Science in Christian Perspective



Paul Tournier: Christian Man of Science
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 
Deerfield, Illinois 60015

From: JASA 25 (June 1973): 78.

On an evening in 1932, a young Swiss physician named Paul Tournier walked across the cobblestone streets of the old part of Geneva and knocked at the door of a stately home on Rue Calvin, inside, a group of Christians were gathering for one of their regular meetings during which, Dr. Tournier assumed, they would talk about theology and the power of their faith in God. "What a feast of learned and intellectual exchange this will be," Tournier thought as he entered the house, but as the meeting progressed he was first bewildered and then angry. Instead of scholarly discussions, the brilliant minds in that room (including that of Emil B runner the theologian, Dr. Alphonse Maeder, a psychoanalyst who was a colleague of Jung, Professor Theodore Sperri, a European "man of letters", and an important Dutch official from the League of Nations named for van Walre de Bordes) sat for half an hour in silent meditation and then began an honest sharing of what Tournier thought were "tiny trivial personal matters" about their lives.'

As he left the house after the meeting a disappointed Tournier complained that he had come seeking bread but had been given a stone instead. Little did he realize that the impact of that night would change his whole life and in a real sense transform him from a cold, distant, impersonal physician to a compassionate counselor and writer whose hooks would touch thousands of lives. In this special section of Journal ASA Paul Tournier's contributions as a Christian writer, counselor, and a man of Science are being honored on the occasion of his 75th birthday.

Tournier's Life

Paul Tournier was born on May 12, 1898. His father, Pastor Louis Tournier, was an elderly and highly respected resident of Geneva, who had served for half a century at St. Peter's cathedral-the church where Calvin had preached regularly at the time of the Reformation and where his famous system of reformed theology had been developed. The young Paul Tournier heard a lot about Calvin in his catechism classes, but this did not have much of an influence, at least during Tournier's childhood years. Orphaned by the time he was six, Tournier grew up feeling lonely, insecure, unwanted and unloved. As a young boy he had chosen to become a doctor but his grades were not very good, except for mathematics, and he felt a real timidity, even fear, in the presence of other people.

In a recent article (1968-9) published in what is apparently the French equivalent of His Magazine, Tournier concluded that there were three people who influenced his life, and pulled him out of this loneliness. None of these people had any formal training in counseling but Tournier refers to them as "my three psychotherapists."

The first of these was a high school teacher, Jules Dubois, who took a special interest in Tournier, carried on intellectual discussions with him, and helped the lonely young student to see that he could handle himself very well as a debater. Soon Tournier had a new self-confidence. He made speeches, took part in student organizations, got involved in social action, won election as national president of a student society, and became active in church work. His mind was very alert and he engaged in a variety of creative activities, such as co-authoring and directing a play, founding an international youth movement, and designing calculating machines (for which he received several patents) while sitting around the maternity wards as an intern waiting to deliver babies.

Even with his many activities, however, Paul Tournier remained a lonely man, Although he graduated from medical school, married, and became a father he remained aloof from people and could only relate to others on an abstract intellectual level. It was then that he met his second psychotherapist in 1932, at that meeting of Christians in Geneva. The therapist was Jan van Walré de Bordes, the Dutch diplomat. He contacted Tournier shortly after the gathering on Rue Calvin, described his habit of daily meditation before God, talked about his own personal needs and insecurities, and encouraged Tournier to do the same. As a boy Tournier had had a conversion experience after hearing a "passionately evangelistic sermon," but not until he met this Dutchman and followed his advice, did Christianity really become alive. When Tournier began to spend time each day in prayer and meditation before God, and when he "opened up" about his own frustrations he discovered that his personality was beginning to change.

The change continued at home where his third psychotherapist, Tournier's wife Nelly, listened patiently to her husband's personal problems and comforted him as he was able to cry for the first time. Before long, Tonrnier's patients and colleagues noticed that the aloof impersonal doctor was becoming warm, understanding and sincerely interested in others. It is hardly surprising that people began to look on Tournier as their therapist and counselor. Although lie had never studied psychology or psychiatry, except on his own, he slowly moved into a counseling career arid in 1941 he published The Healing of Persons, an intimate anecdotal account of his new discoveries and insights.

