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“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Let’s begin at the beginning with God, our nonnegotiable presupposition. He is our starting point, the window through which we view everything in our lives, assuming you are a Christian. You will never have a more solid foundation, starting point, or worldview than the Lord. He is the only person who can equip us for living well in His world. But knowing there is a God and that He is our foundation is not enough. We must have a system of thought, a way to think like He thinks (Isaiah 55:8–9). We cannot imitate Him if we do not know what He is thinking (Ephesians 5:1).
Believing in God or His existence is not enough. We need Him to fortify us when trouble comes (James 2:19). It would be best if we had a way of thinking about the human condition. To be more specific, we need a way of thinking about ourselves. There must be a body of knowledge to guide us into God’s truth (Philippians 4:8). If we possess this body of knowledge, we are ready to answer and engage some of our most life-perplexing questions. For example,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
The system of thought I am describing is called psychology. Psychology is the most accurate way to think about the human condition. It is a Bible-implied word. Like theology is a Bible-implied word that describes what we know about God, psychology explains what we know about people. The word psychology is a compound word that means psyche and logos. The word psyche means soul, and logos means the word concerning or the study of the soul.
Some people say the word psyche means mind. That is part of what it means. Whether you are talking about the mind or the soul, the meaning is the same in that you are talking about your inner being. Humans consist of two parts: nonorganic or spiritual and organic or physical. The word psychology points to the nonorganic part of a person, their inner being. For example, anthropology is the study of their outer being.
The problem happens when different people groups compete for who knows best about the inner workings of a human being. This confusion does not make psychology an inappropriate word, but it can make how we think about psychology problematic. The Christian is in the best position to think correctly about psychology because the Christian’s starting point is God.
The problem is when nonbiblical or sub-biblical people groups try to impose their presuppositions and worldviews onto the word psychology. When they do this, psychology becomes twisted and unhelpful. Their reasoning is circular. For example, an evolutionistic presupposition leads to an evolutionistic conclusion, which affirms an evolutionistic presupposition. This idea would be similar to an anthropologist studying bones and making a case for evolution.
I expect the non-Christian anthropologist to study bones and tell me why evolution is true. Before I became a believer, I bought into many of those conclusions. After I had become a believer, my presupposition changed, which changed my conclusions about the study of humanity. The non-Christian person is entitled to his opinions, and I am entitled to mine; I reject his presupposition, worldview, and conclusions. Of course, he rejects mine too.
This same perspective applies to the field of psychology. If there is anything they say that I accept, it is because I filtered it through my God-centered, biblio-centric presupposition. It can only be valid if it aligns with God’s Word directly or indirectly. Minimally, it must not contradict the Bible’s teachings. The Canon (God’s Word) becomes the rule from which we determine what is true and false.
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
In Genesis 2:7, we learn that God breathed into Adam, and he became animated—he became a living soul. The Lord is the author and creator of humanity’s nonorganic (psychology) and organic parts (anthropology). God made Adam’s psyche. His soul did not come through random evolutionary processes. It came from the predetermined wisdom and action of God. The Lord thought of the soul. He created the soul. He was the architect of the soul.
This truth is a big deal. It is also a faith issue, which is the same for everyone. Everyone believes what they believe by faith. I am a Christian. That is my faith. Therefore, my system of thought is uniquely God-centered. Under God’s controlling, illuminating, and inspiring power, Paul gives us insight into how our Bible came to us. He tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that the Lord breathed again. This time, He breathed into selected men, whom He chose to write inspired words. Those words breathed out by God were put into one edition. The culmination of this process gave us the Bible.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
The Bible is a book that tells us about God, humanity, and life. Everything we know about God (theology) comes from the Bible. No other book in the world gives us new or undiscovered information about God. Any other author from any other book that tells us about God (theology) gained their insight from the Bible. The same goes for psychology. All books about God or the soul are supported or discredited by the clear teaching of God’s Word.
