Science in Christian Perspective



by LARS L GRANBERG, President, Northwestern

of the Reformed Church in America,

Orange City, Iowa

From: JASA 19 (September 1967): 88-89.

Among theologically conservative Christians seeking help, test number one for counselors, psycho-therapists, psychiatrists and those in other mental health professions is usually phrased, "Is he a Christian psychologist (psychiatrist) ?"

What is meant by this question? Several exegeses seem legitimate: 1) Does this man profess personal Christian faith and identify himself with the Christian community? 2) Does this man regard his professional activity as a special form of personal evangelism? 3) Has this man "baptized" one of the current theories of personality-or perhaps "resurrected" an older one? 4) Has this person made significant progress toward effecting an intellectually valid, working synthesis between the data and middle axioms of psychology and biblical postulates concerning man and nature?

The first seems in varying measure to assume about a "Christian" psychologist that he will not destroy my faith. Sometimes it seems to mean, "He will take seriously my spiritual commitment. He will understand the motives, values and thought patterns of the Christian." But sometimes this means, "He will not call upon me to examine how I use the Christian faith. He will allow me to persist in the personal immaturities and reality-avoidances which I've managed to make sacrosanct by a heavy coating of pious words."

The second question is rooted in a reductionist theology that assumes the conversion experience to be the agency of total healing. It reduces all human problems to spiritual problems. Undoubtedly a persons life view affects profoundly how he reacts to stress, rooted in physical illness, emotional disturbance or personal relations; and the reaction may itself become a serious disorder. There is a kind of counselor or psychologist however, who inspires confidence in many ministers because his therapeutic efforts consist so largely of personal evangelism-sometimes accompanied by denunciation of psychology and psychiatry. We are glad for the Christian devotion of such counselors, but find it difficult to consider them professionally serious. The valid element in this approach seems to be a psychologically sensitized awareness of the personal dimensions of the Gospel. This aspect too often has been obscured by a depersonalizing tendency to expound Biblical teaching as though it consisted mainly of theological abstractions which must be properly systematized. (This is not a slap at systematic theology. Rather it is a contention, based on extensive observation, that when one makes the intellectualizing of biblical teaching the chief end of Bible study he tends to lose sight of the fact that the Bible is a person-centered book concerned with intensely personal issues for which it extends solutions of a personal nature.)

Probably most devoted Christians who deserve to be given serious regard as professionals in one of the mental health professions would best be described by question three. Certainly this has been true of most writers on psychological topics whose work has appeared in this journal. This is a natural outgrowth of the usual pattern of professional training; aggravated, of course, by the inadequate foundation in the liberal arts upon which graduate training forms the superstructure so often in the United States. This means that a graduate student in social work, psychology or psychiatry usually is far less sophisticated philosophically and theologically than he is in his professional field. Moreover, he is bound to have learned well the strengths of the dominant theoretical emphasis at his graduate school and the weaknesses of other theoreticat' stances. What appears to the critical observer to be a rather facile baptism of, for example, B. F. Skinner, Clark Hull, Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, Viktor Frankl or 0. H. Mowrer, is more likely a product of the fact that the dominant theory met in one's graduate program provides the most severe challenge to one's Christian view of man and nature. Having met these challenges from a Christian perspective to one's own satisfaction, it is human to regard one's limited but hard won synthesis either as the Christian synthesis or to assume that when the Christian synthesis is effected it will have to be along the lines of one's own. Many Christians in this category base their synthesis on psychoanalysis. Lately existenialist theories have gained in respectability among us. Always a few of our hard-nosed colleagues, for whom "science" means a sophisticated behaviorism, have been drawn toward a form of positivism.

I have implied two things: first, that we have a growing number of Christians who are psychologists (psychiatrists, social workers, counselors); second, that the term "Christian Psychologist" properly belongs to the person who is described by question four. If he is also a practitioner, he would need to progress beyond an intellectual synthesis between the data and middle axioms of psychology and biblical teachings on man and nature in that he would be required not only to grasp the implications of this synthesis for a specific human situation but also bow to become that kind of person through whom can be channeled the healing potentials in this synthesis for the specific human situation at hand.