In the years which followed, Tournier has published a total of sixteen hooks and written so many articles that he does not remember how many there are. Now retired, he still writes articles, carries on a heavy correspondence, sees in occasional patient, and is much in demand as a lecturer and conference speaker. Because of his age, Tournier has decided that he will not be able to visit North America again, but he has many admirers on this side of the Atlantic; most have in some way been influenced by the insights and practicality of the Swiss doctor's writings.

Undoubtedly there are many people, especially in Europe, who think of Tourier as being primarily a physician, counselor, or public speaker. It is as a writer, however, that he has made his greatest contribution. His hooks now appear in eleven languages, and the different translations take up three long shelves in the Tournier home in Switzerland. In the table at the end of this paper we have listed Tournier's major books, given a summary, of each, and noted the year in which they were published in the original French language.

Tournier's writings cover a variety of topics-medicine, science, education, marriage, divorce, abortion, guilt, suffering, aging, death, magic, celibacy, values, vocational choice, society, suicide, and interpersonal relations-to name a few, but readers of this journal would especially be interested in Tournier's attempts to integrate theology with his own scientific disciplines of medicine arid psychology. In the paragraphs which follow we will first discuss how Tournier approaches this task of integration and then look briefly at his most recent integration effort-a new book on aging.

Tournier's View of Science and Theology

In his studies of the relationship between science and theology Tournier shows at least four basic attitudes - attitudes which would seem to he essential if integration is to he successful. First, Tournier strives to he knowledgeable, both about theology and about his particular branch of science. When a man has only a vague idea of what he believes or if he is only vaguely aware of the developments in his own scientific discipline, then it is likely that his integration will also be vague. Tournier refuses to be placed in any theological camp, nor does he align himself with any of the schools or systems of psychology, but he does have a good knowledge of both science and religion and he is not afraid to let others know where he stands.

In his theology, for example, Tournier refers to himself as a Calvinist, although he deviates in many ways from basic Calvinistic thought. Tournier believes that God exists in three Persons and reveals Himself through the Bible and through other "general" means of revelation. God is sovereign, omnipresent, all-knowing, powerful, loving and ready to forgive. We need this forgiveness, Tournier helieves, because men are sinful and in need of salvation, which can only come because of the atoning and subs titntionary death of Jesus Christ. Tournicr is a committed Christian who wants God's leading in every area of his life. Clearly lie would have no difficulty in signing and believing the ASA doctrinal statement.

When it comes to psychology Tournier's position is less clearly defined. As a European, he is much impressed by the writings of Freud, Jung, Adler, and more recently Frankl, but he does not completely accept the conclusions of any of these men. Instead, Tournier seems to have developed his own loosely formulated psychological position-a position which combines elements of phychoanalysis, logotherapy and what some have called "Christian Humanism." He reads psychological literature regularly and knows what is going on in the field-although American readers will be surprised that he had never heard of Skinner.

A second attitude of the successful integrator is that he be flexible in his thinking. According to Tournier, flexibility and real tolerance can only come when a person has genuine convictions of his own. (1964, p. 34)2 Tournier tries to remain open to a variety of ideas and he is an intensive listener to what others say. In a speech several years ago he described the "true doctor" as "one who cares more for the restoring of the patient than for boasting about his methods or slavishly following some pre-conceived doctrine" (1969, p. 5). This is another way of saying that the doctor should he humble and flexible. These are characteristics which Tournier possesses in abundance. A person cannot be a creative thinker if his mind is already made up and rigidly closed before he looks at the data.

According to one of his medical colleagues, Tournier's greatest contribution over the years has been his ability to take issues such as anxiety, loneliness, marriage, or magic, and to look at them carefully both in light of contemporary science and in light of the Scripture.3 In this task Tournier has not been afraid to he creative and his conclusions have sometimes been controversial as well as thought-provoking.

In addition to his being knowledgeable and flexible, Tournier is also realistic. He freely admits that there are intellectual problems in the Bible, that becoming a Christian does not automatically resolve all of our personal difficulties, that the organized church has weaknesses and that there are more things in heaven and earth than can he uncovered by the positivist scientific philosophy. The acknowledgement of problems, however, should not cause us to he discouraged or inactive.

Instead it should spur us on to renewed and enthusiastic study. Tournier agrees that we must constantly be learning what we can both from science and from divine revelation, but then we must struggle to see how God's world and God's Word fit together.

