Those who integrate psychology with Christianity declare, “All truth is God’s truth.” Under this umbrella statement, they embrace the speculative notions of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Albert Ellis, Carl Rogers, and a host of other psychological theorists, depending upon their own individual biases.
Theologians have made this expansion of God’s truth quite respectable under such terms as “natural theology” and “general revelation,” and Christian psychologists enthusiastically embrace them. One example of how these terms are used to justify the integraion of psychology and the Bible is the reasoning of Bob and Gretchen Passantino in their Four-Part “Psychology and the Church” series, published in the Christian Research Journal.
As they introduce their arguments, they falsely accuse those who oppose integration as failing to:
. . . recognize that some of what we learn about God, ourselves, our relationship to God, and our relationships to others comes from what are called natural theology (understanding God and His relationship with the universe by means of rational reflection) and general revelation (that which can be known about God generally—especially through the created world—on a universal basis) (italics in original).
Those of us who oppose integrating psychological counseling theories and therapies with the Bible do not fail to recognize those things mentioned above. However, we also recognize the severe limitations of natural theology and the real purpose of general revelation.
The Passantinos say:
God speaks not only specially (in the Bible, through prophets, and in His Son—see Hebrews 1:1-2), but also through reason, the material universe, social history, and conscience.
We do not deny that some things can be discovered by these natural means. The very basic issue, however, is whether such humanly discovered truths can be properly categorized as “revelation,” either general or specific. The Passantino criticism proceeds upon the assumption that the theological category “general revelation” (or, as is often used synonymously, “natural theology”) is composed of allsuch humanly discerned truth-claims. They find support for this proposition in the writing of John Coe, a faculty member of Rosemead School of Psychology. It might be appropriate to say that the Passantinos have used Coe’s theology to support their presuppositions about psychology.
In response, we use arguments by Doug Bookman, whose paper titled “In Defense of Biblical Counseling” reveals major flaws in Coe’s theology, namely, his epistemology, anthropology, and bibliology.
“Epistemology” is defined as “the study or theory of the origin, nature, methods, and limits of knowledge.” In describing Coe’s position, Bookman says, Coe “regards the claim that the Bible alone is sufficient as a source of spiritual/moral knowledge as ‘comically and tragically’ mistaken.” In concluding his discussion of Coe’s position, Bookman says:
I have suggested that this proposition is flawed in that it commits the basic error of natural theology, assuming that there is a world of metaphysical truth outside of Scripture which can be discovered by the unaided efforts of men.
In another place, Bookman makes the case that the rationale employed by Coe and others in defense of such an epistemology is dangerously flawed. Very briefly, that rationale is accomplished by an arbitrary and unbiblical broadening of the definition of general revelation.
General revelation is an important theological concept. Conservative theologians have used the term general revelation to identify a very narrow category of truth that God has made powerfully evident (thus the word revelation) to every rational human being (thus the word general), according to the way He fashioned the moral and physical universe. Romans 1 and 2, the most important New Testament discussion of general revelation, states unequivocally that the revelation God has set before all men, through the infinitely mysterious, complicated physical universe and through the moral consciousness of all human beings, renders all humans without excuse when they reject that truth.
Lately, however, the important theological category of general revelation has been broadened to include all truth-claims made as a result of human efforts to understand the many aspects of the created order. Those who have broadened the category argue that the Scriptures are indeed the “special” revelation which God has left to us and that, because God is the Author of the entire created order, whenever men discover “truth” in that order, we can refer to that humanly discovered “truth” as “general revelation.”
Bookman identifies the very dangerous ramifications of the argument that replaces the biblical doctrine of general revelation.
First . . . by defining general revelation as that body of truth which is gained by human investigation and discovery, the argument is guilty of neglecting the element of non-discoverability which is intrinsic to the biblical notion of revelation and supplanting that notion with its exact antithesis. Further, the approach is dangerousin that it attributes to the truth-claims of men an authority which they do not and cannot possess, and renders it virtually impossible to bring those truth-claims under the authority of the one standard by which God demands that they be measured.
Second, the argument . . . is confusedin its definition of the term “general.” By mistakenly taking that term to refer to the content of the category (rather than to the audience to which the revelation thus denominated is available), the apologists who employ this argument commit two fallacies which are destructive of orthodox theology: first, they expand the category to include all manner of truth-claims which have no right to be thus honored; and second, they eviscerate the character of revelation by including in the category truth-claims which are admittedly lesser than the truths of Scripture, which demand that finite and fallen men measure them to determine their validity, and which at best can possibly issue in a higher level of insight into the demands of living (italics in original).
