Doing Psychology as a Christian: A Plea for Wholeness

Article excerpt

Although trained as a philosopher, I have always had a great interest and appreciation for the field of psychology. Part of that interest stems From a concern for philosophical issues that overlap with psychology: the mind-body problem and the nature of consciousness, the philosophy of action and problems concerning freedom and determinism, for example. Theological concerns have also motivated an interest in psychology, since it is difficult to see how one can make sense of things like the doctrine of sin, or the idea that Christians are one "with Christ" without putting such ideas into a psychological framework. Part of my interest in psychology simply stems from fascination with the field in all its breadth, covering such diverse areas as neurophysiological study of the brain, clinical psychology and its understanding of mental illness, social psychology, developmental psychology, and many other sub-disciplines. At one time my interest in psychology was strong enough that I seriously considered pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology in addition to the doctorate in philosophy I had already earned.

Even without much fOrmal training in psychology, early in my career I tried to learn all that I could about psychology, reading books and handbooks and journal articles, and even taking a few graduate courses in psychology. I hung around with psychologists of various kinds (both from different fields of psychology and from different theoretical orientations within the field of clinical psychology) and I certainly learned a lot. From the beginning I had a special interest in the challenges faced by Christians in psychology. It seemed to me that, although Christian psychologists raced many of the issues that Christians in other disciplines faced, there were also some special challenges, involving both tensions and opportunities, chat stemmed from the unique character and history of psychology. Most of what I learned in this period was distilled in three books: Preserving the Person: A Look at the Human Sciences (1977), Wisdom and Humanness in Psychology: Prospects lb r a Christian Approach (1989), and Soren Kierkegaard's Christi an Psychology: Insight for counseling and Pastoral Can' (1990).

As those dates make evident, most of my work on psychology and its relation to Christian faith was done in the 1970s and 80s. Since 1990, though my interest in psychology has remained, my scholarly focus has been directed to issues in the philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, and Kierkegaard studies. With some exceptions (for example, Evans 2005), I have not had the time to keep up either with the field of psychology itself, or with the many interesting debates and discussions about how Christians should think about and relate to psychology. I therefore must begin this essay with a disclaimer: I am nor capable of giving any kind of scholarly overview of the contributions of others to these issues. What I have to offer is mostly personal reflection. The main focus of my reflection will be on the much-discussed and much-debated concept of integration.

Although I have thought of myself as a scholar who is committed to the idea of "integrating faith and learning," there are some scholars who have been influenced by my work who see themselves as challenging the ideal of "integration" of psychology and Christianity and instead working to develop what they call "Christian psychology" (Johnson, 2007, 2010). I am sympathetic both to the concerns these scholars have with what we might call the "integration paradigm" and to the positive goals of Christian psychology as they present it. Nevertheless, I want to argue that we should not think of Christian psychology as an alternative to the integration of psychology and Christianity. Rather, Christian psychology is the outcome of that integration when it is done well. As I see it, everything turns on how we understand the ideal of integration. What exactly is being integrated, and how is that activity to be understood? …