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(The following is a draft introduction for an article for the Journal of Biblical Soul Care.)

An underlying issue when considering the application and usefulness of any proposition or theory from what is called “psychology” lies with the nature of the theological commitments which make possible or which are inherent in any such proposition of theory. By means of this essay, I hope to begin to provide some tools for the analysis of psychologies. 

To take the simplest example, one must begin with some rather remarkably non-Christian presuppositions and commitments to hold that the psychology of Freud or Jung constitute accurate views of the human being. Indeed, both Freud and Jung (to cherry-pick two examples) require explicit commitments about God to be received as accurate theological constructs. Merely read Freud’s The Future of an Illusion or anything by Jung on the collective unconscious and you will see you are in the midst of a fundamentally non-Christian worldview.

One could easily contend that I do not need to swallow whole Freud’s wish-fulfillment theories of God to find his discussion of the unconscious useful. Nor must I follow Jung into his introduction to the Tibetan Book of the Dead to find something useful in his consideration of the shadow-self and the integration into wholeness. 

But to think that I can lay hold of one proposition and not drag along other commitments is naïve. It is like picking up a twig tangled in web with a spider and her eggs hitching along for the ride. This is not to say that we can never consider an observation made by a non-Christian. But such an interaction requires substantial nuance. 

From a biblical perspective, there must be biblical justification for the use of such “foreign” doctrines.[1]

There are a couple of theories which have been advanced to support such interaction. One theory has been reliance upon the supposed scope of common grace. However, as I have demonstrated in the prior to essays, there is no basis from common grace to support a wholesale appropriate of assured results of modern academic or clinical psychology broadly stated. I proposed a three-tiered structure of various types of psychology, ranging from physiological, sociological observation, and finally clinical theories. I proposed varying degrees of use we could make of this work.

The other major justification for integration[2] is based upon the example of Solomon who unquestionably interacts with traditional wisdom form Egypt in the book of Proverbs.[3]

This interaction of Solomon with non-Israelite wisdom has been raised specifically as a point in the discussion of the “integration” of biblical counseling and secular psychologies. John Hilber, having reviewed the use of “foreign” sources of wisdom in the drafting of his proverbs, made the following conclusions: 

The implications of these examples for the question of integration in counseling are significant. First, some situations call for expertise from specialists within the covenant community, namely, professional counselors. Second, wisdom is creative and often unconventional. Methods of counseling intervention are not limited to those techniques that can be derived explicitly from Scripture. Third, the use of the Bible in counseling is not mandatory in order for the counseling to be “biblical.”[4]

The argument that Solomon’s usage justifies any usage I determine to make is problematic, because it presumes that I have the wisdom of Solomon so as to know what and how to proceed.  Here is selection from another Egyptian sage, what should a wise Christian do with this?

    Trust not a brother, know not a friend,

    Make no (5) intimates, it is worthless.

    When you lie down, guard your heart yourself,

    For no man has adherents on the day of woe.[5]

Do I accept it? Do I reject it because it contradicts the Bible elsewhere? If I reject because it contradicts the Scripture, then what do I do with propositions which are ambiguously related to Scripture. But perhaps this example from Charles Dickens will make the matter more clear. Solomon compares the diligent to the ant. What about bees? Bees certainly are a good example:

‘Thankee, sir, thankee,’ returned that gentleman. ‘And how do YOU like the law?’ ‘A–not particularly,’ returned Eugene. ‘Too dry for you, eh? Well, I suppose it wants some years of sticking to, before you master it. But there’s nothing like work. Look at the bees.’

‘I beg your pardon,’ returned Eugene, with a reluctant smile, ‘but will you excuse my mentioning that I always protest against being referred to the bees?’ 

‘Do you!’ said Mr Boffin. 

‘I object on principle,’ said Eugene, ‘as a biped–‘ 

‘As a what?’ asked Mr Boffin. 

‘As a two-footed creature;–I object on principle, as a two-footed creature, to being constantly referred to insects and four-footed creatures. I object to being required to model my proceedings according to the proceedings of the bee, or the dog, or the spider, or the camel. I fully admit that the camel, for instance, is an excessively temperate person; but he has several stomachs to entertain himself with, and I have only one. Besides, I am not fitted up with a convenient cool cellar to keep my drink in.’ 

‘But I said, you know,’ urged Mr Boffin, rather at a loss for an answer, ‘the bee.’

