Dynamics of Pastoral Care: extract 2/2 – Theological engagement with psychology


This is a second extract from our seminary-level module ‘Dynamics of Pastoral Care’ which can be bought for self-study here.  The first extract can be found here.

Faculty member Jonny Woodrow’s lectures to introduce this module have been published here.

Theological engagement with Psychology

How do we relate to psychology and the secular views of the self with a biblical worldview? First, we need to recognise that psychology and the human sciences are on to something. They operate by a light from God. 

We need to recognise that researchers in the human sciences spend more time observing and describing patterns of behaviour than most of the rest of us. They will therefore generate descriptions of human behaviour that can be useful to us. They are more likely to be able to detect patterns of behaviour, emotional states and thinking that tend to occur together. However, they are already thwarted in their project of description by their starting place of the autonomous and self-crafting human. 

Everything in the world is reinterpreted by God. It is created by his word and so he has more than an opinion on what a thing is: he upholds it with his word. All human scientific investigation is reliant on God and the created order he upholds by his word, in order to function. Therefore, there is no such thing as neutral human observation, description or interpretation; there is either description and interpretation, of the things that science observes, that presuppose God’s word, or there are interpretations that are contaminated by the Romans 1:18-23 reflex to supress the truth about God and deny self-in-relational-to-God. 

The secular human sciences are like all cultural endeavours. They borrow concepts from God’s general revelation in creation and from special revelation (the Bible), in order to fashion God-denying explanations out of it all. Therefore, as we approach psychological and human science accounts of human life, we will find observations that are true but embedded in false presuppositions and interpretations - lacking key facts about our design and purpose. They will seek to understand the self while repressing the knowledge of the very relationship that constitutes selfhood: self in relation to God. They will display all the hallmarks of a fragmented view of the self, lacking coherence and purpose and of course the history of God’s creating, reconciling, and perfecting activity. 

All this means that Christians, with a robust biblical view of the human, can offer a truly holistic and coherent view of the human.  They can take up the best of human science’s observations at the descriptive level, reinterpret them in the register of scripture and doctrine, reject the explanatory grid of the humanities and offer back theologically-framed explanations and categories for the things that have been observed.

Tom Olyott