Change: Closing Thoughts and Transition

February 8, 2009 — 2 Comments

In some ways, this may seem like an abrupt left turn in terms of blog content. However, I’m not sure how much can really be addressed in terms of how people change. All that would be left is specific application, and apart from case studies, that is not particularly feasible. Too short excurses are in order though, originally conceived as appendices to the paper that the bulk of the proceeding material was harvesting from (or created for). Both will be combined into this article although they are only somewhat obliquely related. The second concerns the legitimacy of our desires when it comes to change. That is to say, sometimes we desire things that are bad for us when we approach personal growth. As Christians, this is just evidence of our sin natures still in tact and operating under the radar as it were even in the face of seeking help (even Biblical help) for our maladies. The first appendix deals with a similar, but far more intricate concept; the integration of psychology and Christianity (or theology if you prefer). This again is an instance of desiring to do something for good reasons but unfortunately is still an ill-fated venture.

The discussion of the epistemological concerns with attempting to integrate ideas from psychology into Christian counseling will lead into the next series which will be centered on articulating a Christian philosophy of life. Technically, metaphysics (the nature of being) will be discussed first, lest we follow Descartes off into folly, but the issues usually come up in an epistemological context, leading one back to examine the underlying ontology of it all, before giving mind to the behavioral implications (i.e. ethical) of a certain view of things. This is a roundabout way of saying that because God created the world in a certain way, certain things can be known when interpreted in light of God and certain implications follow. To pick up a stream of thought that disagrees with Christianity on every point (i.e. secular psychology) and then try to either lightly Christianize it or to integrate it whole heartedly into a Christian worldview is to commit a grave intellectual blunder that but for the transformative grace of God has potential to completely destroy one’s personal ministry by corrupting it at the foundation.

At this point, you’ve essentially read a summary of the thought process, if you need further clarification keep reading. If you need in depth clarification, keep reading for the next few weeks/months. At the end is a bibliography of books that led to most all of the thoughts presented in this whole series on change. Starting next week we turn to a more in depth discussion of Christian philosophy. In the mean time, below are the two appendices in question:

Integration of Psychology and Theology

Broadly speaking integration is the wrong question to ask for that assumes that psychology and theology are two different things. When one really studies what the Bible says about man and God, it is rather apparent (or should be) that it already contains the elusive Grand-Unified-Theory of the psychology of man, or is at least the basis for a work in progress of a systematic practical theology of counseling.[1] Further it is deeply problematic to operate as if the Bible is useful, necessary, and sufficient for public ministry but that training and credentialing in secular psychology are necessary for private ministry.[2] To the extent that insights from the secular field of psychology can flesh out the task of counseling as assigned in the above paper, to that extent the question of integration is useful. [3]

However, it is not necessarily integration as it is appropriation of psychological insights into a decidedly Christian foundation and building, not the other way around. Psychology can nuance some of the methods of delivering the content of counseling, but it is dangerous and incongruent with Christian faith and practice to allow secular psychology in any significant way to define the nature of counseling, the problems that will be addressed, or the content of what counseling will deliver to the individual.[4]

Secular psychology because of its wrong foundation and knowledge base, in addition to its consistent disregard for man as creature of God and his direct relationship to Him, is ultimately impotent to offer anything of value in answering the basic questions of counseling. Does this mean it is worthless to study psychology? Not at all, it just places the insights found there into their proper sphere and allows them their room of relevance and not free range of the whole building to inhabit whatever corridor they want or to even commission certain parts of the building to be rebuilt according to their fancy.

Much more could be said about this topic and books upon books have been written arguing for a variety of positions, but the ultimate position on which I would stake my place is that we have everything we need for a comprehensive internal model of the psychology of man within the Christian faith and do not need the insights that secular psychology can offer to accomplish the task that is set before us of helping to build one another up in love and growing into fullness as the body of Christ. We do need wisdom in discerning when there are legitimate biological concerns with a person, but that happen far less than we actually think. In those instances, there really is a problem outside of the scope of Christian counseling, but it is because there is a medical issue.

However, it should be important to note that even in the face of known biological malfunctions, the person is still responsible before a sovereign God to love Him with their whole being and to value Him above all else. Too many times biology is used as a loophole that the Bible and orthodox Christian faith and practice do not allow. There is still a spiritual component to how the person is responding to their suffering and in that instance, sound Biblical counsel is still necessary, although in tandem with medical treatment.

If anything, that is the only thing of value psychology can contribute in the actual treatment of a problem, but that is not owing to explicitly psychological foundations but more to anatomical and physiological principles discovered under the guise of psychological research, but their more proper place is in the medical realm.

Legitimacy of a Counselee’s Desires in Counseling

Another consideration regarding integration that did not explicitly fit into the above dialogue concerns the nature of why people go to counseling, and the person they go to in order to receive that counseling. Many times, the reasons people seek counseling are simply an extension of their own lusts.[5] We want to avoid suffering, we all want a comfortable life, we all want pleasure more than we want pain. Anything that interferes with these desires generates discord in our souls, but satiating the desire is not the proper way to remedy the problem. Christ came to set us free from our own sinful lusts and to show us something better than anything we could pursue here on earth: Himself.

