Psychology, Gospel, Theology: What Is The Parallel?

Posted on Updated on



The church today is anemic spiritually for many reasons, but one of the major reasons has to be the loss of biblical content in so much of contemporary preaching. Pop psychology substitutes for the Word of God. Feel-good messages on “Five Ways to Be Happy” and “Three Ways to Love Your Mother” have become the steady cotton candy diet fed to the average church. Today’s sermonic focus therefore is on application. But application, without textual warrant for such, does not “stick;” it needs the glue of textual meaning. Biblical content accordingly must precede application; how else can we possibly know what to apply? Thus, in the headlong rush to be relevant, People magazine and popular television shows have replaced Scripture as sermonic resources. There are other signs of this anemia: In some churches, the music portion of the worship service has lengthened while the sermon time has diminished. No wonder so many spiritual teeth are decaying in our churches.

Biblical preaching, especially when it is done in a creative way, will always meet the needs of people, felt or otherwise.

Eloquent nonsense abounds in many pulpits today; sometimes it is not even eloquent. The conjuring adroitness of many preachers who keep producing fat rabbit after fat rabbit out of an obviously empty hat is the marvel of much contemporary preaching. There is mounting evidence that people are beginning to grow weary of these trite pop-psychology sermons. Biblical preaching, especially when it is done in a creative way, will always meet the needs of people, felt or otherwise. Only biblical preaching can meet the ultimate spiritual needs of people.

Preach the Word … in a text-driven way!

As I prepare to look into the medicine cabinet of my bible I have this question, how is psychology and the gospel  relevant?  Many people are now interested in the relationship between religion and science, but links between Christian belief and psychology have been relatively neglected.

Psychology is sometimes rejected altogether by evangelical Christians on the basis that it is a flawed discipline. Evangelicals are threatened by what they might call spirituality hiding behind the veil of science. But psychology must be viewed properly, as must theology, in order to interpret and apply its claims correctly. The Bible may be considered revealed truth, but it is not the only truth God has revealed to humans. The Bible is God’s revelation to man in written form, and is reliable as long as it is interpreted and applied properly. God has also given man truth
which is outside of, and consistent with, His written revelation. This truth is discoverable through observing creation and through scientific experimentation. It is through this general revelation that the social sciences have discovered truths about man which have enabled man to better understand himself and his relationships with others

The nature of integration in science is to work together two fields. Both theology and psychology are sciences, and therefore must be treated as such. Just as hermeneutics is not God’s Word itself, neither is theology. They both fall under the scientific heading of the study of God’s Word. The sciences of theology and psychology can be integrated just as any other sciences can. The difference is that special consideration must be given to theology due to the subject it is treating. Any discussion of the integration of Biblical principles and the principles of psychology also necessitates a proper understanding of what is at stake. The issue is not just theology and just psychology. It comes down to philosophy and world view. The struggle of integration was already taking place in early church days, mostly through the work of Greek philosophers. The debate about where to draw the line is a long-standing one.


                                                                                                     Classical Greek Dualism

images (10)

In classical Greek dualism there is a physical realm and a spiritual realm, a separation of the body and the soul . Philosophers created only two categories for people to use in approaching humanity. This poses many problems. If this is the case, then in physical matters such as medicine, one does not have to bother himself with morality: “One of the attractions of the dualist view appeared to be the notion of the soul as a detachable spiritual entity, associated with the body but not identified with it” . The spiritual dimension was reserved for things other than the material and the mental. Social sciences such as psychology would be classified in the spiritual dimension.

This separation has crept imperceptibly into modem thought, and since psychology is made out to somehow be a part of the spiritual dimension, it is often critiqued by Christians as if it were. Psychology could never pass a test of doctrine, it could never hold up if it were passed off as inerrant and true. Christians, then, are apt to reject psychology altogether in favor of the higher thing in the spiritual dimension, the Bible itself. But psychology is not in the spiritual dimension. The two overlap, but are not the same.

Psychology is a separate discipline, not a subset of theology. If a man went into a church and claimed to know a great deal about group dynamics, he would not automatically be considered a theologian.

His findings might supplement the theologian, whose primary job it is to remind people that what God has said is right and what God has said is wrong. When religion adopts a dichotomous reasoning, polarizing itself from other disciplines in the same way Greek philosophy would polarize spirit and matter, it also breaks down relationships between God and the world. “Such a view of the sacred as completely separate from the mite world parallels the compartmentalized epistemology that sees religion as completely separate from science” . Certainly the divine has a special nature, but it is not cut off from the rest of life.

