For example, secularism helped put an end to the violent religious conflicts among Christians that characterized the 1600s (but which are still found in Muslim regions of the world);it made possible a common educational system; it allowed people of different faith communities (Christian, Jewish, agnostic) to socialize, work together, learn from each other, and focus in their common cultural pursuits on those beliefs that most people hold in common, rather than on those that divide; and most important for the church, it helps Christians distinguish merely cultural Christianity from the genuine article. Indeed, some argue that such benefits are internal to Christianity itself (Stark, 2003).

Secularization by itself, however, could not have had the influence it did ,had it not been joined in the minds of many to another very significant cultural development: the application of natural science methods to the study of human beings and the treatment of their problems. Careful observation, the use of mathematics and often the experimental manipulation of variables had proven successful in previous centuries in astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology. In the late 1800s and early 1900s these methods began to be applied to the study of society, human consciousness and behavior, economics and business, and education — and with notable results. The glue that brought and has kept secularism and natural science methods together is the philosophy of science and knowledge known as positivism.

In three successive waves, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), Ernst Mach (1838-1916), and the logical positivists, Carnap, Schlick, Ayers, etc. (in the first half of the twentieth century), composed increasingly sophisticated versions of the view that “positive” knowledge was only that which could be verified by empirical research. As a result, the methods of natural science were believed to provide the only legitimate means for obtaining knowledge. According to such criteria, ethical and metaphysical claims (regarding the nature of human beings and God) are not knowledge; they are just opinions that have no place in science. The “new psychology” in America was based on this model of science (e.g., James, 1890; Thorndike, 1905; Watson, 1913; for discussion see Danziger, 1979; Klein, 1970; Leahey, 2003; Toulmin & Leary, 1992), and it was taken to its logical extreme in behaviorism, which dominated modern psychology from 1930 to 1960, when most research psychologists concentrated on animal research and carefully controlled studies of environmental stimuli and the behavior they illicited. Human consciousness and thought were largely ignored.

In time, positivism was thoroughly discredited by philosophers of science (Kuhn, 1962; Suppe, 1977). In the 1960s, as part of a “cognitive revolution,” modern psychology began a partial correction and pulled away from the radical positivism of behaviorism and returned to the study of mental phenomena. However, it has never repudiated the overall framework of positivism, so it still works broadly within what could be a called a neopositivist paradigm.

Late modernism was also shaped pervasively by the theory of evolution. Darwin’s Origin of the Species, published in 1859, was immediately welcomed by the growing numbers of secular intellectuals who needed a naturalistic “origin story” — a modernist meta-narrative — that was based on empirical research rather than revelation and that was believed to allow humans to explain their existence without reference to a Creator. Evolutionary theory’s seeming optimism about the inevitable improvability of humankind was easily joined to the sense of progress fostered by the scientific and industrial revolutions. With regard to psychology, evolution legitimated the study of animals that have features in common with humans in their nervous systems and learning capacities. This led to the subdiscipline of comparative psychology, and it eventually contributed many notable findings in neuropsychology, childhood development and learning.

Finally, whereas confidence in human reason was unparalleled in the first two centuries of the modern era, reaching a climax in the Enlightenment (the late 1700s), such exhuberence was checked in the Romantic movement, which led to a more substantial critique that came to typify late modernism. As a result of the questions put to reason by Marx, Nietzsche and Freud (as well as Kierkegaard), it became a truism that reason itself can be deceived, so its deliverances could not be unquestioningly trusted. They had to be critiqued — but by what or whom? Late modernism really had nowhere else to turn except to reason. So, while the limits of reason were at least being acknowledged, late modernism had nothing to offer in its place. This realization eventually contributed to the relativism of postmodernism, which came later in the twentieth century.

Throughout the 1800s, late modernism grew in cultural influence, at the same time that the new psychology was being established. Beginning in the early-to mid-1800s, European studies on the nervous system and sensory experience demonstrated that aspects of human subjectivity could be objectively studied and measured. The discovery that lawful relationships exist between stimuli in the world and our experience of them proved that natural science methods could be usefully applied to the internal world of human beings. Wilhelm Wundt, a professor of physiological psychology at the University of Leipzig, is considered the father of modern psychology. In 1879 he was the first to set up an explicit psychology laboratory for the purpose of studying immediate human experience — a move that is commonly accepted as modern psychology’s birth.In 1881 he established a journal to publish the results of its research, and he founded the first graduate program with this orientation. Most simply, Wundt was the first to demarcate psychology as a distinct, empirical discipline, staffed by its own specialists (Danziger, 1979). Wundt’s influence was enormous, and similar laboratories and programs soon sprung up throughout Europe and the United States. As the impetus to turn psychology into a natural science grew across the West, biblical study and philosophical reflection were systematically excluded as sources of knowledge about human nature, in favor of the empirical investigation of the structures and processes of the senses, mind, memory and behavior (Toulmin & Leary, 1992). So different in method from what went before, this seemed to many to be the founding of an entirely new discipline.

The establishment of this experimental discipline in America occurred relatively quickly with William James as its American forerunner. He became a physiology professor at Harvard in 1872 and taught “Relations Between Psychology and Physiology” in 1875. G. Stanley Hall was America’s first professor of psychology, appointed at Johns Hopkins in 1884.

G. T. Ladd (1887) surveyed the available research on the nervous system and sensory experience in Elements of Physiological Psychology. In 1889, The American Journal of Psychology was begun by Hall, which was the first journal in English dedicated to this new approach to psychology. Soon after, James (1890) completed his classic, masterfully written overview of the state of the field, Principles of Psychology. The American Psychological Association was founded in 1892, and by 1900, psychology departments had been founded at a number of major universities. Modern psychology was well on its way to laying claim to having “the monopoly of psychological truth” (Danziger, 1979, p. 28).

