Integration Course

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Thoughts on Jay Adams’ Statement:

"Psychology is just sinful human beings sinfully thinking about 
sinful human beings."

Dr. Brian Campbell

Adams believes that all psychological problems (except for those with a known physical cause) are sin-based and should be approached from a biblical and spiritual standpoint.  His famous quote reflects his opinion that since psychologists are sinners, they are fundamentally unable to produce any “good” or worthwhile information that could help others.  After all, he would argue, not only are psychologists inherently flawed, the people who psychologists are studying (those who have psychological problems) are also flawed (i.e., sinners).  In a very real sense, he is arguing:  Sin in => Sin out.

Stated another way, Adams believes that the Bible and the Holy Spirit are the only sources of “truth” that should be utilized in helping individuals with psychological problems.  All other sources of information—he would argue-- are “tainted” by man’s sinful nature.  From a Christian standpoint, Adams’ basic argument certainly seems logical and theologically accurate.  However, is there room for debate?

Is it possible for inherently flawed individuals (psychologists/scientists) to discover useful information about man’s brain and his behavior that can extend our wisdom and understanding of mankind--beyond that which is contained in the Bible?  That is, can psychologists find “truths” that are not directly referenced in the Bible but which can, nevertheless, help human beings improve their lives and their mental health? 

As we consider these questions, we are at once confronted with some powerful arguments that fall on the side of psychology.  For example, Francis Bacon has argued that God has given us two important books:  “the book of God’s Word,” and the “book of life” (Francis Bacon).  Implicit in Bacon’s argument is the assumption that “all truth is God’s truth,” and that it is perfectly valid for psychologists to focus their attention on the “book of life,” when trying to pursue truth and gain further understanding of God’s creation. 

However, before we come to any final decision in favor of psychology, caution is the watchword.  We should never rush in and fully embrace new knowledge.  It is true and self-evident--as Adams argues--that all human beings are sinners and suffer from inherent flaws and limitations.  As a result, the “truths” that psychologists discover in the “book of life” are not necessarily accurate.  Anything that we learn in “science” must be tested against the inerrant “Truths” of the Bible.  As Christians, we should reject any “truths” that emerge from the discipline of psychology that directly contradict God's Word.

Stepping back, and looking at the big picture, Adams’ now famous pronouncement has been extremely helpful in “sounding an alarm” for all Christian counselors who may fall into the trap of “unthinkingly” integrating knowledge from psychological research into the treatment of hurting people.  After all, science is not God.  Adams is right to sound the alarm.  The “truths” that emerge from science are often “flimsy” and do not stand the test of time.  The “facts” of today are often the “fiction” of tomorrow. 

Therefore, test everything.  Hold on to knowledge that stands the test of time and that provides a more complete picture of God's creation--while at the same time, does not contradict His Word.  Don’t just blithely integrate every new psychological “tidbit” that comes down the road.  Maintain a healthy skepticism, coupled with a deep sense of humility.  

Finally, on a more positive note, don’t just, a priori, reject everything that psychology has to offer (as Jay Adams seems to do).  Don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater”-- before the baby has even taken her bath.  Psychology, although flawed and inherently myopic, has sufficient eyesight—if it squints really hard—to offer at least some valid glimpses of “truth” that help us further understand God’s incredible creation—mankind.