Scores of professionals, including many Christian counselors, utilize various aspects of psychology when advising individuals, couples and families. With this popular practice in mind, how does psychology compare to theology?
Well, psychology is centered in man, whereas theology is centered in God. Psychology relies upon natural resources when tackling man's complex issues. Theology points to supernatural resources available to anyone who comes to Christ to be forgiven, justified, born again, saved and redeemed. Believers receive wisdom and strength from God and His Word when dealing with personal issues.
Psychology identifies plenty of man's internal struggles, while theology celebrates God's unlimited redemptive power. Psychology is rooted in natural insight and human understanding. Theology is rooted in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God in Three Persons. Psychology is unable to discern the nature of God or the magnitude of man's immortal soul. Theology and Scripture, on the other hand, present the truth about God, man, sin, grace, heaven, hell, salvation, angels, demons, miracles, the Messiah and the immortality of man's soul.
Christian counselors study Scripture and analyze human nature in order to help lead people toward spiritual, emotional and physical health. Psychology and theology are not opposed to each other, anymore than science and faith are opposed to each other. One deals with things from earth's perspective, while the other goes deeper and presents heaven's perspective. Spiritual health is by far man's greatest need. Thankfully, the Bible provides the necessary insights to address man's deepest needs. And more often than not, man's spiritual and emotional issues overlap and interact with each other.
Historically, the most famous psychologists have lived in spiritual darkness. It's that way for each one of us until we enter into the light of Christ by trusting the Savior.
Psychologist B.F. Skinner was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until 1974. Skinner was smart enough to develop behavior analysis, and yet blind to his own personal need for the Lord. Skinner said, "I don't believe in God, so I'm not afraid of dying." For all of his insights into man's behavior, Skinner failed to discover the fact that only Christ can make a person ready for heaven.
It's one thing to not be afraid of dying, but that is very different than not being afraid once you come to stand before Jesus on Judgment Day. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." (2 Cor. 5:10) Believers will have peace on that final day because our sins have been forgiven "through faith in His blood." (Romans 3:25) And the door remains open today for anyone to come to Christ and be saved. Meanwhile, psychology cannot assist your soul on Judgment Day. There is no power in psychology to forgive sins. Theology, on the other hand, teaches a person how to rely upon Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Paradise.
Sigmund Freud said, "It would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent providence, and if there were a moral order in the universe and an after-life; but it is a very striking fact that all this is exactly as we are bound to wish it to be." Freud's "wishful thinking" theory was not rooted in Christ. It was nothing but an empty dream.
Since psychology does not explain the Gospel, it is unable to help man receive forgiveness from God. It is also unable to convince a person that heaven is real and that believers in Jesus are guaranteed a place in Paradise. (see John 14:1-6)
Carl Jung founded analytical psychology. He said, "Remember that the only god man comes in contact with is his own god, called spirit, soul and mind, or consciousness, and these three are one." In other words, Jung thought self is god. Rudolph Allers wrote, "For Jung, god is not a transcendent reality of whom man may achieve some knowledge of natural reason but, rather, an archetype, a basic tendency in human nature. The idea of god and of a future life are not seen as expressing reality but as a corresponding subjective need." And Anthony Storr wrote, "A good deal of Jungian psychology can be seen as Jung's attempt to find a substitute for the Orthodox faith in which he was reared, but against which he started to rebel at a very early age." This explains at least in part why Jung believed that religions are "systems of healing for psychic illness."
These famous psychologists certainly produced a strange hodgepodge of mystical antidotes and spiritual theories. Imagine if Skinner, Freud, and Jung were alive today and they became your personal spiritual mentors. You would likely remain lost in your sin because these psychologists would be unable to lead you to faith in Jesus.
On the other hand, if you were to follow the teaching of the apostle Paul in the inspired letters the Holy Spirit led him to write, you would be led into the truth. And the four Gospels in the New Testament by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are on an infinitely higher plane than all the psychology the world has ever known.
Psychology without theology attempts to address man's issues without divine revelation from the Word of God. And yet the fact remains that Scripture can teach you far more about man than a lifetime of psychology can even begin to teach you. Why? Because the Holy Spirit inspired the Word of God to be written, whereas the books written by agnostic psychologists fail to contain any spiritual revelation of ultimate truth and godly wisdom. In that sense, a first-year Christian college student may know more about certain critical aspects of human nature than Skinner, Freud, and Jung put together.
Jung wrote, "Jesus Christ was to me unquestionably a man and therefore a fallible figure." No wonder Jung was deceived into thinking that self is god. Anyone who thinks Jesus is flawed and fallible obviously does not understand the true nature of the second Person of the Trinity. And this false idea about God leads to plenty of other false ideas about man. Theology and the study of Scripture address a whole range of critical spiritual issues that psychology is unable to diagnose.
Here are just a few of them:
Any counseling that leaves Christ out of the equation is going to be incredibly limited to say the least. After all, how can man be made whole without turning to his Creator and Redeemer for help, love, forgiveness, healing, grace, power, and insight? (I addressed this issue in two recent articles entitled, "Transcending Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life: Turning Water Into Wine" and "The Truth Claims of Jesus and Jordan Peterson.")
Apart from the grace of God in Christ, psychological analysis is ultimately a doomed enterprise. It can take you only so far. Jesus, on the other hand, can bring you all the way to Paradise. And the Holy Spirit can teach you things about yourself that most counselors simply don't understand. It doesn't mean they are not highly intelligent men and women. It simply means a high IQ is no guarantee you have even entered the kindergarten of Christian growth. New life in Christ begins the moment you are born again through faith in Jesus.
Psychology and theology are as different as night and day. One provides an abundance of humanistic theories based on man's limited understanding, while the other delivers the wisdom and supernatural resources of Almighty God.
In a letter to Christians in the first century, the apostle Peter wrote, "Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God." (1 Peter 3:18) So how will you respond to the Savior who shed His blood on the cross and died to pay for your sins? Will you step out in faith, or persist in unbelief? The bottom line is that no one who trusts Jesus ever lives to regret it.