Along with the growth of positivist research on human beings, others were attempting to address psychological problems according to the same assumptions. In marked contrast to the historical care of souls that Christians and Jews had been doing for centuries, psychotherapy and counseling began to be done without reference to God or supernatural intervention, and training programs were created with academic standards comparable to those in the sciences. The development of clinical psychology and advances in psychiatry helped to fill the void left by religious communities that were, by and large, abandoning their historic calling to care for and cure the soul.

Freudian psychoanalysis, in particular, offered a somewhat disturbing but nonetheless profound model for treating mental problems, and it was quickly embraced by some American psychologists, psychiatrists and, even more, by the culture at large, because of its apparent sophistication, alleged empirical basis and alluring examination of the mysterious unconscious. Though increasingly criticized in coming decades, psychoanalysis was seen at the time as generally consistent with the new psychology, because it shared most of its assumptions.

The new psychology promised to offer a better basis for understanding human life and the improvement of humankind — without religion — so it is no surprise that many of its early leaders were raised in the Christian or Jewish faiths and came later to reject, at least, orthodox versions of these faiths (a process termed deconversion; Barbour, 1994). The only place in modern psychology that religion was permitted was as an object of study, in the psychology of religion. Living in a culture still largely religious, some secular psychologists sought to study religion as if it were a merely natural phenomenon, supposedly without assuming any stance toward the phenomenon itself. As a result, many studies of religious behavior and phenomena were published around the turn of the century, the most influential being The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1903). But this was at best a last gasp of religiousness among modern psychologists; the tide was clearly turning against belief in the metaphysical and supernatural. As a result, as the first generation of American psychologists died out, few of the next generation were drawn to study religious experience, and the field virtually dried up for well over a half century.

Modern psychology quickly proved its value by amassing a substantial body of research and theory within a few decades, regarding topics that had never been so carefully examined: human sensation and perception, brain-mind relations, memory, emotions, unconscious motives, behavioral conditioning, intelligence, personality, and mental problems — and by providing a secular way to treat such problems. American universities embraced the new psychology. As a result, within a couple of generations, it became the only officially sanctioned version of psychology in universities in the West, providing an alternative framework to theism for understanding human beings, and this new psychology promised a truly scientific cure for humanity’s problems, in which all open-minded, modern Americans could hope.

Today, over 140 years after the founding of modern psychology, the application of natural-science methods to the study of human beings has increased our understanding of human beings enormously. And given our faith in the Creator of human beings, Christians should in principle rejoice over all knowledge about humans derived from any legitimate source. Yet, as we saw above, the church also has its own long, rich tradition of psychological theorizing and practice, a tradition that existed long before the birth of modern psychology. This has led to the oft-cited observation that “psychology has a long past but a short history” (e.g., Danziger, 1979). Much of that “long past,” of course, belongs to Christianity; whereas the “short history” belongs to late modernism. The challenge for the church has been that modern psychology has always consisted of more than just objective descriptions of the facts; it is both a contributor to and a beneficiary of the secular revolution that has taken over the intellectual leadership of the West (Johnson, 2007; Smith, 2003). The collision of these two traditions has created the intellectual crisis that is at the heart of this book.

The Church's Intellectual Crisis About Psychology

For over thirty years, the renowned contemporary philosopher of ethics Alisdair MacIntyre (1984, 1989, 1990) has engaged in a massive exposition of the conflicts that have arisen in the modern era among Western philosophies of ethics. In the process of his discussions, he has reflected deeply about what happens when intellectual traditions collide. MacIntyre says that “traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict” (1984,p.222). They consist of the ongoing disagreements that occur among the members of their “community” — thoughtful adherents spread across the generations of its life. He defines a living tradition as a “historically extended, socially embodied argument, an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition” (1984, p. 222). The “goods” in dispute include a tradition’s beliefs, standards and practices.

The beliefs that may distinguish one tradition from another include worldview beliefs, as well as the nature of human beings and how to understand them (e.g., beliefs about human origins, their metaphysical composition, humanity’s optimal or mature state and how to facilitate its development, psychopathology and how to address it, as well as beliefs about the legitimate sources of knowledge). A tradition’s standards refer to criteria that are used to evaluate soundness in belief and practice, maturity, and wisdom. Finally, a tradition’s distinctive practices (for our purposes) have to do with the means of obtaining valid and useful information regarding human beings (e.g., biblical, theological, spiritual, philosophical, empirical, scientific, experiential, moral), as well as the promotion of proper human development and the remediation of psychopathology.

There are many different kinds of traditions: craft, artistic, intellectual and religious, just to name a few, and each can be composed of various subtraditions as well. Living traditions are characterized by conflict, because its members are constantly raising questions about its goods. Dead traditions either have no living adherents or those they have simply recite the sayings of its past, without questions. In his exposition, MacIntyre slyly implies that a living intellectual tradition possesses searching, inquisitive minds who lead it into better, more comprehensive understanding by way of working through disputes. Given such an assumption, one of the most stimulating events in a tradition’s history can be its encounters with other traditions, traditions which have strengths that reveal the weaknesses in the earlier tradition. Discerning adherents can then take advantage of this critical interaction and make use of the strengths of the “new” rival tradition to enrich their own. At the same time — and here is where things get challenging and controversial — such explorations (practices, themselves needing critical evaluation) run the danger of diluting the tradition’s distinctiveness. Too much borrowing from an alien tradition can lead to the disintegration of one’s own tradition and sometimes even to its disappearance. Consequently, the value of such encounters has to be gauged by whether it leads to an outcome essential for a tradition’s well-being: its renewal and reinvigoration by a fresh, contemporary reinvestment and rearticulation of its own resources.

Encounters between traditions are complicated by the fact that members of the traditions are differentially trained. Some may be schooled only in the goods of their own tradition, whereas others may be trained primarily in the rival tradition. MacIntyre considers the persons best equipped to contribute to the debate between two rival traditions to be those trained in the discourse of both. Such individuals “are inhabitants of boundary situations, generally incurring the suspicion and misunderstanding of members of both of the contending parties” (1990, p. 114), since those well educated in only one tradition can only interpret the work of the other in terms of their own tradition’s discourse and its goods — the beliefs, standards and practices they already understand and know to be authoritative — making communication (and even trust) difficult between those who are differentially trained. Indeed, those who use only “one language” simply lack enough background knowledge to be able to really understand the potentials and pitfalls of the debate.

MacIntyre’s analysis also addresses what constitutes a crisis for a tradition. This occurs when tradition A encounters rival tradition B that has such compelling beliefs, standards and practices that those of tradition A are called into serious question. MacIntyre (1989, 1990) says that tradition A resolves such a crisis by the construction of a narrative of the encounter, which includes the following elements: the basic rationality and legitimacy of tradition A; an acknowledgment of its weaknesses revealed by its rival and how it has adequately addressed them and revised itself accordingly; and the exposure of the (more) significant weaknesses that remain unresolved in tradition B, resulting in an account that shows the compelling superiority of the revised tradition A to its rival.

MacIntyre repeatedly makes the point that the biggest obstacle to traditions engaging in mutual, beneficial interaction is the fact that each tradition’s beliefs, standards and practices are the means by which an adherent evaluates another tradition, so the very means for determining rational superiority and weakness are themselves part of the debate. Therefore, traditions sometimes discount and ignore each other, and typically only engage in dialogue when they are forced to, either of social necessity or perhaps because of moral and intellectual integrity.

Our focus in this book, of course, is on two traditions interested in the nature of human beings and how to promote their well-being — two historically extended and socially embodied communities of inquiry and therapy — the Christian and the (late) modern. As noted above, Christianity has its own substantial psychological and soul-care tradition, beginning in the Bible and continuing for the next two millenia, with many permutations over the generations, and consisting of many psychological and soul-care subtraditions (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant). The new psychology also constitutes a tradition, though of course it is much younger. However, its shorter history is more than compensated for by its vast output and the broad range of topics that it has addressed (and it too is made up of subtraditions — known as psychoanalytic, behavioral, cognitive and so on).

Furthermore, this book concerns the intellectual (and soul-care) crisis that the Christian community was thrown into since modern psychology rose to preeminence — a very serious crisis indeed. Think about it. Which of the two communities exercise the most influence in our culture at large (in its universities, scholarly media, and mental health and therapy institutions), and which has the greater influence on the other? To state the obvious, it has been largely one-directional: the Christian community has had very little explicit, constructive influence on the contemporary psychological scene, and what influence it has had was accomplished by playing according to the rules of late modernism and not by being explicitly Christian. By contrast, the modern psychological community has had an enormous influence on the Christian community, within the latter’s counseling centers and colleges and universities, some of its books, and even within its churches.

Why did this crisis occur? As suggested above, modern psychology has amassed a stunning set of empirical findings regarding human beings and developed many psychological theories of great complexity, using novel empirical methods to discover aspects of human nature never before known, and so never discussed in the Christian tradition. Furthermore, this “new tradition” has developed a dazzling array of systems and techniques for improving human psychological well-being, far outstripping in scientific complexity the work of the Christian tradition. Today we live in a science-oriented culture, and modern psychology has been more scientific than any of its predecessors and worldview alternatives. In addition, modern psychology has simply made what the majority of (mostly modernist) intellectuals today consider to be a compelling case: that its version of human beings is simply better than those that went before it — more accurate, more comprehensive and less distorted. All of this has contributed to a crisis in the church.

Is Christianity a living or dead tradition of psychology and therapy? There is evidence, some of it included in this book, that it is very much alive! However, it seems that it took quite a while for Christians to recognize the intellectual crisis that was occurring. We turn next to consider some of the early attempts by Christians to respond to the crisis.

Responses of Christians to the "New Psychology"

A few Christians actually contributed to the founding of modern psychology. Decades prior, there were some phrenologists who were Christians (Vande Kemp, 1998). Franz Brentano was a devout, if controversial Christian (a former Catholic priest), whose “Act psychology” made a significant impact on European psychology of the day (Watson & Evans, 1991), and who was shaped significantly by his training in Catholic (and Aristotelian) thought. The pious scholar-president of Princeton, James McCosh, published works on cognition and emotion that, though still heavily influenced by philosophy, took seriously the role of physiology in the mind (see Maier, 2005).

However, among the leaders of the new psychology in America, those who maintained a Protestant religious faith tended to be of a more liberal theological orientation than McCosh. A wayward seminarian in his youth, G. Stanley Hall became one of the most significant early figures in modern psychology in America, establishing the first formal psychology laboratory in the United States, starting the first English-language journal devoted exclusively to psychology, founding the American Psychological Association and becoming its first president (Watson & Evans, 1991). The theologian-turned-psychologist G. T. Ladd (1887) wrote what was for twenty years the most important work in English on physiological psychology, and he also became the second president of the American Psychological Association (before William James!). Late in their careers, both Ladd (1915, 1918) and Hall (1917) examined religion in light of modern psychology and liberal theology.

