Biblical Principles for Christian Maturity

John H. Stoll, Th.M., Ph.D

Copyright 1996, John H. Stoll

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Chapter 31 - Balancing Christianity and Psychology

There is a growing emphasis today upon combining modern day psychology with Biblical truth, much to the dismay of some, but in the interest of others, who wish to integrate the two. Some believe that trying to integrate the two philosophies or worldviews of life, is to the detriment of Biblical principles. Others feel that though psychology is basically tied to a humanistic philosophy, which it is, Christians can gain a degree of understanding that is able to help them better handle the problems of life we all face.

Though humanistic psychology has its flaws, to eliminate it altogether from meeting the needs of Christians, is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. One of the problems with human nature is to turn to one extreme to avoid another. Balance in life is both Biblical and desirable, in order to enjoy the fullness of life.

In order for one to both understand scripture, as well as the emotional aspect of life, and how Biblical principles can be applied to daily living, it is imperative to be guided by some basic assumptions.

First, a high view of scripture does not require that all knowledge must come from the Bible. God has given to all mankind a natural revelation of Himself (Romans 1:19,20). Granted that God's perfect revelation to mankind is imperfectly perceived through sin, yet he does understand some of God's revelation (Psalm 19). Even unregenerate people are able to learn God's truth through nature, as well as other avenues of learning.

Psychological elements of mankind are learned through empirical research and are valid truths, though not stated as such in scripture. It is not the knowledge gained in itself that causes the problem, but the human philosophy of life in the mind of the individual, in applying that knowledge to life's situations that becomes the problem.

Second, in order to achieve a high degree of Godly understanding, it is imperative to understand Biblical principles. The continual emphasis in the Bible to the Christian is to have a willing mind for the principles of God's Word, in order to grow in maturity (Romans 12:1,2; II Corinthians 8:12; I Peter 2:2; II Peter 3:18).

When psychological research relative to the mental/emotional elements of mankind are explored and applied, they can be checked against the principles of God's Word. If they are not contrary to them, they may be legitimately utilized. Some maintain that all we need for Godly living is found in the truth of the Bible, and that is so. However, since even Christians "see through a glass darkly" in life, we need not disdain the knowledge that God has allowed mankind to learn. It must coincide with God's truth, which supercedes all our understanding.

Third, in God's view of life, sin is still sin, not a personality problem or an addiction that can be rationalized. One may have a personality problem, which in itself is not sinful, but could cause one to fall into sin, or make one more vulnerable to sinning. Christ pointed out that out of the heart of mankind comes all forms of sin (Matthew 15:19), which humanistic psychology attributes to other causes, and rationalizes away the responsibility one has for his own behaviors.

Fourth, all assertions of unregenerate psychologists are not necessarily untruth. Psychology is an area of valid inquiry where one may learn from the research and insights of non-Christians. Much scientific knowledge that Christians use daily, comes from non-Christian understanding and exploration.

Some argue that scientific research that has produced the physical advantages of labor saving devices we all use, is one thing, but when unregenerate and humanistic individuals delve into the mental/emotional aspects of mankind, the application of their reasoning is contrary to the Biblical principles for living. This is what is said that Christians should not accept. Granted there is a difference, yet it does not necessarily follow that all humanistic psychological research is invalid. This is why the principles of the Bible are clear and understood when it comes to daily living. We can trust them for life itself, and at the same time appreciate the help that psychology is able to provide.

Fifth, Colossians 2:9 states that, "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily". In numerous ways a psychologist is able to help a Christian become more consciously aware of his needs, and better able to understand himself, and thus more intelligently find his needs supplied in Christ.

Finally, mental/emotional healing can come from psychotherapy, though this is not equivalent to Salvation. Becoming a regenerate person, cares for one's penalty for sin, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Spiritual maturity comes through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the truth of God's Word to life. A Christian psychotherapist can both provide help in the emotional/mental areas of the Christian life, as well as applying the principles of the Bible to those needs.

The Bible states that we are composed of Spirit, Soul, and Body (I Thessalonians 5:23). The Spirit is the life we have in Christ, the Soul is our will/emotions/mind, and our Body is the flesh. All three elements of ourself either positively or negatively interact with each other, constantly. To impact one element of our self, is to touch the other two. Therefore, we need to address all three elements simultaneously, in order to come to wholeness of life. Biblical psychotherapy is able to meet the needs of both the Spirit and the Soul, and medical help is able to meet the needs of the body.

When Christians accept psychology as a valuable tool of human behavior and understanding, one moves into a very delicate area of life. The human personality is complex beyond the total understanding of the most competent theologian or psychologist. The Bible states that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). The Bible provides final truth, as stated in its principles, which may or may not be understood by the Christian, for we are less than perfectly mature.

Thus, when psychology provides insight into human nature and its workings, it behooves the Christian to evaluate that understanding in light of Biblical principles, but not to arbitrarily dismiss it. To accept the Bible and reject psychology is just as extreme as to accept psychology and reject the Bible. Balance is needed, and spiritual discernment as to that balance is essential (I Corinthians 2:9-14; Colossians 2:8-10).

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