The Protestant church has too lightly abdicated its full responsibility in healing men’s souls and too readily allowed itself to hide behind the seeming conflict between psychotherapy and Christianity. It has almost forgotten that Christianity has been engaged for centuries in the endeavor to save, mature, and sanctify people—to make them whole in undivided selfhood. It has almost allowed psychologists to forget that ambivalence is at least as old as Paul, who in Romans 7 described the struggle of the two selves, the carnal and the spiritual. Paul’s resolution of this conflict is to bring all things into a unity in Christ. The objective of Christian psychology is none other than to remove the conscious and unconscious blocks that frustrate such a resolution.

To have a Christian-oriented clinic adjacent to a seminary may be a new procedure, but it expresses time-honored truth. Establishing a school of psychology in the heart of a theological institution speaks eloquently of the essential relation between the two disciplines. No psychology can afford to be without the perspectives and motivations of theology. Nor must theology be allowed to become so abstract as to lose present relevance. In a famous picture, Theologia is represented as a female figure standing with her feet on the earth and her head above the clouds. Consider some points at which the disciplines of theology and psychology converge.

First, a deep sense of need is a basis from which persons turn either to Christianity or to psychotherapy. In each direction there are dangers. In psychotherapy there is the danger of remaining passive and expecting the therapist to provide all the answers. There is also the danger of an earthbound transference through deifying the therapist. The defense against these is the open, direct confrontation of the patient by the therapist who can anticipate the dangers and handle them appropriately.

In the Christian Church, passive conformity has too often been a criterion of good churchmanship. A great many emotionally disturbed persons come into the church expecting God to take care of everything and thus relieve them of their responsibility. But God nowhere promises to do it all. In attempting to escape reality by “passing the buck” to God, one can delude himself into thinking that he can avoid the responsibilities of real life. The church can be a shelter only for a limited time. Then one of two things must happen. Either one gets soundly converted, or else he becomes thoroughly smug, thus adding to the dead wood within the church.

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When one feels the sense of need driving him to the church, there is the danger of merging with the church, belonging to the theologically sound group as a substitute for carrying out one’s responsibility to grow up into the fullness of the stature of the manhood of Christ. The Scripture says, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). It is extremely important that he who enters the church remember that it is a door, and that even within the church’s framework he must carry his own burden and must mature to the point of lifting the other person’s burden, so fulfilling the law of Christ. One cannot substitute a sense of belonging for a sense of growing up, because one can really belong only as he really grows up. One is truly a member of the Body of Christ only as he begins to operate as a member, and as the Head who is Christ begins to motivate, direct, and use him.

A second point at which Christianity and psychotherapy converge is that both locate man’s problem in the heart, which means the deepest recesses of man’s being. Scripture says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). And when the Psalmist tells us, “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps. 14:1), he points to the ultimate folly. For when man’s unconscious anger is so intense that he has to usurp the position of Ultimate Reality and declare all other reality null and void, this is nothing less than impious foolishness.

Psychology locates man’s trouble in the unconscious—the place where the fantasies, the secret imaginations of the heart, dwell. Fenichel once pointed out that the difference between mental health and illness lies in our fantasies. Fantasy as a preparation for action characterizes mental health; fantasy as a substitute for action characterizes mental illness. When fantasy is used to distort reality, and then these distortions are deviously embellished through rationalization until fantasy replaces reality, a major therapeutic problem results. Flours, months, and sometimes even years are then required for the person to rediscover the truth and be helped back to a realistic relation to himself, to his relatives, to his neighbors, to society, and to God.

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The Demand For Involvement

Let us turn to a third point of convergence. Both Christianity and psychotherapy demand involvement. Christianity demands involvement with God through Jesus Christ, his way becoming our way as we attempt by his grace to identify ourselves with the attitudes in the Gospel so beautifully and completely demonstrated on the Cross.

