Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Wesleyan Theological Methodology as a Theory of Integration

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Wesleyan Theological Methodology as a Theory of Integration

Article excerpt

The central claim of this article is that debates over the integration of psychological theories and findings, on the one hand, and Christian doctrine, on the other, largely boil down to differences in theological methodology, and that the theological methodology often associated with John Wesley offers a compelling model of such integration. Section I lays out how it is that while there are logical and normative matters involved in discussions of theoretical integration, methodological issues are at the heart of such discussions, and hence, how it is that one's theological methodology determines one's theory of integration. Given this thesis, Section II outlines the general contours of Wesleyan theological methodology. This methodology involves four mutually interacting though hierarchically arranged sources of knowledge: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. The final section elucidates the manner in which this understanding of theological method can be taken as a viable and vital model of the theoretical integration of psychology and theology.

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One response to our post-modern situation is to reappropriate pre-modern points of view. The pre-modern, Western world was much more at home with the interplay of theology, church tradition, philosophy, and science. But with the rise of reason during the Enlightenment and the retreat to Scripture in the Protestant Reformation, the stage was set for the demarcation, dichotomization, and disintegration of the relationship between theology and science. Wesleyanism, rooted in the English Reformation, avoided some of the dichotomizing tendencies of modernity. Thus, Wesleyan theological methodology offers us a perspective on the integration of psychology and theology that can help see through some of the modern confusion.

By the 'integration of psychology and theology,' let us have in mind theoretical or conceptual integration. This is what Bouma-Prediger (1990) has labeled "interdisciplinary integration" which has as its aim "to compare and contrast and, if possible, reconcile and unite the assumptions, conclusions, methods, and so forth, of two distinct disciplines so as to combine them in some fruitful way" (pp. 23-24). Of course, there is the further issue of which or whose theology as well as which or whose psychology is to be united. For the present, let us leave the specificities of these terms undefined, 'theology' generally referring to the discipline which studies and systematizes the nature of God, his works (particularly human persons and their condition), and his relation to his works (particularly God's redemption of human persons), and 'psychology' generally referring to the discipline which studies and systematizes the nature of human persons (particularly the human mind) and their functioning (particularly their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning). Thus understood, in theoretical integration the concern is with interfacing theological theories and concepts with psychological theories and concepts.

I. THREE CRUCIAL QUESTIONS REGARDING INTEGRATION

When it comes to this type of integration, it is essential that three questions are clearly distinguished:

(1) The logical question: can we integrate psychological theories and theological doctrines?

(2) The normative question: should we integrate psychological theories and theological doctrines?

(3) The methodological question: how should we integrate psychological theories and theological doctrines?

These questions will be addressed in turn, ultimately showing that it is with the final, methodological question that the salient differences over integration arise. This is a significant point in that if indeed methodological issues are at the heart of integration disputes; then it is fitting to turn to theological methodology as the means to settle these disputes. So while some of the following may be a review of familiar territory, it seems beneficial to engage in such a recapitulation in order to demonstrate the relevance of theological methodology (whether Wesleyan or not) to debates regarding integration. …

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