28 Things You Didn’t Know About “Christian” Psychology

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counselingLike any pastor, I make it a major discipline in my life to read a lot. I must; I cannot allow my tools to grow dull. And, like any pastor SHOULD, I spend a significant portion of my week counseling the flock of God. Of course, that means a significant portion of my regular readings come from books on counseling. At any given time, I’m always working through five or more books to help me diagnose the soul and apply biblical principles to the hearts of the hurting, weary, or fainthearted. It is in fact a sad reality that many pastors have absolved themselves from the responsibility to counsel. Some because it isn’t a priority and they don’t make the time. Others because they have actually been taught not to by their colleges and seminaries. And a few don’t feel adequately equipped. Whatever the reason, pastors who don’t counsel their flock refer their sheep to another authority: human philosophy.

Of course, they aren’t aware that they are subjecting their congregations to human philosophy. They thought they were sending them to “Christian” psychologists and psychiatrists.1 What they either don’t know, or don’t care to know, is just how antithetical Christian psychotherapy is to a biblical worldview. They then send their unsuspecting and undiscerning congregation to learn anti-theology.

I’m gravely concerned, and it was one evening as I was reading from a contemporary Christian psychologist that I thought to myself, “People (and pastors especially) must know the theology of Christian psychology. They must know what it actually is. Shortly after that, I picked up another book by a secular psychologist, then another, and another, until I thought sometime in January that I would post one brief statement a day about Christian psychology during the next month on social media. That was this last month in February. Each day offered only a brief comment, but they were hopefully meaningful. I hope you’ll find the following helpful:

Day 1 – Christian psychology claims both the Bible and psychology are important in the diagnosis and counseling of “soul problems,” and that both can be compatible. It should be telling, however, that there are virtually no Christian psychotherapists who have any advanced training in theology or the Bible. The exceptions prove the rule, and that exposes where their real authority lies.

Day 2 – Christian psychology claims to be “biblical counseling.” In actuality, it is humanistic atheistic psychology that uses the Bible and proof-texts to support its secular theories. That helps make it look more “Christian” than it is. Their training will expose just how important they think the Bible really is in counseling (cf. Day 1 below…).

Day 3 – Christian psychology has become one of the greatest influences in the American church, and defines what we now think about the mind and soul. Yet, psychology itself is devoid of religion, and is even openly hostile towards it. In fact, in 1961 O. Hobart Mowrer asked, “Has Evangelical religion sold its birthright for a mess of psychological pottage?” 55 years later, I fear we have.

Day 4 – Christian psychology does not originate with the Bible. Rather, psychology of the West was first developed by heretics such as Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Aquinas, long before the God-hating Freud entered the scene.

Day 5 – Christian psychology does not view the Bible as possessing a comprehensive analysis of human nature (contrary to what the Bible says about itself), and places true biblical counseling (i.e. “nouthetic” counseling) in the realm of “folk psychology” 2

Day 6 – Christian psychology views what the Bible says about the human nature as inferior to the authority of modern psychology.3 In other words, the collective wisdom of men is more authoritative on matters of the soul than God’s Word.

Day 7 – Christian psychology is indebted to the work of Thomas Aquinas, who is considered to be the first Christian Integrationist (psychology + the Bible). They depend much on his views, though he was a rank heretic who was instrumental in the formation of Roman Catholic theology. 4

Day 8 – Christian psychology can only function with an unbiblical understanding of the human constitution, making a false dichotomy between the soul and mind (or “psyche”). Biblically, they are one entity. In fact, the term “psyche” comes from the Greek word that means “soul.”

Day 9 – Christian psychology refers to itself as an “empirical science” when in actuality, it is a philosophy that uses “eisegetically” derived conclusions (they impose their presuppositions into the results) from case studies in order to validate its approach to counseling. That is not true empirical science. It ignores data that contradicts their methods, and over inflates the significance of evidence that seems to support them. This also why there are so many competing psychological methods.

Day 10 – Christian psychology maintains that its diagnoses are scientific (see day 9). In reality, its diagnoses are subjective interpretations of behavioral observation, not objective. This proves that their authority rests with psychology and secular theory and not the Bible, since the Bible will lead to one “diagnosis” (source of the problem) based on behavioral observation, while psychology leads to another.

