Can psychology be Christian?

Christian Psychology – my disclaimer: What you are about to read falls into the “if the shoe fits” category… read at your own risk.

Like biology and physics and chemistry, psychology is a human science.  It is the study of the “mind.” Pschological research is mostly done through studies and observations regarding human behavior.  I get that.

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But psychology is different than other sciences because it deals with the internal workings of people.  People are not inanimate laws or facts of the natural world, they are beings with soul, body, and spirit.  There is much more that quantifies an individual than biological properties and chemical reactions.  And then there’s the effect that sin has had on us as a race… that complicates things a bit more, wouldn’t you say?

So, it won’t surprise you to know that I’ve come to be a bit skeptical of the psychological/psychiatric world – especially as it has crossed-over into the Christian church. Don’t get me wrong… as a Pastor I do counseling.  I’ve been trained in many psychological methods and skills.  I know that some of the “science” of human behavior as it relates to our biology is indeed true.  But I’m still on the leading edge of skeptical…

The main reason?  I don’t see very many Christian counselors actually practicing “Christian” counseling (Bible-based counsel).  I see them practicing “psychological” counseling, with the name “Christian” tacked on.  That may sound harsh, but it’s what I’ve witnessed in 20 years of ministry.

What that amounts to is this:  The prescriptions many Christian therapists give, are clearly unbiblical (I heard another account of it just today).  Yes, I said clearly unbiblical.  I could tell you so many stories.  In such cases the therapeutic has triumphed over the theological – and nobody is helped when that happens.  In fact, great harm occurs because the very real power of God to truly transform a sinner into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17Galatians 6:15) is relegated to irrelevance.

Look, psychology may have its place, but not if it is used as a cover-up for legitimately sinful behaviors or attitudes that can only be transformed by the power of God’s Spirit.  That’s exactly what I’ve seen our culture’s love-affair with the therapeutic do in many cases.  Here’s how it looks:  I go to a therapist, I get a clinical-sounding label for a troublesome attitude or behavior, and it suddenly seems legitimately outside my control, like something that’s “happened” to me.  I subtly give myself permission to be the victim of my biology and past, instead of a child of the King who is called and equipped to be more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).

Do your own self-check.  Which of the following terms are regularly a part of your vocabulary?

  1. sin
  2. personal issues
  3. flesh
  4. addictive behaviors
  5. coercion
  6. passive aggressive
  7. slander
  8. venting
  9. idolater
  10. addict

The odd numbered points are biblical terms.  The evens are based in the therapeutic model.  I hear many, many more of the even-numbered phrases in the church nowadays than I do the odds.  Have we been desensitized to our real need?

We aren’t dysfunctional people who need a therapist.  We are sinners who need a Savior.  Psychology is only Christian in so far as it holds out Christ as the cure for the human condition.


2 thoughts on “Can psychology be Christian?

  1. The Christian aspect of psychology is something I’ve also wrestled with. There are many things which bug me about it. First, the diagnostic methods are so subjective. I’m sure there are some people who have legitimate chemical imbalances that lead to depression – but it amazes me how everyone seems to think that’s them. I think, like you said, it’s because we want to be a victim. We want to think that we’re still strong, but this is just how we are. And rather than wrestle through the word, we pop some pills.
    Secondly, self-control, patience, etc. are fruits of the spirit. It’s mildly frustrating to see those traits measured in scientific studies as if there was no spiritual component to them.
    But third, I need to remind myself of the doctrine of common grace. Everything good is from God, so perhaps there are some legitimate and useful things from counseling or psychology that could be redeemed within a Christian worldview and used for his glory. So I’m not going to criticize Christian psychologists. I’m sure there are some who are rocking it.

    • Well stated thoughts Loren. My thoughts on your points:
      1) Ditto… the subjectivity of it seems problematic. I agree about the legitimate chemical balances, and the tendency there seems to be to go there first. I recently heard a truly Christian psychologist say that the tendency is to rush into that too quickly. 2) Yes, fruits of the Spirit are real, and needed. Paul’s remedy was that we learn to “walk by the Spirit.” Good point. 3) Yes, any truth that does come from the psychological realm is from God (as in physics or chemistry). While there are some who are no doubt “rocking it,” I’m mostly concerned with the trends I see in the profession as a whole.

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