What’s wrong with considering psychology as ‘special revelation’?
Based on their belief in ‘special revelation’, some church leaders focus on psychology (or, more precisely, on psychotherapy) rather than biblical guidelines when they are teaching and counseling. In their teachings and counseling, it is psych-speak that reigns, and not the sovereign Word of God. ‘Special revelation’ refers to the idea that truth about God and about the spiritual realm can be obtained by other means than by God’s revelation in the Bible. The claim that ‘special revelation’ has the same authority as God’s revelation in the Bible is based on the abused concept that ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ Unfortunately, for a growing number of church leaders the obvious source of ‘special revelation’ is psychology.
Many view psychology as just another scientific endeavor such as medicine, physics, chemistry, or biology. Some areas of psychology that observe people and study aspects of people such as cognition, intelligence, and brain functions are outside of the biblical scope and therefore do not contradict Scripture. However, for most of us psychology is connected to therapy, mental health, and the main source of solving problems. In other words, psychology claims insights into human nature and tells us how we should deal with our problems in life. Both Scripture and psychology claim to be experts on who we are and how we should live and this is where psychology and Scripture collide. The teachings of psychology and of Scripture are fundamentally different and they cannot go hand-in-hand.
Psychology teaches that humans are basically good (or at least neutral), Scripture teaches that humans are basically bad (we are sinners). Psychology teaches that people misbehave because of outside forces, Scripture teaches that people misbehave because we are rotten at the core and rebel against God. Psychology focuses on analyzing the past to find out how, when and where people are damaged (assuming that the actual or imagined psychological damage is the root cause of bad behavior). Scripture focuses on the present and tells us to take personal responsibility for our own sins in the here and now, while ignoring psychological damage (implying that this actual or imagined damage is not the root cause of bad behavior).
Psychology tells us that we should focus on ourselves and on reaching our full potential (embracing psychological concepts such as healing our actual or imagined inner wounds, loving ourselves, being happy, self-fulfillment, self-actualization, etc.). Scripture tells us that we must submit to God (worship God), deny ourselves, and that our ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God (live our lives in gratitude toward God and please him in all we do). In other words, psychology is man-centered, Scripture is God-centered. Psychology tells us that we can be healed by a professional counselor, Scripture teaches that only the Word of God can transform us.
Psychology is just over a hundred years old and has already overtaken our society and also many churches. Just a thought: if psychology is really crucially important to understand who we are, what’s wrong with us and how we should deal with that, then why did the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, leave his church in the dark for 1900 years before he gave us psychology as a ‘special revelation’ on how to keep his commands?
It’s important to realize that scientific discoveries (including psychological discoveries) are never absolutely true. What is true today may be proven wrong tomorrow. What we call ‘scientific truth’ cannot compete at all with biblical truth. That’s why ‘all truth is God’s truth’ cannot be used as an argument for special revelation. Psychological truths will never be absolute truths with the same authority as biblical truth. Jesus claimed to be the truth (Jn. 14:6). This biblical truth is not only absolutely true, it is also supremely relevant and cannot be discovered by human beings on their own. That’s why God revealed it to us through his Word. Therefore, it’s wrong to replace biblical guidelines by psychotherapy when teaching and counseling.
But does psychotherapy work? Yes, it does. However, for us Christians it is not a matter of “does it work?” The real question is “does it follow biblical guidelines or not?” Bruce Wampold’s The Great Psychotherapy Debate (2001) showed that (1) the alliance between the patient and the therapist is the key factor, (2) the personality of the therapist is a significant factor, and (3) the therapist’s strength of belief in the efficacy of the technique is also a factor for successful treatment, but that (4) the type of treatment, (5) the theoretical bases of the techniques used, and (6) the strictness of adherence to those techniques are not factors for successful treatment.
Bruce Wampold’s conclusions reveal some core biblical principles. First, it’s all about the relationship between the counselor and the client: is there a click between the two? Second, the personality of the counselor is of significance: does the counselor have a talent or gift for counseling? Third, the belief system of the counselor: does he or she really believe in his/her own methods? It helps tremendously if the counselor and the client share the same worldview. Therefore, it’s very important that Christians are supported and counseled by mature Christian friends who are grounded in the Word of God in order to direct them to God and only to God.
Because the teachings of psychology and of Scripture are fundamentally different, they cannot go hand-in-hand. The biblical view and the psychological view on who we are and how we should live are incompatible on a deep level. Therefore, churches should discard the psychological view and adhere to the biblical view.
By following Scazzero’s psychological concept of ancestral bondage, church leaders encourage the members of their congregation to search for actual or imagined psychological damage in the past, assuming that the alleged damage is the root cause of bad behavior. Scazzero’s ancestral bondage tells us that our ancestral family—going back three to four generations (this is to the mid-1800s)—significantly impacts our lives: “unfortunately, it is not possible to erase the negative effects of our history” (p. 96).
Scazzero also states that these family-bound behavioral patterns are “hardwired into our brains” and “deeply imbedded in our DNA” (p. 99, 100). Scazzero seems to believe that there is a spiritual ancestral bondage that determines present behavior and requires special action in order to be broken. However, according to Scripture there is no such thing as an ongoing bondage for those who love God and keep His commands. Ezekiel 18 makes it very clear that, although our parents influence us, they do not determine if God’s grace is on our lives or not. Neither did Jesus teach that difficulties arise from the sins of our parents (Jn. 9:1-12). The apostle Paul teaches us that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:12-15). According to Scripture, there is no determinism of our past. In our churches, we should accept the biblical view that sin is the root cause of bad behavior.
Pieter Bouma is mainly occupied by teaching and writing. Inspired by the big questions of life (Does God exist? Where do we come from? How should we live? Is there an afterlife?), his main focus is on discipleship, explaining the New Covenant, apologetics in general and the question of origins in particular. Having a strong preference for direct, personal relationships (shared lives), Pieter is not active on Twitter, but will post regularly on Theology Mix.