Case Study: Applications of Extra-Biblical Resources in Psychology and Counseling
Paul encourages transformative learning in several contexts in 1 Thessalonians. In 2:11-12 he describes “exhorting (parakalountes), encouraging (paramuthoumenoi), and imploring (marturomenoi)” believers to walk appropriately. These three are modes of communication for facilitating transformation through mental processes that effect the spirit, engage the will, and are manifested in conduct—the believer’s walk. In 5:14-15 Paul exhorts (parakaloumen)80 believers to engage with one another in several particular ways: admonish (noutheteite) the unruly, encourage (paramutheisthe) the fainthearted, help (antechesthe) the weak, be patient (makrothumeite) with all, see (orate) that no one repays evil for evil, and pursue (diokete) good for one another and for all.
These six imperatives are indicative of speech and action that is helpful for the growth of believers. Three of them could be considered forms of Biblical counseling (admonishing, encouraging, helping),81 one describes the manner in which that counseling is done (with patience), and the remaining two pertain to outcomes of Biblical counseling (seeing that no one responds to evil with evil, and pursuing the good). While we don’t find the term “counseling” used in the NT, exactly, if we are using the term to describe believers’ admonishing, encouraging, and helping of other believers, then we can see a ready correlation between transformative teaching/learning and a Biblical approach to counseling. Further, Paul’s exhortation does not seem to limit the scope of benefit to only believers—he urges believers to always be pursuing the good of one another and everyone. He seems to distinguish between believers (one another) and unbelievers everyone else). It is evident from these passages that a Biblical approach to counseling for transformation would be focused on believers but could also extend to unbelievers. Beyond the scope of counseling as including believers and unbelievers it is helpful to understand the prescribed tools for counseling, and how the three perspectives (B+T, B+t, and B+Ø) might define and apply the tools.
B+T: One Common Method, Two Disparate Conclusions
As the fundamental principle of B+T is the equality of the Bible and Tradition, there are two iterations of B+T that are discernible here, both sharing a presuppositional methodology.82 One would be that of the RCC (this approach will be distinguished hereafter by the label B+T/RCC), and the other would represent those who equate the Bible and popular findings that are considered to be scientific (hereafter referred to as B+T/PSP, for popular scientific perspective).
The B+T/RCC approach is well illustrated by Pope Pius XII. He first acknowledges the distinct metaphysical conclusions of the RCC and secular humanist perspectives:
Man is entirely the work of the Creator. Even though psychology does not take this into account in its researches, in its experiments and clinical applications, it is always on the work of the Creator that it labors; this consideration is essential from the religious and moral point of view, but as long as the theologian and the psychologist remain objective, no conflict need be feared, and both can proceed in their own fields according to the principles of their science.83
Further, he affirms the value of the science of psychology, noting that, “Tests and other psychological methods of investigation have contributed enormously to the knowledge of the human personality and have been of considerable service to it.”84 At the same time he recognizes there are limits to the authority that psychology possesses. He asserts that “Moral law teaches that scientific demands do not by themselves alone justify the indiscriminate use of psychological techniques and methods, even by serious psychologists and for useful objectives.”85 Psychological methodology is subject to moral law (which is derived by nature, revelation, and reason all working in concert). To solidify that point, Pius adds,
Psychology as a science can only make its demands prevail insofar as the echelon of values and higher norms to which We have referred and which includes right, justice equity, respect of human dignity, and well ordered charity for oneself and for others, is respected. There is nothing mysterious in these norms. They are clear for any honest conscience and are formulated by natural reasoning and by Revelation. Inasmuch as they are observed, there is nothing to prevent the just demands of the science of psychology in favor of modern methods of investigation from being asserted.86
While these papal assertions correctly subject psychology to theistic metaphysics and to moral law, the metaphysics and morals are still co-written by Text and Tradition. This allows room for equal input from the discipline or the science, along with the Text and the Tradition. Michael Horne, Catholic Charities Director of Clinical Services, identifies a distinctiveness of Catholic counseling found in the striving “to integrate the Catholic faith into all our services.”87 Catholic Therapist, John Chavez, also advocates an integrative approach, observing that,
…most clinical psychologists favor a traditional approach to treatment relying on their particular theoretical orientations…Many of these orientations have proven to be effective both for mental illness and daily life problems…However, as a Catholic clinical psychologist, I have not found it always helpful to rely exclusively on traditional methods of therapy. Instead I have found that using both traditional and Catholic-based approaches to therapy are much more effective.88
The B+T/RCC approach is integrationist in the sense that Catholic therapists “employ the same empirically-supported psychotherapeutic techniques as mainstream psychotherapy,”89 as long as they don’t directly contradict the tenets of Text and Tradition.