Over the next few decades, other liberal Protestants (most notably Boisen [1936]) began to explore the value of modern depth psychologies for the church. At the same time they also sought to challenge the pervasive naturalism out of which modern psychology originated, eventually forming a significant movement (e.g., Clinebell, 1966; Hiltner, 1943; Oates, 1962), and contributed to Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which has trained thousands of mainline ministers and chaplains in pastoral care from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Generally speaking, however, liberal Protestants largely accommodated themselves to the modernism they sought to influence — modern psychologists were far more influential in their works than Scripture. The relation of faith and psychology was largely one-directional, resulting in a reshaping of the faith by the incorporation of modern values (greater individualism, softened personal morality and reason/science as more authoritative than biblical revelation; see Holifield, 1983; Johnson, 2007, chap. 2; Oden, 1984).

This overall orientation has continued to the present with a more post-modern flavor, though with increased sophistication (Browning, 1991; Capps, 1990; Howe, 1995). Although some have been willing to critique mainstream psychology (e.g., Browning & Cooper, 2004), they still demonstrate a greater openness to contemporary values and thought, as well as a greater skepticism toward the Bible, than seems compatible with classical Christianity.

Catholics were also involved in the new psychology. The Reverend Edward Pace began teaching psychology courses at the Catholic University of America in 1891, after having studied with Wundt. Pace was also a founding member of the APA (Misiak & Staudt, 1954; Gillespie, 2001). Later Catholics may have been the first identifiable Christians who sought to provide texts that supplemented the literature of empirically based psychology with religiously grounded discussions on the person or soul (though more cautious Catholic voices also protested the new psychology, Misiak & Staudt, 1954, pp. 4-7). This “supplemental” activism was likely due, in part, to the Thomistic revival that began in the last decades of the nineteenth century and continued throughout the first half of the twentieth (Gillespie, 2001). The fact that Thomas Aquinas’s corpus is psychologically rich, explicitly open to empirical research (à la Aristotle) yet requires the use of philosophy (or reason) to deal with human nature in all its fullness may have influenced Catholics to augment modern psychology literature with additional philosophical considerations, including topics like the will and soul-body relations.

In contrast to Catholics and liberal Protestants, there is not much evidence that conservative Protestants thought much about psychology in the early twentieth century. Just as psychology was gradually becoming a part of the core curriculum in the social sciences at the major colleges and universities, an examination of course catalogues of Christian liberal arts colleges from the 1920s and 1930s (e.g., Wheaton and Calvin) shows that they also began offering courses in modern psychology around that time.

A few Christians criticized the new psychology for its materialism and agnosticism (e.g., Wickham, 1928), and a few isolated works can be found that take modern psychology seriously but argue for a Christian perspective (e.g., Murray, 1938; Norlie, 1924). However, conservatives were generally moving away from intellectual engagement with the wider culture, which they saw as spiritually blind. This was the heyday of fundamentalism, and fundamentalists, by and large, were not interested in cultural issues, higher learning and scholarship (Noll, 1994; Smith, 2003). In addition, they tended to be practice-oriented if not anti-intellectual, more interested in soul-winning and missions than in claiming culture for Christ (Noll, 1994). They were, for the most part, separationists, desiring to avoid contamination by the world (including the world of ungodly thinking; e.g., at the universities). For many fundamentalists, learning the Bible was seen as the primary goal of higher education (rather than learning about things like psychology). As a result, during this time they began forming their own post-secondary educational institutions: Bible colleges.

Another factor that may help explain the lack of interest in psychology and counseling is that, contrary to their Puritan and pietist heritage, conservative Christians at that time did not pay attention to inner matters of the soul and its well-being. In spite of some evidence to the contrary (e.g., in some of the movement’s hymns), the bulk of fundamentalist literature focused on doctrinal beliefs (like end-times prophecy), moral issues and evangelism. The state of one’s soul — apart from whether one was born again — was largely neglected. As a result, for decades the most sophisticated pastoral care literature was written by more liberal Christians.

It really wasn’t until after World War II that conservative Protestants began to move out of their cultural ghettos and think more seriously about how their faith bears on the sciences and arts. A group of fundamentalists began to articulate a more activist role in culture and higher learning, calling themselves evangelicals (Carpenter, 1997). It was only in the 1950s that we find evangelicals beginning to engage psychology in any concerted way.

Early Evangelical Activity in Psychology

Hardly a revolutionary thinker, Hildreth Cross, head of the psychology department at Taylor University, published in 1952 An Introduction to Psychology: An Evangelical Approach, which presented psychology positively but “screened through the Word of God” (preface). Though simplistic by most standards, it nonetheless combined information from modern psychology with Christian interpretation and evaluation. Critical of evolution, it included many citations from the Bible and an affirmation of supernatural reality in human life, while somewhat superficially presenting some of the main topics covered in any introduction to psychology of the day. The book concluded with a study of the “dynamic Christian personality,” in which the influence of redemption on the human personality is described with explicit dependence on Scripture and theology.

A group of conservative Christians, practicing psychologists mostly from a Reformed theological persuasion, got together in 1954 and 1955 for conferences that explored the relation of psychology, psychiatry and religion. In 1956 they formed the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS, continuing to hold conferences that explore how a person’s faith relates to the findings of modern psychology, with a special emphasis on counseling. CAPS still has annual conferences, though their identity has broadened substantially beyond its roots in the Reformed community.

Clyde Narramore was a practicing psychologist and began a radio program in 1954 called “Psychology for Living” that eventually played on over two hundred Christian stations nationally. He later published an influential book (1960) outlining a Christian approach to therapy that incorporated a high view of Scripture along with a Christianized form of the person-centered counseling of Carl Rogers. Even more explicit than Narramore in his appreciation for a model of therapy that originated outside Christianity, Tweedie (1961) wrote a book critiquing but still largely supporting the view of persons and therapy found in the work of Viktor Frankl. In different ways these authors argued that modern psychotherapy can contribute to the psychological well-being of evangelical Christians.

