4-Mat Review: Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity SUMMARY
In David Entwistle’s book, Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity (2010), he explores two potentially divergent disciplines: psychology and theology. He then considers whether integration of these two disciplines is attainable, desirable, or necessary (p. 16). The author points out that regardless of the discipline being discussed, everyone formulates their belief system based on their own particular worldview.
Entwistle cites a definition of worldview given by James Sire which is particularly apt: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions, (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world” (p. 57). Essentially, each of us views the world through the lens of our own beliefs, assumptions and experiences; each of us, though not accurately so, assumes that the worldview with which we were raised is correct. In our attempt to ascertain what is actually truth, Entwistle states that there are limitations, such as individual worldviews, the finite nature of humans, human weakness, sin, personal assumptions, methodological limitations, and the availability of information, among other things. Although there have been times in history when psychology and theology have worked cooperatively, they have mostly been at odds. Psychology relies primarily on empirical and rational methods; it assumes the world is knowable and predictable.
The goal of psychology is to improve life by minimizing suffering and maximizing the positive. On the other hand, theology asserts that the Bible is the ultimate source and guide for faith and practice. In additionto natural, there also supernatural explanations. Theology claims that humans are created in the image of God, yet finite and sinful. Among other things, theology also provides for salvation and sanctification (p. 115). Entwistle discusses five different models which help to frame the relationship between psychology and theology: Enemies, Spies, Colonialists, Neutral Parties, and Allies. The Enemies model says that psychology and theology are mutually exclusive and fundamentally opposed to each other; there is no common ground.
The Spies model still keeps each of the two disciplines as very separate entities with a primary allegiance to one of the two, yet there is a certain amount of borrowing from the other. Those practicing the Colonialist model rely almost solely on theology to make sense of the world; psychology is used only to reinforce the truths of Scripture. The Neutral Parties model seeks to keep psychology and theology completely independent of each other, although there may be certain parallels between the findings of both. Finally, the Allies model employs methods from both psychology and theology, but both are completely governed by God’s sovereignty. According to Entwistle, God has given us two books: the Word of God and the Works of God. Even though we acknowledge that the “works” of God are far from perfect, the author says that the Word of God still does not trump, as the two work in harmony and reinforce one another. Even with this acknowledgement, there will still be difficulties when integrating theology and psychology. These difficulties must be addressed appropriately and professionally in the name of, and for the glory of, Jesus Christ.
I grew up in a conservative Christian home where things like playing cards, smoking, using crude language, and drinking alcohol were taboo. I do believe some of these issues are definitely addressed in the Bible, but what is often referred to as “social drinking” is not a clear cut “right” or “wrong”. When I was in college I spent a summer working in ministry with a group of other college-age individuals who whose lifestyle was considerably different than mine, especially in the area of alcohol consumption; they were all quite comfortable with it and imbibed regularly. When I went back home for a weekend, I challenged my father about the way we were raised; how could teetotalers as wells as social drinkers both consider themselves “Christian”? My father has since passed away, and I still have the highest regard and respect for him, but he was unable to answer my question in a way that gave me any satisfaction.
Drinking was always just “something we don’t’ do.” End of discussion. As our own children have grown older and started to formulate their own beliefs and standards, they have challenged me to give a reason for why I believe what I believe. I have a strong desire for our children’s worldview to be broader, so we dialogue openly about this issue. They may still choose (as I have) to abstain totally from drinking alcohol, but I want them to understand clearly why they have made that choice.
I especially appreciated Entwistle’s treatment of the subject of “worldview”, as this concept has been somewhat of an enigma to me. I had the impression that worldview included only the major beliefs, such as syncretism, polytheism, animism, monotheism, modernism,postmodernism, etc., and while it was helpful to learn more about them, it was especially beneficial to learn that worldview includes an individual’s personal background and experiences. Having this knowledge about clients would give me a “framework” from which to address their issues. An area where I felt confused was Entwistle’s discussion of Francis Bacon’s claim that there are two books–God’s Word and God’s Works. Entwistle contends that God’s Works are on an equal footing with God’s Word, but I can’t agree with that. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was [emphasis added] God.” (John 1:1, New International Version) If the Word is actually God, is it not on a higher level than the Works of God? While God’s Works were once perfect in their original state, sin entered the world and changed that. God’s Word was divinely inspired and is infallible; should that not make it more of an authority? In a counseling situation, I will be much more likely to trust the authority of God’s Word in dealing with troublesome issues than I would be to consult God’s Work. God’s Work is a creation of God’s; the Creator should trump the creation.
While reading this book, so many questions about the integration of theology and psychology have been swirling in my mind. I have never been overly concerned about the distinction between the two because I have always view
psychology as a scientific tool with great value, but (like any tool) it must have the right application. How much do I rely on God’s Word in a counseling situation, and how much do I rely on the science of psychology? I trust that I will know the correct mixture when I need to, but overall I trust God’s Word to be the final word. I will continue to study and try to understand psychological principles, but I am struck by how imperative it is that I know and understand the Bible. Through personal and corporate Bible study, I want to “be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2b, NIV) My plan of action will be simply to continue to do what I am doing. Liberty University will prepare me academically, and through my practicum with Oasis Counseling in Norfolk, Nebraska, I will learn specific psychological and theological methods that will help me my fill my own counseling toolbox.
Entwistle, D. N. (2010). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity. Eugene,
Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers.