Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 4: Psychology

What is the basic nature of man?

Is psychology a proper area of study for a Christian? Does it have an appropriate place in a Christian worldview? Psychology is the study of the soul and the mind. Although a massive topic (you can get a college major in it), it is appropriate for a Christian to study; indeed, only Christianity is suitable to study it! No other worldview can answer questions related to the soul and mind as well as Christianity can.

Biblical Christianity contains a psychology, and it is worthy of our study. Since man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), our worldview must recognize the significance of both the spiritual and the physical dimensions of man.

Psychology does have an appropriate place as a scientific discipline, where scientific observation is employed to study and learn about the mind. Much good work has come from such study. Unfortunately, much of "modern psychology" is filled with the biases of secular worldviews, and is consequently filled with error. This does not mean that Christians should entirely abandon psychology; instead, they should bring God's truth to its study.

Our minds are not merely physical objects; we have a "non-physical" part to our being. Our bodies may change and decay, but our minds remain continuous. Furthermore, man has a free will, which is an important element to consider in psychology.

Six areas of psychology are of importance in this lesson:

What is human nature? Man has a sin nature, which is a result of the fall (Genesis 3). This nature is inherently evil. When sin entered the world, man's relationship to God and his fellow man changed from what God intended it to be. Man has a natural tendency to rebel against God and His laws. Man's sinful nature is the cause of all psychological problems.

The doctrine of sin reminds us that each of us is responsible for his own behavior and choices. Mankind, because of sin, needs a Savior to give him a new nature.

What is guilt? Because man has rebelled against God, he has real guilt feelings about his rebellion; his conscience tells him that he has done wrong. Secular psychologists must devise ways to "explain away" guilt and its source. Christians recognize that guilt exists, and that it is a real consequence of sin, not a mental problem foisted upon us by our society or our environment.

What is mental illness? I will allow Jay Adams to speak on this subject:
"Organic malfunctions affecting the brain that are caused by brain damage, tumors, gene inheritance, glandular or chemical disorders, validly may be termed mental illnesses. But at the same time a vast number of other human problems have been classified as mental illnesses for which there is no evidence that they have been engendered by disease or illness at all....The fundamental bent of fallen human nature is away from God....Apart from organically generated difficulties, the 'mentally ill' are really people with unsolved personal problems." (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, pp. 28-29)
How should a Christian approach sin and guilt? Counseling must first recognize that man has a conscience, man is rebellious, and man therefore experiences real guilt. People must be pointed toward Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection, and they must realize their need to ask forgiveness for sin (both to God and men). Counseling must also stress personal moral responsibility for sin. Failure to recognize one's own responsibility allows a person to deny his own real guilt and avoid the main problem—alienation from a holy God.

Confession, forgiveness of sin through Christ (1 John 1:9), reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:17-21), and sanctification are requirements for a "healthy" walk in Christ.

How should a Christian view suffering? Secular psychology cannot alleviate all suffering in a person's life; indeed; it tries to avoid suffering at nearly any cost. Christian psychology believes that suffering can be used of God to bring about positive change in a person's life, whether it is disciplinary, to teach us valuable lessons, or even to teach us to "joyously endure" it. Suffering is inevitable due to sin, but it is not always negative.

The Christian and Society: Marxists and humanists believe that society is the source/cause of all "evil" in this world, but Christians believe that individuals are responsible for the evil in society. Consequently, no man can blame his sin on society, his environment, or anyone else.
"The choice between Christian psychology and all other psychological schools is clear-cut. As Kilpatrick says, 'Our really the same choice offered to Adam and Eve: either we trust God or we take the serpent's word that we can make ourselves into gods.'" (From Thinking Like a Christian, p. 77; the quote is from William Kilpatrick's book Psychological Seduction, p. 233)

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