How to view the field of psychology

How is psychology viewed in the PCA and fellow traveler camps? Is it generally accepted, rejected, or mixed?

@FaithAlone, I answer based on memories of psych studies way back in the undergraduate days, similar course work in seminary, reading over the past 50 years, and observation of sinners and saiants over the same period. Based on that, such as it is, I think this:

  1. Clinical psychology, insofar as its subject matter is purely clinical - that is, reporting patterns of a psychological nature, such as a scientist would record and report - can be useful and helpful to a pastor or someone whose ministry aims at counseling.

  2. On the other hand, what I’ll call theoretical psychology, which attempts to explain these patterns and to predict how intervention into those patterns will result in changes to the person displaying such patterns … well, that’s where you can get into trouble, because the premises of such psychological theory are fundamentally false, often fundamentally hostile to what the Scriptures reveal about human psychology.

Reading psychological literature can be challenging, because the observational data and the theories propounded to explain the data are all together mixed up with one another, and unless you’ve invested enough time to learn the psychological lingo it’s easy to misunderstand and/or be bamboozled by that literature.

There’s a parallel in all this with a work of sociology that I continually recommend to pastors, namely Steve Goldberg’s Why Men Rule: A Theory of Male Dominance, originally published under the title The Inevitability of Patriarchy. Goldberg sets himself two tasks in this work:
to demonstrate

  1. that human societies at all places on earth, at all times for which we have actual evidence (as opposed to speculative theories), are patriarchal; conversely that there is no hard evidence for any society that ever was matriarchal; and,
  2. to explain why this is so.

In his first task, Goldberg is dealing with the hard evidence in the fields of sociology and historical anthropology. In his second task, Goldberg is working in the area of theoretical sociology and theoretical anthropology. Goldberg is - like all his colleagues in academe - an atheistic materialist. So, the results of his second task are of limited utility to the Christian, who has a wholly different explanation for what he agrees with Goldberg concerning the hard evidence.

Reading psychological literature is more challenging because the authors do not, as Goldberg did, so neatly separate their observations and organization thereof from the theories they propound to explain their observations.

Still, you can find some works - usually from the hard-sciences side of things - to bolster/confirm what you find plainly stated in the Scriptures. If you haven’t done so yet, read Oliver Sack’s hugely entertaining and illuminating work The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat. Drawing on his years as a neurological clinician, Sacks relates case studies of his patients who displayed extravagantly bizarre psychological aberrations that arose from purely biological (i.e. material) causes. In so doing, Sacks gives powerful evidence of the fundamentally composite nature of mankind - a creature existing as a composite of spirit and matter.

Another consequence for Christian counselors from Sacks’ work is this: in any difficult counseling situation, one must never overlook the possibility that “merely” biological roots are generating the pathological psychological fruits that bring the person to a counselor rather than a physician. We’re complicated creatures, and the interplay between matter and spirit in our souls should never be discounted.


This answer from @Fr_Bill was so helpful it warranted separating this discussion out into its own topic.

In answer to the original question, my experience within the PCA is that psychology as a field is generally viewed favorably, though Christian psychologists are generally recommended. I’m sure Biblical Counseling™ has some adherents in the PCA, but I don’t remember the sort of vehement rejection of the whole field that I’ve seen among the ACBC set more generally. Not sure how representative my experiences are though.

That’s good to know, thanks.

Thanks, Bill. Your division of clinical psychology from theoretical psychology is something I’ve noticed also. I had made up the term observational psychology for what you call clinical psychology. It seems that there is benefit to what can be observed in experiments, but the busted anthropology of Freud, Freud’s kids, and the newer evolutionary psychology crowd leads to broken prescriptions.