by Dr. Luke Tse
When I first came to Cedarville University 22 years ago, I was struck by the motto that hung on the wall of the Department of Psychology: “Psychology Through a Biblical Worldview.” As someone who was unfamiliar with the University at that time and what it stood for, it helped me appreciate the heartbeat of the Department and the University. In the years since, that motto has remained an anchor and framework for our approach to psychology and how we teach it at Cedarville.
The American Psychological Association describes psychology as “a diverse discipline, grounded in science, but with nearly boundless applications in everyday life.” Psychology pulls resources from a myriad of disciplines beyond itself: biology, medicine, and social and behavioral sciences. It is grounded in scientific empiricism and investigative protocols. Indeed, what has been learned about “being human” has informed professionals and lay-persons in all sectors of life and work, formally and informally.
Significantly, our Christian faith is undergirded by much empirical evidence: historical records, archaeological findings, geological indicators, and more. Having grown up in multicultural settings where I have encountered many religions, I often say that Christianity is the most scientifically grounded, evidence-based religion of all! Science Within the Limitations of a Fallen World
The problem with psychology, or any science and scholarship for that matter, is a disregard for the reality of God. Most scientists and scholars have insisted on using only natural sources as data for truth-finding and have minimized or circumvented the special revelation of God scripted into the Bible. The phrase “based on science” has become an axiom for disqualifying other claims of fact or truth.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10, ESV).
In a post-Eden existence, non-Christian scholars do not understand that this present reality is, at best, a vague glimpse of the infinite reality of God (1 Cor. 13:12; Isa. 55:8–9). In the context of a fallen world, our natural reality is a broken one; everything and everyone has fallen away from the original perfect design (Rom. 3:23). When investigators use imperfect and incomplete data to determine norms, errors are bound to result. And when inaccurate conclusions are published and broadcast, people are misled.
The problems with human errors are, in fact, well known within the scientific community. To guard against human subjectivity, studies are often replicated, and their findings tested for consistencies. Yet, despite the caution and rigors of science, half of classic psychology studies cannot be replicated with the same results. The truth is that what is “based on science” seldom holds the authority that some scientists would like for others to think. This is especially the case for social, behavioral, and psychological science.
Science With Scripture as the Foundation
Scientific investigations are complete only when all relevant data are considered. Scripture is the crucial dataset that must be mined for relevant information, godly perspectives, and proper interpretations and applications. Indeed, it must be understood as the foundation against which all data are evaluated.
When the special revelation of God is ignored and only naturalistic evidence is submitted for consideration, scholars are inevitably partial to their evidence and their own opinions. Christian scholars are called to set our minds on things above, to glean truths that are also in the Bible, and not to rely on human insight or empirical evidence alone (2 Tim. 3:16; Col. 3:1–2; 2 Cor. 5:7).
Cedarville University is an institution of higher education. As Christian educators, scholars, and scientists, our pursuit of knowledge is to supplement our faith, not to supersede or reinterpret it.
Psychology Can Provide Understanding and Explanation. God Provides Ultimate Solutions
As an academic discipline, we can acknowledge that psychology has contributed much to an understanding of ourselves and our lived experiences. David Powlison, one of the pioneers of biblical counseling, recognized that psychology is one among many sources for providing significant knowledge: “Human beings operate psychologically. The torrent of experiences, thoughts, feelings, motives, attitudes, memories, volitions, beliefs, assumptions, schemata, perceptions, and so on” are well-investigated and described by psychology. However, when psychology presents alternative rationales, aspirations, and solutions for human well-being, it presents a competing and critically incomplete paradigm. In this, Christian scholars and psychologists must offer empirically and biblically sound directives.
Sigmund Freud and the Apostle Paul on the Human Condition
To illustrate an example of our approach to psychology, let me use a classical figure to make a point — Sigmund Freud. To simplify one of his theories, Freud postulated that there are three hidden forces within each person: the Ego (the Self); the Id (impulsive, emotion-seeking drives); and the Super Ego (pressuring towards perfectionism and conformity). Since the motives of Id and Superego are opposing forces acting on the Ego, the individual would often feel conflicted or stressed as a result. This psychological concept has often been caricatured in cartoons as people having an angelic version of themselves speaking good on one shoulder and on the other shoulder, a devilish version of themselves suggesting mischief to the person. The goal of Freudian psychotherapy, then, is to help the individual strengthen the Ego so that the person can resist the enticements of the Id and the pressures of the Superego.
Arguably, this internal struggle that takes place within each person is similarly described by the Apostle Paul. He said, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate ... . For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing … , Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15–24). In this passage, the conflicting forces of good versus evil within oneself, and the stresses that result, are comparably described.
For Freud, who had rejected Christianity, and Paul, who was guided by the Holy Spirit, both were able to observe a common human dynamic. The key difference between them, however, lies in their respective attributions of causes and, more importantly, solutions to the human struggle. For Freud (and much of psychology), the solutions lie within the human self: we are our own best resources for deliverance and standards of what is ideal. For Paul, and as it should be for all believers, the redemption from our human plight and the apex of our joy comes in the very next verse: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25a).
Only Through the Knowledge of Him
As educators in Christian higher education, and uniquely at Cedarville University, we are charged by Peter to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (2 Pet. 1:5). The Department of Psychology is committed to making our faith excellent through an education that is grounded in the Bible. Students are trained to exercise diligence and discernment when engaging the information of psychology (or any subject matter) so that they may present themselves as ambassadors for Christ in the fields of psychology, counseling, and other professions and ministries. For only “through the knowledge of Him” (2 Pet. 1:3) can psychology be properly understood and properly applied.