Are psychology and theology (or religion) related or not? If they are, in what way? This is an interesting question.
Article Secular and Sacred Models of Psychology and Religion by Dr. John D. Carter published in Journal of Psychology and Theology, Volume 5, no. 3, Summer 1977, pp. 197-208, gives eight models of psychology and religion, four of them are secular and four are Christian. This article was later republished in Psychology & Christianity Integration:
Seminal Works that Shaped the Movement, pp. 210-219, edited by Daryl H. Stevenson, Brian E. Eck, Peter C. Hill (2007). These models were also reposted in Biblical Counseling Seminar Materials, pp. 47-50 by Dr. Edward Watke Jr.:
I. Four Secular Models of Psychology and Religion.
A. Psychology Against Religion
1. Science or the scientific method is the only valid means of truth.
2. Truth claims other than science are destructive.
2. Religion is a myth rather than truth, and is destructive.
3. Religion's destructiveness is its prohibitive or inhibitive effect on its members and on society.
4. "Scientific" (valid) psychology is the solution to individual problems.
Examples: Ellis and Freud
B. Psychology of Religion
1. Man is a spiritual-moral being (at least, in a humanistic sense).
2. Religion, technology, science or society which denies man's spirit, and thus his nature, creates pathology.
3. Most or all religions have recognized the spiritual-human quality of man and thus have the right approach.
4. The particular cultural-social-theological definition of man must be discarded in favor of a truly psychological definition of human functioning.
5. Good psychology translates the valid insights of religion into psychology and uses them for human good.
Examples: Fromm, Jung, and Mowrer
C. Psychology Parallels Religion
1. Religion and psychology are not related.
2. Each exists in its own sphere. One is scientific and the other is not.
3. Religion is a personal (and social) matter, while psychology is intellectual and academic.
4. Both religion and psychology can be embraced. There is no conflict since they do not interact.
D. Psychology Integrates Religion
1. A unifying or integrating view of truth in religion and psychology is both possible and desirable.
2. The truth or insights from psychology or religion will have some correspondence with the other discipline.
3. The truth or valid principles of religion and psychology are in harmony and form a unity.
4. Religion as socially manifested may be pathological but its intrinsic nature is not.
5. Valid religion and religious experiences are helpful in transcending the pains of existence or in assisting in the maturing process of growth.
Examples: Allport, Frankl, and Guntrip
II. Four Christian Models of Psychology and Religion
A. The Scripture Against Psychology
1. Basic epistemological assumption: Revelation is against reason, i.e., the Scripture is contradictory to human thought both rationally and empirically.
2. Soteriology and the Fall are stressed so as to eliminate and ignore creation and providence.
3. Basic psychological assumption: The Scriptures contain all the precepts of mental health.
4. All emotional problems are spiritual problems because they result from disobedience.
5. All problems can be solved by obedience to Scripture if the individual is confronted with a relevant passage of Scripture.
B. The Scripture of Psychology
1. Basic epistemological assumption: Human reason is more fundamental, comprehensive (technical), and contemporary than revelation.
2. Creation and Providence are stressed so as to ignore or eliminate soteriology and the Fall.
3. Basic psychological assumption: Psychology has discovered the basic principles of emotional health, maturity, and good interpersonal functioning.
4. Emotional problems can be solved by consulting a therapist or applying the principles of emotional maturity and good interpersonal relations.
Examples: Relational theology
C. The Scripture Parallels Psychology
1. Basic epistemological assumption: Revelation can never be reduced to reason nor can reason be reduced to revelation.
2. God requires obedience to both revelation and to reason. Hence, there is an implicit tension existing in the approach.
3. Both Creation-Providence and soteriology are stressed but they belong to different spheres.
4. Spiritual problems should be dealt with by the pastor; emotional problems by a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Examples: Clement (Isolation) Meehl (Correlation)
D. The Scripture Integrates Psychology
1. Basic epistemological assumption: God is the author of both revelation and reason because all truth (and truths) are God's truth and thus ultimately a part of a unified or integrated whole.
