A Biblical Approach to Human Psychology

If someone were to ask you about the Bible and its connection to and application to human psychology, I believe most of us would express with some confidence the answer would be “None, there is no Biblical approach to human psychology.” We do not claim that the Bible provides explicit directions for counseling. Rather, the argument can be made that the Bible provides the general principles on which we must build, and, accordingly, build into our approach to human psychology. “All scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The second epistle to Timothy instructs us that the knowledge, wisdom and skills found in God’s Word can be incorporated into psychological theory.

The study of psychology can pose problems for the Christian, yet when integrated with the psychological principles and values as demonstrated in God's Word, it offers the opportunity of opening new insights regarding Christian experiences and understanding of the Biblical truths. Of course, most Christians are aware of Sigmund Freud and dismiss his psychosexual theories out right. Are all of Freud’s theories valuable when compared to the Word of God? No, but his commentary on defense mechanisms is of value when peering into the life of another. Most often, the theory of denial [1] involves blocking external events from awareness. In my work with sexual abuse, I see this exhibited all the time and many months of therapy may be required to reach the memory that does not want to be spoken.

Psychologist Carl Rogers, argues for client centered therapy: a person can “grow” with an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard) and empathy (being able to understand and share the feelings of another). Christ practiced all of these when He met with the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). By understanding her plight, He was able to see her condition and offer the way to new life.

A third example would be the integration of motivational interviewing (MI) into Biblical counseling. Motivational interviewing is a relatively “new” approach to counseling, being developed by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in the 1980s. MI has four tenets to explore with clients: 1. Open-ended questions, 2. Affirmations, 3. Reflective questions, 4. Summarization. When a person is resistant to change, this approach can be used to explore to see why a client is resistant [3]. Peter denied the Lord three times. Peter: why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say? After this denial, Peter accepted God’s plan for his life (John 18:13-27). 

A persistent misunderstanding of the Biblical counseling view posits there is nothing to be learned from humanistic psychology. On the contrary, we can learn, should learn and do learn from anyone and everyone [2].

The most authoritative book about human behavior is the Bible. Not only is it authoritative, it is objective, and is the final word on the subject. And whether people accept the principles of God's Word and agree with them or not, all are subject to the principles found in the Bible. Therefore, it behooves us to consider seriously what God has to say on this matter of Biblical psychology. The Bible is not a textbook on psychology, rather it is a text on God and His relationship to mankind, whom He has created [4]. 

How do we become astute Christians and use the resources of psychology?

  1. Read the Bible for the humanity portrayal, as well as for God revealed, and the intersection of the two.
  2. Know yourself. Deal honestly with your sins and suffering. When you learn about yourself, you gain understanding for others.
  3. Get to know people. Put down your electronic devices and talk about things that matter. Every person is wildly different from you.
  4. Drink deeply of good novels, poetry, drama, film, music and visual arts. They capture the experience of life.
  5. Read history, biography, culture, studies, cultural anthropology. As one gets to know people, judicious observers offer you evocative riches.

 

Read thoughtful writers in psychology and psychiatry. Their insights are enlightening. They can offer curiosity and tenderness that signifies fellow strugglers. Suggestions would include: Dan B. Allender, Lawrence Crabb, Anna Freud, Irving Yalom, Robert Coles, Abraham Maslow, and Richard Schwartz. 

In conclusion, psychology and the Bible can be integrated. God’s Word is the final authority, but we can and should use some of the methodologies produced by reputable psychologists that are also rich for understanding the human experience.

 

References


1. https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defense-mechanisms-list: retrieved from the internet on April 15, 2018.

2. Powlison, D. (2010). Psychology and Christianity. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL.

3. Miller, W. R & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational interviewing. The Guilford Press: New York, NY.

4. Stoll, J. (2010). Psychology and the Bible. http://www.leaderu.com/offices/stoll/psychology: retrieved from the internet on April 18, 2018.

 

Additional Resources

Adams, J. E. (1970). Competent to counsel. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.

Allender, D. B. (2000). The healing path. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook.

Crabb, L. J. (1997). Effective biblical counseling.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, E.L. (2007). Foundations for soul care: A Christian psychology proposal. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL.

Willard, D. (1998). The divine conspiracy. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Dr. Karen W. Royer