‘Exactly. And may I represent to you that it’s injudicious to say the bee? For the whole case is assumed. Conceding for a moment that there is any analogy between a bee, and a man in a shirt and pantaloons (which I deny), and that it is settled that the man is to learn from the bee (which I also deny), the question still remains, what is he to learn? To imitate? Or to avoid? When your friends the bees worry themselves to that highly fluttered extent about their sovereign, and become perfectly distracted touching the slightest monarchical movement, are we men to learn the greatness of Tuft-hunting, or the littleness of the Court Circular? I am not clear, Mr Boffin, but that the hive may be satirical.’ 

‘At all events, they work,’ said Mr Boffin. 

‘Ye-es,’ returned Eugene, disparagingly, ‘they work; but don’t you think they overdo it? They work so much more than they need–they make so much more than they can eat–they are so incessantly boring and buzzing at their one idea till Death comes upon them–that don’t you think they overdo it? And are human labourers to have no holidays, because of the bees? And am I never to have change of air, because the bees don’t? Mr Boffin, I think honey excellent at breakfast; but, regarded in the light of my conventional schoolmaster and moralist, I protest against the tyrannical humbug of your friend the bee. With the highest respect for you.[6]

You see, it is not so simple as it may seem.  

Beginning in this essay the goal will be to take a closer look at the propositions of “psychology” broadly stated and provide tools for detailed evaluation. The criteria I proposed for reliance upon common grace as a basis for interacting with secular psychologies, while useful (I trust) is not sufficient. 

It is the thesis of this examination that our utilization or examination of any “secular” proposition begin with the nature of the theological commitments which make the proposition possible. If that is unclear, and I admit it will take some unpacking, I trust the actual work of examining theological commitments will be made plain as we work through the types of information offered to us by “psychology.”

In proceeding with this examination I will assume familiarity with the previous two essays as proceeding chapters in a long argument concerning the relationship between Biblical Soul Care and the work of other men and women having been done concerning what can broadly be stated as psychology. “Psychology” includes far more than the work of modern “scientific” psychology, and entails a great deal of work done by explicitly Christian thinkers pertaining to pastoral work and theology.

I will examine psychology under the three-tiered categorization which I posited in the previous essay (fully granting all of the limitations of a broadly stated categorization) and will examine the theological commitments in the following areas: Epistemology, Anthropology, Teleology, and Methodology.  The last three make a neat acronym, ATM. I could offer “TEAM”, but that acronym does not follow the levels of analysis which are necessary to make this work properly. The best I could do is EAT’M,  which one can use if it helps!

The Importance of Understanding the Theological Basis for Facts and Observations

Facts are not merely about to picked-up as so many pebbles on the beach. The very decision to look for facts, what facts to look for; the determination of the beginning and ending of a fact as a segregable unit of information; et cetera are all determined by some prior commitment. 

As a practical matter, we rarely consider the nature of our knowledge. We look at the world, draw conclusions, et cetera without intensive thought on the matter. Unless and until we need to communicate with someone who operates on a different basis and with a different set of presuppositions, we do not even need to consider the nature of our knowledge. 

The scope of commitments and the nature of knowledge is not perfectly identical between any two human beings. However, the difficulty in communicating in most instances amounts to slight “misunderstandings.” As we expand the number of differences between any two humans, the degree of difficulty increases. The task of “translation” needs to be further formalized.

We understand this need for translation when it comes to language, moving between Spanish and English, for instance. But we are also aware of the need to engage in the task of cultural translations. 

What I am proposing here is the work knowledge translation as move between a biblical and a non-biblical worldview. If we were to reject every instance of  information which was not expressly derived by those holding a biblical understanding of reality, it would be impossible to function in this world. Yet, if we unquestionably receive all “so-called knowledge” without critical analysis, we will find our souls poisoned by the rankest heresies. 

The Four Basic Issues of Knowledge:

In the essay, “Epistemology and the Mirror of Nature,” Michael Williams lists out four perennial issues concerning the nature of knowledge:

1. The analytical problem. What is knowledge? (Or, if we prefer, what do we, or should we, mean by “knowledge”?) For example, how is (or should) knowledge be distinguished from mere belief or opinion? What we want here, ideally, is a precise explication or analysis of the concept of knowledge.  

2. The problem of demarcation. There are two sub-problems here. The first concerns whether we can determine, in some principled way, what sorts of things we might reasonably expect to know about? Or, as is sometimes said, what are the scope and limits of human knowledge? Do some subjects lie within the province of knowledge while others are fated to remain in the province of opinion, or even faith? Since the aim here is to draw a boundary separating the province of knowledge from other cognitive domains, we call this the “external” boundary (or demarcation) problem. But there is also an internal boundary problem. We may wonder whether we should think of knowledge as all of a piece Or there importantly different kinds of knowledge: for example, a priori and a posteriori knowledge?