Integration, at least in Tournier's thinking, must also he practical. He wants to know how science, especially psychological science, and the Scriptures can influence his own life, his readers, his patients, and his work. This great emphasis on the practical has possibly led some scholars to scorn Tournier's work, but it has endeared him to a great many others.

These attitudes of knowledge, flexibility, realism and practicality are seen in many of Tournier's hooks, including his most recent. Of all his books, Tournier found Learn, to Grow Old the most difficult to write. 4 This, he thinks, is because he had been asked to write this volume, instead of preparing a manuscript spontaneously. But he has risen to the challenge and produced a book that gives a vivid description of the problems of aging and many suggestions concerning how these problems can be reduced.

In one sense this book is like those that have come before-anecdotal, "chatty" in style, and practical in its emphasis. But in other respects the book is different and here we see Tournier's knowledge of the issues, flexibility, realism and practicality. Learn to Grow Old is more scholarly than anything that he has written before, and is his first book to contain a long list of references. Perhaps because he is nearing the end of life, Tournier has become more willing to give advice, but lie is willing to listen, impressed with contemporary students and inclined to look favorably on the 1968 riots in Paris. In the book Tournier says more about himself than he ever has before and he shows how faith, scientific knowledge and personal life experiences cat) combine to bring forth some realistic arid practical solutions to the problems of growing old.

(We might add parenthetically that retirement was abruptly forced on Tournier when he had a serious heart attack in 1985. His latest book is written for the young as well as the old, and he argues that the time to begin thinking about retirement is twenty-five years before it comes.)

Tournier's most recent book is a good illustration of a statement that he made over twenty-five years ago. "One cannot make up for one's technical incompetence with spiritual speculations," he wrote.

The great adventure to which I believe the men and women et today are called is, in every field of activity, the reconciliation of technology and faith. It is an immense task, simply because they have for so long hee,s kept apart. In the face of all the problems which our civilization has raised, but not been able to solve, people are beginning to realize that scientific study . . . is not of itself sufficient. There is no question of sidestepping scientific stud)', but of giving it new inspiration ..,. Only those who are prepared to take the risks because of their faith, will make any real contribution to the building of a new civilization. (1966 p. 230)

Throughout his long and productive life, Paul Tournier has devoted himself to the "immense task" of reconciling science and faith. His work has contributed to a better civilization and his example is one that others would do well to ponder, and perhaps follow.

A Personal Epilogue

Perhaps the readers of this Journal will not object if I add a somewhat personal footnote to what has been written in the above paragraphs. Recently I was able to spend seven months in Geneva studying the work of Tournier, talking with him at length, meeting with some of his friends and writing a hook about his work. I came away deeply impressed with Tournier as a person and enthusiastic about his contribution to the integration of science and Christian faith.

Even I am surprised at this in view of my initial opinion of Tournier's work. When I first read one of his books I felt that the writer was disorganized, rambling, far too "folksy" in his writing style, and prone to clutter up his work with irrelevant and distracting case histories. I concluded that Tournier had nothing very important to say and that his ideas were not worth serious studs', Fortunately for me, my students thought otherwise. The' kept referring to Tournier in seminars and term papers, so much that I began to wonder if my initial conclusions were wrung.

In Tournier, I discovered a man who is personally captivating and who has tremendous insight into a ittunhcr of subjects including the relationships between science and Christianity. To be honest, I still find his writing style to he distracting and I certainly cannot agree with all of his conclusions, but I have' been impressed again and again by the depth of his uinderstanding-a depth which is not always apparent when one reads his hooks superficially.

During one of our conversations in Geneva I described the American Scientific Affiliation and mentioned Chuck Hatfield-our former president whom Tournier refers to in The Adventure of Living. Tournier expressed an immediate interest in the organization and later in the afternoon when our discussion had drifted to another topic, he made a statement which went something like this:

Next month, I am going to Italy to give a series of lectures on the relationship .between Christianity and science. It is a topic which has concerned me all of  life. But I am old now and can only talk about the integration. Somebody else will have to do it.

Surely this must he the concern of all members of the American Scientific Affiliation, since the work of "doing integration" is the very reason for our existence.


