As a psych minor in college, I naturally saw a value to the broad discipline of psychology for my future ministerial work. However, even being within one of the synodical schools, I felt a 'void' in my academic pursuits. Two areas troubled me. One was the plethora of competing 'theories,' which demonstrated to me early on that this field was anything but a unified discipline (as I soon discovered later in life also applies even to the so-called "hard" sciences.) The other was the seeming unwillingness of my professors to let theology inform, or at least, dialogue, with this discipline. It wasn't until I came to the sem that the two areas converged, and I was allowed the freedom to view matters through both lenses.
Since those days I have been aware of an ongoing debate in the church on the issue of psychology and theology. Again the views and theories abound, and some are simply in complete opposition to each other. There is the view, for example, that asserts that psychology in any form is incompatible with the Holy Scriptures. Authors such as Bodgan and Jay Adams are the vanguard of this position. Thus, alternate 'schools' within counseling have arisen, such as the so-called "nouthetic" school of Adams.
On the opposite side of the chart are those who have made psychology a substitute for theology. Counselors and psychiatrists become the new 'priests' to guide the people. Pastors are essentially deemed inadequate to deal with the interpersonal problems of the masses. This polarization has infected much of the church over the years, and we still feel its effects. I sometimes wonder if our educational institutions and districts rely too much on psychology in determining the health and worthiness of future church workers.
Then, in the middle there is an attempt to find a way to integrate legitimate findings or theories from psychology, while maintaining the integrity of one's theological position. I suspect that many Lutheran pastors may find themselves here somewhere along the continuum.
Occasionally, when I contemplate possible graduate work, my mind wanders back to my early goals of a degree in counseling, and the debate rages in my mind all over again. I find myself unwilling to reject all of modern psychology simply because of some parts that are incompatible with my faith. Psychology is not a 'pure' science. Sometimes it is referred to as one of the 'soft' sciences, obviously aware that the absolutes of other disciplines are noticeably missing here. Also, there are many 'theories' that are under girded by a philosophical basis more than a scientific one. Still, can one ignore the decades of credible research and its legitimate application to the treatment of the troubles that plague the mind?
I do think that the pastoral ministry has been often robbed of its former position in the "soul care," and that clergy occasionally abdicate their responsibility in this area because we have been taught to refer whenever a psychological problems presents itself. Certainly a balance can be found again.
In recent years I have been encouraged by another stream of study that should contribute greatly to the study of 'soul care.' As in biblical exegesis, there has also been a return to patristic studies to find a voice of ancient experience and knowledge to inform our sometimes infatuation with all things new. Although my library now possesses several fine volumes in this area, I have yet to embark on a solid schedule of reading. Perhaps this will be the year.
So, what do you think of the debate? Should we reject one for the other? Or should we find the best in psychology and be discerning as we apply it? Can theology find a partner here in dialogue, or are they from two realms, where "never the twain shall meet"?