Visions of Daniel

Religion and the Human Sciences
An Approach via Spirituality


Papers link

Chapter 1
Opening a Can of Worms

The "Integration" Project of Evangelical Christianity

(excerpts of a 20-page discussion)

For decades a circle of Evangelical Christian scholars has been addressing the question of relating psychology and religion (Kemp, 1985). It is not easy to define the qualifier Evangelical with precision. Generally, it implies "acceptance of the Bible as the authoritative Word of God" (Collins, 1983, p. 4)….

The project of integration has not been very successful, and in recent years it seems to have reached an impasse. Still, this project represents a major and sustained effort to relate psychology and religion. Thus, the integration project merits serious attention. If nothing more, this attention will reveal the intricacies of the matter, raise important questions, and warn against dead ends. In a familiar and accessible form, attention to this Evangelical endeavor will introduce the matter of relating psychology and religion.

Models of Integration

Many have "written about the need for integration but [have] said little about the process and methodology of integrating Christianity and psychology" (Collins, 1983, p. 3)….

Principles of Integration

A number of principles commonly govern the integration project, and these do provide important clues for solving the integration puzzle. First, there is the belief that God created all things, so all truth is one (Carter & Mohline, 1976; DeVries, 1982; Dueck, 1989; Farnsworth, 1982; Jeeves, 1969)….

A second common presupposition in the integration project is the insistence on both special and general revelation (Carter & Mohline, 1976; Farnsworth, 1974, 1982). Special revelation refers to what God made known through the inspired Scriptures. General revelation refers to what God makes known through the created world about us. This construal of the matter makes a place within the religious world view for both religion and secular science; it gives religious approbation to, it "baptizes," nonreligious academic disciplines….

The third common presupposition of the integration project is Dilthey's distinction between the Geisteswissenschaften and the Naturwissenschaften, noted above. This presupposition is spoken of in terms of "levels of analysis," and in some form or other, with more or less emphasis, it occurs in Farnsworth (1974), Jeeves (1994), Jeeves and Malcolm (1987), Gustafson (1990), and Virkler (1982)….

A Most Coherent Model of Integration

The integration project is at an impasse. Criticism of the most coherent of the Evangelical proposals for integration will substantiate this claim.

Lawrence J. Crabb formulated his approach to integration in two books (1975, 1977). In many ways Crabb's approach is typical. Reacting to a trend which he calls "humanism, a fervent belief in the self-sufficiency of man" (Crabb, 1975, p. 11), Crabb insists that his Christian beliefs are the key to right living and psychological health: "In every instance, the wrong thinking will involve the sinful belief that something more than God (and what he chooses to provide) is necessary for meeting one's needs" (Crabb, 1975, p. 46). In contrast to the self-assertion of humanism and according to Crabb's (1975, p. 110) account of Christianity, health necessarily includes "self-denial and submission." …in the last analysis the biblical statement is the bottom line; through it one knows the will of God and of Christ. Indeed, as their titles announce, both Crabb's books (1975, 1977) are about " biblical counseling" (emphasis added).

What Crabb (1975, p. 12) was seeking and finally had to articulate for himself was "a substantial understanding of the problems of people and of the best ways to deal with them which could rightfully claim to be thoroughly biblical." The need was for "a solidly biblical approach to counseling, one which draws from secular psychology without betraying its Scriptural premise,... one which clings passionately and unswervingly to belief in an inerrant Bible and an all-sufficient Christ" (Crabb, 1975, p. 18). Thus, representing Evangelical Christianity in general, Crabb proposed an integration of religion and psychology that respects the Bible as the ultimate authority.

The Hard-Line in Crabb's Position . To some extent Crabb is moderate. He is open to secular psychology and compassionate with unconverted clients. But his position is inconsistent and, it seems, necessarily so. A firm and sometimes harsh commitment to the Bible continues to come through—as, for example, when he writes urging compassion, "When a person is not willing to go God's way,... the client may have to be told regretfully to come back when he is ready to do business with God" (Crabb, 1975, p. 108).

Doing business with the biblical counselor is equated with doing business with God. Agreeing with what the counselor believes to be God's way is equated with going God's way. There is an offensive self-righteousness…here, and it cannot be avoided as long as the "biblical principle" rules. When the presumption is that the Bible contains all truth and when all else must be measured against it, interrelationship with other sources of knowledge is in principle excluded…. There is no room for genuine dialogue, no place for real give and take. The Bible ever remains "the final authority" (Crabb, 1977, p. 49)….

