Thirty years ago, I began the journey of a Christian liberal arts approach to life. After deciding between pastoral ministry and psychiatry, clinical psychology was the discipline where our very good God was pleased to have me serve. My formal study of psychology began my sophomore year in college and has continued to this day. Experiencing life through a biblically informed Christian worldview is more about who I am than what I do. So I appreciate the opportunity to write this article and hope you benefit in some way from reading it.
I am grateful for the dedication of those involved in the work of a Christian psychology project. Recent benchmarks are reflected in works that articulate various views on and models of theology, Christian thought, and psychology (see examples of Johnson, 2010, 2007; Entwistle, 2010). Last year while teaching a graduate course addressing the relationship of theology and psychology, I had a realization that I am just now attempting to put into words…please bear with me if this “wanders” a bit.
I believe self-disclosure is a foundational aspect of the nature of God. I am increasingly convinced that this is as foundational to His essence, nature, and function as transcendence and immanence. The Triune God makes Himself known! Imagine the implications for a moment if this were not true. Because of His self-revelation, God sovereignly chose to disclose through special revelation and through general revelation. We see this first in Genesis when God spoke the world into existence. This profound truth is also affirmed in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (emphasis added).” A primary issue for Christian psychology is understanding and articulating the relationship between special and general revelation as means of God’s self-revelation.
Because of His triunity, it is vital to understand the nature of the relationships among and between the Persons of the Trinity. I have come to understand that the interrelationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Godhead are characterized by submission and authority in the relational context of love where power is generated and expressed. We tend to understand submission and authority in relational contexts of power where love is generated and expressed. In other words, I think we have this skewed. This is one reason I believe we have not progressed as well as we should in application to our understanding of the Trinity and of the marriage relationship. An example from theology of a result of this distortion is subordinationism (only hierarchical relationships within the Godhead) on the one hand, and modalism (one god in 3 modes) on the other. An example from marriage is radical complementarianism (male headship only, differences emphasized) and radical egalitarianism (equality only, similarities emphasized). Biblically, authority flows out of being rightly submitted (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). But properly exercised authority also involves being open to the influence of others (cf. Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 where the Father is receptive to Jesus’ prayers and Mark 1:10-12 where Jesus is open to the Holy Spirit’s activity). Love rather than power is the relational context.
This is where it came to me recently. A core issue in Christian psychology is the relationship between special and general revelation and how submission and authority are involved. Which means of revelation, special or general, should have influence over the other and to what extent? Much of the discussion and debate involves the use of “power” language involving issues related to submission and authority. Further, I realized that the process of our communication bore striking resemblance to how we express and apply our beliefs about the marriage relationship. I have believed for some time that we need more “models of integration” about as much as we need more models of marriage, although these can be helpful. Instead, it is time for a different paradigm. Perhaps this will develop as we continue to remember that God in His self-revelation chose to use both special and general revelation to make Himself clearly known. There was full harmony and parsimony between the “data sets” of special and general revelation prior to sin. And once sin’s effects have been completely removed, this will be true once more. I wonder how we will experience the relationship of special and general revelation in that day.
Entwistle, D.N. (2010). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity: An introduction to worldview issues, philosophical foundations, and models of integration (2nd ed.). Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.
Johnson, E.L. (Ed.) (2010). Psychology and Christianity: Five views (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Johnson, E.L. (2007). Foundations for soul care: A Christian psychology proposal. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
David E. Jenkins
Associate Professor of Counseling
Center for Counseling and Family Studies
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