The B+T/PSP approach, on the other hand, borrows from secular humanism in some key areas, and also deviates in some foundational aspects. Where secular humanism attempts consistency in applying worldview to a discipline, is transparent in its denial of God and spiritual things, and gambles everything on the naturalistic premise and the resulting biopsychosocial model, B+T/PSP holds to the existence of God and the supernatural, and ultimately dispenses with consistency in favor of an appealing middle ground. B+T/PSP subjects all but God’s existence (and the idea that God revealed Himself) to popular scientific standards, thus perceiving many theological conclusions through the lens of repeatability and provability. More than a few of these conclusions are compatible with materialistic rather than Biblically theistic thinking. Consequently, prescriptions are rooted in materialistic-friendly descriptions. In B+T/PSP thought, there is little to dislike of contemporary mainstream psychology beside the basic anti-supernatural premise. The problem here is that the premise simply invalidates the Bible in its entirety. I refer to this as The Oil and Water Problem—if presuppositions and methods don’t align, how can the conclusions possibly be expected to align?
B+t: The Hopeful Middle Ground
Clinical Psychologist Sarah Rainer illustrates the hopeful middle ground of the B+t approach. It is notably integrationist, and virtually identical to B+T/RCC. She recognizes that,
The intricacies of the human brain, the environmental influences on our personality, and the social and culture impact on our lives remind me that pathology cannot simply be reduced to issues of morality or sin. On the other hand, as a Christian, I acknowledge that all humans are inherently separated from God. This separation causes disorder, sin, and disease of every kind… I propose that Christian mental health professionals operate on a middle ground, the bio/psycho/social/spiritual model, which considers both our dignity and depravity as humans.90
At first glance this middle ground looks and sounds like B+T, in that mental and environmental issues seem to share equal prominence with sin and depravity. However, she does clarify an order of priority: “The use of some secular therapy interventions is not inherently wrong; the overreliance and/or independent use of these techniques is… When research and Christianity contradict each other, we follow the latter.”91 But while asserting the superiority of the “B” over the “t,” the model that Rainer proposes seems to contradict that assertion. Whereas secular humanism operates on a biopsychosocial model, Rainer proposes a bio/psycho/social/spiritual one. The spiritual component is segregated, and it is last. This model seems to simply add a component to the biopsychosocial model, rather than to recognize that the Bible presents humanity as a spiritual being who possesses the other traits.92 This is the tension evident within an integrationist approach. It does attempt to utilize all sources of knowledge, but has difficulty in prioritizing. It chooses the Bible when there are clear contradictions, but may not prioritize the Bible when there are not contradictions (e.g., bio/psycho/social/spiritual model).
It also seems to underemphasize Biblical training. If the spiritual issues are equally as important as the other issues, then shouldn’t a therapist have an equal amount of training in understanding the Biblical metaphysic and all of what that implies? Other issues worthy of further investigation here are the superimposing of brain and mind illness, definitions in pathology, and perspectives on the environment and culture as non-moral. Once again, the Oil and Water Problem seem to be in view.
To resolve some of these integrative tensions, some within the B+t community have advocated a “Christian Psychology” application, which develops a separate stream of psychology science within the Christian faith tradition. It does this by establishing and relying on validity of instruments within the tradition itself: methodology is a combination of conceptual historical and empirical research. It asserts that the “Foundational commitment of Jesus’ psychology is to love (unconditional positive regard),”93 that research supports the idea that praying and meditative communion with God has beneficial effects,94 and that “Christian beliefs about sin and about grace broadly predict better psychological adjustment.”95 This brand of Christian Psychology is focused not on deconstruction of secular theories but construction of its own. Roberts adds, “If a psychology is at heart an ethical system, an ideal of human functioning with corollary ideas about what’s wrong with people and how they can move from dysfunction to better function, then Christianity has always been in the psychology business, and should take its proper place among the various psychologies that are being offered today.”96 Roberts finds it troubling that if psychology is scientific at its core, then there should not be a diversity of modern psychologies. He notes that, “we do not see eight or ten rival chemistries all operating in the same decade so that the student has to study them and choose which one he likes best.”97 Roberts observes that “Physics and chemistry are scientific at their conceptual core, while psychologies—at least the kind that we call personality theories and clinical models—are scientific on the periphery.”98 If psychology is only peripherally scientific, then, “every psychology is at its core an ethical-spiritual conceptual system that is less than fully dictated by mere observations of human beings,”99 and “when we study psychology we are always studying “ideology.”100 While this approach has the advantages of understanding that psychology is not in itself a hard science101 and it engages in research to positively construct a Christian psychology, the familiar disadvantages limit the potential of this approach: tradition and historical perspectives (historical theology) are elevated to prescriptive status, and this model is more focused on a “Christian” rather than Biblical psychology and worldview.
