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Integrating Faith and Psychology

Integrating Faith and Psychology

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Published by: panoply01 on Aug 28, 2012
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B o o k R e v ie w

Integrating Faith and Psychology: Twelve Psychologists Tell Their Stories
Editor: Glendon L. Moriarty, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 272 pages.

Reviewed by Edward T. Welch
Counselors, I hope, enjoy reading about people. When I read a book I first look for the author’s biography, then I carefully read the acknowledgements, then I read the dedication, sometimes wiping away a tear or two. I want to know about the author. This continues to be my defense for taking a peek at People magazine if I am waiting in a long check-out line. With this in mind, “Twelve [Christian] Psychologists Tell Their Stories” should catch your eye. This is not a book of ideas that edits out personal references. It is a book about people. Each of the twelve writes about relevant personal history (e.g., childhood and family experiences, church influences). They describe key mentors, struggles, personal suffering, spiritual disciplines, and things learned both as therapists and receivers of therapy. Each concludes with a letter to the reader of hardwon wisdom and summaries of the best advice each has to offer. Gary Collins wrote the forward. Collins is a Christian psychologist who was among the early authors in Christian counseling. He is still smarting from the “battle lines” that were sharpened by Jay Adams’ Competent to Counsel (co-founder of CCEF) and the anti-psychology movement, some of which was highly polemical. Those were difficult days of argument and strife,
___________________________________________ Edward Welch (M.Div., Ph.D.) counsels and teaches at CCEF. He is the author of “When People Are Big and God is Small.”

and the scars remain for some of the combatants. A colleague of Collins, who wrote one of the later chapters, mentioned a scheduled televised debate in which Collins and Adams were to be the principal opponents (p. 101). Collins decided to back out because, in the words of one of the other proposed participants, the debate looked like it would be a “turkey shoot” aimed at those who had a favorable view of psychology. Collins goes on to write that from that time on he sought to hear his opponents and write in more irenic ways. The implication is that his opponents (biblical counselors) did not respond in kind. This brief forward provides a glimpse into the story line that persists among those who identify with the agenda of bringing together reliable psychological research and scriptural truth: “There are battle lines. The opponents of the agenda (read: CCEF and others of similar opinions) do not listen well. They continue to operate under the banner of anti-psychology.” And, of course, there is something here for biblical counselors to consider. But, the real focus of the book is the biographical stories. You might recognize some of the names of the book’s contributing authors: Everett Worthington, Rebecca Propst, Siang-Yang Tan, Mark McMinn, Elizabeth Hall, Mark Yarhouse, and others. Each story is fascinating, as human stories of conversion and growth in the grace of Christ always are. Here are several themes that run through the book.

The Journal of Biblical Counseling

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When you hear people’s life stories, they are no longer merely “ideas with feet,” no longer simply a “viewpoint” within Christian counseling. These are people who know Christ and want to grow in him. They take their hearts to task. They understand our shared tendency to rest in our accomplishments. They have sought Christ through the dark times of life. They are like you. As you get to know them, you will hope to be like them, at least in their zeal for Jesus Christ. The authors’ interest in psychology makes more sense when you understand the larger context of their lives. “Psychology” to them usually means empirical research and careful observations. Sometimes it means a therapeutic approach, such as cognitive therapy or object relations therapy, which the authors believe is compatible with and complementary to Scripture. Scripture is praised. It is the infallible Word of God. Psychology supplements Scripture with its insights into emotional problems and problems that are embedded in past relationships, especially early relationships. The worlds of psychology and Scripture are hard to bring together. They are two different disciplines. They do not integrate easily. These observations are not new. You can glean them from most any current book on integration or “Christian counseling.” But something important is missing. The Christian psychologists in this volume rarely mention how empirical research is not as sturdy or reliable as advertised. It is one thing to do empirical research with igneous rock or iguanas. It is something different to develop careful and useful observations about complex moral creatures such as ourselves. Here is another missing item. There is rarely any interest in taking the more reliable psychological observations and showing how Scripture anticipates these observations and places them in a much richer context. For example, the consequences of past verbal, physical and sexual abuse have been widely studied. Scripture speaks extensively to injustice and the damage of being sinned against, but when these authors think about past pain, they

fall back on psychological categories. These are descriptively rich but with none of the wider and deeper understanding communicated in Scripture. Despite these significant omissions, the stories are wonderful. One finds insightful comments throughout. Here is one that caught my attention. A student entered her professor’s office. The school is Christian and teaches an integrationist approach to psychotherapy. “If I can help people that way [with psychological techniques], then why do I need to be a Christian?” The instructor was, appropriately, stunned by the question. He comments further, “Over and over again I have heard students proclaim, with the flush of newfound professional insight, that a client would be better off if she would just realize her problem was psychological and not spiritual . . . But the solution for such a dilemma may be to reexamine our theology rather than assume that clinical diagnosis should trump spiritual language” (p.254-255). To which I say, “Amen.” And then I would labor to make a more persuasive case for the breadth and depth of Scripture. Here is one other important piece to that story. The author goes on to observe that some of these students are looking to be liberated from legalistic church backgrounds where the struggles of everyday life are ignored or dismissed. This is not the only motivation for those who engage in integration, but I have heard this story many times from men and women who have turned to secular psychology: they received more help and understanding there than they did in the church. To which we say, “Lord, have mercy on us all.” May we never drive people away from Scripture because of clumsy or even harmful ministry of the Word. May those who teach and preach be chastened and sobered. Certainly there is more I could say about this useful book. When any of us reads a book, we highlight some things and miss others. Along with being drawn into every person’s life story, I have been reminded again that biblical counseling, as it is interpreted by most Christian psychologists, is only a slightly nicer version of the aim-and-shoot school of anti-all-things-


The Journal of Biblical Counseling

Volume 26 | Number 2

secular-and-psychological. We will have to work hard if we are to engage in profitable discussion. I was also reminded that Christian psychologists are interested in finding compassionate, meaningful, Christ-honoring theological frameworks that can provide a truly coherent perspective on people and modern human struggles. To which I give another, “Amen.”That is what biblical counseling is! This gives us good reason to engage with those who share the perspectives of these twelve psychologists.

The Journal of Biblical Counseling

Volume 26 | Number 2


The Journal of Biblical Counseling (ISSN: 1063-2166) is published by: Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation 1803 East Willow Grove Avenue Glenside, PA 19038 www.ccef.org

Copyright © 2012 CCEF The Journal of Biblical Counseling is a publication of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). All rights reserved. All content is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without written permission from CCEF.

For information on permission to copy or distribute JBC articles go to: www.ccef.org/make-a-request

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