Psychology and Theology by Marco Gonzalez
If there is one thing Christians are in need of it is counseling. You donâ€™t have to look into the NT (New Testament) too long to discover the constant need for counsel. In fact, Paul, in 1 Corinthians uses the word â€œcomfortâ€ over ten times in the first chapter alone. Yet, I believe there is much confusion over the right approach to biblical counseling. I use that term loosely because it has a variety of meanings to people. We live in a society that thrives on discovery, much like Odysseus, in the great novel by Homer â€œThe Odyssey.â€ We find a manâ€™s constant need for discovery and chance, which, likens to our own societyâ€™s need for discovery. With the use of psychological and sociological theories it is believed that we have solved most of the modern-manâ€™s problems. Many Christian colleges and seminaries have integrated these findings from our society into their counseling and pastoral programs. This model of â€œintegratingâ€ theology and psychology together is the predominant form of counseling in Christianity.
World-wide, seminaries and college have changed their curriculum to allow for integration. These schools have supplemented many of their theological and doctrinal courses with psychological requirements. However, I must ask the question, can and should theology and psychology be integrated?
All of us, at one time or another, have heard the expression, â€œAll Truth is Godâ€™s Truth.â€ We need to understand that this assertion is the starting point for the integrationistâ€™s model without which their theological definitions could not stand. Theologically, it follows, that God makes known his truth through two sources: General and Special Revelation. Integrationists define special revelation as a proposition truth in scripture and general as a non-propositional truth given by God, which, must be discovered by man. James D. Guy, in the Journal of Theology and Psychology, contributed his article named â€œThe Search for Truth in the Task of Integration.â€ He stated the following:
If integration is conceptualized as the search for truth concerning human nature, and God is identified as the source of this truth, the next logical issue involved the revelation of this truth. It has traditionally been held that God reveals this truth to us through both general and special revelation, with both nature and the Bible serving as expressions or representations of this truth. The disciplines of psychology and theology are attempts to discover and systematize truth by means of the study of the natural sciences and biblical revelation.
It can only follow that truth derived from the created order of things is just as true as truth from scripture. The problem I have with the integrationistâ€™s model is that their definitions are unbiblical. First, revelation is not something man can obtain, it is always shown in scripture that God is the only being who gives revelation.
2 Peter 1:19-21 (KJV) 19 We also have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
It has always been believed by theologians that the truth God reveals would be otherwise unknown to man. God is the revealer of revelation and man has always been the recipient of his revelation. Integrationists defend their positions by labeling psychological developments as general revelation. As a result, and according to an integrationistâ€™s definition of general revelation, psychological research is seen just as dependable and authoritative as the truths shown in scripture. There is an immediate difficulty we are faced with at once. Is revelation, according to integrationists, that God has placed truths in the created order that man must discover? Or is revelation truth which only God can reveal to man that would be otherwise unknown? The problem is not the question of if human beings can discover truth, but if those truths are to be considered general revelation.
Many discoveries found in psychological research are based on theories. These theories are continually evolving, either with the advancement of knowledge in a particular theory or providing adequate research to create another. But these findings cannot be attributed to general revelation. Because of the misunderstanding of the term â€œrevelation,â€ Integrationists believe that general revelation and special revelation distinct differences refer to the character of revelation, not the audience with which the revelation is revealed to. In other words, general revelation is general because it refers to general facts and findings in the created order. But this is not a true understanding of general revelation. General revelation is not referring to facts, findings, and research; it is general because it is revealed to all people. It is revelation that is communicated to every single human being. Special revelation, however, is not particular findings or special details about the created order, but revelation that is not made known to all people, only to specific individuals.
If we take general revelation as a type of content, regarding its character and not audience, then we inevitably must allow all forms of research and findings to be categorized into general revelation. It must be stressed though, not all integrationists use this apologetically, but almost all view this as a legitimate support for their model of counseling. Letâ€™s remember, the correct definition of general revelation is general in its scope, it reaches all people. It is revealed and available to the entire world. It is manifested by the created order and to the conscience and hearts of men (Rom. 1:17-19, 2:14-15, Ps 19:1-6). It is a truth so powerful that it is undeniable to all men and women. It cannot save a manâ€™s soul, but it can lead to a fuller understanding of the gospel.
Romans 1:17-19 (KJV) 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
Psalms 19:1-6 (KJV) 1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. 4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, 5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. 6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
Do not take me wrong; I am not disregarding all of psychological research. I believe these findings, if used properly, can provide those with behavioral dysfunctions aid. Letâ€™s remember that most of our problems to begin with are spiritual in nature. But living in our modern-day pop-culture our immediate response to a problem is that it is a cognitive disorder.
At this point it is crucial to define exactly what Biblical counseling is. Let us remember that the term â€œBiblical Counselingâ€ has numerous meanings to people. Biblical counseling should be is God-centered; it places God as the centerpiece of our counseling. Biblical counseling should look at the sinfulness of humanity and itâ€™s answers in the gospel. Biblical counseling acknowledges that change is progressive. It stresses the importance of repentance, renewing our mind, and obedience to the spirit. It places scripture as sufficient for all of problems as Christians. This model of counseling is called â€œnouethetic.â€ It is beyond the scope of this entry to explain the essential differences between an integrationists and the Nouthetic model of counseling. But, I will explain in the next entry.