Another B+t approach that has become popular in the last thirty years is Nouthetic Counseling. Jay Adams introduces this system that he pioneered:
While the name is new, the sort of counseling done by nouthetic counselors is not. From Biblical times onward, God’s people have counseled nouthetically. The word itself is Biblical. It comes from the Greek noun nouthesia (verb: noutheteo). The word, used in the New Testament primarily by the apostle Paul, is translated “admonish, correct or instruct.” This term, which probably best describes Biblical counseling, occurs in such passages as Romans 15:14: I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and competent to counsel one another…The three ideas found in the word nouthesia are confrontation, concern, and change…To put it simply, nouthetic counseling consists of lovingly confronting people out of deep concern in order to help them make those changes that God requires.102
Adams’ description of Nouthetic methodology is distinctive, and worth repeating here:
By confrontation we mean that one Christian personally gives counsel to another from the Scriptures. He does not confront him with his own ideas or the ideas of others. He limits his counsel strictly to that which may be found in the Bible, believing that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction and for disciplined training in righteousness in order to fit and fully equip the man from God for every good task.” (2 Timothy 3:16,17)…The nouthetic counselor believes that all that is needed to help another person love God and his neighbor as he should, as the verse above indicates, may be found in the Bible….By concern we mean that counseling is always done for the benefit of the counselee. His welfare is always in view in Biblical counseling. The apostle Paul put it this way: “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to counsel you as my dear children” (1 Corinthians 4:14)… Plainly, the familial nature of the word noutheteo appears in this verse. There is always a warm, family note to biblical counseling which is done among the saints of God who seek to help one another become more like Christ…Christians consider their counseling to be a part of the sanctification process whereby one Christian helps another get through some difficulty that is hindering him from moving forward in his spiritual growth…By change we mean that counseling is done because there is something in another Christian’s life that fails to meet the biblical requirements and that, therefore, keeps him from honoring God…All counseling—Biblical or otherwise—attempts change.103
Adams emphasize that only Biblical counselors know what a counselee should become, and that the result of counseling should be that the counselee should look more like Christ.104 Even though Adams’ approach is decidedly behavioristic, he does acknowledge that it is God who makes the changes in the person “as His word is ministered in the power of the Spirit.”105
The greatest advantage of the Nouthetic approach is that it truly attempts to exalt the sufficiency of Scripture. Further, it rejects mainstream, integrated, and Christian psychology. However, there are some significant disadvantages: Nouthetic is imbalanced, in that all counseling is considered to be admonishment; it is very behavioristic and sin focused; it abandons the discipline of psychology altogether; it is rooted in the B+t of contemporary Reformed or Covenant theology. Each of these concerns is significant enough to warrant discussion here.
80 Using the same verb as in 2:11.
81 Of course, these are not the only forms of Biblical counseling, but they do seem to exemplify essential techniques of a Biblical approach to transformative learning.
82 That is to say that both work from the same presupposition that the Bible and Tradition (or the doctrines of the field) have essentially equal authority.
83 Pope Pius XII, “Applied Psychology” addressed to the Rome Congress of the International Association of Applied Psychology, April 10, 1958, I3a, viewed at https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/P12APPSY.HTM.
84 Ibid., II.
85 Ibid, II1.
88 John Chavez, “Catholic-Based Psychotherapy” CatholicTherapists.com, viewed at https://www.catholictherapists.com/articles/catholic-based-psychotherapy-341.
89 Ryan Howes, “The Varieties of Religious Therapy: Catholicism: Psychology According to Catholic Scholars,” Psychology Today, Sept. 21, 2011, viewed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-therapy/201109/the-varieties-religious-therapy-catholicism.
90 Sarah Rainer, “The Integration of Psychology and Christianity: A Guest Post by Sarah Rainer,” Christianity Today, Sept. 25, 2014, viewed at https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/september/concerning-psychology-and-christianity-guest-post-by-sarah-.html.
92 Genesis 2:7, Adam became a living soul (nephesh), In Job 7:11, Job possesses both spirit (ruach) and soul (nephesh).
93 Robert Roberts and Paul Watson, “Christian Psychology,” October 17, 2013, viewed at https://prezi.com/96xraoi3vjja/christian-psychology-robert-c-roberts-paul-j-watson/?webgl=0).
96 Robert Roberts, “Redeeming Psychology Means Recovering the Christian Psychology of the Past,” Responding, June 1, 2009, viewed at https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/redeeming-psychology-means-recovering-the-christian-psychology-of-the-past/.
101 Though there are certainly physiological scientific factors e.g., brain science which it engages.
102 Jay Adams, “What is “Nouthetic” Counseling?” Institute for Nouthetic Studies, viewed at http://www.nouthetic.org/about-ins/what-is-nouthetic-counseling.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.