Scripture and You

How Christian Psychology Opposes Genuine Conversion & True Sanctification

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
So-called Christian psychology holds out "emotional and relational health" as the goal of the Christian life rather than denying ourselves pleasing Christ.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

 

To sinful eyes, Bible-believing Christians may often appear to share deep "psychological problems" with King David, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, or the Apostles Peter and Paul. But the so-called Christian psychology movement offers un-Biblical solutions to these alleged personality ills. Scripture declares that the goal for Christians is not "emotional and relational health" as these counselors claim, but growing conformity to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the 21st century growing numbers of pastors pursue master's and doctoral degrees, not to deepen their knowledge of the Word of God so they may feed Christ's sheep, but to establish themselves as professional psychological counselors. In many parts of the United States and in other countries, pastors thus place themselves under the jurisdiction and control of the secular state, surrendering to it the right to regulate the conduct of their ministries.

The strategy of the Christian psychology movement is to infiltrate psychological counseling into the church in place of the work of the omnipotent Holy Spirit through the living, powerful Word of God. But it is Holy Scripture, not psychological counseling, that is

living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Christian Psychology's False Assertions

Organizations such as the California-based Center for Enriching Relationships are on a mission, as their website states, to "fully equip the next generation of Christian therapists, [and] strategically locate them in churches..."[1] Such organizations justify their mission by false claims such as these, from an article on the CER website:

Despite what early psychologists, like Freud, and anti-psychology Christians believe, psychology and spirituality are complimentary, not antithetical. Currently, we are seeing a growing realization among therapists, both secular and spiritual, that human spirituality is a source of great strength. Spirituality imparts deeper metaphysical meaning to our lives. Faith shifts our vision from our own shortcomings and weakness and points us to a power much greater than anything we possess. The spiritual component of human experience is recognized as a viable source of inspiration and strength to produce change.

More specifically, more and more Christians recognize that psychological observations illuminate our understanding of human cognition, emotionality and experience. Whereas the Bible gives some very specific instructions on how one might become more emotionally and spiritually healthy, psychology gives us insight into the emotional and mental dynamic of our experience and provides us with tools to enact the Bible's instructions. Let me illustrate with a few examples.[2]

The author of this article goes on to say that Christians must add Cognitive Therapy to Scripture to "identify our self-limiting beliefs and cognitive distortions." Cognitive Therapy is a method invented by secular psychologist Aaron Beck, who died in 2021 at age 100, to help people overcome negative thoughts about themselves, the world, and the future.[3]

We must, the author of the article asserts, also replace the work of the Holy Spirit with Psychoanalytic Therapy to see, as he falsely claims the Apostle Paul did, that we "sin as something separate from ourselves." Psychoanalytic Therapy is a set of psychological techniques rooted in the theories of Sigmund Freud, denying the sin nature and reducing human behavior to the level of mere animal instincts.[4] The emphasis in Christian psychology is on improved self-esteem as the key to "emotional and relational health."[5]

Authentic Christians must view such statements with Biblical discernment, and recognize that they are falsehoods. Let us examine the assertions above point by point.

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

Is "human spirituality" the "source of great strength" for the genuine Christian? The Bible knows nothing of "human" spirituality. Scripture draws a sharp line of demarcation between the dead works of the flesh and life in the Holy Spirit, between the false wisdom of sinful man and "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God":

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Romans 8:1-9)

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent."

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Is repairing our self-esteem the key to Christian living? What say the Scriptures? The Apostle Paul had no thought of self-esteem, nor did he find strength within his own thoughts:

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12-14)

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame - who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:7-21)

Is sin something "separate from ourselves"? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit exhorts heavenly-minded Christians to "put to death your members which are on the earth" (3:5). The "members" he then names are not parts of the body, but sins which are just as much a part of us:

...fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.

A Major Obstacle to Genuine Conversion

The Center for Enriching Relationships is typical of many contemporary institutions, including many Christian colleges and seminaries, in its attempts to justify supplanting the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word of God with sinful man's psychology. Again, from their website:

If "All truth is God's truth," then psychological observation of human emotional and mental processes, and the interventions developed from this observation, can only help us achieve the emotional and relational health we desire and will in no way contradict God's will for our lives.

Here is the essential difficulty in such a statement: Man is not the arbiter of what constitutes "God's truth." It was for this very reason that on the night before He was crucified Jesus prayed this to the Father for all Christians: "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth" (John 17:17). It is our tendency, in the flesh, to stray from the truth:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1)

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them (2 Timothy 3:13-14)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season [more literally, when people are ready to hear it and when they are not]. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5)

Is psychology the answer to man's sin problem? It denies the sin nature and the true definition of sin. It deflects personal responsibility for sin. It obscures the fact that God is the One sinned against in every sin. It effectively denies the need for repentance, casts darkness over Scripture's declaration of the necessity of sanctification, replaces a heaven-ward outlook with unhealthy introspection, and encourages Christians to feel comfortable in this present evil world instead of understanding that they are aliens, pilgrims, and strangers here.

So-called Christian psychology opposes genuine conversion and true sanctification. It is a leading reason why much of today's post-evangelical church is no true church at all.

"Negative thoughts" about ourselves, the world, and the future are the Holy Spirit's work as He "convict[s] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and and of judgment" (John 16:8). The only hope for ourselves, the world, and the future is to be found in the perfect person and saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ, not psychology. In tragic contrast so-called Christian psychology holds out a nebulous "emotional and relational health" as the goal of the Christian life rather than denying ourselves and pleasing Christ.

Christians this side of glory may often appear, to sinful eyes, to have the same "psychological problems" they would allege were to be found in King David, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, or the Apostles Peter and Paul. But the issue is not a well-composed personality on human terms, but growing conformity to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ:

That I may know Him... (Philippians 3:10)

He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)

References:

1. "Our Mission", Center for Enriching Relationships, as viewed at https://www.enrichingrelationships.org/our-mission, February 2022.

2. William Armentrout, "Integration of Christianity and Psychology" as viewed at https://www.enrichingrelationships.org/blog/2016/2/7/integration-of-christianity-and-psychology, February 2022.

3. A.T. Beck, Cognitive Therapy and The Emotional Disorders (Madison, CT: International Universities Press, 1975)

4. Erich Fromm, The Revision of Psychoanalysis (New York: Westview Press, 1992) pages 12-13.

5.  Armentrout, op. cit.

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