Since the Bible is sufficient for all of life, should we rule out psychology in counseling?
HORTON: This is where a quote from Calvin is so helpful. The Anabaptists, the radical Protestants of Calvin’s day, believed that secular learning itself—secular culture, secular science, secular rhetoric, and logic—was sinful. We should just study the Bible and get everything out of the Bible.
And the Reformers just were completely opposed to that idea, because it was undermining this very doctrine of God’s common grace—that God has graced the world with all sorts of truth, goodness, and beauty that we cannot destroy, though we would if we could. And that the Holy Spirit is at work, restraining people from being as evil as they could be in their destructive capabilities.
So Calvin says, “You’re insulting the Holy Spirit if you don’t believe this. If you think that a non-Christian can’t contribute anything to medicine, science, the arts, and so forth, then you are discrediting the Holy Spirit. You are insulting the Holy Spirit.” It’s a pretty strong statement.
Now then the question is, Do we know enough about what the Bible says to know when it’s being contradicted?
I think there are a lot of people who try to integrate any discipline we could think of but psychology especially, these sciences that are closer to theology, closer to making normative statements about the human person. A lot of people have a Sunday School understanding of theology and a graduate school understanding of psychology. And I think it’s really important to have a conversation where you have people who are saying, “You said ‘sin,’ but what I’m hearing is ‘dysfunction,’” and, “You’ve been using the word ‘saved,’ but do you really mean ‘recovery’?” What is the language you’re using here, and how is it being transformed in ways that aren’t helpful?
But we don’t simply reject every secular term that’s out there, or we would reject physics and biology and so forth.
There are a lot of issues that I’ve seen in the lives of people around me where, if they had not had a good psychologist and psychiatrist, they would have been in great trouble. If they had had a Christian come and tell them, “You need to pray more and read your Bible more and not see a psychologist or psychiatrist”—I’m talking about one who’s not undermining their faith—that would have been a great disservice to them.
GODFREY: Just as if someone has a clear pastoral sin problem, you want to send them to the most theologically reliable pastor you can find.
I think part of the problem a lot of us feel when we’re thinking about the usefulness of a psychologist or a psychiatrist is whether we are finding—to mix terms—the “Calvinist” one or the “Pelagian” one. And I think a lot of us feel we don’t know enough about psychology always to make those distinctions, and I think that’s why we struggle.
But I think you’re absolutely right. If we can find a “Calvinist” psychologist that would be the ideal thing, someone who knows about how our minds are working in ways that go beyond just the categories of sin and grace.
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of Michael Horton’s and W. Robert Godfrey’s answers given at our 2017 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.