Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Theology as Science: A Response to "Theology as Queen and Psychology as Handmaid"

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Theology as Science: A Response to "Theology as Queen and Psychology as Handmaid"

Article excerpt

In response to Porter's article, "Theology as Queen and Psychology as Handmaid," three criteria are offered for theology as science. A scientific theology must be open to new discovery, it requires a community, and it is available for practical application. In addition to the benefits offered by Porter, viewing theology as science can promote practical helping efforts within the church.

We congratulate Porter (2010) on crafting a succinct and compelling argument affirming the authority of theology vis-à-vis psychology. His title is likely to be controversial, perhaps especially among psychologists, but a close reading of his article reveals that Porter respects psychology and allows it to have full authority on issues where theology does not speak. Further, he is respectful of the hermeneutic processes involved in both theology and psychology, recognizing that error can (and does) enter into all human appraisals, including theological appraisals.

Given our agreement with Porter, the purpose of this response is neither to quibble with his conclusions nor repeat his argument. Rather, we would like to extend his reflections by further considering the implications of theology as science. One of us (Graham) is a theologian, and the other (McMinn) a psychologist, which we hope contributes to the integrative tone of this response.

Near the end of his article, Porter suggests two reasons why it is important to consider theology as queen of the sciences. The first is to reassure those who resist psychology and the second is to allow room for theological commitments that lie outside the realm of naturally observed phenomena. We will offer a third benefit to considering theology as queen of the sciences at the conclusion of this response, but first we offer several criteria that ought to be met if theology is to be considered a science at all.

Theology Behaving as Science

Accepting theology as the queen of sciences first presumes that theology behaves as science. Some may tend to perceive theology as a set of propositions, or even proclamations, that are based on presuppositions that can never be tested. When theology behaves this way it probably should not be deemed the queen of the sciences. After all, science has established certain checks-and-balances and it wins people's confidence because its truth claims can be tested and affirmed, or tested and discarded.

Is it possible for theology to behave as science? We suggest that it is, and we offer three distinctive features of such a theology, with the first being our primary emphasis: it is open to new discovery, it requires a community, and it is available for practical application.

Open to New Discovery

With regard to theology's openness to new discovery, we discern in Porter's discussion an underlying contention we characterize as such: theology is authoritative without being dictatorial. Granted, authoritative and dictatorial might sound somewhat synonymous in the minds of some. However, Porter is meticulous in critiquing various grounds on which Scripture has been viewed as authoritative while setting forth his own proposal, which undergirds biblical authority while steering clear of dictatorial heavy-handedness that silences dialogue.

In making a distinction between Scripture itself as the vehicle of God's self-disclosure and theological interpretation of Scripture, Porter helpfully reminds us that theological reflection, like any human inquiry, can be susceptible to misinterpretation and fallibility. Hence, theologians must tread humbly in their pronouncements. And yet at the same time he is uncomfortable regarding theological claims as having equal status with scientific claims. His proposal that well-grounded theological claims have inherently greater authority than well-grounded psychological claims ultimately revolves around his understanding of Scripture as God's word. Recognizing "God's superior epistemic credentials," God is in a better position to know the truth about a given subject than any human person. …

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