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Psychology and Christianity: Five Views

Eric L. Johnson David G. Myers, Stanton L. Jones, Robert C. Roberts, P. J. Watson, John H. Coe, Todd W. Hall, and David A. Powlison
Published by IVP Academic in 2010

This book is an expanded version of the 2000 Psychology and Christianity: Four Views, edited by Stanton Jones and Eric Johnson. In this new version Stanton Jones has moved from coeditor to author of the integration position chapter, with Eric Johnson assuming the post as sole editor. From the new book title it is obvious that another model of integrating psychology and Christianity (the transformational psychology model) has been added. The five views or models of integration of psychology and Christianity and their chapter authors are: a Levels-of-Explanation View, by David Myers from Hope College; an Integration View, by Stanton Jones from Wheaton College; A Christian Psychology View, by Robert Roberts and P. J. Watson from Baylor University and University of Tennessee-Chattanooga respectively; a Transformational Psychology View, by John Coe and Todd Hall, both from Rosemeade Graduate School of Psychology; and a Biblical Counseling View, by David Powlison from Westminister Theological Seminary.

This integration of psychology and Christianity book, like its predecessor with four views, is excellent for Christian college classroom use and represents an able descendent of a family of similar books with integration of psychology and Christianity models starting with John D. Carter and S. Bruce Narramore’s The Integration of Psychology and Theology(1979), and C. Stephen Evans’ Preserving the Person(1977). These early books helped shape our language and understanding of the basic issues and viewpoints involved in integrating psychology and Christianity.

The issues involved in choosing and practicing an integration model that seeks to relate psychology and Christianity – especially when the two are at odds – are not simple, and these authors present their own viewpoints with humility and an understanding of why Christians in psychology may hold various positions on integration. The first two models in the book (the Levels-of-Explanation and the Integration Views) present clear descriptions with winning arguments. The last three models (the Christian Psychology, a Transformational Psychology, and the Biblical Counseling Views), illustrate their view-points with necessarily more practical illustrations and examples. These last three models are thinking of the real world of counseling, and not just scientific or philosophical issues. But such real-world viewpoints (psychology in the real world of people and counseling) tend to produce models of integration with fuzzier boundaries, as to where “my model of integration leaves off and yours begins.” In the real world of the practice of psychology, it is clear that the integration of psychology and Christianity is not just a rational process – where one sees the brief description of the models and then makes his or her choice – but a making of a choice of one of these models in the context of one’s job, personality, religious history, manner of thinking, and more.

This book’s chapters are well written by scholars or practitioners in the field, and the book makes for enhanced learning and study in Christian college psychology classrooms. A particularly good feature of the book is the inclusion of very short response chapters following every major viewpoint chapter. Each author gets to respond to the ideas of each model of integration presented. Thus, the reader can better understand each model and can come away with a more critical eye to difficulties within each model as presented.

The book also helps students with its brief look at a recent history of Christians in psychology, particularly from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like psychology proper, Christian psychology has a short history but a long past. Fuller Seminary’s and Rosemead School of Psychology’s graduate programs beginning in the 1960s are part of our short history. So also is The Journal of Psychology and Theology, and authors such as Jay Adams and Larry Crabb. But, thinking about how to integrate faith and learning concerning human nature goes farther back into the past to Plato, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Decartes, Locke, and others.

The “Levels-of-Explanation” author is David Myers, who is well known for his best-selling textbooks as well as his Levels-of-Explanation model. This model has been called by others the parallels model, the territorialist model, and the perspectivalist model, which means two, separate, non-overlapping subject areas – psychology and the Bible, or two separate territories or perspectives on the same subject area. This model advises that psychology should stick to its academic territory, and Christianity should stick to its spiritual territory. But, there are problems for this model. While it may be easy to separate the territory of chemistry from that of the Bible, the line of separation does not easily divide the more human subjects of marriage, childrearing, jealousy, anger, crime and punishment, the profit motive, or teenage sexuality, just for a few examples.

The “Integration View”chapter is authored by Stanton Jones, a well-known psychologist, scholar, author, and provost at Wheaton College. He writes that the Christian world-view is a strong foundation for thinking about psychology and the tensions between it and Christianity. This viewpoint is more open to psychology than the Biblical Counseling view, but it is also more open to critiquing psychology than the Levels-of-Explanation view. Christians interested in psychology need to be asking the ultimate questions about the purpose, meaning, significance, and ethics of human life as part of their contribution to psychology. Psychology, on the other hand, can be providing the “intellectual and practical tools for understanding and improving the human condition” (101-102). Christians need to stand up against a strict reductionism in psychology, expand upon the meaning of the imago Dei in human kind, and see science as it really operates as theory laden, cultural, and human. 

