(The following is a draft of a tool for analyzing the common grace elements of psychology. It will be for the second half of an article on the usefulness and limitations of common grace for counseling in a manner which is consistent with the claims of Scripture).
As will be set forth at length below, I propose the following rubric for utilizing the results of “common grace” in social sciences, particularly psychology as an academic discipline; and a means for rejecting certain other ideas as incompatible with a consistently biblical position for soul care. This position is begins with both a scriptural understanding of common grace, and an understanding of the biblical of the nature and end of human beings before God. This position recognizes both the extent to which common grace can provide insight into the natural world; and the fundamental limitations of common grace when it comes to human problems.
A fundamental problem which takes place concerns what is meant by the word “psychology”. The range of meaning assigned to this word has exacerbated the disagreements between Biblical Counselors and those who hold one of the various positions commonly labeled as “integrationist” (and yes, there are a variety of labels which are utilized here; and often there is a rejection of label by Christian counselors, but the word will work well-enough for present uses).
I propose three categories of information which move from information most accessible to common grace to information which cannot be known by common grace.
|Common Grace||Special Revelation|
|Category One: Observations The physical environment; including the human body. This includes study of the nervous system, functioning of the senses, et cetera.
Information from this level is often leveraged as an attack upon the Biblical Counseling position as unscientific for “refusing” information learned here.
|Common Grace is most effective here.
Common grace does permit one to see the environment, the understanding is limited by the failure to take God’s creation and providence into account. However, due to the ability of unbelievers to ‘borrow’ from Christian presuppositions, reasonably accurate observations.
Thus, human physiology can be observed and reported. This area of “psychology” (neuropsychology, the operation of senses, et cetera) can be utilized with the normal sort of skepticism necessary for review of any scientific work
|Special Revelation: Informs us of the fundamental nature and existence of the physical environment, but does not provide much detail. We know that it is the creation of God and maintained by providence, but the mechanics of the operation are not treated in detail. This is the place where Special Revelation offers the least information and common grace the most.
Social science observations. With a markedly lesser degree of reliability, social scientists can make observations of patterns in human behavior and internal psychological states. Thus, we can see that people under certain circumstances, and/or with certain physiological conditions, will have a tendency to display certain behaviors and/or expressions.
|Common grace makes it possible to make observations patterns. However, there are serious limitations on the usefulness of such information.
These observations are fundamentally limited by (1) the inability to observe the internal workings of the human heart (observations of neurology and one’s self reported subjected experience are of some value, but cannot correlate to the depth of the human heart); (2) these observations are fundamentally limited that they cannot include the effects of the Godward relationship of the human being (observations which are commonly accounted as “the psychology of religion” are limited to objective observations and cannot provide information about the working of God); (3) these observations cannot take into account the effects of the “flesh” and the Spirit (this is related but not perfectly coextensive with point (2)).
Special revelation is critical at this stage, particularly in any attempt to “make sense” of social science observations. Understanding the deceitfulness of sin, for instance, may help to make an observation understandable.
The biblical counselor can use such observations as data points: for example, a study may suggest a line of inquiry; knowing that there is not a determinative relationship between one environmental circumstance and a future manner of life — even if there is a positive tendency toward a certain outcome.
This category consists of what most people mean when they say “psychology”. Here we find theories which concern the matters are both (1) inaccessible to common grace and (2) are explicitly theological anthropology, teleology and methodology for change (ATM). These are the aspects of human life which are most directly affected by the breach between God and man.
While this category may make reference to elements of category 1 & 2, it goes further and assigns values. This aspect specifically concerns “spiritual” concerns: matters of sin and sanctification, the action of God (and even evil spirits) upon human beings: these are precisely the matters which the Scripture claims as for its authority.
When biblical counselors reject “psychology”, they are referring primarily to information from this category.
|Common grace is least valuable at this stage. Common grace was not given to heal this aspect of the Fall.
|Special Revalation is needed for work here
First, this concerns anthropology: What constitutes a human being: this is beyond observations concerning the human body and human behavior. It is consists of the “manishness of man” to use Francis Schaeffer’s phrase. This concerns the human heart: the spiritual aspects of humanity and in particular human interaction with God.
Second, this category concerns teleology: what is the purpose of being human. For instance when a psychologist speaks of what is “healthy” for human sexuality, the psychologist is speaking to what is the purpose of a human being. The purpose of a human being cannot be known by observations, since, as Jay Adams notes: we are living in an abnormal environment under abnormal conditions (being on this side of the Fall).
Third, this concerns methodology: those things which are necessary to change the direction of the human heart.