Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

God as Cause or Error?: Academic Psychology as Christian Vocation

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

God as Cause or Error?: Academic Psychology as Christian Vocation

Article excerpt

Christian psychologists can find it challenging to work in the context of secular psychology, with its presuppositions of methodological naturalism and its secularizing values. Unthinking engagement with the secular field of psychology can result in significant problems that must be carefully navigated by the Christian scholar. The doctrine of providence is briefly presented as an important theological foundation for an academic vocation in psychology. This is followed by a discussion of potential pitfalls, including secularization, an implied "God-of-the-gaps" theology, distorted notions of God's ways of working in the world, an incomplete picture of humanity, and the adoption of secularizing values. Following this, issues in philosophy of science foundational to the current discussion will be reviewed, and, finally, some suggestions for a vocational practice of psychology will be outlined.


What does it mean to be a Christian in academic Psychology? As Johnson (1997) has so clearly spelled out, "the lordship of Christ over all of a Christian's life is an assumption basic to Christianity" (p. 11). This, of course, includes an individual's vocation as an academic psychologist. But what does it look like, in practice, to bring Christ's lordship to the practice of psychology? A variety of answers have been posited in response to this question, and where any given psychologist lands is influenced by context and vocation, as well as variations in theological and epistemological commitments. The purpose of this article is to articulate one vision of what is involved in practicing academic psychology in a way that reflects a commitment to Christ's lordship over this domain of life.

The vision presented here begins with two assumptions. The first assumption is a position of ontological realism, but with epistemological modesty. In other words, this approach will appeal to those who acknowledge the existence of objective truth, but recognize some limitations in our ability to apprehend it. In this way, it differs both from a traditional modernist view, and from a radical postmodern approach which would question the existence of objective truth. The second is that it is desirable to be engaged in the larger field of secular psychology, in a way that is salt and light to the discipline. Because of this emphasis on engagement, the approach advocated here differs in some ways from the approach known as Integration. This emphasis will also preclude positions that are more radical in their departure from what is normative in our discipline, as the desire is to engage, rather than alienate or remain on the fringes of psychology.

Integration is the pursuit of an accurate view of reality, guided by the belief that incorporation of knowledge from both special and general revelation is necessary in achieving this goal. As it is traditionally practiced, integration is done for the sake of benefiting the Christian community. This form of integration encompasses two disciplines: psychology and theology, and consequently embraces two sources of data (psychological data and the biblical text), as well as two epistemological methodologies (scientific methodologies and biblical exegesis). Integration is epistemologically more complete in comparison to other approaches to knowledge that are more limited in their methods of acquiring truth (including the position advocated here), and it could be argued that an accurate view of reality, and consequently an integrative mindset, are necessary for living life well.

The Integration perspective differs from the position that will be presented here in the sources of data and in the epistemological methods that are considered legitimate. (1) In spite of Integration's epistemological advantage, in an academic world formed in the context of modernist values, the ability to pursue knowledge integratively is limited and other strategies become necessary. …

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