During the 1960s the works of Paul Tournier (1965) — a physician-psychotherapist from Switzerland who was schooled in the Freudian and Jungian traditions and had converted to Christianity in midlife — were being translated into English, and the writings of this wise, seasoned Christian therapist proved to be eye-opening to many evangelicals hungry for literature that offered a depth psychology from a Christian perspective.

Eventually, a number of evangelicals began to sense the need for advanced training in a psychology that was shaped by a Christian worldview. Fuller Theological Seminary was the first evangelical school to begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology (1964), and Rosemead School of Psychology followed within a few years (1968), founded by Clyde Narramore and Bruce Narramore, his nephew. Shortly after its inception, Rosemead initiated the Journal of Psychology and Theology (1973), providing the first academic forum for evangelicals in psychology. CAPS began publishing the CAPS Bulletin in 1975 (which was retitled the Journal of Psychology and Christianity in 1982). In some ways the 1970s were a turning point for evangelicals in psychology. Increasingly, books were being written by evangelicals that dealt with psychological topics or counseling, applying insights and techniques derived from modern psychology to such topics as child rearing, marriage, self-esteem, and personal and spiritual growth (e.g., Collins, 1969; Dobson, 1970; Narramore, 1978). Yet this was also the decade in which serious concerns began to be raised about the perceived dangers of accommodating the Christian tradition to that of modern psychology — and thus initiating the intellectual crisis that gave rise to the five positions in this book.

The biblical counseling view. Jay Adams, professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, instigated the crisis with the publication of his widely read Competent to Counsel (1970), in which he severely criticized modern psychiatry and psychotherapy, arguing that they were pervasively secular. He argued that they were, alternately, deterministic in their understanding of psychopathology and human-centered in their therapy, and in both ways, fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Adams urged Christians to repudiate the dominant Freudian and humanistic methods of counseling. In his own model, “nouthetic counseling” (from the Greek noutheteo, “to admonish”), he taught that genuine Christian counseling regards the Bible to be sufficient for the spiritual needs of God’s people. Consequently, he advocated that Christians should focus their attention in counseling primarily on repentance from sin (since sin causes most problems that modern psychology tries to address) and Christ as God’s solution to our problems. He also believed that pastors should be the primary counselors in the Christian community. Adams founded the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) in 1968, and the Journal of Pastoral Practice in 1977, to help the church meet counseling needs biblically (Powlison, 2010).

Through his numerous books (e.g., 1973, 1979; now over seventy) and their forceful, prophetic style, Adams mobilized many Christians to counsel in strict accordance with Scripture and reject any reliance on modern psychology, and he and others became increasingly critical of the writing and practice of Christian counselors, who they believed were synthesizing Christianity with secular thought (see Bobgan and Bobgan, 1987; MacArthur and Mack, 2005). With help from his colleague at CCEF, John Bettler, Adams and others founded the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors ( in 1976. In addition to Westminster Theological Seminary, other seminaries began offering counseling programs that centered on the use of the Bible in counseling theory and practice (e.g., The Master’s College and Seminary in 1990). Eventually the movement made more clear its central focus by changing the name of the approach from “nouthetic” to simply “biblical” counseling (indicated by the name change in 1993 from Journal of Pastoral Practice to Journal of Biblical Counseling, as well as by books like MacArthur & Mack, 2005). The movement is by no means monolithic, and over time differences of method and substance have become more obvious, as some have questioned parts of Adams’s teachings (Powlison, 1988; Schwab, 2003; Welch, 2002) and critically appropriated some of the research of modern psychology (Welch, 1998, 2005). Adams left CCEF in the mid-1990s in protest, and since then, CCEF has become the leader of this reorientation of the original vision (Lane & Tripp, 2006; Powlison, 2003, 2005; Welch, 2005). In addition, new groups have arisen that, in different ways, are similarly moving beyond Adams’s nouthetic model, while still preserving the core concerns of the movement, including the International Association of Biblical Counselors ( and the Association of Biblical Counselors ( These changes in turn led Adams and others to start the Journal of Modern Ministry in 2005 and the Institute for Nouthetic Studies (

Many Christians, however, did not find the biblical counseling critique persuasive and pushed back. For example, counselors and therapists who worked with people outside the church, people with little or no religious faith and with problems that are not addressed in the Scriptures, did not find it relevant. Moreover, those educated and trained at secular graduate programs believed that modern psychology had more value than biblical counselors were suggesting, especially psychology teachers and researchers who had studied modern psychology in depth. As a result, the biblical counseling movement was labeled “antipsychology” by some (e.g., Beck &Banks, 1992). In addition, there was a growing realization that some conservative churches were misusing the Bible and doing damage to people in their authoritarian subcultures (something also acknowledged by those in biblical counseling). Such abuses led some Christians to be skeptical of Bible-based counseling and more supportive of counseling that concentrated on psychological dynamics, rather than solely on the spiritual realm.In the context of this foment in the 1970s, two evangelical approaches more favorable to modern psychology began to be more clearly formulated.

The levels-of-explanation view. The “levels-of-explanation” (LOE) approach assumes a sharp distinction between the disciplines (or “levels”) of psychology and theology (Jeeves, 1976, 1997; Myers, 1978). Influenced by the physicist Richard Bube (1971), proponents of this approach maintain that all levels of reality are important (the physical, chemical, biological, psychological, social and theological), that each dimension or level of reality is accessible to study by the unique methods appropriate to it that have been developed by the corresponding discipline, and that the boundaries of each discipline, therefore, should not be blurred. To confuse these levels results ina misunderstanding of reality by blending together concepts that are, in fact, very different and do not really cohere (e.g., sin and brain dysfunction). Furthermore, the understanding of each level is assumed to offer a distinct perspective that is essentially independent of the understandings of other levels.Hence, this approach has also been called perspectivalism (Evans, 1977).Theology and psychology, in particular, use different methods of investigation, have different objects of study and answer different questions. Confusing them would distort both (though this model’s proponents encourage interdisciplinary dialogue, “after hours” so to speak, in order to get the fullest picture of human nature possible). There is comparatively little interest in the effects of secular modernism on psychology, for its proponents believe strongly that science properly conducted is the best way to eliminate such bias. To bring theological matters into the science of psychology would only undermine the objectivity and integrity of the scientific method.

Significantly, most of the advocates of the LOE approach have been academics and researchers, Christians teaching at Christian and non-Christian colleges and universities. Some of them (like Brown and Jeeves, 2009; Jeeves, 1976, 1997) have done research in neuropsychology, where it is hard to conceive of a distinctly Christian approach that would make any difference. On the contrary, there has been concern in this group that true science will be impeded by the intrusion of faith beliefs from any quarter that cannot be empirically established. Science can only proceed on the basis of an objective study of reality that is accessible to direct observation and that can be replicated by any interested investigators.

It should also be pointed out that it is not necessary to endorse this approach formally in order to assume it implicitly in one’s work (e.g., in teaching, writing or counseling). A number of Christians have contributed significantly to the field of contemporary psychology in just that way; for example, in the psychology of religion (Hood, Hill & Spilka, 2009), spirituality (Plante, 2009), forgiveness research and therapy (Worthington, 2005), the role of values in psychotherapy (Worthington, Kurusu, McCullough & Sandage, 1996), and positive psychology (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). Such work subscribes to the rules of modern psychological discourse, yet shows how the Christian tradition can influence modern psychology indirectly, from within.

The integration view. Integration is an approach also formulated in the 1970s, that is more open to modern psychology than biblical counseling, but is generally more sympathetic to its critique than the levels-of-explanation approach. Concerned about the naturalism and secular humanism that has shaped modern psychology and counseling literature, the proponents of this view (often counselors and therapists) recognize that the Christian faith has something important to contribute to contemporary psychology and counseling. However, they also respect the scientific merit of psychology as it is today and, therefore, have concluded that the Christian faith and contemporary psychology ought to be related somehow. The majority affirm “interdisciplinary integration,” the integration of the discipline of psychology with the discipline of Christian theology (e.g., Beck & Demarest, 2005; Carter & Narramore, 1979; Collins, 1977; Shults & Sandage, 2006).

These integrationists believe both disciplines address, in different ways, the nature of human beings, how they develop, what has gone wrong with them and how they can overcome what has gone wrong. However, there is a range of responses to this overlap. Narramore (1973) argued that integration aims “to combine the special revelation of God’s Word with the general revelation studied by the psychological sciences and professions” (p. 17).

Collins (1973) more radically sought to place psychology on a different foundation, one that is “consistent with and built upon the Bible,” in order to develop a “biblically based psychology” (p. 26). Both legitimize the composition of a distinct “integration” literature (in contrast to the LOE view), where the two disciplines are more or less blended together, either throughout the text (Collins, 1980; Crabb, 1977; McMinn & Campbell, 2007; McMinn, 2008; Narramore, 1984) or in summary sections or chapters (see Shults & Sandage, 2006; Beck & Demarest, 2005).

Jones & Butman (1991) offer another approach to integration, in which one integrates Christian worldview beliefs with the science and practice of psychology, not theological beliefs (since they belong to another discipline; pp. 19-20). This sounds superficially similar to LOE, but it involves an unusually thorough, critical reinterpretation of modern psychology literature in terms of a Christian worldview, derived from Scripture. Over the past decade, new exemplary integration work has appeared, suggesting that this approach has been experiencing something of a renewal (Beck & Demarest, 2005; McMinn, 2008; McMinn & Campbell, 2007; Shults & Sandage, 2006; Yarhouse & Sells, 2008).

Integration has had a big impact on the evangelical community. Integration books written for Christian laypeople — covering many kinds of psychological topics, including marriage, recovery, self-concept and family-of-origin issues — have sold well. Christian radio programs by integrationists like Dobson, Minirth and Meier, and Cloud and Townsend have been popular. Integration-based counseling and treatment centers are found throughout the United States, in some cases run as a ministry of local churches. Integration is the orientation officially promoted at the major Christian-counseling graduate programs (for example, the doctoral programs at Wheaton College, George Fox College, Seattle Pacific University, Azusa Pacific University and Regent University, in addition to Fuller and Rosemead). The CAPS organization recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and compiled a definitive collection of integration articles for the occasion (Stevenson, Eck & Hill, 2007), and has appealed especially to masters- and doctoral-level counseling professionals and academics. In the 1990s, Gary Collins and Tim Clinton formed the American Association of Christian Counselors ( to reach broader groups (laypeople and ministers, as well as counseling professionals) with a slightly more conservative theological stance than CAPS, and it has exploded to become perhaps the largest Christian organization in the world (see Clinton & Ohlschlager, 2002).

The Christian psychology view. Related to the waning of the influence of logical positivism, Christian philosophy has experienced a significant comeback in recent decades through the work of thinkers like Alvin Plantinga (1984, 2000), Nicholas Wolterstorff, William Alston and now many others. Demonstrating a marked independence of thought from mainstream philosophical currents, Christian philosophers have developed distinctly Christian positions on many common philosophical topics and explored many other topics of interest only to theists.

