“If you look at Jonathan Edwards, or further back to Aquinas, or further to Augustine, all of these folks and so many more have a psychology to offer us that is thoroughly Christian,” he told CT. “Certainly the Bible is essential also. But there is a psychology in the Christian faith that ought to be explored also.”
Many evangelical seminaries and universities—like George Fox—go even further with their incorporation of psychology into a Christian worldview; their curricula brings Christian teaching and psychology together, embracing an “integration” stance.
“The divide between biblical counseling and integration is wide, though perhaps not as wide as it has been in decades past,” said McMinn. “I’ve seen Christian psychology standing in the middle, with a smaller divide between it and either of the other two camps.
“If [Johnson] was indeed terminated because he was not enough like the biblical counselors, then I think that divide—and the divide between integration and biblical counseling—grew a lot this week.”
Southern, which offers six graduate-level degrees in biblical counseling, staked its position solidly in that camp in 2005 when it moved away from a pastoral care model and explicitly critiqued the integration approach.
Leaders emphasized the sufficiency of Scripture to address all counseling concerns. The seminary renamed its “pastoral counseling” and “Christian counseling” degrees as “biblical counseling.”
Johnson’s own title seems to be a relic from before the institutional shift; he is called the “Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care,” though the school no longer adheres to that focus.
Russell Moore, then the dean of Southern’s school of theology and a vice president, said at the time, “The ramifications of this course correction will be felt in congregations throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and the evangelical world.
“It will mean moving beyond the clinical professionalism of what historically has been dubbed ‘pastoral care’ in the therapeutic guild, but it will mean recovering true ‘pastoral care’ as defined by the Scriptures.”
According to Mohler, Southern’s vision for its counseling program hasn’t changed in the dozen years since. Last year, Southern and Boyce College, its undergrad counterpart, hired two new associate professors of biblical counseling. Mohler called the field “one of our most important programs.”
“The vision for our curriculum was established in the middle of the last decade,” he said, adding that for professors at Southern, “the centrality of the sufficiency of Scripture to their model comes out of their convictions,” and biblical counseling is a key way to demonstrate the “personal and practical application” of God’s Word.
“Do I believe Christian psychology has a place in evangelical academia? Certainly,” he said. “There really is no change here since we offer no programs centered on it.”
When asked about the philosophical disagreements on counseling between Lambert and Johnson, Mohler said academic faculty are bound to have lively discussions about their subject areas. He acknowledged that “there have been significant strains at this point.”
Johnson’s departure has spurred further discussion on the tensions between Christian psychology and biblical counseling—an area of disagreement that many students noted from their time at Southern.