On the contrary, it should permeate the rest of life. Although psychology is not synonymous with theology, it also cannot be separated from it.


                                                                                 Written and Spoken Revelation
The Bible is primarily about two issues: one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with people. But the Bible never claims to have all the truth of God when it comes to relationships with people. For example, there is no group theory there. Dr. Lawson in the counseling department at Liberty University called this the two book theory. He said God has a written revelation and a spoken revelation, the world. These two should never conflict, and if they do it is only in human understanding. “All truth is God’s truth,”  whether found in the Bible or in nature. Whether a Christian discovered 2+2=4 or not, it is still true. Paul wrote on this subject to the church at Rome two thousand years ago. The King James translation of Romans 1 :20 says, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” God has revealed Himself to us, therefore making men accountable to Him for truth, whether they had a copy of the Bible or not. Everything that is true is from God, and gives glory to God.



images (12)

                                                                                       Types of Spoken Revelation
In addition to the Bible, God also allows His truth to be revealed through science, and even psychology. The Bible does not claim to contain everything that we need to know about plumbing or about schizophrenia. Technical things about the brain and the hypothalamus are not in the Bible. In fact, Wallace Clift asserts that for religion to be able to “meet the needs of its day it must be in accord with, and understandable in the language of, the scientific knowledge of the time” .

We cannot assist the people living in our culture if we are not keeping up to date with their needs and how best to meet them. We have no excuse when the Lord has put psychology at our disposal. It is laziness to avoid it altogether simply because it takes work to evaluate what aspects of psychology are useful and what are not.

images (9)
Bible never intended to contain all truth. The Bible does have a lot to say about counseling and how to speak with people. Psychology expounds on those things to develop how we can apply them to people in a counseling setting. Many of the foundational aspects of psychology are in the Bible. However, it does not, and God never intended it to, contain all the truth there is in the world. John 21 :25 even says that Jesus did more while He was on earth that was not recorded because books could not contain all of the information!

It is dangerous ground to walk upon when one is speaking of the Bible. It is true that ”the Bible stands alone as God’s only perfect guide to life and growth” . The Bible is absolutely complete and dependable. The fact that psychology can be helpful in counseling does not mean that the Bible is lacking in some way. It only means that psychological theories should not be thrown out altogether. They do hold value in the specific application of principles that are found in the Word of God.
We have established that truth can be found outside the Bible itself, and also that psychology provides years of experience and research that can be filtered through Scripture and applied in practice. What truth is found there at the end can and should be used. Theologians Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart (1982) say, “Wisdom is the discipline of applying truth to one’s life in the light of experience” . Applying psychological truth to the foundation of Biblical truth wisely meets the needs of man.

God’s Word is always accurate, but unfortunately, man’s interpretation of it can be inaccurate. For example, in our country’s early history pastors were saying that God condoned slavery. On the other hand, psychology can also be incorrect in its scientific interpretation of a matter. So when theology and psychology conflict, we must look at
everything, remembering of course that the answer could be that it is so complex we do not even have an answer.

Human error is not limited to interpretation, but also extends to application. In Romans 1: 18 Paul says that there are men that “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” He is talking to the Romans, who were highly intelligent people. He is saying that there is truth but people are suppressing it from them by explaining it incorrectly. These Romans are people that have only thus far had natural revelation, and Paul tells them they can know the truth and are without excuse. God judges people and He does it on the basis of natural revelation because that genuinely and sufficiently reveals Him.

images (15)
They should have honored God because they looked to nature and gave Him credit for what He created.

On any given Sunday in today’s preaching pantheon, one can observe a diverse group of devotees, some paying homage to the chapel of “creativity,” others sitting at the feet of the “culturally relevant.” Some are transfixed at the nave marked “narrative,” while others have their hearts strangely warmed at the chasse of “pop-psychology.” There is never a shortage of worshipers at the “new homiletic” altar, and the “topical” shrine always receives its share of Sunday patrons. Fearful that some as of yet undiscovered homiletical “method” might be missed, the gatekeepers of the pantheon have installed an altar inscribed “to the unknown preaching method.” It is that method which I declare unto you. Actually, the method itself is not “unknown” at all, and like the true church on earth, it has always had its practitioners in every era of church history.In fact, it is the oldest method in the preaching pantheon, having been used by the earliest preachers as far back as the apostolic era of the church. It is called “expository preaching.

”Fearful that some as of yet undiscovered homiletical “method” might be missed, the gatekeepers of the pantheon have installed an altar inscribed “to the unknown preaching method.”




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s