Day 11 – Christian psychology is not a singular approach to counseling. There are over 40 major competing schools of psychology and hundreds of hybrid versions of the major ones. The most popular by far, however (and a favorite among evangelicals), is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has its own theological system largely akin to a secular form of Buddhism.

Day 12 – Christian psychology operates on an unbiblical theology of man. For one, it largely espouses a form of positivism (or neopositivism), optimism, and a philosophy of self-esteem that contradicts a biblical view of man’s wretched, sinful condition.

Day 13 – Christian psychology (and all psychology) depends on evolutionary theory to merit its positivistic behavioral analyses. In fact, this has contributed and led to the development of childhood psychology. If a biblical view of Creation is maintained, much of psychology’s merit is undercut.

Day 14 – Christian psychology is not consistent with itself, since there is no agreement as to the nature or degree of integrationism between secular psychology and the Bible. That argues against the nature of its “scientific” merit. This is more than just arguing for the best method of treatment (though there is that), but rather the actual diagnosis (the source of the problem). It seems that the chief point of agreement among them is that the Bible is insufficient for counseling.

Day 15 – Christian psychology admits to the horrifying and disturbing development of psychology, but then calls Christians to warmly embrace the new knowledge gained from psychology as a legitimate source of authority in counseling. But with such terribly anti-God presuppositions, how can we trust any of its conclusions?

Day 16 – Christian psychology recognizes that at one time, the responsibility for the healing of souls was entrusted to the ministry of the church. It now believes itself better suited for that task.5 But, in the words of Jay Adams, “A good seminary education rather than medical school or a degree in clinical psychology is the most fitting background for a counselor.” 6

Day 17 – Christian psychology maintains that secular psychology can and should be “integrated” with the Bible. That is to say that they believe that the conclusions and diagnoses of human soul problems made by the rationalism of depraved philosophers is compatible with the Bible.

Day 18 – Christian psychology points to its “success” stories to validate its method. This begs the question, “How do you define “success?” If by “success” you mean, “cured,” then there are no success stories, and not even the top psychologists in the world have been able to make the claim that they have healed someone of their mental illness(es).

Day 19 – Christian psychologists have never been able to say their psychology has healed anyone (see Day 18). This should lead us to question whether or not they have diagnosed the right problem. The truth is, their treatments bring no “cure” because they are only treating symptoms of the problem (having the wrong diagnosis to begin with), and not the root problem itself. By way of illustration, it is akin to a patient expressing symptoms of exhaustion, weight loss, and fever. The physician then begins treating the patient as he would for anyone with a virus, believing that to be the source of the problem. In actuality, the patient has cancer, and while the treatments may offer some relief, the Dr. has failed to address the actual disease.

Day 20 – With less than a week left of “29 Days of Things You Didn’t Know About Christian Psychology,” I’m well behind, but I’m catching up – Christian psychology, though adhering to dozens of competing methods of counseling, does not view biblical (nouthetic) counseling as capable of offering real solutions to soul problems. To varying degrees, Christian psychology views biblical counseling as ignorant, anti-intellectual, uncaring, unloving, and insensitive.

Day 21 – Christian psychology adheres to various secular psychologies that explain behavioral problems without the context of sin, God, the soul, or anything spiritual or supernatural. While Christian psychology does believe in those things, it adheres to the treatments and explanations of behavioral abnormalities by those who deny them. That leads Christian psychology to treat symptoms of behavioral problems, without addressing the heart.

Day 22 – Christian psychology, like much of mainstream psychology, is extremely dependent on environmentalism (you are a victim of your environment, and your environment, past or present, explains your current behavior). This theory has been developed by observing the behavioral characteristics of animals and how they respond to environments. However, this is completely antithetical to a biblical understand of the human soul, which vehemently rejects the notion that our environment determines responses. To say so places our behavior outside our control, absolving us from responsibility for sin.

