Thursday, January 26, 2006

Common Sense Counseling?

The class I'm leading through Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth recently covered the chapters describing the philosophical ethos of 19th century America and how it contributed to Christians embracing the idea of neutral (that is, free from all religious or philosophical biases) knowledge. Common Sense Realism, which began with Thomas Reid in Scotland, came to the U.S. where it thrived in academic circles, including theological education. Reid's thinking was prompted by the British empiricist skeptic, David Hume. Pearcey says,
....[Reid] aimed his own philosophical efforts at refuting Hume and formulating a new foundation for knowledge. The way to avoid skepticism, Reid proposed, is to realize that some knowledge is "self-evident"-that is, it is forced upon us simply by the way human nature is constituted. As a result, no one really doubts or denies it. It is part of immediate, undeniable experience.
Pearcey further explains the extent to which Reid's thinking was influenced by that of Francis Bacon who maintained that scientific progress required jettisoning all metaphysical precommitments and allowing the facts to simply speak for themselves. Scientific systems can then be constructed by reasoning inductively on the basis of what has been observed. According to this view, complete objectivity is both desirable and possible. But, as Pearcey notes, this insistence that one liberate himself from all philosophical traditions and systems in order to acquire knowledge is itself a philosophy. Failure to recognize this, however, made Christians reluctant to allow their biblical convictions to inform their thinking in fields outside of theology.

One consequence of adopting this model of knowing is that apologetics is necessarily prior to the doing of theology though not a theological task itself. Its purpose is to justify Christianity's claims according to allegedly neutral standards of reasoning. Only upon successful completion of this task is the theologian permitted to proceed. Writing in the early 20th century, B. B. Warfield wrote:
It thus lies in the very nature of apologetics as the fundamental department of theology, conceived as the science of God, that it should find its task in establishing the existence of a God who is capable of being known by man and who has made Himself known, not only in nature but in revelations of His grace to lost sinners, documented in the Christian Scriptures. When apologetics has placed these great facts in our hands-God, religion, revelation, Christianity, the Bible-and not till then are we prepared to go on and explicate the knowledge of God thus brought to us, trace the history of its workings in the world, systematize it, and propagate it in the world ("Apologetics" in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).
I was reminded of this quote yesterday when I read this post by Tom Gee in which he delves into a subject that is of great interest to me-the subtle yet powerful absorption of psychological conceptual schemes such that the church's ability to think theologically about life and its problems is seriously impaired. Tom challenges the widely held view that some people have been so wounded by the sins of others that they stand in need of professional counseling before the ministry of the Word and the Spirit can take root in their lives and effect change.

If there is one area that Christians have been slow to recognize the crucial role presuppositions play in the formulation of theories, it is that of counseling. The thought that some wounds of the psyche require the application of extra-biblical knowledge so that the Word of God may find fertile soil jogged my thinking. Is there any connection between Warfield's conviction that supposedly unbiased science must grant permission for systematic theology to proceed and the popular assumption that "scientific" psychological counseling must, at least in some cases, pave the way for practical theology?


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6 comments:

tomgee said...

If you haven't read it, Os Guinness' book "No God But God: Breaking With the Idols of Modernity" has some excellent thoughts about the pervasive effects secular psychology has on Western Christians.

The church I used to attend started using not only Jungian psychology in its counselling but combined this dark secular understanding with an equally twisted idea of mystical prayer encounters with Jesus.

How desperately we need to stay close to the Word! How easy it is to stray into deception!

JLF said...

Tom Gee, eh? Sounds like a smart guy. :-)

Anyway, fantastic post... thanks.

I was wondering if you've read Vanhoozer's First Theology? It's a fantastic insight into how to 'do' the first things of theology. Do we begin with God, Scripture, or hermeneutics? The answer is, ultimately, all three at once (is his thesis anyway). He explores how that works in a postmodern context throughout the book. Great read, but tough.

KP said...

Hi, Tom. Now, why do I think that you are in some way associated with Tom Gee? ;-)

Yes, I've heard of Vanhoozer's book and have heard him speak about its contents though I've not read it yet myself. I recently completed his Drama of Doctrine which, if you haven't already picked it up, is well worth reading.

Thanks for the stopping by as well as for the encouraging words.

Drexen Magz said...

I'm in a men's Bible study group that has taken on the challenge of exploring the Christian worldview (and others) and is using Nancy Pearcey's book Total Truth as the jumping off point.

I saw that you were leading a class through this book. Do you have any advice about how to go through this topic with a group of men so that eyes don't glaze over?

KP said...

drexenmagz, it's so encouraging to hear of a group of men willing to explore this important topic.

My advice to you is to take your time. There's a lot of material there that can easily be overwhelming. It will have taken our group five months to complete our study. Like a lot of church-based adult education programs, our classes usually last for 12 to 13 weeks but we allotted more time for this because we knew we couldn't do it justice in such a brief period.

Making use of the second edition's study guide was very helpful. If you won't be using the newer edition, you can download it free here.

Throughout the class I asked participants to keep an eye out for illustrations of the fact/value split in the news as well as in their kids' school work and to bring them in for discussion in the class. This helped people see that the issue of worldview analysis isn't merely an acadamic, abstract concept but one that has many practical consequences. Try to help them see how worldview thinking is involved in their specific professions as well.

I also handed out this guide to philosophical terms from Stand to Reason. In a few instances the book uses some terminology that people may not be familiar with so I thought this would help.

Above all, encourage these guys that they are capable of grasping the material even though it may make them stretch. Constantly remind them that that stretching is part of growth.

If I can be of further help to you, please email me and let me know.

Drexen Magz said...

Thanks for the response. One "issue" that has risen from our attempt at this study is, from my perspective, a reluctance of adults, in this case, men, to continue learning.

I'll make a generalization (as much as I hate them) that many adults, especially men, have lost the desire or fail to see the significance in continuing to learn. One person, who is the director of Worldview and my son's private school, said that adults (again, especially men) have stopped reading. In doing so, they have also stopped learning.

Maybe this is highlights many modern Christians who, after encountering the forgiveness of Christ, fail to grow and remain "babes" as Paul lamented several times in his letters.