Bookman concludes that:
. . . as described in Scripture, general revelation is truth which is manifestly set forth before all men (Rom 1:17-19; 2:14,15); it is truth so clear and irrefutable as to be known intuitively by all rational men (Ps 19:1-6; Rom 1: 19); it is truth so authoritative and manifest that when men, by reason of willful rebellion, reject that truth, they do so at the cost of their own eternal damnation (Rom 1:20; 2:1,15). For this seamless, flawless and majestic tapestry of God-given truth is substituted a patchwork of “lesser” truths, of truth which “is obtainable at least in part,” truths which “are not delineated for us by God” but are “discovered by fallible humans.” . . . Surely such a concept of general revelation represents a ravaging of the biblical concept.
Coe quite clearly denies the effect of sin upon the fallen mind of man. Bookman identifies as absolutely basic to Coe’s argument the proposition that “fallen man retains the ability and propensity to deduce truth from the created world and thus to arrive at conclusions which are as authoritative as the Scriptures themselves.” Coe defends such a proposition, not by any exegetical consideration of relevant biblical passages, but rather by pointing out that the sage in the book of Proverbs explicitly says he learned some things by observing the natural order and that those things are recorded in Scripture. Coe concludes that if it could be done by the biblical sage, it can be done by any human being. However, such a parallel is illegitimate. The conclusions drawn from the supposed parallel are wrong and dangerous.
More central to the issue of biblical anthropology, however, is that Coe’s argument involves a denial of the biblical insistence that divine truth is foolishness to the natural man (1 Cor 2:14), that apart from regeneration man’s understanding is darkened and alienated from the life of God (Eph 4:17), that all men are enemies in their minds until God transforms them through the work of salvation (Col 1:13), and that from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in fallen man (Isa 1:5). Further, even regenerated man is crippled by the continuing corruption of sin, as well as by the reality of his own finiteness (Isa 55:8,9; 1 Cor 2:16).
Thus, for any man, saved or lost, to suppose that his thoughts ought to be regarded as certain and/or as authoritative as those of God—let alone the notion that all human truth-claims deserve such respect, simply because the sage of the Old Testament sometimes related his articulation of truth to observations he had made in the natural order—is to deny what the Bible says so often and so clearly about the real fallenness and finiteness of man and about the infinite wisdom and matchless authority of God.
Here the question is whether the Bible is fully God-breathed or includes information discovered by the human intellect. Bookman shows that Coe “is convinced that the knowledge possessed by the sage [in Proverbs] and recorded by him in Scripture was discovered by the sage alone, with no dependence upon God.” Bookman also contends that “Coe’s perceived parallel between the ministry of the OT sage and the work of the modern social scientist simply does not exist.”
Bookman summarizes this issue of Coe’s bibliology in a personal letter to us, in which he says:
The issue here relates very directly to the character of inspired Scripture. Wisdom literature, such as that which is represented by the sage in the book of Proverbs, is one of many precious and profitable genres of biblical literature. But the recorded message of the sage, no less than that of the prophet, the Gospelist or the writer of a New Testament epistle, is authoritative and dependable simply and only because it was breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). The prophets received their messages by means of dreams (Num 12:6); that doesn’t suggest that the dreams of men today are just as authoritative as those of the prophets. The sage normally received his message by means of observation; it is erroneous to conclude that therefore the observations of any man are as authoritative and/or dependable as those observations of the sage which are recorded in the pages of sacred Scripture. Note carefully that the debate here is not whether any of the observations made by human beings might be true. Rather, the debate is whether the observations of men today ought to be regarded as possessing the absolute certainty and/or normative authority which the Bible possesses in all of its parts. The words of the sage are not certain and authoritative because they were discovered by observation, any more than the words of Jude are certain and authoritative because he cites them from the apocryphal book of Enoch (Jude 14). The words of all biblical writers are authoritative because the recording of them was done under the careful supervision of the Holy Spirit which is known as “inspiration.” To regard the words of men as possessing the same sublime dignity and ultimate authority that the words of the Bible possess is remarkably dangerous (italics in original).
The Coe-Passantino understanding of general revelation is all-encompassing but erroneous. In one fell swoop they even reduce sections of Scripture to less than God-breathed in their attempt to show that God’s revelation refers to that which can be discovered through observation and natural reason. The word revelation refers to an unveiling, a revealing of something that could not be otherwise discovered or known. What mankind gleans through observation, reason and logic is not revelation, but discovery. These discoveries can be very helpful to mankind, such as the discovery of electricity. The kind of psychology the Passantinos both criticize and defend may include some discovery about the superficial aspects of man through observation, reason and logic, but these kinds of theories include highly subjective, speculative imaginations about the depths of man.
PAL V9N2 (March-April 2001)