Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is Psychology Biblical? By John Coe

The answer is yes and no, depending upon four different ways we can interpret this controversial question. But before we get to those four ways, let's consider definitions of the term psychology.

Definitions: (1) As a task, psychology has to do with observing and reflect persons and their complex situations with the goal of understanding human and its components, growth, dysfunction, and wisdom for living. (2) As a product, psychology is the more or less systematic body of information resulting from a mind engaged in understanding human nature, change, etc. (e.g., Freud's psychology). (3) As an intervention, psychology or psychotherapy is a relationship between therapist and persons that consists of empathic listening, understanding, loving care, and, when appropriate, verbal interpretations of dysfunction in order to facilitate healthy' relationships, awareness, wisdom, and growth.

(1) Is there a psychology contained in the Bible? Understanding our original question in this sense, the answer is clearly yes. Theologians for centuries have talked about OT anthropology or psychology, NT psychology, Pauline psychology,etc. The biblical authors, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provided numerous : observations and reflections on the nature of the human soul (Gn 2:7; Lv 24:17), spirit (Is 29:24), body (Is 31:3), mind (Php 2:3), heart (Ps 90:12), dysfunction (Jms 1:8), flourishing (Eph 3:16-19), process of change (Rm 12:1-2), and wisdom for living (Pr). Clearly God, as Creator of mankind, has an exhaustive and systematic psychology of persons and has communicated many of these crucial insights through the reflections of the inspired biblical authors.

(2) Are psychologies formed apart from the Bible biblical? Obviously the psychological reflections of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers are unbiblical in the sense that their musings are not included in the Bible. However, whether their views are biblical in the sense of being consistent with or reflected in the Bible is a more complex matter. For example, we can find correlation between Freud's view of the "unconscious" conscious" and "repression" and the biblical understanding of the "hidden heart" that insists there is always more going on deep within a person than on the surface (Pr 14:13), often due to the heart's deceptive nature (Jr 17:9; Rm 1:18). Though ' Freud had some true and wise things to say about the nature of the hidden motives of the heart, his worldly view of the "unconscious" and his causally deterministic explanation of mental functioning are clearly unbiblical. Thus psychologies based on observations and reflections from outside the Bible are a mixed bag that must be critiqued idea by idea.

The benefit of investigating these extrabiblical psychologies is twofold: (1) They may provide concrete examples that exemplify biblical truths. (2) They may further elucidate elements that the biblical writers only touch upon (e.g., addictions and anger).

(3) Is it biblical to engage in the task of psychology that involves not only the Bible but also extrabiblical observation and reflection? Contemporary Christians disagree on this point. Some adherents of the biblical counseling position deny any biblical warrant for this, while some integrationists maintain that there is biblical precedent for this task of doing psychology.

The writers of Proverbs were OT wise men who had the unique role of instructing Israel to live well in all areas of life under God on the basis of their wisdom and experience (Pr 1:1-6,8-9; 4:1; 6:20). The essence of this wisdom involves having a right relationship with God (Pr 1:7), who is the ultimate source of all wisdom (Pr 2:6) and revelation, which is central to the mental health of a people (Pr 29:18). However, the wise men also insisted that there is an important extrabiblical source of wisdom for living, discernible by observing and reflecting upon the natural world (Pr 6:6, 30:24-28) and especially persons and their complex situations (Pr 24:30-34). God created the world by wisdom (Pr 3:19-20) such that His wisdom is imprinted onto creation as the natural order of things (Pr 8:22-31). By observing these wisdom laws in nature and human life, one can discover a set of wise principles of sowing and reaping to avoid folly and live a good life under God in accordance with the created way of human nature (Pr 8:32-36).

Consequently, the OT wise men provide biblical precedent and justification for the science of psychology. In the case of biblical proverbs, God worked through the wise men's experiences to produce inspired observations and principles for living. While the wisdom collected in Scripture has a divine sanction and authority, the church's ongoing work in psychology is subject to scrutiny from the Scriptures, reason, son, and observation. Though unbelievers can discover wisdom for living through psychology, only the believer can know and live out these principles as one ought in relation to God.

(4) Is psychotherapy biblical? Certainly the intervention of psychotherapy is biblical in the sense that Scripture encourages empathy, truthful understanding, and caring relationships between persons. This is evident in the admonition regarding "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), in the "one another" injunctions (Eph 4:32; Col 3:12-14; 1 Th 5:11,14), in the gifts of the church (Rm 12:4-8), and in the reflections and counsel for wise living found in Proverbs (4:1-5). However, the content of what psychotherapy passes on as wisdom is to be judged by Scripture (Pr 21:30), truth (Pr 8:7), and its appropriateness to the situation (Pr 25:11).

Extracted from the Apologetics Study Bible.

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