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What is Christian psychology?

Christian psychology
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Robert Roberts and P. J. Watson describe Christian psychology, in part, like this: “We wish to develop a psychology that accurately describes the psychological nature of human beings as understood according to historic Christianity” (“A Christian Psychology View,” Psychology & Christianity: Five Views 2nd ed., IVP Academic, 2010, p. 155). This is meant to be accomplished both by understanding Scripture and historical Christian thinkers and by engaging in empirical scientific study in a distinctly Christian way, as opposed to the naturalist view that undergirds most of modern scientific study.

Those who support a Christian psychology approach to engaging with modern psychology would call attention to the fact that psychology “as a discipline of careful observation and reflection about human psychic well-being and dysfunction, and how to go about promoting the former and correcting the latter, has been around for twenty-five centuries or so” (ibid., p. 150). Secular psychologists have recognized contributions of thinkers well before Freud, such as Plato and Aristotle, but modern psychology does not often consider those thinkers. A Christian psychology approach would, of course, lean on Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard. Christian psychology would also look directly to the Bible for truth about human nature. This is a search not only for the understanding of sin and salvation, but also for things directly related to “psychology,” like how commended virtues relate to well-being. A Christian psychology approach would then ask how these things are developed, how to help those who do not have them, and what things go wrong when they are lacking. “The way to answer these questions may be a combination of conceptual-historical and empirical research” (ibid., p. 160).

Rather than seek to promote a view of humanity that would be accepted by any person of any tradition, a Christian psychology view seeks one that is distinctly Christian—distinctly biblical. Those with a Christian psychology view are not simply abandoning the modern field of psychological study to create something of their own, however. Rather, they are seeking to work within and contribute to the field. Roberts and Watson argue, “A Christian empirical psychology can and should take its place as a worthy intellectual competitor to the secular psychologies (whether naturalistic, humanistic or postmodern) with their usually unacknowledged metaphysical assumptions about human nature and flourishing” (ibid., p. 165). The Christian psychology approach would begin with a biblical understanding of human nature as the normative factor in research and interpretation. The approach would also seek to develop new methodologies for empirical investigation that accurately measure distinctively Christian things.

The Christian psychology view is both a call back to history and a movement toward the future. Roberts and Watson explain, “The chief impetus behind the Christian psychology model is that we cannot, in faith, simply leave our psychological thinking to be done by non-Christians, or even to be done by Christians according to the canons and methods of the establishment psychologies” (ibid., p. 174).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022