1This quote is taken from Tournier's article in Guideposts ( 1971, p. 4). For more detailed discussions of his life, see Tournier's autobiographical article in the book by Johnson (1972), the book by Peaston 11972) or my own book on Tournier (Collins, 1973), especially chapters 1 and 2.
2Tournier does not say it in this way, but perhaps he would agree with the conclusion that people who do not know what they believe in are often most intolerant.
3Personal Communication 
4Personal Communication


(In order of original publication, with U, S. publisher and date also.)

The Healing of Persons (1940) A collection of case histories and anecdotes illustrating that "persons" are as important to medicine as "diseases," Includes consideration of a number of practical issues such as suffering, sex, accepting life, etc. (Harper and Row 1965.)
Escape from Loneliness (1943) An analysis of the causes and cures of loneliness. The honk is perhaps Tournier's best statement on society and its ills. (Westminster 1962.)
The Person Reborn (1944). An attempt to show that scientific technology and religious faith can and do fit together. Tournier's best statement an the integration of faith and science. (Flarper and Row 1966.)
The Whole Person In a Broken World (1947). An analysis and criticism of the popular view that power and social progress are always good for man. The hook includes cs discussion of adolescent rebellion and consideration of the task of the church. (Harper and Raw 1964.)
The Strong and the Weak (1948). An analysis of the causes and characteristics of neurosis. In this book Tournier challenges the view that the world consists of only two classes of people: the strong and the weak. (Harper and Row 1963.)
A Doctor's Casebook In The Light of The Bible (1951).
A collection of insights showing Biblical faith relating to such life problems as disease, sin, the meaning of life, etc. Contains Taurnier's most complete statements on magic, and on science and the Bible. (Harper and Raw 1960.)
The Meaning of Persons (1955). A contrast between the social mask that men wear in their contacts with others and the "real person" underneath. Tournier describes how men can be more authentic. This was the first of Tournier's banks to he translated into English (in 1957). (Harper and Raw 1957.)
Guilt and Grace (1958). A perceptive analysis of the causes of guilt and a description of how guilt can be reduced through the influences of psychology and faith. (Harper and Raw 1962.)
The Seasons of Life (1961). The first of five very short banks. This one deals with normal human development from birth to death. (John Knox 1963.)
The Meaning of Gifts (1961) A study of love and man's need to give and receive. Tuurnier points to the supreme gift of all time-God's loving gift of His Son Jesus Christ. (John Knox 1963.)
To Resist or To Surrender (1962). This little volume considers interpersonal conflict and grapples with the problem of when and whether we should resist others or surrender to them. (John Knox 1962.)
To Understand Each Other (1962). This is Tournier's best statement on marriage. It includes ten steps for improving interpersonal relations outside of the home as well as within. (John Knox 1967.)
Secrets (1963). Last of the five small books, this returns to the problem of human development and suggests bow the keeping and revealing confidences can influence maturation, marital harmony and spiritual growth. (John Knox 1965.)
The Adventure of Living (196.3). This is an analysis of man's inability to find meaning and fulfillment in life. The hook points to the risk involved in living life to the fullest, but it also points to and demonstrates the benefits. (Harper and Row 1965.)
A Place for You (1966). A personal statement of Tournier's faith, and a series of guidelines for those who feel that life has no purpose. This is a reflection of Tonrnier's own struggles to find a "place in life" after a serious heart attack had forced him into retirement. (Harper and Row 1968.)
Learn To Crate Old (1971). A discussion of retirement and how people can prepare for it. The book contains a number of fascinating insights into Tournier's own life and faith. (harper and Row 1973.)


Collins, Gary R. The Christian Psychology of Paul Tournier, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973.
Johnson, Paul E. (ed.) Healer of the Mind: A Psychiatrist's Search for Faith, Nashville: Abingdon, 1972.
Peaston, Monroe, Personal Living: An Introduction to the Thought of Paul Tou rnier, New York : Harper & Row, 1972.
Tournier, Paul. The Whole Person In a Broken World. New York: Harper & Rosy, 1964.
Tournier, Paul. The Person Reborn. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.
Tonrnier, Paul. La formation do La personne. Chantiers, 60, Winter 1968-69, 311-33.
Tournier, Paul A dialogue between doctor and patient. Paper presented at the Third International Congress of Christian Physicians, Oslo, July 16-20, 1969.
Tournier, Paul. "When I dared to share myself", Guideposts. 25 January 1971, 1-6.