The Lord created the soul (psyche), and He created the logos (Word) concerning the psyche. The purest soul book ever written is God’s Word. Any literature outside of God’s Word that seeks to explain our souls (psyche) is supported or discredited by the clear teaching of God’s Word. It is not wrong for someone to write about the soul. But the litmus test that verifies an author’s truth claims about the soul is God’s psychology book. Thus, you can conclude the following:
“Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24–25).
The most extraordinary soul (psyche) care provider was Jesus Christ. As Son of God, He created the soul (psyche), and He gave us the Word concerning the soul (logos). Imagine sitting on the Savior’s couch, being analyzed by Him. He would be able to figure you out quickly and tell you precisely what is wrong with you and what you need to do. Jesus was a Master Psychologist because He studied the soul book (Luke 2:52).
The Christian has a distinct advantage over the non-Christian when it comes to studying the soul (psychology) because he has God’s inspired Word—the psychology book. Any person who spends his time studying the soul book can grow in his understanding and practice of the purest psychology known to humanity. Non-Christians grope in the dark when it comes to understanding psychology because the Bible is a mystery to them, if not downright foolish (Deuteronomy 29:29; 1 Corinthians 1:18–25, 2:14).
The Christian has the illuminating power of the Spirit of God to guide him into all the truth contained in the Word of God (John 16:13, 17:17). The Christian also has the providential guidance of a sovereign Lord, who orchestrates life events on behalf of His children (Genesis 50:20). Additionally, the Christian has a community of psychologists (God’s children) who are constantly pursuing a better understanding of the psychology book while seeking to make practical applications for God’s glory and each other’s mutual benefit (Hebrews 10:24–25). Thus, you can conclude the following:
Even with all the aforementioned protective measures, it is still easy to drift from pure psychology—the study of the soul. Problems arise, and skirmishes ensue when people deviate from the clear teaching of God’s Word. I will not elaborate on how psychology runs afoul, but I will mention the most common one I encounter: God’s psychology book—the Bible—versus the world’s psychology book—DSM-5, which has gone through five iterations.
The DSM-5 has its language, which they communicate through acronyms: OCD, ADD, ADHD, etc. The secular psychologist also uses disorder language, meaning most of the problems they describe are disorders. Let me illustrate. Biffy misbehaves at school. His parents take him to a psychologist. The psychologist looks at Biffy. He asks Biffy a battery of questions, and then he questions the parents. He gives Biffy a test to take. The psychologist concludes that Biffy has ADD and sets an appointment with a psychiatrist.
The parents take Biffy to a psychiatric appointment, where the psychiatrist prescribes medication. Biffy’s behavior changes for the better. The conclusion is Biffy has ADD. Of course, the diagnosis begins to fall flat when you start asking the right questions. You learn it does not matter to the parents what the psychologist says as long as he can fix their child. Here are a few questions I would ask his parents in a logical order.
From here, it becomes convoluted. It does not matter how the psychologist came to his conclusions. They will not challenge his presuppositions because they like the result: Biffy is better behaved, a pragmatic acceptance that divorces itself from God’s Word and possibly from all the Lord would like to do in their lives. The tension I have with this kind of reasoning, process, and outcome is that so many of our brothers and sisters have naively bought into the persuasive lies of our secular psychologized culture.
Often, a Christian tells me about their disorder or how someone gave a relative a diagnosis and label with an acronym. They willingly swallow subjective analysis without question, which is befuddling and disheartening. This kind of thinking is one of the most significant weaknesses in Christian sanctification. Our inability to understand and live out God’s practicalized Word harms the Christian community as much as anything else that is assaulting it.
As taught in the Bible, psychology is the best hope for God’s church regarding its sanctification. Our desire must be to continue growing and maturing in the study of the soul because we want to be more like Jesus while competently applying it to the souls of the hurting. Learning God’s Word and practically living it out is the only way we can do that.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).