Fundamentalists and Psychology: Faith isn’t enough?

Continuing the theme of my previous post, I think that there is another important reason why fundamentalist Christians are anti-psychology and particularly anti-psychotherapy (by which I mean any form of mental health counseling).  This other reason is touched upon by Total Life Ministries’s vignette, “The Seduction of Psychology.”  The author explains:

It’s practitioners believe that the word of God by itself is inadequate. So they presume to integrate God’s Word with humanistic, atheistic psychology. What results is supposedly Christianized therapies. But these therapies diminish the Lord Jesus Christ while exalting man. Many Christians are being led astray by these seductive therapies–which amount to a new gospel that heals their brokenness superficially (Jeremiah 8:11).

While those behind TLM choose to focus on the idea that psychology is extra-Biblical, thereby suggesting a tendency towards what many have come to refer to as bibliolatry, I think the idea can be spread to a belief that psychology is extra-theological (as evidenced by TLM’s constant reminder that many leading psychologists have been and are atheists).  To put it short, they see psychology as not only suggesting that the Bible is insufficient for mental health, but that Jesus and God aren’t sufficient.

While not all fundamentalists are proponents of the prosperity gospel to the same degree as people like Oral Roberts and Ken Hagin, there’s a certain kernel of that mentality in most fundamentalists, most notably when it comes to people’s emotional well-being.  There is this strong sense in most fundamentalist communities that a faith in Jesus should lead to peace of mind, happiness, contentment,[1] and joy.  Indeed, if you express concerns for your state of mind in fundamentalist circles, you are most likely to be told to “have more faith,” “pray more,” or “hand it over to Jesus.”

So ultimately, seeking out the help of a mental health professional for a problem is saying that “faith in Jesus” isn’t enough.  It’s saying that you can’t “pray away” your problems, be it depression, marital troubles, an addiction or compulsion, or something else. It’s suggestion that “His grace is not sufficient for you” after all.

Psychology’s suggestion that it might have something to offer that might help in ways that “praying harder” and “having more faith” cannot is a direct attack to fundamentalist theology.

[1]  Of course, this idea is further strengthened by the cherry-picking of verses like Philippians 4:11.

One thought on “Fundamentalists and Psychology: Faith isn’t enough?”

  1. I wouldn’t call myself a fundamentalist Christian (although I do believe the fundamentals ie the Creed). I’m also a doctor. I also have had depression and been on medication for 20 years. During that time I’ve also had CBT and psychodynamic psychotherapy. I’ve also seen church counselling (from well meaning amateurs) and had professional counselling from Christian psychologists.
    From my experience: the amateur Christian doesn’t have enough understanding of mental illness to be effective. But equally, the psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, CBT practitioners and psychotherapists often don’t have enough understanding of what being a Christian means to be effective in some of the most difficult areas.
    My best experience by far was with professional Christian counselling – my counsellor understood me talking about God as if he really existed and interacted with me, and the effect that trying to do what God wants (which may or may not be what I want) can have. They also allowed me to talk about the intermingling of mental health and spiritual issues in a way I had not been able to do before – something that was very important for me.
    So, while I’m not in agreement with the fundies that all psychiatry/ psychology is evil, alot of practitioners of these do have a scientific rationalist understanding of the world and do not cope well with any discussion of spiritual matters.

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