Dear Readers,


Psychology is one of the growing fields of studies in modern science. Its influence can be seen in daily life. When I was training to be a teacher, it was required of me to study a compulsory module on Educational Psychology. Employers may also require their employees to study psychology in order to boost their marketing sales. The influence of psychology is so pervasive that some Christians advocate modern psychology to be integrated with Christian ministry. How then should the Christian regard this field of study?

The term “psychology” comes from two terms. The first is psuchē, meaning soul. The second is logos meaning word or knowledge. Psychology is thus a study of the soul.

The Bible teaches us much about psychology for it talks about the souls of men. Psychology is thus not evil provided it is founded upon the forever inerrant and infallible Word of God. However, the problem of modern psychology is that it is not based upon God’s Word, but upon the vain imaginations of men. They may sometimes make valid observations, but their interpretations of their observations are twisted by the corruption and depravity of their minds. The result is a psychology that is often wicked and contrary to the Bible.

The following is thus the first part of a series that traces the dangers of psychology. It traces the history of so-called “Christian” Psychology in modern Christendom. It is adapted from the first chapter of a book by Dr E S Williams entitled The Dark Side of Christian Counselling.

May the Lord grant you discernment concerning this issue.

Preacher Clement Chew


The Foundation of the Christian Counselling Movement
(Adapted from The Dark Side of Christian Counselling
by Dr E S Williams)

The story of the Christian counselling movement starts in the USA after the Second World War, when many pastors, under pressure from the growing psychotherapy industry, began to feel inadequate to deal with the problems of daily living in their congregations. The rising trend of family breakdowns meant that many church goers were encountering anxiety depression. Pastors were urged not to meddle with psychological problems for which they had not been properly trained – Christians suffering with deep inner hurts needed counselling by a trained psychologist.

The Father of Christian Counselling

In the 1950s, Clyde Narramore, a Christian psychologist widely regarded as the father of Christian counselling, saw the potential for a ministry that made use of psychological counselling techniques. Through a series of talks on Christian radio entitled “Psychology for Living”, he sought to overcome the natural scepticism that many Christians felt towards psychology. In his book The Psychology of Counselling (1960), he claimed that preaching from the pulpit is not really enough to deal with the problems of daily living that confront many people. Narramore felt that while most pastors realise the importance of the pulpit ministry, some have not fully considered the significance of such a counselling ministry to deal with personal, innermost problems. Narramore therefore set up a Christian mental health foundation in 1958 to specialise in counselling and training Christian leaders.

Key Figures of Early Days

Another significant development in the late 1960s was the founding of the Rosemead School of Psychology by Clyde and Bruce Narramore (Clyde’s nephew). The purpose was to train clinical psychologists from a Christian perspective, also with a primary focus on the integration of psychology and theology.

The Christian counselling movement gained momentum during the 1970s and 1980s when many young evangelicals were persuaded to take up careers in psychology. Key personalities were James Dobson, Bruce Narramore, Gary Collins, Tim LaHaye and H. Norman Wright. A feature of these men was their ability to write self-help books that used psychological theories tempered with Christian ideals on issues such as parenting, self-image and personal growth. The best-selling books on the shelves of Christian bookstores became those that provided advice on how to deal with inner pain and overcome depression.

In the 1970s Dr Larry Crabb, a prominent Christian psychologist, published two books, The Basic Principles of Biblical Counselling (1975) and Effective Biblical Counselling (1977) that sought to provide a theoretical justification for Christian psychological counselling. Such was the attraction of the psychological way, that many pastors found themselves drawn to the new teaching. Pastor Steven Cole, a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary recounts how he was so moved by the teachings of psychology that he ended up preaching sermons such as “Feeling Good about Yourself” and “Developing a Sense of Self-Worth”. These sermons were often laced with insights and quotes from leading Christian psychologists. Thankfully, he was cured of his fascination the psychological way when he read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. “As I read Calvin’s solid biblical treatment of the nature of man and sin, I realised that I had erred greatly by falling into the proper self-esteem teaching of Christian psychology. I realised that Christian psychology served to build man up in his sin and to pull God down as our good buddy who loves us unconditionally so that we can accept ourselves. But the Bible builds God up as holy and glorious, while it strips man of his pride and self-righteousness . . .”

The Growth of Christian Counselling

Nevertheless the Christian counselling movement continued to prosper. An article in the neo-evangelical circulation Christianity Today declared, “Myth: A pastor is competent to counsel his parishioners. Fact: Most pastors are armed with only a meagre knowledge of behavioural therapies. A pastor’s calling is, primarily, a spiritual one, helping people to find strength in God’s presence and a sense of divine direction in the midst of difficulty. Psychological adjustment is a different matter, and when it requires serious attention, pastors should find ways of partnering counsellors or psychiatrists.”

The concept of the above quotation is seen clearly in the American Association of Christian Counsellors (AACC). The AACC was established around 1990. It believes that the helping ministry of the church must be supported by three legs – the pastor, the lay helper and the clinical professional. The vision of the Association, which now claims to have 50,000 members, is to serve the worldwide Christian church by helping to educate and equip a large army of professional clinicians, pastor counsellors and lay helpers in the skill of counselling. It sees counselling as a case-based form of Christian discipleship that assists the church in its call to bring believers to maturity in the lifelong process of sanctification and growing to maturity in Christ. H.B. London Jr, Vice-President of Focus on the Family proclaims “We are finding that a high percentage of pastors we meet feel ill-prepared to deal with the complex pastoral counselling issues that come their way. AACC is on the cutting-edge as they seek to equip the ‘called-out’ minister for the 21st century reality.”

A Therapeutic Gospel

The 1990s saw a sustained growth in the influence of the Christian counselling and psychology movement. Following the psychological way, Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church (1995) claims, “Whenever Jesus encountered a person he’d begin with their hurts, needs and interests.” In the chapter entitled “How Jesus Attracted Crowds”, he states: “The most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs . . . this was the approach Jesus used . . . A good salesman knows you always start with the customer’s needs, not the product.”

One of the fruits of the Christian counselling scene is the emergence of a new therapeutic “gospel” that aims to meet the psychological needs of the congregation. Such is the impact of the “psychologising” of the Gospel that the message from the pulpit of many Bible-believing churches has undergone a subtle change, there being a consensus that traditional teachings about sin, wrath and judgement makes the Gospel message appear unattractive. “Audiences are reminded that they are sad, lonely, discouraged and unsuccessful. Life is a great weight to them. Troubles encompass them. The future holds dark threats. Then sinners are invited to come to Christ, who will change all of that and put a smile on their faces. He is pictured as a cosmic psychologist who will patch up all problems in one session on the inquiry-room couch. There is no reminder of the discipline which Christ demands. No suggestion is given that following Christ is sacrificial and painful.” (Walter Chantry)

Contemporary worship has also become a vehicle for expressing the truths of the psychological way. The modern songs that have replaced traditional, doctrinally sound hymns in the majority of evangelical churches, have a strong focus on me, my emotional needs and longings. God is valued “to the extent that he is able to bathe these wounds, assuage these insecurities, calm these fears, restore some sense of internal order, and bring some sense of wholeness.”

Such is the commitment to the psychological way that many churches organise road-shows to help their congregation deal with the problems of daily living. Seminars on parenting refer to the latest psychological theories to discipline children. Marriage courses help partners discover what makes them feel loved. “They have the time to discuss ways they have caused each other pain and discover how to heal hurt.” They also learn new skills for communication and conflict resolution.

Modern psychology is now placed on par, if not, above, the Word of God.

(. . . to be continued)