Approaching psychology from a Christian worldview perspective requires that we must accomplish several tasks.
#1 We need to have an expansive definition of psychology.
#2 We need to understand the major worldview beliefs from psychology’s major theories and schools-of-thought.
#3 We need to understand what the Christian worldview has to say about psychology’s subject matter and its major theories and schools-of-thought.
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?
You can know a lot about a person’s worldview by the way they define ‘psychology.’ You can tell a lot about their worldview by what their definition includes and what it leaves out. In a sense, the major differences between Christian and naturalistic psychology can be distilled down to the definition of psychology. In fact, as we’ll see, disagreements among Christians about psychology can also be traced to the definition of the word.
Psychology is often defined narrowly – the scientific study of the human brain and behavior. Some people think psychology is all about mental illness, counseling, and psychiatric medications. We need an expansive definition because psychology is much more than the study of the brain and behavior, counseling theories, and psychiatric medications. It is the study of God’s grandest creation. You. Psychology is the study of your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and your free will. Psychology is the scientific study of every mental power and capacity. But that is not all.
The origin of the prefix ‘psych,’ or more accurately, ‘psyche’ (pronounced sy-key) is the Greek word ‘psuche.’ Psuche had two meanings. Psuche is the ‘life force’’– that which animates all life on earth. It differentiates life from non-life. All life, at least all animal life, has psuche. Psuche is as common as life. In this sense, psychology is the study of that which is common. Brains and behaviors are common.
But psuche had a second meaning. Psuche also describes something uniquely human, something special, and something spiritual. In this sense, psychology is also the study of that which is spiritual, special, and uniquely human. A full definition of psychology recognizes that humans are unique among life on earth and it makes room for the human heart, soul, and mind. With a big definition, it becomes clear that psychology is interested in topics dear to a Christian worldview – topics dealt with extensively in the Bible.
Psychology Is Old
Did you ever wonder who was the first person to wonder about the human mind? It may have been King David when he wrote, “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” Job was very interested in the causes of and cures for mental pain and suffering. Moses struggled with self-doubt.
It wasn’t called psychology and it wasn’t scientific, but there is a rich history of Christian theologians writing about psychology from the Christian perspective. The early church fathers wrote about, human nature, the mind, the soul, perceptions, emotions, and mental pain and suffering. Augustine wrote about love, sin, grace, memory, mental illumination, wisdom, volition, and the experience of time. Thomas Aquinas wrote about the motivation, the will, habits, virtues and vices, emotions, memory, and the intellect. Soren Kierkegaard, the most significant Christian psychologist since the Middle Ages, contributed profound psychological works. Jonathan Edwards and John of the Cross described spiritual development, sin, grace, knowledge, faith, and the nature of the Christian life.
The history of a Christian approach to psychology continues through the Protestant Reformation. Prior to Martin Luther nailing his theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, the Catholic church had been the ‘authority’ on all matters. Prior to the reformation, the Bible, Church scholars were the astronomers, physicists, doctors, and psychologists. After the reformation, the fathers of science (the grandfathers of modern psychology) had rejected Church authority and used reason, logic, careful observation, and experimentation to discover truths about the world, and eventually, the human mind.
PSYCHOLOGY IS YOUNG
Psychology is an old interest, but a young science. Students learn that the birth of modern psychology dates to 1879 when Wilhelm Wundt establish his laboratory at Leipzig University in German. It was a time when the science method was producing great discoveries and advancements in other disciplines. Wundt and the fathers of modern psychology applied scientific methods to study psychological phenomenon. That was new. Psychology, once a field for philosophers and theologians, became a science. As modern psychology developed, it emphasized that it was a natural science – a ‘hard’ science like physics and chemistry. It was also a time when Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was changing each of the natural sciences. As we’ll see, Darwin changed psychology, too.
WHAT IS A WORLDVIEW?
Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychiatry, defined worldview (weltanschauung) as an intellectual construction which gives a unified solution for all the problems of our existence… a comprehensive hypothesis in which no question is left open and that everything in which we are interested finds a place.
Worldviews are big. Worldviews leave no question open – they contain answers to the ultimate questions, like:
Is there a God?
How did we get here?
What does it mean to be human?
Is there truth and how can we know what is true?
Everyone has a worldview. Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, and psychology professors have worldviews. Each of us hold core foundational beliefs – convictions – through which we perceive and understand the world. Those foundational beliefs define your worldview. A worldview is, as the word suggests, a way of looking at the world. Your worldview is the conceptual framework that you use to give meaning to the world. It is made of your core beliefs and your most fundamental assumptions about the world.
You may not think about your worldview very often, but all intellectual activities, including scientific research, are interpreted and understood through one’s worldview. Ultimately, truth is only discernible from error at the worldview level. The Apostle Paul instructed Christians to submit every thought to the obedience of Christ. In psychology class, that means examining everything you learn through your worldview.
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW?
The first step toward examining psychology in light of the Christian worldview is to have a solid understanding of the Christian worldview. At its core, the Christian worldview is a biblical worldview. It begins with the Biblical account of God, creation, the fall, and the plan for redemption. It is the Biblical account of where we came from, our nature, and how we should live.
But the Christian worldview, like psychology, is big. It includes your beliefs about theology, epistemology, biblical anthropology, sin, the Church, end times, marriage, the family, standards of behavior, and much more. You could spend your career studying psychology or the Christian worldview, but our interest is in four questions where the Christian worldview and modern psychology intersect.
Where did we come from?
What are the sources of truth and knowledge?
What is human nature?
What are the causes of and cures for mental pain and suffering?
Approaching psychology from a Christian perspective means positively asserting that the Christian worldview is the most logical, internally consistent, and meaningful framework for understanding psychology. After all, it is God’s grandest creation.