2. Creation-Providence is stressed equally with soteriology.
3. All problems are, in principle, a result of the Fall but not, in fact, the result of immediate conscious acts.
4. Since values are significant both for the Christian and for therapy, a genuine Christian therapy is necessary.
5. Paraklesis is the pattern for this type of therapy.
Examples: Crabb, Hulme, van Kaam, Wagner, Carter, & Mohline
In his book Effective Biblical Counseling, Dr. Larry Crabb gave somewhat funny names for the four Christian approaches:
1. "Separate But Equal" (the Scripture parallels psychology);
2. "Tossed Salad" (the Scripture and psychology are integrated with the tendency to view both of them as equal);
3. "Nothing Buttery" (the Scripture against psychology);
4. "Spoiling the Egyptians" (the Scripture integrates psychology; the Bible has preeminence, and only the components of psychology that are consistent with biblical teaching and principles are integrated). This approach is between the second and the third ones.
For a long time, I considered psychology and theology to be two completely different things and dealing with two different subjects, that is, my approach was "The Scripture Parallels Psychology" or "Separate But Equal." However, eventually, I came to conclusion that my approach was not correct.
The Bible does have a lot to say about psychology. Systematic theology includes parts that have to with psychology - anthropology, hamartiology (the teaching about sin), and some part of soteriology (the teaching about salvation). There is such a thing as Biblical psychology, which is rather a part of Christian theology than a part of secular psychology. This approach is presented, for example, in A System of Biblical Psychology by Franz Delitzsch (notice that this book was published in German in 1861 when, for instance, Sigmund Freud was only five years old), in Biblical Theology by Prof. Herman Hanko, in Christian Psychology by Dr. E. C. Bragg, and in many other works. Such approach is based on the Bible, not on the secular psychology. In fact, it existed long before modern secular psychology came to existence. Then, there is a branch of theology which is called pastoral theology. It includes pastoral care and pastoral counseling. Again, these things existed long before modern secular psychotherapy.
Well, supposedly, psychology deals with psychological problems and theology deals with spiritual problems. But it is not so easy to make a distinction between psychological and spiritual problems. For example, such things as anxiety, depression, irrational fear (phobia), sense of guilt, and a number of others are usually considered as psychological problems and many people go to therapists with them. However, the Bible has a lot to say about these things too. Of course, the biblical solution and the psychotherapy solution are different, but the point is that both of them deal with the same kind of problems.
As far as I understand, Sigmund Freud is considered to be the founder of modern psychotherapy. He used some ideas of Johann Heinroth who was a Christian psychiatrist and used Christian approach (Johann Christian August Heinroth: psychosomatic medicine eighty years before Freud by Steinberg H., Herrmann-Lingen C., Himmerich H.). Well, of course, Freud took away all the religious elements from Heinroth's works because of his anti-religious bias. Anyway, my point is that modern secular psychology has not appeared in the end of the 19th century out of nothing. It did use some things from Christianity, which had existed long time before.
Thinking over all this, I came to conclusion that it is not very correct to view psychology and theology as two completely different things ("The Scripture Parallels Psychology" aka the "Separate But Equal" approach).
I do not think that psychology should be rejected completely ("The Scripture Against Psychology" aka the "Nothing Buttery" approach). On the one hand, it seems that most people who prefer this approach use so called "Nouthetic (that is, admonishing) counseling" promoted by Dr. Jay Adams. Originally, this approach seems to be an extreme reaction to various unsupported ideas from the secular psychology, including the tendency to reduce people's responsibility for their socially harmful actions and view them as mental health disorders, such as Antisocial personality disorder aka Dissocial personality disorder. Adams rejects the concept of mental disorders and views all the psychological problems as the results of sins committed by people who have these problems. Counselors who use this approach first try to discover the sins committed by their clients and then tell them that they should repent and confess their sins and change their behavior. I think it is quite obvious that this approach may lead to spiritual abuse. In addition, this approach presents the Bible and Christian teaching in a very legalistic way. It neglects Bible passages on God's love, acceptance, support, comfort, consolation, encouragement. Christian religion is religion of grace, not religion of law. So, this approach misrepresents the core of Christianity. Therefore, I disagree with this approach. On the other hand, although I do not agree with anti-religious position of many secular psychologists and their philosophical premises, I do not think that psychology (or any other science) should be rejected.
I prefer more balanced integration approach, that is, "The Scripture Integrates Psychology" aka the "Tossed Salad" or the "Spoiling the Egyptians" approach with more inclination toward the latter approach because it gives priority to the Bible. There are many different approaches within the integration position. It seems that one of the most popular approaches within "Spoiling the Egyptians" approach is the view on Biblical counseling promoted by evangelical psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb. Actually, his views changed over the years. In his early writings, he paid more attention on right thinking, right behavior, and right feelings, but in his later writings, he changed his emphasis to acceptance (like in his book Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships).
