Integrative Approaches – 3

The first time I had a sense that there were Christians who thought believers could not function with integrity in the field of psychology was when I came across the book Can You Trust Psychology? by Gary R. Collins in a family member’s home. I had not realized the question was being asked (and in some case answered adamently by authors such as Ed Bulkley in  Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology). Prior to that, I had not been witness to the extended debate among Christians about psychology and about whether there is a place for Christians in the field.

In any case, Chapter 3 of David Entwistle’s book Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity is about this kind of real and potential tension for Christians. Chapter 3 is titled “The Soul of Psychology and the Psyche of the Soul.” It provides some historical context as well as ways in which Christians have responded to psychology, including brief overviews on Catholic, Liberal/mainline Protestant, and Evangelical responses. In our discussion of this chapter today one faculty member pointed to the following quote as a succinct observation:

For all the good it has to offer, psychology has, at times, embodied teachings that are an affront to Christian sensibilities. Many therapists adopt more liberal, less religious values than the general population, have little appreciation for spirituality in general, and some are outspoken critics of religous belief. Yet the same could be said of practitioners of medicine, or philosophy, or history. The issue is not that those fields are interently non-Christian, but that non-Christians in those fields sometimes believe, teach, and practice things taht are at odds with Christian belief, doctine, and practice. To expect otherwise is to expect that non-Christians will be other than what they are. [p. 61]

CAPS East 2008 Conference


The Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) East 2008 Conference is being held at the Rhodes Grove Conference Center in Chambersburg, PA, November 7-9. The conference theme is Spiritual Formation in Mental Health. Plenary speakers include Dr. Gary Moon, vice president, professor of psychology and spirituality, and integration chair at the Psychological Studies Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, and Dr. Everett Worthington, professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of over 200 articles and more than 20 books, including Hope Focused Marriage Counseling.

Signature Sins

Michael Mangis, professor of psychology at Wheaton College, has a new book out titled Signature Sins: Taming Our Wayward Hearts. It is published by InterVarsity Press in their Formatio line, which focuses on spiritual formation.

Signature Sins begins with the question of why we sin, making the case that each of us has a specific sin or tendency toward sin that has a unique presence in our lives. Even if countless people struggle with pride or envy or sloth, we each struggle with our signature sin in particular ways due to our circumstances, personality, gender, culture, and so on. The next two chapters look at pride, envy, anger, gluttony, lust, greed, sloth, and fear, often drawing upon Augustine’s Prayer Book, a devotional resource created by the Order of the Holy Cross. The Prayer Book itself is a tremendous resource for understanding various expressions of signature sin and could be an important adjunct to personal spiritual formation.

The next few chapters of Signature Sins encourages readers to identify and name their signature sin, to explore how their own temperament is reflected in their struggle, and to consider how culture, gender, and biology interacts with their sin. The book then focuses on spiritual disciplines “to tame the wayward heart.” What is particularly encouraging is the importance Mangis places on navigating spiritual formation in the context of community. He is here drawing upon his own appreciation of community coming from a rural community in Montana, recognizing the connections to ancient Christian practices emphasizing community, and drawing implications for contemporary spiritual formation.

Each chapter ends with helpful questions to facilitate one’s own spiritual journey, and the book ends with additional chapters a small group could use. This makes this resource particularly helpful and practical.

My experience has been that many Christian psychologists are wary of discussing sin, and it comes in part from our training, which is often steeped in humanistic and hedonic assumptions. But Christians in the field fun the risk of not appreciating an important area of reality when we do not have a way of understanding the fallen human condition and its expression in everyday life. Signature Sins addresses this head on, but does so with an emphasis on grace, so that the reader is invited in – so that the reader can develop his or her own Rule of Life, going deeper into greater spiritual maturity. This makes Signature Sins an important contribution to the literature on spiritual formation and Christian integration, and it is also a helpful reminder of the state and condition of sin that extends into all facets of human experience.

Intercessory Prayer

PsycCritiques, the book review journal of the APA, has a blog, and a recent post is about intercessory prayer. I discussed this in a previous entry here, as many Christians certainly consider intercessory prayer an important part of religious experience. But from a research perspective, the question can be asked what one can expect from treating it as something that can be manipulated in an empirical study. The brief review by Myers and Jeeves suggests benefits from physical touch and personal practice of prayer (in terms of cardio benefits, reduced stress, and so on), but not convincing evidence from studies in which prayer is conducted at a distance. They point out that there are many problems with attempts to manipulate/control these variables.

Integrative Approaches – 2

The second chapter in Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity by David Entwistle is titled “Allies or Enemies? Historical Views on Faith and Science.” The question in the title and at the end of the chapter gets at the crux of the matter. Here is Entwistle’s answer:

A historical survey would suggest that they have been both at various times over the past several centuries. In many ways, the foundations of science were paved in part by a Christian worldview that allowed for the universe to be seen as an orderly place in which laws could describe the regularities found within it, based ont eh premise that the world was created by a powerful, rational, and personal Being. Nonetheless, conflicts have periodically arisen both over the primacy of ways of knowing … and over findings or theories that have been objectionable to members of the church or members of the scientific community. [p. 39]

Through Eyes of Faith – 14-18

The next section in Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith is a single chapter on Memory (Chapter 14), and the following section is much larger, encompassing Thinking and Language (Chapters 15-18). Chapter 14 reviews research on what makes messages memorable. The authors cite principles, such as use of vivid examples, connections to what the audience already knows, repetition, use of listening aids (e.g., taking notes), and a call to action.

The larger section on Thinking and Language was also interesting. In Chapter 15 the authors review information on why we tend to make connections among events when those connections do not actually exist (e.g., confirmation bias). Chapter 16 is titled “Superstition and Prayer.” We were just discussing the use of prayer in a class I teach on Applied/Clinical Integration, so it was interesting to read about research experiments on prayer and some fo the benefits to prayer as well as reasons to be cautious about research.

Chapter 17 adresses “the new spirituality” by discussing topics such as reincarnation, near-death experiences, and communication with the dead. There is an interesting section on Robert Emmons work, The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns, and his case for spiritual intelligence. Chapter 18 address the relatioship between thinking and language. This has been an interesting topic for me as I often address in my writing and clinical work the issue of labeling who we are by our attractions, as occurs when people with same-sex attractions integrate their attractions into a public gay identity.