The question of the role of psychology in Christian counseling and recovery is a source of significant conflict. As a result, New Hope Outreach makes a clear statement regarding our beliefs and practice regarding this issue.
The Scriptures declare that God “has given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . .” (2 Peter 1:3). Interestingly, this verse has been understood by many, including many of us previously, to mean that the Word includes all the answers for every issue that can arise in life. But that is not what the verse says. It says God gives us all things and the implication is that this comes through relationship with God through Christ (verses 1 & 2). It doesn’t say the Bible gives us all the answers for every issue of life. It is through relationship with God through Christ that we are able to access God’s answers for life.
God is infinitely creative in the ways He works with us. He uses a wide variety of tools. He commonly uses other humans. That is why, in part, the Word says there is safety in a multitude of counselors (Prov. 11:14, 14:22, 24:6) and not to forsake assembling together and exhorting each other (Heb. 10:25 – note this verse does not say “don’t miss church” – the meaning is broader than church attendance).
God has also created us in His image as intelligent creatures and He expects us to use that gift. In fact, this idea is supported when He says we are to continually seek Him and to seek understanding. Diligence, study and prayerful consideration lead us to greater understanding. This applies to all areas of life.
In life we accept and expect to benefit from the knowledge of professionals who have trained and studied their area of expertise. We wouldn’t recommend Christians avoid seeing a medical doctor for medical issues, even though those doctors have all been trained in a secular, humanistic environment in order to get their knowledge and legal right to practice medicine. We wouldn’t recommend Christians avoid using a structural engineer to build a significant structure just because they attended a secular, humanistic institution to get their professional degree.
The same principle applies to psychology. Like any other professional degree, in our culture, there are specific educational requirements. But does the field of psychology have merit for Christians, like, say, a medical doctor or a structural engineer?
We believe it does. Psychology is a science. It is first and foremost dedicated to the scientific study of human behavior, development, mental health/disease, etc. This scientific study is conducted to scientific standards, like other sciences. Many individuals have devoted entire careers to the study of behavior, development, and mental health and disease. This scientific information is, in fact, the kind of understanding that can occur when the Scriptural principle of diligently seeking understanding is followed.
Just because the field has been dominated by people who are not Christians, does not invalidate the scientific information and understanding they have gained, any more than it does in any other professional field. The scientific information regarding human development, causes and effects of human behavior, testing for development disorders, learning disabilities and genuine mental health problems is invaluable. This knowledge affects and can benefit Christians just as much as those who do not accept the Christian faith. This information is also not available to pastors or to the average Christian counselor. It requires years of specialized study and education in the science of psychology and a license to practice before a Christian can help Christians with these specific issues in a thoroughly knowledgeable and professional manner for the best of the client.
Just as in any other field, where science attempts to explain the motives and purposes of life and living excluding God, these areas of application vary from the understanding a Christian would gain from the same scientific information. A Biblically grounded, mature Christian can discern where the line of departure falls. The Word also very specifically limits Christian advising and counsel to those who are Biblically grounded and mature.
The Bible also offers us an excellent example of this principle in action. God allowed (perhaps orchestrated) Daniel to be trained in all the secular wisdom of his day. Was there any difference in level of objection between the thorough pagan education Daniel received and the education of the modern Christian psychologist? God used the forum of the wisdom of Daniel’s day to accomplish His purposes. Without that training Daniel would not have been able to accomplish God’s purposes for his life.
Bottom-line, the science of psychology offers critical knowledge regarding the relatively concrete details of human life and living. Wherever psychology attempts to offer explanations regarding the purposes of life that differ from the Word, the science has strayed into attempting to quantify faith – something science can never do, but often attempts in all its varied fields. To be a psychologist, no one is required to embrace a faith that denies God. A mature Christian can use the science of psychology while maintaining their faith in integrity and understanding that only God offers answers to the why’s and purposes of life. Psychology has medical and scientific value for believers, just like anyone else. But it is limited to those purposes. It cannot address sin problems. There is a strong need and appropriate place for both psychology and Biblical Christian maturity in counseling.