Day 23 – Christian psychology defines itself as “a rigorous inquiry into human nature and how to treat its problems and advance its well-being.” Interestingly, Christian psychology uses that definition to defend that psychology has been practiced by Christians for centuries (P&C, 14). But that definition defeats the system, because any genuinely rigorous inquiry into human nature comes from the Scriptures alone. The “psychology” (literally, the “study of the soul”) that has been practiced by Christians for centuries is one that has affirmed that soul problems can only be rightly interpreted through the Scriptures.‪#‎solascriptura

Day 24 – Christian psychology calls itself “clinical” to give it more credibility. You may sometimes hear the phrase, “biblical in nature, clinical in practice.” That is a nonsensical, self-defeating assertion. To say they are “biblical in nature,” is to say that it is the Bible that their counseling is based upon. To say they are “clinical in practice” is to say that the counseling they give is based on humanistic psychotherapy and psychiatry. Therefore, Christian psychology maintains that their counseling is based upon the Bible, but the counseling they give is secular. I hope you see the problem…

Day 25 – Christian psychology often exchanges the terms “soul care” and “mental problems” as it fits its schema. However, that is only confusing at best, but also affirms the parallelisms between what a biblical counselor calls “soul problems” and a psychologist or psychiatrist calls “mental problems.” But if mental problems are soul problems, then who is better suited to provide counseling? Pastors? Or psychotherapists? However, humanity resents confrontation, and “mental problems” sounds much less confrontational than “soul problems.”

Day 26 – Christian psychology functions under multiple layers of sophistication, making it more a relic of 2nd century Gnosticism (which appealed to a secret, higher knowledge of the soul) than actual Christianity. However, understanding the method of diagnosis in psychology, strips it of much of its mysticism.

Day 27 – Christian psychology functions with the presuppositions of modernism, as all contemporary “modern” psychology does. Logic and human reason is authoritative, and is the Bible is only used where it supports their conclusions. It is not used to test the validity of the logic and human reason. In fact, where it contradicts their conclusions, the Bible is reinterpreted to fir their schema.

Day 28 – Christian psychology ultimately condemns the unbeliever, since most states require by law that licensed counselors only provide counsel consistent with their client’s religion, even if that religion is believed by the counselor to be wrong. Incidentally, that also means it is illegal for a counselor to counsel against socially accepted sins (like homosexuality, abortion, etc.) as long as that sinful behavior is legal. In PA, for instance, the law requires licensed counselors to abide by the ACA Code of Ethics, which clearly reads, “Counselors are aware of – and avoid imposing – their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.” That is completely antithetical to Christian evangelism.

Day 29 – I confess, when I first thought of the idea in January, I forgot it was a leap year, so I guess that means Day 29 is left to your conclusion. 😀

  1. Ignorance, however, does not excuse the derelict pastor. This is the pastor’s life work. He has been called to rightly diagnose the condition of men’s souls and provide the biblical remedy.
  2. Eric L. Johnson, “Psychology and Christianity,” 15.
  3. Ibid., 15
  4. Watson & Evans, 1991, “Psychology and Christianity.”
  5. McNeil, 1951; Oden, 1989
  6. Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s New Testament, 437.
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  • Pastor Darren Paulson

    I thought this was a well-written article, but thought it could’ve been much stronger with examples given to back up the charges leveled. I say that with no anger — I’m not attempting to be contrarian. However, Pastor Tarr, you simply re-hash the same arguments nouthetic counselors have had at the ready for years. Your opinion(s) are certainly well-educated, and you’re entitled to them … but at the end of the day, unless you give me some examples to back up your points, they’re simply just opinions.
    One smaller issue (yet larger in the scope of Christian tradition) — your claim that Thomas Aquinas was a ‘rank heretic’. Seriously? Was Augustine a ‘rank heretic’? Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant Christian theologian who contributed greatly to the Church. Except for the “if anyone ever had anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church this means you must be dismissed out-of-hand crowd”, you’d be hard-pressed to find any theologian worth his/her salt who’d call Aquinas a heretic.

    • Thanks for posting. I agree that giving some examples would have made this article stronger, but making an apologetic wasn’t my objective. It was to very simply state the facts, but I’ll respond to your points in brief, starting with Aquinas since that’s a quickie:

      1) I think it’s incredible that you would compare apples to oranges by asking if I would count Augustine a rank heretic. I certainly would not, because Augustine was orthodox and taught justification by faith. Aquinas actually departed from Augustine’s theology and the Augustinians of the Middle Ages. He emphasized a salvation by faith + works – hence why he often referred to as the “father of modern Catholicism.” That’s why I call him a rank heretic. I do not use the word “heretic” loosely, but when someone teaches a gospel other than salvation by grace through faith alone, he is a heretic.

