Question and Answer

What is the Reformed church's position on Christian psychology?

Question:

I initially came to Christ for psychological reasons. When younger I had trouble with depression and though I could cure it by becoming religious. Needless to say it was a failure.

What is the Reformed church's position on Christian psychology and those who "sell" it? In my present non-reformed church it seems to be everywhere. Will I be able to get away from it's influence when I join the Reformed church?

Answer:

Thank you for writing. I am glad that the Lord has been working in your life. The book of Psalms and the book of Job show that even those who belong to Christ go through some very dark and difficult periods in their lives. The hope always remains the same: God is sovereign and wise and good and; if we are in Jesus Christ through faith and repentance, we are never abandoned.

The Reformed faith offers real answers because of its understanding of both God and man, more than any psychology can which takes as its starting place the mind of man. What I mean is this: secular psychology rejects the idea that man is so created in God's image who is unable to understand himself apart from knowing God. In other words, any psychological approach which ignores God as He is revealed in the Bible will be like the blind leading the blind. In God's mercy, secular psychology might stumble upon truth about man, but in ignoring the need for redemption in Jesus Christ, no solution secular psychology offers can truly deal with the heart. What it treats are symptoms not the disease. And the disease is sin which secular psychology is completely unable to deal with.

Much of what passes for counseling or psychology in evangelical churches begins with secular assumptions, that is, they take their starting point not from the Bible's teaching about God, man, sin, and redemption, but give a Christian sugar-coating to what are basically non-Christian ideas. The Reformed faith sees that the central need of man is for redemption and that only God can save. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is desperately corrupt or wicked and that we, by ourselves, are unable to plumb its depths and uncovers its needs. Then in Jeremiah 17:10 God announces that he, as the creator of man, knows the heart of man. Therefore, God is telling us that we have to come to him for understanding. It is out of the heart (not the physical organ of course) that the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34, 15:18-19), what we say and do shows what is truly inside of us. That is why Jesus will speak of a person who already commits adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:28) even if he never follows through. The thought is conceived and bears fruit in sin and eventually death (Jas. 1:14-15) and gives rise to all sorts of inter-personal problems (James 4:1-10). The reason that we find ourselves struggling with sin so frequently is because we have idols, things we love more than we love God, which we must protect and feed and serve. For instance, a man may make an idol out of his job, sacrificing his health and even his family to "get ahead." Why is he doing this? It could be that he is not simply being a diligent worker who wants to honor God but he is really an idolater who craves the applause and admiration of others and feels worthless when people aren't patting him on the back telling him what a hard worker he is.

The Reformed faith is unafraid to critique secular psychology because it begins with God's revelation about himself and man. There are Reformed writers who engage secular psychology from a biblical vantage point showing its weaknesses and also showing where there are legitimate insights. Beginning with the Bible means we can accurately understand where people start their thinking.

If there isn't a good theology behind our counseling or our psychology, however, we will heal the wounds of people lightly, never getting to the heart issues of who we really love and what we really value. God demands us supreme loyalty (the first great commandment) and we are to live that out by loving others (the second great commandment). Any counsel which allows the sinful commitments of the heart to go unchallenged will not really help. Most Reformed pastors have this advantage in counseling and it is not in years of training in counseling, it is in having a theological framework of biblical truth from which they work. They may not be "up" on the jargon of psychology but they should know their Bibles and the system of biblical truth we call the Reformed faith. If you haven't read through it, read the Westminster Confession of Faith as a framework for counseling or psychology, then see how it is pastorally applied in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. There is an amazing amount of solid and practical biblical counsel wraps up in those documents.

I do not know of any Orthodox Presbyterian church that pushes a secularized psychology. You can investigate the OPC by going to the website and listening to sermons there to get a sense of where the denomination is.


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