The role of psychology in the church is a challenging subject since there are things within the discipline of psychology that have proven very helpful to some people. With this being said, I lean on people who have made counseling their life’s work in order to gain my footing on the subject. Some of these people would be counselors such as David Powlison and Ed Welch from CCEF. I particularly love the vision they have for restoring Christ-centered counseling to the church. However, that is another subject for another time…
Psychology has no ability or even an inclination to deal with the motivations of the heart. Even many contemporary Christian psychology models (hence the use of the phrase: “Counseling that is Christian”), do not address the root issue that faces humanity, we are sinners. The problem with our heart (our motivation) is not that it has a leaky “love tank” longing to be filled or that we each possess a language of love that needs to be learned. To be sure, both our “love tank” and “love language” can be helpful analogies with corresponding techniques, however, the Bible depicts the heart – our motivation to think and act, as the problem. Our motivations are polluted and need to be cleaned up. According to Scripture, the heart is fixated on not believing God as the source of our joy and that is seen in our willful disobedience to what God commands. Our heart is an idol-making factory making false gods out of people’s approval, comfort, control, and pleasure. In other words, we put ourselves on the throne that only God should occupy.
Counseling that is Christian will help people see how truth collides with the desires of our heart. Counseling that is Christian will show how to stop the leak that has been created and then fill the tank with the Gospel of Jesus Christ from which then flows the ability to love others as He has loved us. Psychology on the other hand can only speak to personal wounding that has either been thrust on the individual or resulting from some “dysfunction” that, with the right insight or drugs, can be resolved without God. I see this one distinction as the Achilles heel of the psychological model. Psychology can only deal with what is produced from the heart and not the heart itself.
The psychologist deals with personal issues like an interior decorator working with a resident unable to clean up a home that is hopelessly cluttered with old furniture and garbage. Working with the occupant the psychologist determines the right dimensions of the room, the value of the furniture, and related memorabilia, then applies a color scheme that “works” with the newly-chosen contents of the room. When the job is done the room has been skillfully arranged and deemed livable again with the aid of the psychologist. Counseling that is Christian has a different goal altogether. This counselor works with the resident to examine the clutter to see why it is there in the first place. Over the course of time, the counselor will guide the resident to identify items that should stay and things that need to be thrown away based upon the desires of the true owner of the house, Jesus Christ.
Both examples feature people with issues that need to be dealt with. Both examples center on a counselor providing help in making the residence livable. However, only a counselor who is a Christian can evaluate a course of action in light of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Psychology holds no such authority structure nor does it have binding truth claims that must be brought to bear on the individual seeking help. At best psychology helps a person’s life be livable. Counseling that is Christian helps a person live as they were intended – a life that joyfully glorifies the God who gave them life. This distinction between secular psychology and Biblical counseling makes all the difference.