Here again in the therapist God bears witness. His lovingkindness and tender mercies need be no less evident in the therapist than in the preacher. There is great power in the public proclamation of gospel truth, but even Jesus used the one-to-one approach—in Jerusalem by night, by a well in distant Samaria, with the woman taken in adultery. Love can be mediated only through incarnation. At this point, even the Church may have something to learn about the nature of love and the meaning of acceptance. There is no question about the need for a moral order and ethical practices, but the Church has a tendency to superimpose doctrines and coerce morality and Christian behavior—somewhat like Saul’s attempt to impose his armor on David—rather than lovingly to foster individual spiritual insight. This quality of love must be incarnate in the therapist, as he leads his patient step by painful step from the darkness of his fear, past his defenses, into the light.

Here the problem arises of the therapist’s becoming God to his patient—and therapists have sometimes been accused of allowing this. But is it not true that the preacher also faces this problem? In view of the confidentiality and extended time that therapy may involve, it is not difficult to understand the patient’s tendency to deify the therapist. Patients have been known to move from near-hysteria to childlike calm just from hearing their therapist on the telephone.

The answer to the problem, in practicing therapy as in preaching the Word, is Christian humility. We are merely signposts directing men and women to him who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We know him who is the touchstone of reality. Involved as we are in the task of healing men’s spirits, we realize deep within our own beings the meaning of being rooted and grounded in God. The corrective to transference and human deification is a humble, living, and responsible relationship with Christ himself.

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Involvement on the human plane as the medium for involvement on the divine plane is clearly expressed in First John 4:20. How can a man love God, whom he has not seen, if he cannot love his fellow man, whom he has seen? Or, in the words of our Lord, “First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:24). In the context of the therapist’s loving acceptance, the patient learns to accept and love himself. This, then, leads him to loving his neighbor.

A fourth point of convergence between Christianity and psychotherapy is that both can progress in utmost honesty only as they are integrated in a single adequate objective. “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (Jas. 1:8). It is ironical that the art of self-examination and self-knowledge should have been restored by someone so far outside the pale of religious and Christian truth as Sigmund Freud. Or was Freud, despite his presuppositions, witnessing to the God of truth? Be that as it may, few have known more intimately the deceitfulness of the human heart than Freud, and few have devised a more searching way of discovering “truth in the inward parts.” When Isaiah describes the condition of Judah and Jerusalem as “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint” (Isa. 1:5), and then goes on to portray the deceitfulness and hypocrisy causing the condition, we are witnessing a clinical analysis of dishonesty and the disintegration it causes. O. Hobart Mowrer has drawn attention to this in The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, in which he maintains that emotional illness is not only a break with reality; it is first of all a break with sincerity. When one is dishonest with himself, he runs counter to his very being. Ontologically, honesty is the best policy.

Reality At A Makeshift Level

Moreover, both Christianity and psychotherapy recognize that the “sickness” Isaiah spoke of results from a gradual process of deterioration involving rationalization, projection, and a host of other attempts to manipulate reality and adjust to it at a makeshift level. Three significant words in the New Testament portray this deterioration. In Acts 7:51 there is a warning about resisting the Spirit; in Ephesians 4:30 the warning is intensified to become grieving the Spirit; and finally, in First Thessalonians 5:19 the end result is seen: quenching the Spirit.

Consider this excerpt from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress:

