BGST No.35 header

Good books logo Biblical Concepts for Christian Counselling:

A Case for Integrating Psychology and Theology. 

By William T. Kirwan. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 

1984, 230 pp. 

 

           Review by Song Cheng Hock
              Adjunct Faculty, Counselling, BGST

Is Christian counselling a mythical chimera that is indefinably surreal, born out of shameful wedlock between psychology and theology? Can psychology and theology ever be integrated, or at least form a symbiotic alliance and not remain as suspicious adversaries?  If integration is possible, then the inevitable question would be, "Could the church manage it without “psychologizing” its theology?"  Conversely, the psychology camp could very well be wary of the church theologizing its discipline. Like it or not, the term “Christian Counselling” has become familiar in Christian circles, though its form and functions lack clarity and are still subject to unending contentious interpretations.

 

When William Kirwan wrote this book in 1984, there was no love lost between the two disciplines because each held a very different worldview from the other. Non-Christian psychologists believe “psychology is more fundamental, comprehensive, and technically useful than any supposed divine revelation” while the more reactionary Christians take the opposing stance that “revelation supersedes reason and may be contrary to reason” (pp 28, 29).   Kirwan views such a dichotomous mentality as unproductive and strives to demonstrate to the reader that integration is possible and even necessary.

 

Apparently, he was writing in response to the more confrontational “nouthetic” counselling movement promulgated by Jay Adams who had an ardent following then. Aware of the dangers and weaknesses of that confrontational “spiritual approach,” Kirwan makes frequent references throughout the book that the “whole nouthetic method with its emphasis on being prophetic or exhortational, makes it difficult for the counsellor to show respect for the one being helped” (p. 136).  However, nouthetic practitioners in that era were not the only ones who viewed psychology as inherently antagonistic or detrimental to the values of theology. Today, a number of evangelical Christians still continue to hold this view.

 

Kirwan’s work deserves our attention despite being two decades old. As a licensed psychologist and a practicing pastor, he has fortuitously straddled the walls of both camps. From his unobstructed point of vantage, he can objectively weigh each discipline’s philosophical underpinnings, convictions, prejudicial fears, limitations and strengths. The reader can sense his fair assessment throughout his discourse. Truth has nothing to fear from itself, whether the truth is that of psychology or theology. This has frightening ramifications, at least for some. For example, the philosophical conclusions of well-known humanists and behaviourists like Freud, Rogers and Skinner “are doubtless anti-Christian,” but, we cannot deny that their empirical findings are useful to Christian counsellors (p. 25). After all, we too are the recipients of general revelation. Christians must be ready to accept the “findings of non-Christian scientists to the extent that their non-Christian presuppositions have not coloured the truth discovered” (p. 26).  

 

Kirwan divides his book into three main parts: Christianity and Psychology (Part 1), The Lost and Restoration of Personal Identity (Part 2), and The Essentials of Christian Counselling (Part 3). In Part 1, he examines in detail four contemporary counselling positions, namely, the un-Christian view, the spiritualised view, the parallel view and his preferred integrated view.  In this section he offers his biblical perspective on relationships and the biblical data on the human personality, and how the empirical findings of psychology could enlarge our repertoire of counselling. In Part Two, he moves closer to the core of his argument by presenting the theological perspective of the Fall and our experience of its emotional consequences today which necessitates the integration of psychology with biblical truths. In Part 3, he presents his own model of counselling in which he stresses the importance of imparting a sense of belonging, edification and service. He also offers a diagnostic presentation of the personality and idealized image.

 

One crucial question to ask is, "What was Kirwan’s main motivation in writing this book and did he achieve his purpose?"  Kirwan was disturbed by the polemical stance of well-meaning evangelicals who opposed the use of psychology for counselling. His whole thesis is to press for a holistic treatment of our being for “it is God’s intention that we make use of all the resources available. The church should welcome new scientific discoveries relating to mental and emotional wholeness” (p. 70).  Did he achieve his purpose? This is for the reader to decide. The precautionary note to the reader who wants to benefit from this book and to derive an unbiased conclusion is that he or she must read it conscientiously from cover to cover. It is not a “how-to” pop-psychology/spiritual book where one begins from any page of the book or randomly thumbs through from one section to another. The reader needs discipline to evaluate the concepts in their logical progression. The book is accompanied by a number of helpful diagrams encapsulating the concepts that make it interesting and captivating to read. It is a thought-provoking, engaging book to begin the process of transforming that mythical chimera into a counselling practice that is both wholistic and truly Christian.

NEWS BITS

1. Dr Ng Peh Cheng will be visiting Theological Centre for Asia, Singapore (15-17 Sept) and  Macau Bible Institute, Macau (22-28 Sept) with the ATA Visiting Evaluation Team for accreditation purposes. 

2. Change of Commencement Date. Curriculum Theory & Development for Education  (CE256, 3 credits) by Dr Ng Peh Cheng has been rescheduled to October 5. Kindly take note of the new date if you have registered for this course.

3. New Courses in Term 4

  • HE101, 3 credits. Biblical Hermeneutics & Interpretation. (starting Oct 5, Park Mall). Lecturer: Dr Mark Chan. This is a required course for programme students.

  • CM101, 3 credits (starting Oct 15). A Philosophy of Christian Ministry. Lecturer: Dr John Lim. This is a required course for MDiv students.

  • ME101, 3 credits, video class. Introduction to Evangelism & World Missions.       (starting Nov 1).  Lecturer: Mr Martin Goldsmith. Facilitator: Dr John Lim.             This is a required course for MDiv students.

  • NT216, 1.5 credits (starting Nov 3). The Parables of Jesus. Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

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A Blessed Birthday to…

 Mrs Catherine Tcheau  13/9

Mrs Susie Yong  14/9

Mr Toh Beng Guan  14/9

Ms Ng Lay Kwan  15/9

Mr Anthony Tay  16/9

Ms Lindy Tan  19/9

Mr Loh Mun Fei  19/9

 

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