Is Psychology
the Root of All Evil?

by O. P. Martin


We often find ideas gleaned from the world of psychology in our Christian teaching and counseling today. Is this good, or, to what extent?

Anyone who thinks that Christianity and psychology can co-exist peacefully without either affecting the other is not well-informed. They both address the mind and human behavior. This is common ground, and we must see if the two agree or disagree.

Some use a "tossed-salad" approach in which one takes a little of what one likes from each discipline and attempts to blend them together. The world is famous for this approach, and it might seem like a good idea at first until we realize that God's Word is pure and most of the world's great leaders in psychology espouse teachings that run contrary to the Word. They will typically assume things like God being marginalized as an impersonal force or simply a product of neurosis, and like man being basically good and sufficient rather than fallen. They are attempting to measure unseen things using methodologies and interpretations that are arising from presuppositions without the benefit of divine revelation. Shall we, then, throw out all of psychology?

Then we have what Larry Crabb calls "nothing butterists" because they believe in nothing but the Bible. While it is refreshing to find people who have a high view of scripture, which we need, they go too far by insisting that one can never use any textbook other than the holy scriptures. This ignores the doctrine of general revelation. The Bible, though completely accurate in everything on which it comments, is not an exhaustive textbook on all knowledge of God's creation. When the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, this included great knowledge of things like animals and plant life which was not found in scripture. All truth is God's truth. We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Any popular human movement has a grain of truth to be found in it, often a truth that has been neglected in the church in recent times, but it is usually wrapped together with poisonous ungodly philosophy that runs contrary to scripture. This is how the devil works: bait and switch. He knows we will usually not fall for a pure lie.

Our job as responsible believers, then, is to study and honor God's Word as our highest priority, and then carefully filter anything offered to us from the world through the grid of biblical belief. In particular, when there is a conflict between science or human knowledge and the Bible, we must prefer the Bible. In rare instances, we might discover that we did not properly understand the Bible. But, usually, it is human understanding that will change over time. God does not change; and, if we see that the Bible is reliable in the 98% of it that we currently understand, we can have faith that it will remain reliable for the other 2%.

The task of filtering out the useful information from world-contaminated research is a difficult one. It is critical to spend more regular, prayerful time in the Word than time spent in secular training, in order to see the secular through the eyes of scripture and not the other way around. We must only admit the discovered truth that is compatible with the disclosed truth. Let's pray for our leaders for discernment.

Psychologists have discovered useful insights, even though they sometimes use them according to wrong assumptions. Counseling is more than identifying sin and commanding change. Exhortation may be appropriate in some circumstances, but not all, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, where warnings, encouragement, or help are required in different situations showing similar symptoms. Many problems are directly spiritual at root, but some may (partially) arise from physical conditions which are only indirectly caused by sin. Psychology is a tool that helps us get to the root issues so they can be addressed. And, the brain is a part of the body which can become diseased or injured like any other; in some cases medicine or other therapy may be appropriate.

It is probable that the human psyche is too complicated for us to figure out by ourselves without God's help, especially considering spiritual phenomena which are invisible to us. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us in our growth to maturity. To the extent that we participate in this process, the Bible should be at the helm; psychology should be the errand-boy. There is some evidence that God may indeed want us to "help" like little children. Consider where He says, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." -Matthew 5:48. Not that we can do so without Him, but the context is that we should love our enemies, as the Father did love us while we were yet sinners, and not that we should only love those from whom we are expecting something in return. "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." -Colossians 3:5, Romans 8:13. This shows that we are to do something. Finally, "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow...'" -Isaiah 1:18. We are to use our brains in the process of pursuing righteousness.

Our Lord made it clear - "if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away." -Matthew 5:30 - that we should remove anything that leads us into sin. People have tried removing physical parts of the body; that didn't work. Using our minds as we have been commanded, it seems the thing to do is consider how we developed sinful, often subtle styles of relating, probably in childhood, in which we were likely trying to protect ourselves in some way from the pain of not receiving perfect love at this time in this fallen world, as we desired. When we are motivated by selfish desires such as pride, greed, or lust, we are not free to see the needs of others clearly. If we can stop demanding to be pain-free during this life for the sake of knowing Christ, trusting Him when we do not have all the answers, and can teach ourselves the biblical truths which correct the lies we believed, then we will be well on our way to a more stable, passionate, and impactful Christian life. "Love one another deeply, from the heart. " -1 Peter 1:22.

Crabb sums up his survey of psychology which he finds consistent with scripture:
Man is responsible (Glasser) to believe truth which will result in responsible behavior (Ellis) that will provide him with meaning, hope (Frankl) and love (Fromm) and will serve as a guide (Adler) to effective living with others as a self- and other-accepting person (Harris), who understands himself (Freud), who properly expresses himself (Perls), and who knows how to control himself (Skinner). - "Effective Biblical Counseling", p. 56.
If we ignore psychology, we will tend to be rigid disciplinarians; if we compromise with it, we will promote licentiousness. The devil is equally pleased if we fly off to either extreme.

© copyright 2005-2007, O. P. Martin