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Now, said Christian, let me go hence. Nay stay, said the Interpreter, till I have showed thee a little more.… So he took him by the hand again, and led him into a very dark room, where there sat a man in an iron cage. (For us today, may not Bunyan’s symbolism of the “very dark room” mean the unconscious, and “the iron cage” mean the way we “get ourselves in a bind”?)
Now the man, to look on, seemed very sad: he sat with his eyes looking down to the ground, his hands folded together, and he sighed as if he would break his heart. (No psychologist could paint a truer picture of a depressive.)
Then said Christian to the man, What art thou? The man answered, I am what I was not once. (Both the question and the answer suggest that the man had lost his identity.)
CHRISTIAN: What wast thou once?
MAN: The man said, I was once a fair and flourishing professor, both in mine own eyes and also in the eyes of others. I was once, as I thought, fair for the Celestial City, and had even joy at the thoughts that I should get thither.… (This seems to show that the man’s true self has not come through. Instead, he identifies himself with a rational image of himself, a form of godliness devoid of power. The burden of his emptiness is too great, so he collapses and takes a leap into irresponsibility in which he promises himself freedom.)
CHRISTIAN: Well, but what art thou now?
MAN: I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out; oh, now I cannot! (The leap finds him identified with the demonic—a complete swing from the rational to the irrational, where he experiences what Kierkegaard calls “shut-up-ness.”)
CHRISTIAN: But how camest thou into this condition?
MAN: I left off to watch and be sober; I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts; I sinned against the light of the Word and the goodness of God. I have grieved the Spirit, and He is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me. I have so hardened my heart, that I cannot repent.… (Notice the degree of responsibility he assumes for getting himself into this plight. He seems to recognize that his break with sincerity has disoriented his relation to reality.)
CHRISTIAN: Then said Christian, Is there no hope, but you must be kept in the iron cage of despair?
MAN: No, none at all.
CHRISTIAN: Why, the Son of the Blessed is very pitiful.
MAN: I have crucified him to myself afresh. I have despised his person; I have despised his righteousness; I have counted his blood an unholy thing; I have done despite to the Spirit of Grace.… Therefore, I have shut myself out of all the promises, and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour me as an adversary. (He is overwhelmed by his responsibility in contributing to his condition. This could have been the way up and out. Instead, he found himself confronted by nothingness, thrust inward upon his own nudity, his history confronted by nullity. The question of his own significance is now balanced between life and death. [See S. R. Hopper, “The Crisis of Faith,” p. 43.])
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CHRISTIAN: For what did you bring yourself into this condition?
MAN: For the lusts, pleasures, and profits of this world; in the enjoyment of which I did then promise myself much delight; but now every one of those things also bite me, and gnaw me like a burning worm. (Here is an illustration of the inner dialogue frequently preceding strategy formation. He committed himself to an inadequate strategy and “promised”—or rationalized himself into believing—that it was adequate. Further, it was the recognition of his responsibility in this choice that gnawed in him.)
CHRISTIAN: But canst thou not now repent and turn?
MAN: God hath denied me repentance. His word gives me no encouragement to believe; yea, he himself hath shut me up in this iron cage; nor can all men in the world let me out. O eternity! Eternity! How shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in eternity? (He finds the burning and the gnawing too much to endure. So, like the paranoic who hates himself, he allows himself the dubious comfort of feeling hated by everyone—in his case, Reality. God was not being good to him on his terms. Since he would not change the laws of cause and effect, God was responsible for his condition; God was bad.)
INTERPRETER: Then said the interpreter to Christian, Let this man’s misery be remembered by thee, and be an everlasting caution to thee.

In this passage Bunyan has drawn a lucid picture of psychotic agony. This condition is brought about by a person’s desire to hold to an outworn strategy of life, using variations of the same theme to keep it alive. When he finds it won’t work, then he makes himself more sick to force reality to comply. When this isn’t heeded, he can use psychosomatic illness as a coercive measure. And if this won’t work, he can turn to depression or withdrawal, or even withdraw into psychosis. Emotional illness is not just a break with reality; it is a break with sincerity—with truth in the inward parts.

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A fifth point is that the disciplines of theology and psychotherapy agree in assuming the condition of sickness to be curable if one wants to be cured. Jesus said: “According to your faith, be it done unto you” (Matt. 9:29). Psychology anchored in humanism has too readily led to despair and an air of finality based on its diagnostic categories. But Christian psychology maintains that man is more than his category. We must cease identifying persons by their symptoms. We do not say, “A man is a cold”; we say, “He has a cold.” Similarly, a man may have or use a depressive, schizophrenic, paranoid, or hysterical strategy to cope with reality. But he is still a man for all that, and this very ability to transcend the symptom and see himself using that strategy implies his freedom to do something about it.