One of these philosophers, C. Stephen Evans (1989, 1990), was inspired, in part, by the Christian philosopher/psychologist Søren Kierkegaard and has argued that what has happened recently in the field of philosophy could just as legitimately happen in the field of psychology, and he challenged Christians in psychology to develop their own theories, research and practice that flow from Christian beliefs about human beings — while continuing to participate actively in the broader field. Another Christian philosopher, Nancey Murphy (2005), has advocated the development of a psychology research program shaped by a Radical Reformation perspective. From a different vantage point, theologians Ellen Charry (1997), Ray Anderson (1990; Speidell, 2007) and Andrew Purves (2004) have examined Christian theological resources regarding the care of souls and shown how they provide an alternative paradigm to secular models of therapy.

A few actual psychologists have been moving in the same directions.Van Leeuwen (1982, 1985) and Vitz (1987, 1994) anticipated this orientation with their Christian reconceptualizations of aspects or figures of psychology, and Vitz has continued to pursue that agenda (1999, 2009; with Felch, 2006). Johnson (2007) attempted a similar reconceptualization of the field of counseling. P. J. Watson has pursued a Christian psychology research program for over twenty-five years (see my introduction of him below). The Society for Christian Psychology ( was established in 2004 to help advance this agenda, and it publishes the journal Edification, as a division of AACC. In addition, IGNIS, the Institute for Christian Psychology in Kitzingen, Germany, has been developing a Christian psychology for over twenty-five years. Meanwhile, the faculty at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences are working on a distinctly Catholic psychotherapy (Brugger, 2009).

Some Christian counseling authors have been working, at least implicitly, within a Christian psychology orientation. Larry Crabb (1987, 2002) has moved away from the integration approach of his early books, and has been pursuing a more theological and ecclesiological course in his writing on psychological and spiritual growth. Similarly, Crabb’s former colleague Dan Allender (2000) has written a number of books, frequently with Old Testament theologian Tremper Longman III (e.g., 1994), which explore psychological topics with an unusually strong theological underpinning. Others whose writing exemplify this orientation — given the extent to which Christian considerations and resources set the agenda of their psychology and counseling, rather than modern psychology — include Neil Anderson (1990), Diane Langberg (1997), Leanne Payne (1995) and Sandra Wilson (2001).

The transformational psychology view. Over the years, a significant number of integrationists have questioned whether the primary focus of integration should be on intellectual matters or on personal, ethical, experiential and spiritual matters. They have argued that how Christians live out their Christianity in the field of psychology and counseling is at least as important as seeking to understand human beings Christianly (see, for example, Dueck, 1995; Farnsworth, 1985; Shults & Sandage, 2006; Sorenson, 1996a, 1996b).

In the previous edition of this book (2000), Stanton Jones and I argued that these types of concerns did not warrant a separate approach (pp. 244-46). However, since that was written, I have changed my mind — as not only have these ethical-relational concerns been increasingly well articulated (see, e.g., Coe, 1999; Shults & Sandage, 2006) but they have been linked to the recent interest among evangelicals in spiritual formation and spiritual direction (Foster, 1978; Willard, 1998).

David Benner (1988) was the first evangelical psychotherapist to advocate looking to the history of Christian spirituality to provide a model of soul care that places Christian concerns central to the counselor’s agenda, and he has continued to develop this orientation (1999, 2003). Since then, many others have moved in similar directions, including Gary Moon (1996, 2004; and with Benner, 2004) Larry Crabb (2005, 2007), Siang-Yang Tan (2003), and Tan and Douglas Gregg (1997), Terry Wardle (2003), and Sandra Wilson (1998). Two periodicals have also been developed that promote this approach: Conversations (edited by Benner, Crabb and Moon) and the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care (from Biola University’s Institute for Spiritual Formation).

So this book provides an opportunity to understand the intellectual crisis facing the church in the area surrounding psychology and counseling, and it does this by exploring five major positions evangelicals have taken regarding the relationship of psychology and the Christian faith. There are, of course, other ways of understanding that relationship, and some non-evangelical Christians sometimes use other terms for similar positions. Furthermore, there are many who do not neatly fit into just one of these approaches, and some have shifted over the years (like Larry Crabb). Nevertheless, these five views seem to represent the most distinctive, most clearly articulated evangelical approaches to psychology and counseling to date.

Introduction of the Authors

David G. Myers, psychology professor at Hope College, is the representative of the levels-of-explanation approach. His contributions to contemporary psychology have been considerable, particularly his introductory (2010, 9th ed.) and social psychology textbooks (2008, 9th ed.) and a number of popular condensations of psychology research. Of special importance for this book are his reflections on the relation of faith and psychology (1978, 1991, 1996; and with Malcolm Jeeves, 1987).

Stanton L. Jones was recruited to be the representative of the integration position. After establishing the Psy.D. program at Wheaton College, he became Wheaton’s provost in 1996. He has long been a leading second-generation integrationist (1986; with Richard Butman, 1991), and he has sought to engage mainstream psychology from that vantage point (1994, 2000). He has also made a mark in the ecclesial and psychological debates regarding homosexuality (with Mark Yarhouse, 2000, 2007).

Robert C. Roberts, distinguished professor of ethics at Baylor University, is one of the authors representing the Christian psychology approach. A noted philosopher who has written or edited ten books and over ninety articles on the virtues, emotions, epistemology and Søren Kierkegaard (2003, in preparation), he has also written or edited a number of books and articles that specifically advance the project of Christian psychology (1987, 1993, 2001, 2007; with Mark Talbot, 1997).

He is joined by P. J. Watson, University of Chattanooga Foundation Professor of Psychology and the chair of the psychology department at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Watson is the editor of theJournal of Psychology and has published over 150 studies on a wide array of psychological topics. He has also conducted empirical studies of aspects of Christian psychology (with Morris & Hood, 1988a, 1988b; with Morris, Loy, Hamrick & Grizzle, 2007) and the antireligious bias present in some contemporary psychology (Watson, Morris & Hood, 1987;Watson, Milliron, Morris & Hood, 1995). He is also the editor of Edification.

