Tournier: Physician To The Whole Person

The Christian Psychology of Paul Tournier, by Gary R. Collins (Baker, 1973, 222 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Glenn R. Wittig, reference librarian, Speer Library, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

This is the first full-length study of the Swiss physician who has become the exemplar of Christian counselors. Gary Collins, chairman of the Division of Pastoral Psychology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, based his evaluation on an extensive study of Tournier’s books as well as on interviews with the doctor and with close friends and associates of his during a six-month stay in Geneva.

Collins had three goals: (1) to “describe Tournier to those who have never met him” through a sketch of the man (but not a full-length biography); (2) to identify, organize, and summarize the basic ideas in Tournier’s thought; (3) to evaluate Tournier’s thought and work.

This is a straightforward, fair analysis of Tournier. Collins examines the psychology, theology, methodology, and practical wisdom of this complexly simple medical practitioner. He extracts ideas from Tournier’s casebook-style writings, places them in context, and assesses their value. Yet the degree to which he achieves his three goals varies.

The biographical portion is sketched in very briefly and sometimes rather vaguely. The main points are presented—the early death of both of Tournier’s parents and his upbringing by an aunt and uncle, his education and marriage, the influence of his association with the Oxford Group, the decision to embark upon what is now known as the “medicine of the whole person”—but a number of the influential personalities in Tournier’s life (e.g., Jan van Walré de Bordes, a Dutch official in the League of Nations; Frank N. D. Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group; and Alphonse Maeder and Jean de Rougement, cofounders with Tournier of the “Bossey Group”) are not identified by name. Collins’s imprecision at this point is not easy to understand.

On the other hand, his explication of the background of each of Tournier’s books is lucid and informative. He offers considerable new material here.

The main strength of Collins’s work lies in its middle portion. Here the sorting and analysis of continuing themes and diverse ideas occurs, and Collins shows a thorough mastery of Tournier’s thought. He notes Tournier’s views of man’s psychological nature, including his development, personality, and motivation. He categorizes Tournier’s beliefs about God, the role of Scripture, man and his salvation, the Church, the Christian life. In the chapter on methodology he deals with Tournier as a counselor, writer, and lecturer. And he presents a miscellany of topics—e.g., the single life, marriage, sex, work, and society—under the heading “The Practical Wisdom of Tournier.”

Possibly the most valuable chapter in the book is the one devoted to Tournier’s continuing attempt to integrate psychology and religion. Collins’s handling sets the matter in bold relief.

The author’s respect and admiration for his subject do not prevent him from noting gaps and weaknesses, such as Tournier’s conception of instincts, his avoidance of the subject of hell, and his tendency toward a universalistic interpretation of salvation.

The detailed presentation of Tournier’s thought is the forte of this study. Yet Collins’s success in presenting this material is blunted to the extent that he fails to pursue far enough some of the issues he so perceptively notes. He raises some legitimate questions but does not follow through to find answers.

Several lesser criticisms: there is less evidence of information gathered from interviews and friends than I expected; and while the work is heavily documented with references to Tournier’s books, periodical articles and secondary material were only slightly used.

Collins writes in a free and easy style similar to that of his subject. While the biographical portion is weak, his analysis of Tournier’s thought and work is a valuable contribution. (An article by Collins on Tournier begins on page 7 of this issue.)

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