      2) You seem to imply that because I don’t give examples, my points are weak or without merit. As I noted, my reasons were quite simple for not providing examples: First, I am not making an apologetic, nor do I need to. These points are largely common knowledge in the Christian psychological community. They don’t deny them; they argue for the legitimacy of their synergism. To that end, I found it ironic that you point out that I simply “re-hashed” the same points that nouthetic counselors have pointed out for some time. That might be true. However, In coming up with these 28 points, I did not refer to a single nouthetic counselor. Each of these points came from the positions held by Christian psychologists themselves. I read directly from their works. That is also why, secondly, I think it’s misleading to present my article as though it was “without a single example” (to refer to your comment on FB), as if I had no resources to back up my claims. Though I didn’t make many citations, I certainly did directly cite and quote from Christian psychologists (those are by default, “examples” of Christian psychologists maintaining those positions, are they not?). The rest of my points I had read so many times from various Christian psychologists, I considered those points as common knowledge. Finally, there is one more very practical reason I didn’t provide examples for each day… it would have made my post ridiculously long, and it’s already 3x longer than a blog should be. Regardless, I’ll give you just a few examples in a moment).

      3) It was ironic to me that you observed that I’m really just “re-hashing” what nouthetic counselors have long pointed out. That may be true, but I believe that only further strengthens my claims. I came to these conclusions independent of them and made each point directly from Christian psychologists. I didn’t make a single point based on a second-hand interpretation of what Christian psychologists believe.

      4) I am not entitled to my opinions. I am either misrepresenting fact, or falsely interpreting fact. I reject that anyone is “entitled” to his/her opinion. Every opinion must come under the scrutiny of God’s Word. My opinion is irrelevant.

      5) Here are a few examples (I selected these merely because I have ready access to them off the top of my head. Frankly, I don’t have much time to contribute more to this article than I already have):

      Day 11 – I expect you don’t need an actual example of Christian psychologists using Cognitive Behavior Therapy but for an example for its relationship with Buddhism? You can get the book: http://www.amazon.com/Buddhist-Psychology-Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy-Clinicians/dp/1462523242. This relationship is no secret anyway. It’s widely known.

      Day 12 – To quote James Dobson (who was instrumental in normalizing psychology in the Christian community), said, “If I Could write a prescription for the women of the world, I would provide each of them with a healthy dose of self-esteem… I have no doubt this is their greatest need” (“What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew about Them,” 35).

      Day 15 – Skinnerian Behavioralism: there is no such thing as guilt, for there are no evils; Adler’s Neo-Freudianism: the solution to man’s problems is to pursue superiority since ultimately, problems are related to feelings of inferiority; Freudian Depth Psychology: bluntly advocates narcissism and an attitude of victimization; Ellis’ Rational-Emotive Theory: man is basically good. Problems are related to not think rightly about yourself. You must believe yourself to be a good person. Rogerianism: the client should take whatever steps necessary to make him or her comfortable with him/herself.

      Day 22 – see day 15.

      Day 28 – Just to point out, I DID actually provide an example here… the law of my own state.

      Hope that helps…

      • Pastor Darren Paulson

        I appreciate the thoughtful response. I’d like to take the time to really consider your points before I respond in-depth. Just two quick points … #1 No, I didn’t mean to imply that your points are without merit without examples. I just meant to say that they’re subjective opinion(s) without examples. For instance, I might insist that Pete Rose was a better hitter than Ty Cobb. I could simply say that. But without evidence which gives the reader an idea as to why I came up with that opinion, it’s just my judgment — there aren’t any facts alongside the statement that may give the reader an idea as to why I’ve made the claim.
        #2 – I disagree with you when you say you’re not entitled to an opinion. The problem with the “you’re either falsely interpreting fact or misrepresenting fact” mindset is the false belief that the Bible speaks directly to every issue. It doesn’t. It was never intended to. So if a Christian, for example, believes the death penalty is wrong – he most certainly is entitled to that opinion. He can muster much biblical evidence in support of his argument. You or I may disagree (or not) – we may muster biblical evidence to support our point of view on the matter. But at the end of the day, the Bible does not give us clear teaching regarding the death penalty no matter which way our political and/or moral inclinations lean. Therefore, a well-reasoned, biblically-mature opinion on a matter is altogether valid whether I agree or not. Do you know of a theologian in which you agree with his/her doctrine point by point? On the matters of disagreement, you would insist that they not have the right to their opinion simply because you’ve determined it’s false?
        No, you certainly have the right to deem “cultural” psychology unbiblical if you’ve reached that conclusion through study and prayer. And the thousands of Christian counselors out there that incorporate psychology into their practice — brothers and sisters as in tune with the Holy Spirit as you or I — have the right to disagree. Unless, of course, you can find me the verse in which Paul addresses psychology circa 21st century. 🙂