“A Christian Psychology View,”written by Robert Roberts and P. J. Watson, says that psychology is actually many different psychologies down through history, and the current one has a stubborn positivistic viewpoint, which does not fit with religious and spiritual views of reality. Therefore, this view says that current Christian psychologists need to find a psychology that effectively speaks to our current world. The use of secular psychology might be to do research that brings Christian worldview assumptions into explicit dialogue with the hidden worldview of current psychology. This will be an explicitly Christian psychology that can use psychological information and research to defend Christian beliefs about the person, and can help find commonalities between the two perspectives. It will be Christians doing psychology with their own worldview beliefs in mind. In this way, Christians can chart new directions in psychology, and devise new hypotheses, research programs, theories, and clinical practices. This “Christian Psychology” model makes a much stronger statement about how much more Christian assumptions would change the practice of psychology for Christian psychologists than the Integration View does.

“A Transformational Psychology View,” written by John Coe and Todd Hall, is the new chapter in this change from the original edition of this book. Therefore, it seems appropriate to ask what is different about this viewpoint when compared to what the other models are saying. I am reviewing these five models in the order in which they appear in the book, and that order from Levels, to Integrates, to Christian, to Transformational, to Biblical seems to move from approaches that offer more psychology and empirical emphasis to those that stress the Bible and concerns for spiritual matters. In that case, the Transformational View ought to be more biblical and less rooted in psychological theory and practice. And this does seem to be the case. This view is a spiritual formation approach to psychology and Christianity. This takes the

spiritual-emotional transformation of the psychological as the foundation for understanding, developing, and preserving the 1) process, 2) methodology, and 3) product of doing psychology in the Spirit, which will all, in turn, open a new horizon into the doing of science in general and psychology in particular. (200)

“That is what psychology was meant to be, whether before or after the Fall” (200). To me this brings to mind C. Stephen Evans’ Humanizer of Science model of integration from Preserving the Person (1977), which suggests that Christian beliefs make a difference and can change the essentials of an academic subject area. Instead of just merging with psychological data and theories, it is a complete redoing of the field from the foundation of its Christian beliefs.

“A Biblical Counseling View”was written byDavid Powlison, who says that the Christian faith is a psychology; it is a care of the soul and not a secular psychotherapy. In this view, the author is no longer talking about integration as we have discussed it thus far. This viewpoint takes us in some ways back to Jay Adams and his book Competent to Counsel (1970), though without the strong emphasis on sin and the rejection of all elements of modern psychology. Arriving at this Biblical Counseling viewpoint I start asking how and when we deal with our knowledge of genetics and transmitter chemicals when we see human personality and behavioral struggles. Certainly there is some worth to the psychological questions or the information about genetics and human brains. And as attractive as this biblical viewpoint is, not everyone agrees that the Bible gives us a full-blown theory of human psychological problems and counseling steps.

The summing-up chapter from Eric Johnson says what most of us are thinking about when we read this book. If we are thinking about psychological studies of learning, memory, growth, aging, and mental illness, it looks like psychology may have a lot to offer. And modern psychology has a need for some humility as it deals with these very complicated subjects on human nature. The Levels-of-Explanation and the Integration Views should continue to push psychology toward a proper understanding of science and its limits, and toward being open about religious knowledge, experience, and morality. On the other hand, when we are dealing with human problems and counseling approaches, it does seem that a major emphasis on the biblical view of wholeness, morality, and significance, with an eye to what we learn about human brains and tragic environments, is important. The importance of these research topics ought to be recognized by the Christian Psychology, Transformational Psychology, and Biblical Counseling models. 

This excellent book on psychology and Christianity stresses that our goal as Christians is not to split the field of psychology into intellectual and spiritual enterprises. But those of us with degrees in either or both areas ought to be trying, with the help of the Lord, to understand ourselves, our problems, and the tools of knowledge and help available to us. The last lines in the book sum this idea up well:

For the Christian, the science of psychology and the art of counseling are fundamentally religious en-terprises, as is all of life. May God be pleased with our dialogue, conduct and journey together toward him in the field of psychology and the practice of counseling. (311)

Cite this article
Mark Cosgrove, “Psychology and Christianity: Five Views.”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 41:1 , 97-100

Mark Cosgrove

Mark Cosgrove, Psychology, Taylor University