Conservative Christians in Psychology: A History of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), 1954-1978

Article excerpt

Beginning in the mid-1950s, a group of conservative Christians of the Dutch Reformed persuasion began an effort to integrate their religious beliefs and the findings of psychology. Their organization, the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), is the object of this study. The article discusses the integrative shifts that occurred when the organization's constituency shifted to a more conservative evangelical base. The author argues that the key component of successful integration, or integration that serves to advance the field of psychology, occurs when the worldview of the religion is comprehensive or well developed enough to converse effectively with the science of psychology. In this historical exemplar, the author argues that in comparison to the Dutch Reformed, evangelicals were hampered in approaching psychology by their limited theological worldview.

"Psychology has never succeeded in taking philosophy to itself or in leaving it alone. ... Psychology ought to fare better when it can completely surrender its philosophical heritage, in fact as well as in voiced principle, and proceed, unimpeded by a divided soul, about its business. " E. G. Boring (1929, pp. xiii-xvi) in the first edition of History of Experimental Psychology

Despite the historical tension and at times outright animosity between religion and psychology, there have been individuals and groups that have sought the integration of these two ways of knowing. These persons have had some impact on the predominant field of mainstream psychology, especially recently (Miller, 1999; Richards & Bergin, 1997); however, there continues to be little in the way of historical review of this phenomenon (Vande Kemp, 1996). In particular, conservative or Evangelical Christians and their work in this integration enterprise have received little attention in the historical literature despite the large numbers of professional counselors who identify themselves as "Christian counselors" and two dedicated professional journals serving this group of integrators (Journal of Psychology and Christianity and Journal of Psychology and Theology). For this reason, the early history of the evangelical integration movement's oldest organization is a worthy study. In the history of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS), we see an exemplar of the longstanding historical tension between psychology and religion and the factors that influence successful "integration."

In this history the emergent theme is that the greatest challenge of the integration process came not so much from the science of psychology itself but from within the faith tradition of the integrators. That is, the comprehensiveness of the faith tradition or by contrast the lack of a fully developed worldview on the part of the faith tradition either propelled or inhibited the integration process. In other words, the ability to creatively integrate modern empirical psychology with an ancient scriptural religion depended on the ability of the faith tradition to speak to "every sphere of life" (a common phrase used by Abraham Kuyper and a Dutch Reformed mantra). In the history of CAPS, a contrast is drawn between two conservative Christian faith traditions, the Dutch Reformed tradition that, in general, had a heritage of engagement with every sphere of life and Evangelical Christians who, in general, had a heritage of disengagement with every sphere of life (see Bratt 1984, 1998, & Marsden 1980, 1984 for more details). Before supporting this thesis, it would be beneficial first to describe the landscape of the century long relationship between modern psychology and religion as a means of providing context to the lives and work of these integrators.

A Brief History of Integrationists

Until the recent popular emergence of spirituality in mainstream psychology, religion and psychology have often had an antagonistic relationship (Allport, 1950; Vande Kemp, 1996). …