By Keith Whitfield and Eric L. Johnson The task of sketching the origins of a new way of thinking about psychology presents many difficulties. One of the challenges regarding describing the beginnings of Christian psychology pertains to the definition of “Christian psychology.” The term is most often used as a vague designation of the work of Christianswho teach, write or practice psychology and counseling, regardless of their approach. A “Google” search of the term produces hundreds of sites where the term “Christian psychology” is used in this generic way. (Interestingly, many of the hits are websites of persons who oppose Christians who participate in psychology and decry “Christian psychology”!). The assumption of this article is that thereis a qualitatively distinct use of this term that refers to a relatively novel approach to psychology that is still in its infancy, having only been around, in its contemporary form, for the past 15 years. One of the proponents of the Christian psychology movement, the philosopher Robert Roberts (2000), has written that psychology, generally speaking, is a: coherent body of thought and practice (asystem), at least partially articulate[d], for understanding, measuring, assessing, and possibly changing people’s emotions, thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors, and their dispositions to these. It will typically posit or assume some conception of the goal or purpose of human life, or the basic drives and problems of human life, or at least the proper functioning of some special part of theperson (such as the perceptual organs), and it will have some conception of how a person develops, properly or improperly, toward the achievement of that goal, the satisfaction of those drives, the solution of these problems or that proper functioning. It will accordingly also have some conception of the obstacles to a successful development and of the configuration of emotion-, thought- perception-,and behavior dispositions that result from unsuccessful development. (p. 152) The term “psychology,” for Roberts, is not restricted to referring to the experimental science that was founded in the mid to late nineteenth century, but can refer to any body of knowledge that contributes to our understand human beings. This does not mean that he rejects
the idea of psychology as ascience, but he does not define it as a science that is necessarily secular and restricted to the findings of empirical research, which is the way modern psychology sees itself. Modern psychology is not so value-neutral as it has tried to be. The fact is that the author of every psychological study, article, and book approaches human nature from a particular standpoint. Among humans there will never be ageneral psychology that everyone can agree upon, because human research requires the assumption of world-view beliefs that cannot be empirically demonstrated. So every psychological text is an expression of a particular version of psychology that assumes certain world-view beliefs. As a result, rather than referring to psychology in general, it is necessary to have the term psychology prefacedwith a classifying adjective. Consequently, Roberts (among others) is advocating a “Christian Psychology” where “Christian” functions as a meaningful modifier. Christian psychology is simply the Christian version of the discipline; modern psychology is the mainstream secular version. Presumably, besides for these two, there are as many versions of psychology extant as there are world-views. (Infact, we must acknowledge that, even within a single world-view, there will often be a plurality of sub-versions, e.g., there are actually a number of secular approaches to psychology, e.g., naturalistic, humanistic, post-modern, buddhist). Since Christianity has always been concerned with understanding human nature, Christian psychology, in some sense, is as old as the Christian faith, and Roberts...