A proponent of the newest position, transformational psychology, is John H. Coe. Since 1988 Coe has been associate professor of theology and philosophy at Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology at BiolaUniversity. He is also the director of the Institute of Spiritual Formation and is associate professor of spiritual theology and philosophy at TalbotTheological Seminary, also at Biola. He has written two articles (1999,2000) and given many presentations that anticipate this approach. With Todd W. Hall (2010), he has recently completed a book that more fully develops this model.

Todd W. Hall is associate professor of psychology, also at Rosemead School of Psychology, and he has served as the editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology for ten years. Hall is also the director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality. He has published numerous articles in the field (e.g., with Edwards, 2002; and with Noffke, 2008) and edited an important work with Mark McMinn (2003).

Finally, the biblical counseling approach has David Powlison as its representative. In addition to counseling at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation and teaching at Westminister Theological Seminary for three decades, Powlison has been the editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling (JBC) since 1992. He has written many seminal biblical counseling articles and chapters (1988, 1995, 2000), the most important of which have been collected in two books so far (2003, 2005), as well as the definitive history and analysis of the first thirty years of the biblical counseling movement (2010).

For the Student: Issues That Distinguish Christian Approaches to Psychology

There are at least five issues that distinguish the approaches toward psychology and counseling represented in this book, so here are some guidelines for students regarding what to focus on while they read.

  1. Perhaps the main issue distinguishing the five views concerns the possible sources of psychological knowledge: empirical research, Scripture and theology, philosophy, personal experience, and history.
  2. Another difference is the degree to which the contributors are more critical in their interpretation of contemporary psychology or more trusting.
  3. Still another issue is whether the goal of Christians in psychology should be to pursue a distinctive understanding of human nature, to which only Christians would subscribe, or a universal understandingthat all psychologists, regardless of their worldview, can recognize and affirm.
  4. The authors differ in how much they consider their primary allegiance in psychology and counseling to be the church or the broader community of scholars and practitioners in one’s culture.
  5. Finally, some of the representatives appear to understand the primary task of psychology to be the acquisition of knowledge about human beings, whereas others seem to think it should be the renovation of human beings and the cultivation of godliness, moral character and love.

The reader might try to identify the positions that each view assumes regarding these five significant issues.

Now consider yourself invited into a conversation among some of the significant Christians in the fields of psychology and counseling today.


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———. (1973). Christian counselor’s manual. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.

———. (1979). More than redemption. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Allender, D. B. (2000). The healing path. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook.

Allender, D. B., & Longman, T., III. (1990). Bold love. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

———. (1994). The cry of the soul: How our emotions reveal our deepest questions about God.Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Anderson, N. T. (1990). The bondage breaker. Eugene, OR: Harvest House.

Anderson, R. S. (1990). Christians who counsel: The vocation of wholistic therapy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Barbour, J. D. (1994). Versions of deconversion: Autobiography and the loss of faith. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

Beck, J. R., & Banks, J. W. (1992). Christian anti-psychology: Hints of an historical analogue. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 20, 3-10.

Beck, J. R., & Demarest, B. (2005). The human person in theology and psychology: A biblical anthropology for the twenty-first century. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Benner, D. G. (1988). Psychotherapy and the spiritual quest. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

———. (1999). Care of souls: Revisioning Christian nurture and counsel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

———. (2003). Surrender to love: Discovering the heart of Christian spirituality. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Bobgan, M., & Bobgan, B. (1987). Psychoheresy: The psychological seduction of Christianity. Santa Barbara, CA: Eastgate.

Boisen, A. T. (1936). The exploration of the inner world. Chicago: Willett, Clark.

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Brown, W. S., & Jeeves, M. (2009). Neuroscience, psychology, and religion: Illusions, delusion, and realities about human nature. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.

Browning, D. S. (1991). A fundamental practical theology. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Browning, D. S., & Cooper, T. D. (2004). Religious thought and the modern psychotherapies (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: Fortress.Brugger, E. C. (Ed.). (2009). Special issue: Catholic psychology. Edification: The Journal of the Society for Christian Psychology, 3(1).

Bube, R. (1971). The human quest. Waco, TX: Word.

Calvin, J. (1960). Institutes of the Christian religion (Vol. 1). (F. L. Battles, Trans.). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Capps, D. (1990). Reframing: A new method in pastoral care. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Carpenter, J. (1997). Revive us again: The reawakening of American fundamentalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Carter, J. D., & Narramore, B. (1979). The integration of psychology and theology: An introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Charry, E. T. (1997). By the renewing of your minds: The pastoral function of Christian doctrine. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clinebell, H. J., Jr. (1966). Basic types of pastoral counseling. Nashville: Abingdon.

Clinton, T., & Ohlschlager, G. (Eds.). (2002). Competent Christian counseling. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook.

Coe, J. H. (1999). Beyond relationality: Musings towards a pneumadynamic approach to personality and psychopathology. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 18,109-28.

———. (2000). Musing on the Dark Night of the Soul: Insights from St. John of the Cross on a developmental spirituality. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 28(4), 293-307.

Coe, J. H., & Hall, T. W. (2010). Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a transformational psychology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Collins, G. R. (1969). Search for reality: Psychology and the Christian. Wheaton: Key.

———. (1973). Psychology on a new foundation: A proposal for the future. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1, 19-27.

———. (1977). The rebuilding of psychology: An integration of psychology and Christianity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House.

———. (1980). Christian counseling: A comprehensive guide. Waco, TX: Word.

Crabb, L. J., Jr. (1977). Effective biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

———. (1987). Inside out. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

———. (2002). The pressure’s off. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook.

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