3. The problem of method. How is knowledge obtained or sought? Is there just one way, or are there several, depending on the sort of knowledge in question? (Here the problem of method interacts with the internal demarcation problem.) Furthermore, can we improve our ways of seeking knowledge? 

4. The problem of skepticism. Given the existence of seemingly intuitive skeptical arguments, why suppose that knowledge is even possible? 196

We cannot deal with all of these problems in these essays. But what you must understand is that even the very fact of knowledge has become an increasingly difficult problem for everyone.  

Some Examples of How Presuppositions Effect the Content of Knowledge

Let us we perform an experiment and we consider only are searching for something which we can see with our eyes. We flip a switch; a light goes on. Since we have not utilized any mechanism which can “observe” electricity, we have no fact of electricity. And thus we conclude that some magical substance which does not move through physical space causes the light to go on when we flip the switch.

The example is obvious, because we “know” what we are looking for – electricity. But that is the point; it is only when we know what to look for that we can find a thing. A thing which is not sought will not be found. 

Or what of this example involving Jesus:

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,”

Luke 11:14–15 (ESV). Much of the original audience for Jesus’ miracles had difficulty knowing what to make of this man. The fact of the exorcism was not in dispute – the understanding, the meaning of the event was profoundly disputed. In order to understand the event which everyone observed, one must begin with some other body of knowledge, presuppositions which underlay the observed event. Understanding those presuppositions is critical if we are to evaluate the meaning of a report from this exorcism.

Let’s take a look from the perspective of Michael Williams’ four question: If I have been present at the event, what “knowledge” do I actually possess. How can I go about determining what there is to know about this strange circumstance? Do my senses provide sufficient knowledge? How and should expectations or presuppositions fill out my “knowledge.” Should I consult such expectations or should use some other skill? What is the beginning and ending of the “facts” at issue?

Imagine speaking to two different observers. One person says God has visited Israel in the work of this prophet Jesus of Nazareth (his Divinity being an even more difficult matter to comprehend). Today this prophet cast out a demon. A second observer says that Satan is deceiving the people through all manner of lying miracles. If we imagine a more skeptical observer we would have this report: Today a person suffering from a psychosomatic psychological delusion immediately snapped out of his self-inflicted insanity at the suggestion of a remarkably persuasive man.

The different events were the result of three different sets of presuppositions.[7]

Consider this example draw from psychology. A study determines that Finland is the happiest country in the world, and that some aspect of Finnish society causes this happiness.

Happiness is certainly not contrary to the Scripture or orthodox Christianity. Now consider these remarkably different understandings of happiness. The Puritan Thomas Manton writes:

Christians, a man that flows in wealth and honour, till he be pardoned, is not a happy man. A man that lives afflicted, contemned, not taken notice of in the world, if he be a pardoned sinner, oh, the blessedness of that man! They are not happy that have least trouble, but they that have least cause[8].

Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, begins with a series propositions of what makes a person “blessed” (supremely happy): poor in spirit, meekness, sorrow, hunger and thirsting after righteousness, being persecuted. Compare those prerequisites for happiness with this academic conclusion from John Reich, Emeritus Professor at the University of Arizona:

Based on clinical interviews and self-report measures I’ve initiated and studied, I believe that happiness is being aware not only of the positive events that occur in your life but also that you yourself are the cause of these events–that you can create them, that you control their occurrence, and that you play a major role in the good things that happen to you.[9]

I am not here to contend with Dr. Reich. What I merely mean to underscore is that Jesus and John Reich have fundamentally different understandings of what constitutes and causes “happiness.” Thus, when I consider the Finnish report on happiness, I need to understand the basis of what is even meant by “happiness.” 

Or consider perhaps the clearer example a dinosaur bone. In recent years, much to the surprise of the paleontologists who have found them, dinosaur bones and fossils have shown up with remarkably well-preserved soft tissue. In some cases, proteins have been retrieved from the remains. That is the fact. But the meaning of the fact is a point of some contention. Does this mean that the bones are not 65,000,000 years old; or does it mean that the mechanics of tissue preservation have been wrong and that such tissue can does resist the grinding of time? The answer to that question rests upon other foundations and presumptions.[10]

Thus, when we consider some proposition from academic psychology or therapy, we cannot start with the ultimate proposition. Rather, we must understand the theological cradle in which that fact was laid. To start with the wisdom of Amenemope does not help us understand what that wisdom means or even what sayings of the dead sage or even wise. 