In chapter 5 of this book, he writes that secular psychologist Carl Rodgers promoted connection through unconditional positive regard. Rodgers "offers acceptance without the atonement and understanding rather than forgiveness. In his thinking, there is nothing terrible in us that requires forgiveness. The problem is merely disconnection, a state of detachment that is the result not of rebellious independence from God but unfortunate psychological development. The atonement is therefore irrelevant. Unconditional positive regard is the total answer. <...> Rodgers sees no need for the atonement. In his mind, there is no sin to forgive." Crabb, being an evangelical, does not agree with Rodgers' rejection of the existence of sin and need of atonement and forgiveness. However, he strongly agrees with his concept of acceptance. He writes, "Why then do I feel so drawn to the kind of community that Rogers envisions, where acceptance supplants judgment, where we continue calling out the good in each other in spite of whatever ugliness we see? Why do I want to see some of Rogers's thinking rub off on pastors and on me?"
Well, this is a good example of integration approach when Christians use good things that secular psychology can offer. However, Rodgers was not the first person who promoted acceptance. Jesus said in John 6:37 (NIV): "All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." He said in Matthew 11:28 (NIV): "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." He also said in Matthew 9:12b-13 (NIV): "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus accepted all the people who came to Him. In Romans 15:7 (NIV) Paul wrote: "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." In Romans 14:1-3 (NIV) he wrote: "Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them." Acceptance is a biblical principle. It is not just something invented by Rodgers. And just like many Christians fail to practice what the Bible teaches about acceptance, I do not believe that many secular psychologists who like Rodgers' ideas really practice them.
His ideas actually seem to be quite utopic. As far as I understand, his main idea was that any human being is good, but this inner goodness cannot be manifested because of outward restrictions, and he viewed this as the main cause of psychological problems. His solution was that all the outward restrictions should be removed in order that this inner goodness may be manifested. It was in this context that he promoted complete acceptance of a person as totally good. Well, I guess it is quite clear what will happen in any society without any laws, any cultural norms, without government, police, and so on. In fact, the Bible gives an example of it. Judges 17:6 and 21:25 (NIV): "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit." I do not think that many people would like to live in a society of chaos described in Judges. My personal attitude to Rodgers' ideas is similar to Crabb's. I agree with Rodgers' idea of acceptance, but disagree with his philosophy of secular humanism.
I do not agree with everything written by Crabb (and as I have mentioned, he changed his views over the time), but I definitely like his emphasis on acceptance and connection. In my opinion, this approach is much better than legalistic Adams' Nouthetic counseling (often called "Biblical counseling"). Actually, both Adams and Crabb call their approaches "Biblical counseling," but their views are completely different.
Well, there are many approaches in the secular psychology and there are many approaches in Christian psychology as well. I do not agree with everything there just because it is Christian (or supposedly Christian). However, I do believe that the Christian approach can be more effective than the secular approach.
About one month ago, I got interested in Christian approach to psychology, that is, the integration approach. I began with two books by June Hunt Counseling through the Bible: Biblical Counseling Keys and Counseling through Your Bible Handbook. I liked in her books that she presents an integration of psychology and theology. She identifies some problems and gives some information about them from psychology. She also gives Bible verses and spiritual principles of dealing with these problems. So, her counseling is based on the Bible and centered on Christ. When I was reading, studying, and considering over some chapters of her books, I prayed a lot and also read the Bible. In other words, I had not just human resources to deal with my problems, but I turned to God. It was really helpful for me, and I got rid of several problems. For example, I think most people heard very negative things about the Soviet psychiatry. I encountered it when I was a child. Actually, they did not treat me. They just examined me and did not find any problems, but the way how they examined me was very traumatic for me. This childhood experience affected me more than all my cult experience. Sometimes, I got help from other people for dealing with some of the problems that had to do with that childhood experience, such as phobia of mental health professionals. However, it was only recently that I got recovered from my childhood trauma completely. After I worked through and prayed through my childhood experience, I noticed that not only I do not feel any pain anymore when I think about it, but I even do not understand why this experience was so traumatic for me and affected my life so much. God has healed me from it. Completely. When I think about this now, three weeks later, what I feel is great joy, praise and thankfulness to God. Christian psychology works. It really works. God does heal psychological problems better than any human psychologist.