Herein lies a basic difference between humanistic psychology and Christian psychology. Humanistic psychology holds that man is a reactive mechanism; Christian psychology holds that man created in the image of God is a spirit. Let those who believe in the living God hesitate to pronounce any man incurable.

In psychotherapy just as in Christianity, personal faith is indispensable. “He could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5, 6). Healing must be sought; it cannot be imposed.

But is Christ the answer, or does everyone have to resort to psychotherapy? To set forth these alternatives is unnecessary. We cannot limit the way God chooses to work. Whether he chooses visible or invisible means, whether we understand his means or not, God is sovereign. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways his ways. History nevertheless witnesses to God’s use of human agents to fulfill his purposes.

In every instance of psychological healing, the grace of God and the working of his Holy Spirit effect the transformation. Thus, if the duty of the preacher is to scatter the seed, the function of the therapist is to assist in preparing the soil. If the work of the Holy Spirit through the preacher is blessed and ordained of God, does it seem strange or presumptuous to believe God may use the therapist to till the soil of the human heart, so as to prepare for the Spirit’s further work? If the skills of surgery are sometimes God’s instruments to do his healing miracles, can there be any real problem with accepting the skills of the psychotherapist as also subject to the direction of the Holy Spirit? God may speak through the trumpet tones of the preacher or through the quiet responses of the therapist who skillfully recognizes and breaks through the hardened defenses of a desperately sick soul. Otherwise—and too frequently—the good seed, falling on the hard encrustations of the human heart, can become mere doctrine and knowledge, a positive menace. Those to whom this happens are described as “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof … ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:5, 7).

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The process of healing involves moving from ego-centeredness to a discovery of the true self in relation to what a Jungian would call a “non-personal factor of supreme value.” Where egocentricity is not overcome by a discovery of ultimate truth, even dreams may send up warning signals. To respond to the challenge of ultimate truth is to emerge into real selfhood in a vital relation to Ultimate Reality or God. To resist the challenge and rationalize an escape leads to mental collapse.

Moving on to a sixth area, both Christianity and psychology evaluate growth and maturity in terms of a reality-relation. Jesus said: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” James wrote: “Faith without works is dead.” A word of caution is needed. Too often in Christian circles the “fruit test” has been passed merely by doing the right things. This had led to the development of a kind of Pharisaism—a dogmatism hardly different from the old psychology that needs to be transcended. The aliveness of the Christian faith is too closely linked to existence to be contained in such old wineskins. Although psychology, with its concentration on motivations and dynamics and with its focus on the unconscious, can be of immense corrective help, it is still vulnerable through its inadequate view of man—a view that has led it to be satisfied with construing Reality with a small r or as a “non-personal factor of supreme value.” This truncated view of man probably accounts in large measure for the pessimism and despair so apparent in Freud’s psychology. Man’s hunger for communication with Being on an ultimate level—if we may put it abstractly—is no less ontologically real and no less in need of nurture than the ontological reality of human relations.

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There are numerous other areas in which the disciplines of theology and psychology converge and an alliance could be effected. For example, could sin and emotional ill health be brought closer together if viewed in terms of alienation from Ultimate Reality? Would prayer be more vital if one saw himself reflected to himself in the mirror of God as Truth? Can we benefit from the recognition that guilt and responsibility are facts of our very being, that we are so created that not to be responsibly and fully ourselves evokes anxiety and guilt? The concepts of love and acceptance are in common usage in psychology. But would the exchange between theology and psychology be more significant if this love could have the full connotation of Christ’s example and of the New Testament agape?

The title of this essay, “Christianity as Insight,” points to the common ground between Christianity and a psychology based on a Christian view of man. Further exploration of this ground needs to be made. The Christian psychologist must frankly and gladly acknowledge his indebtedness to humanistic psychology and its descriptive analyses of our frail human condition. But a Christian psychology offers all that humanistic psychology can give and significantly more—a Person whom to know aright is life eternal. There is ample clinical evidence to support the claim that a psychologically intelligent and informed religious experience is still the greatest and quickest resolver of the conflicts that in this modern age press upon the soul of man.

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