        • Darrel

          You said: “But at the end of the day, the Bible does not give us clear teaching regarding the death penalty….” And you are a pastor and cannot give a clear answer with Scripture to this? You should be greatly ashamed! But then again, you are of the mindset that the Bible does not speak to every issue of life so I guess I’m expecting too much from you. I don’t know which “bible” you’ve been reading or which spirit it is that teaches you, but your faulty and dangerous conclusions could not possibly have been derived from the Word of God or the Spirit of God. Perhaps you should read 2 Cor. 13:5.

          • Pastor Darren Paulson

            Wow, thank you so much for the gracious response. Perhaps you might brush up on the passages that talk about being gentle in spirit and humble with those you disagree with.
            Regarding the capital punishment topic – would you please tell me which Scriptures speak to this topic specifically? Thanks. Also (this would be very helpful) – please show me the passages which speak specifically re: homeschooling and immunization questions.
            I simply must’ve missed them. Thanks, again.

          • Darrel

            You’re the pastor, can’t you tell us? Or do you just hang around blogs to stir up trouble and make everyone think you are smarter than you really are. It’s been 8 days since your nonsense was posted here and here you are just looking to pick a fight. Your “flock” must be terribly proud of you, which parish do you claim to be the “father” of? You let the cat out of the bag when you said Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant theologian, and by the way Augustine was a heretic of the rankest sort also, catholic pagans both! So guess what that makes you?

          • Jason

            Since there are now visually, by my account, public insults their can be public confession and asking forgiveness. I’m now coming along side you to say, if we all profess to believe, then argue with a spirit of gentleness if the Spirit should open and change our minds. Any statement from this time stamp on, failing to confess specific sin asking for specific forgiveness will be deleted. Furthermore, I will consider a lack of reconciliation your acceptance to no longer be allowed on this website. I will block you, remove you, and consider any further comment to be in contempt. Furthermore, you go to public worship tomorrow, therefore to not be reconciled with your brother puts your worship in jeopardy. Brothers, no matter how much you may disagree, insults do not represent our Lord with honor and glory.

          • Darrel

            If you want to excuse the likes of “Pastor Darren Paulson” that’s your problem, he is, by his own words ecumenical to the core and in league with the enemy of Christ. In coming to his defense, you’ve made yourself the same. If you consider pointing out when someone mocks the Lord you claim to love and serve a “sin” that’s your problem. Seems that you have forgotten who the Lord is and that He will not be mocked with the impunity you have granted “Pastor Darren Paulson”. How you can consider him a “brother in Christ” is beyond reason when he sides with catholic heretics and calls them “great theologians”. It is you, Jason, that owe the readers of this blog an apology, will you give it?

          • Darrel

            Since you’ve the “be nice to me” card perhaps you should review the Scriptures (that’s assuming that you’ve read the Bible at least once) where the Lord Jesus had nothing nice to say to or about the religious elites (“pastors”) of His day. There are well over forty (40+++) instances where He “raked them over the coals”, called them all sorts of names (justifiably) that were not flattering and told them of the judgment that awaited them if they did not repent. The gloves are off with you for a very good reason because your first comment of nine (9) days ago was an insult to the Lord Jesus. You openly mocked Him when you said Aquinas and Augustine were not heretics but “faithful” to the gospel (your gospel maybe, not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ). It’s always open season on those that Mock the Lord Jesus, which is precisely what you have done and it’s typical of all false prophets to where their feelings on their shoulders and try to pass their own guilt off on the one who holds their feet to the fire. Did you notice it’s not working? Instead of more of your bravado why don’t you fall on your face before God and repent of this wickedness you have displayed here?