The Problem of the Biblical Principle . There is an insurmountable problem that dooms this Evangelical project of integration. The problem is the very first principle of the project, the biblical principle and its unswerving reliance on the teaching of the Bible. Quoting McQuilkin (1975), Crabb formulates this first principle starkly and strikingly as follows: "`When the teaching of Scripture conflicts with any other idea, the teaching of Scripture will be accepted as truth and the other idea will not be accepted as truth.' ... The other idea, regardless of its support from empirical research , will not be accepted as truth" (Crabb, 1977, p. 49, emphasis in original). The problem is insurmountable for a number of reasons.

First, there is the obvious logical reality: when one side of a dialogue is a priori deemed correct, there is no possibility of real dialogue. Integration is but a fiction.

Second, there is the historical reality. Evangelical Christianity does not really rely on the Bible but, more accurately, on a Reformation reading of the Bible. Thus, for example, Crabb's (1977, pp. 23-25) "Christianity" presumes a substitutionary atonement theory and a theory of imputed justification. Already built into what is supposedly biblical teaching are the theological opinions of Luther, Calvin, and a centuries-long Protestant tradition.

Even if it were freely to admit its Protestant heritage, Evangelicalism would not avoid the problem….

Phrased in terms of fidelity to the biblical principle, the project of integration must inevitably grapple with hermeneutics. And if one grants the importance of hermeneutics, it takes over first place, and the biblical principle is perforce relegated to second place, for the principles of interpretation are now in command. They determine what the Bible actually teaches….

Lest pessimism rule the day, it will be helpful to note here that actually there is another possible option—the one presented in this book. But it is complex, not straightforward; its reliance on Christianity is differentiated and nuanced. It is to recognize open-mindedness, questioning, honesty, and good will—in a word, human authenticity—as not only a human but also a biblical requirement and to make it supreme, turning it even onto the Bible and Christianity themselves. The end product of such a maneuver will not look like traditional Christianity, and herein lies the crisis for Evangelicalism—and in varying degrees for the other Christian traditions as well (Helminiak, in press-a) and for theist religion in general. But this option

•  at least builds on some part of Christianity, the requirement of authenticity, although this part is not peculiar to Christianity,

•  retains the theism that is another, but not distinctive, part of Christianity, and

•  specifies theotics as a realm of distinctive Christian contribution.

This is to say, in these three ways the present option does specify and preserve a Christian perspective. The only other option, inevitably close-minded and incoherent, is various degrees of Christian fundamentalism.

Third, then, numerous contemporary historical-critical biblical studies also show the biblical principle to be an insurmountable problem. By reading the texts in their original historical and cultural contexts, the historical-critical approach calls into question the supposed certainty of long accepted biblical teachings. For example, [teaching on divorce, homosexuality, and "subjection to the Father's will"]….

Thus, the "biblical counselor" acts irresponsibly when imposing various requirements on a client in the name of the Bible. To admit more forthrightly that these requirements are merely part of "conservative evangelical beliefs" (Crabb, 1975, p. 108) would, at least, be honest….

The Crisis in Christianity

Crabb elaborates his model for integration further than do most others. Unfortunately, his proposal is still ineffective. Even his further elaboration does not overcome the problems noted above. This failure confirms the assessment that the integration project is inherently doomed, for to some extent or other all its participants accept the biblical principle….

It hurts to criticize the integration project and to find it, time after time, to be wanting. I do not like being negative, especially about people's religious beliefs. Indeed, the same commitment to truth that drives the Evangelicals also drives me. We are allies in this matter. But I believe I have solved the puzzle which has stumped the integration movement, and I want to share my solution. I offer it in the hope that some consensus may begin to emerge….

Despite my profound respect for the project of integration, the fact of the matter is that in its present form it is doomed. I point this out forcefully, and I do not hold back at this point because I also have a positive alternative to offer. I believe the goal of integration is achievable but only with a radical shift of presuppositions. Authentic spirituality needs to be differentiated from the religions that carry it, and spirituality needs to take precedence over religion. Spirituality, in contrast to religion, is the key to the present age. I point out the flaws in the other approaches so that the newer will seem more appealing. Then the new vision might be shared, spiritual renewal might be effected, and all people of good will on this shrinking planet might get on with wholesome living.