A prime example is that of depression, something rather prevalent in our society today. It does not take much digging in the psychological research to find that there are no anti-depressants that actually cure depression, they simply numb the problem, but do not constructively fix anything biologically speaking.[6] From a Christian perspective, a person could be suffering from depressive symptoms for a variety of reasons, not all of which are explicitly spiritual.[7] However, to run to the medical remedy too quickly is to show the priority of one’s heart; namely that physical comfort and a stable mood are more important that restoring any defect with one’s relationship with God.

In the end, the goal of Christian counseling should be to expose the idols of one’s heart and deal with those first, and if necessary from that point move on to potential medical remedies. How sad it would be to have an occasion of growth through suffering presented, only to run to a quick fix and then have a more stable mood not because one has come to treasure Christ above all else, but because one prioritized stability over spiritual growth. In the end, growing more Christ-like is the goal of all counseling and striving towards this end may or may not be achieved alongside freedom from any and all ailments, but something much more valuable will be gathered in the process.

To sum up, just because someone comes for counseling seeking help in a situation or relief from an ailment, they may not be seeking after the right things as the solution. If we return to our paradigm as man being essentially sin-sick, we see that even what we seek in counseling gets skewed away from Christ. Careful, Biblical wisdom needs to applied in a loving way to check what people want to get out of the counseling relationship so that the goals do not drift into strictly returning to a “normal” balanced life of pleasure and comfort, but that the counseling relationship can ultimately be an opportunity for God to draw the person into closer relationship with Himself so that the person learns to love God more than all else and treasure Christ and knowing Him as the most important thing above all else.


[1] Powlison, “Questions at the Crossroads,” 38. What the Bible really provides is all of the crucial (not encyclopedic) facts about humanity in order to yield a worldview that is sufficient to interpret all of the other facts that we encounter (i.e. from psychological research or even an unrelated discipline). Powlison, “Does Biblical Counseling Really Work?,” 90-91. The bible provides us with the necessary and sufficient lens through which to view the counseling process, not an exhaustive list of all the possible problems we will encounter and how to solve them (see Seeing With New Eyes in above bibliographic info). Psychology then only becomes useful for a illustrational role that provides examples and details to the already functional Biblical model and helps to fill out our knowledge (Powlison, “Does Biblical Counseling Really Work?,” 87.) Psychology can also provide challenges to our model and help us to develop it further in certain areas. It is not necessarily psychology that is in opposition to the Biblical model, but clinical and counseling psychology that competes with a truly Christian perspective on how to counsel. Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption, 10.

[2] Powlison, “Questions at the Crossroads,” 54.

[3]Meaning it has a necessarily peripheral role in the actual counseling process, not a primary one. See note 41.

[4] Psychology “should play no role in our model of counseling.” Powlison, “Does Biblical Counseling Really Work?,” 87. While it should be exempt from developing our model (and philosophy and theory) it can fit into the practice but in ways outlined above.

[5] Secular theories do not address this at all and far too many “Christian” models simply baptize lusts of the flesh as needs and then give them legitimacy. (Ibid., 83.)

[6] See Welch, Blame It on the Brain: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience, 105-29. For a good discussion of both psychiatric problems and specifically how depression fits into this model.

[7] But most are, and even if not, the person’s response to their suffering then makes it a spiritual issue. The human heart is an active verb before the God of the universe and our circumstances are what give the occasion for our hearts to reveal what they truly value above all else.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1979.

Comer, Ronald J. Fundamental of Abnormal Psychology. New York: Worth, 2005.

Custance, Arthur C. Man in Adam and in Christ. Vol. III. The Doorway Papers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975.

Danaher Jr., William J. The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards. Columbia Series in Reformed Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Edwards, Jonathan. Religious Affections. Vol. 2. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John Smith. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959.

________. Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm. Cambridge: James Clark, 1971.

Jones, Stanton L., and Richard E. Butman. Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1991.

Lane, Timothy S., and Paul David Tripp. How People Change. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2006.

Powlison, David. “Does Biblical Counseling Really Work?” In Totally Sufficient, ed. Ed Hindson and Howard Eyrich. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.

________. “Questions at the Crossroads.” In Care for the Soul, ed. Mark R. McMinn and Timothy R. Phillips. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2001.

Welch, Edward T. Blame It on the Brain: Distinguishing Chemical Imbalances, Brain Disorders, and Disobedience. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishers, 1998.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

2 responses to Change: Closing Thoughts and Transition

  1. “In the end, growing more Christ-like is the goal of all counseling and striving towards this end may or may not be achieved alongside freedom from any and all ailments, but something much more valuable will be gathered in the process.”

    Rather than “fixing a problem” we are identifying potential for positive growth. I agree with your approach and look forward to reading more.

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