We need not necessarily shy away from consideration of the Egyptians’ learning; but also need to as wary of their words as we would a serpent in our arms.

One further example may help here. 

The Arians and the Son is Like the Father: The whole history of this matter can be found any competent church history. Briefly, there were those in the early church (the heretics later known as Arians) who held the Son was like the Father. In Greek, the pertinent word was homoiousios. The church however, at the Council of Nicea, concluded this was wrong: The Son was the same substance as the Father, homoousios. 

For the average pastor busy dealing with the troubles of a congregation the difference between the two: like and the same, separated by a single letter, likely seemed insignificant. Of course the Son is like the Father, it is the nature of sons to be like fathers. But the real issue was whether the Son and the Father were of the same “ousia” (and so that I do not take a topic from which I may never return, I will leave the matter there and direct you to competent theologies). The “average” pastor would most likely not known what he was dealing with. The Arians, who supported the Son is like knew better. As Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan writes: 

In many ways Arianism was more aware of the nuances of the trinitarian problem than its critics were. It compelled them, in turn, to avoid the oversimplifications to which church theology was prone.[11]

If an average pastor accepted the language of like rather than same, he had set his theology on a disastrous trajectory. The Arians knew what they were doing; but it took work to teach the orthodox what was at stake.[12] A similar problem presents itself when dealing with non-biblical accounts of human psychology. We need to understand precisely what we have before us.

Before we can take hold any “fact,” “conclusion,” or “study,” we first need to understand precisely the nature of what we have before us.

[1] From the perspective of biblical soul care, the counseling of a fellow human being is not merely the mollification of emotions, the easing of pain, the relief of depression. We are not in the therapeutic business of helping people feel better as an end in itself. We have the overarching duty of making disciples. All other things must be subordinated to glorifying God and enjoying him forever. A psychological practice that ameliorated the troubled conscience of an adulterer and left him without repentance would be good therapy and a disaster for soul care. Thus, when we make use of some proposition beyond the bible we must be careful that we do engage in syncretism. 

[2] One could simply decide they would integrate non-Christian and biblical principles into counseling without any particular theory or justification. But, should one seek to justify that use from a biblical perspective, the two options are common grace or the example of Solomon. I have seen variants, but in the end these variants are simply restatements of either of these theories.

[3] See discussions regarding the Proverbs of Amenemope, and Prov 22:22–24:22. See, e.g., “Discovery and Debate Over the Relationship to Proverbs” Richard Halloran, “Amenemope, Instruction of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016);” Rowland E. Murphy, Proverbs, vol. 22, Word Biblical Commentary, “Excursus on the Book of Proverbs and Amenemope” (Dallas: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 290;  John W. Hilber, “Old Testament Wisdom and the Integration Debate in Christian Counseling,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (1998): 411.

[4] John W. Hilber, “Old Testament Wisdom and the Integration Debate in Christian Counseling,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (1998): 420 (fn. omitted).

[5] Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 136.

[6] Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

[7] Another way in which we could think of these circumstances is under the rubric of “social imaginary,” a term coined by Charles Taylor. He defines this briefly as “the way that we collectively imagine, even pre-theoretically, our social life”. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 146. As he develops this concept it comes to mean that which could conceive to be possible.  My great grandmother, an American Indian born in Texas, taught me that if you cut your hair while the moon was waxing it would grow back better than if you cut your hair when the moon was waning. I cannot even conceive of that being potentially true, but my great grandmother could not conceive of the world operating otherwise.

[8] Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2, “Twenty Sermons” (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 188.

[9] John Reich and Ed Diener, “The Road to Happiness,” Pyschology Today, July 1, 1994, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199407/the-road-happiness.

[10] For a discussion of such issues, begin here: David F. Coppedge, “Evolutionists Gloss Over Implications of Dinosaur Tissue Remains,” Creation Evolution Headlines, December 22, 2020, https://crev.info/2020/12/evolutionists-gloss-over-implications-of-dinosaur-tissue-remains/.

[11] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), vol. 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 200.

[12] A similar sort of naivety is apparent in the relationship of contemporary Christians pastor when they interact with not merely psychology of various sorts, but the contemporary espousals of “critical theory” in its various forms. Even the supposedly well-informed make statements that are either foolish, overly simplistic, or simply cynical deceptions.