For this past year, I’ve been teaching a psychology elective at the Christian school that employs me. Knowing roughly this time last year I’d be teaching it, I began looking for potential textbooks. Because it is a class that meets just once a week and is for a half credit, a standard college psychology textbook isn’t really the best option. I had compromised on that the first time I taught the class, and with mixed results. This time around, I wanted to try something a little different.
I noticed sometime late last spring that Baker Academic had a book titled Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide slated to release late summer. It is written by Paul Moes and Donald Tellinghuisen, both professors at Calvin College. Together they’ve written an insightful look at psychological study in Christian perspective. While there were some other options I had looked at, just judging from the table of contents, I thought it might be a useful text for the first semester of the class. Baker Academic graciously sent me a review copy that arrived in time for me to read ahead and prep a bit. I’ve now worked my way through it on my own, and we’ve done about 12 chapters together in class.
So far, I would say it has gone very well. The book really is a look at the study of psychology from a Christian standpoint. By that I mean it’s not a psychology textbook, but is an exercise in thinking theologically about many of the subject areas that are covered in a standard psychology textbook. That means there are chapters on research methodology (chapter 2), the mind body connection (3-4), consciousness and sensation (5-6), learning (7), memory (8), decision making (9), growth and development (10), social psychology (11-12), personality (13), disorders (14), and therapy (15). Some of the chapters could have been subdivided (the sensation chapter could easily be multiple chapters), but given what I imagine were tight space constraints, I was satisfied with the layout.
As readers are guided through each of these dimensions of psychological study, the authors utilize five themes from Scripture concerning humans to think theologically. Those themes are (ix, also explained in detail in chapter 1):
- Relational persons (we are made in the image of God, meant for relationship with him and meant to steward his creation)
- Broken, in need of redemption (we are sinners in need of salvation through Christ, living in and part of creation that suffers the consequences of all humanity’s sin)
- Embodied (we bear God’s image in real bodies in a real world)
- Responsible limited agents (we make choices, within constraints, that result in actions for which we are both individually and corporately responsible)
- Meaning seekers (we seek to make sense of our surroundings, our experience, and our purpose through perceiving patterns, creative meaning making, and desire for a deity)
Helpfully I think, the authors parenthetically note when they are drawing on these themes later in the book. Rather than simply telling you these themes are the backbone of their analysis and letting you pick up on it, they draw your attention to their use throughout. Also helpfully, the authors draw on up-to-date psychological study that has made popular impact. For instance, they draw on Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow in the chapter on decision making, John Gottman’s work in the chapter on research methodology, and Steven Pinker makes several appearances. And just easily they reference classic studies like those of Pavlov, Stanley Milgram, and the strange story of Phineas Gage.
On the whole, I’d say this book works well in the venue I’m using it. The discussion questions help us personalize and develop the material from the standpoint of our Christian faith. Outside of the classroom, this could be a good book for someone interested in psychology, especially if they are considering majoring in it in college. Post-college, this could be a helpful look at psychology for those in minister who lack a background in psychological study. It’s certainly not as extensive as actually majoring in psychology or capable of replacing extensive reading, but it does provide a good general orientation for further study. In the end, I think it is ideally suited for the classroom as either a primary text in smaller class like I’m teaching, or as a supplemental text for a full psychology class at the college level.
Paul Moes & Donald J. Tellinghuisen, Exploring Psychology and Christian Faith: An Introductory Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, August 2014. 304 pp. Paperback, $21.99.
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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!