We have often said that there is some psychoheresy in just about all of the highly visible individuals who claim to be biblical. This is certainly true of R. C. Sproul. Evidence of this is found in a preconference seminar taught by R. C. Sproul and Bill White. The title of this seminar, which continues to be available on audio-tape from Ligonier Ministries, is “Psychology: Psychoheresy or Psychohealing?” Psychoheresy is a term that we coined and used as the title of a book. Psychohealing obviously represents the opposing view, which is supportive of psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies. In this seminar both Sproul and White make it clear that they support psychohealing.

R. C. Sproul is president of Ligonier Ministries and professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. In addition, he has an extensive audio/video teaching ministry and has authored numerous books.

Bill White is listed on the conference announcement as a “Counselor and Educational Consultant with Pathways Educational Network” (PEN). PEN is a fee-for-service counseling and referral service located in Pennsylvania. A brief review of their services reveals that they are involved with psychoheresy (the unbiblical psychologizing of the faith).

The Sproul and White talks were announced in the conference brochure with the following questions:

[1] Is the practice of psychology an aid to greater obedience or a distortion of the biblical view of man?
[2] Do psychological theories and methods have a place in the ministry of the church?

After hearing and carefully analyzing the Sproul and White talks, we concluded that the following would be their answers to the above questions:

1. The practice of psychology can be an aid to greater biblical obedience and need not be a distortion of the biblical view of man.
2. Some psychological theories and methods have a place in the ministry of the church.

Our position, for which we provide both biblical and scientific evidence, is opposed to these positions espoused by Sproul and White.

We are not presenting White’s view or an analysis of it in this article. We have chosen, instead, to analyze Sproul’s view, because he has a considerably larger audience of followers and individuals whom he influences. However, White makes some of the same errors in reasoning and logic and leaps to many of the same erroneous conclusions as Sproul.

In his talk, Sproul reveals the logical and theological underpinnings of his support for psychology. It is difficult to trace who influenced his thinking in the area of psychology. However, White should have some of the “credit,” since he has written for Ligonier Ministries’ Table Talk Magazine as far back as the seventies. John Coe, a faculty member of the Graduate School of Psychology at Biola University, and especially Larry Crabb share the same views.

Before analyzing Sproul’s talk and accusing him of psychoheresy, we wish to make the target of our concerns clear. Our concerns are directed at psychoheresy. What is psychoheresy? Psychoheresy is the integration of secular psychological counseling theories and therapies with the Bible. Psychoheresy is also the intrusion of such theories into the preaching and practice of Christianity, especially when they contradict or compromise biblical Christianity in terms of the nature of man, how he is to live, and how he changes.

And, what is our purpose in exposing psychoheresy? We desire to encourage Christians to look to the Lord and His Word as sufficient for life and godliness, rather than to the psychological opinions of men. We expose the unbiblical nature of such theories and methods, because mixing psychological counseling theories with the Bible distracts believers, dilutes Scripture, dishonors God, develops the flesh, and debilitates spiritual growth.

Sproul’s Position

Sproul begins his talk by referring to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. In his chief work, Critique of Pure Reason, Kant discussed the nature and limits of human knowledge. Sproul says:

What Kant did—he made this division between two worlds. . . . He said there’s two spheres, or realms or worlds, what he called the numenal world and the phenomenal world.

Simply stated, the numenal realm is the realm of God and the phenomenal realm is the realm of man and his world. Sproul says:

The world of phenomena is the world that is visible or audible or tactile; that is, it is a world that can be perceived by the senses.

But God is not in the phenomenal world. He is in the invisible and intangible-to-man world. Sproul explains a significant point from Kant’s work as follows:

Kant said that if there is a God in the numenal world, you can’t know anything about Him from the phenomenal world. You cannot move from the phenomenal to the numenal.

Because of this, Kant concluded that you cannot know the essence of anything, whether it exists in the numenal or phenomenal world. This means you cannot know the essence of God or the essence of man. One can know man or self in its outward physical manifestation, but one cannot know the essence of self. Sproul says, “And really what Kant called the self is what we call the soul.” Sproul goes on to say that the word for soul is psyche and that “a whole science was developed to inquire about this portion of human experience” (emphasis added). Sproul spends some time speaking of this type of psychology (the study of the soul) as if it is science and equating it with biology. He equates the two fields of study by their root ending -ology.

Sproul is a theologian, but he is neither a scientist nor a philosopher of science. Sproul refers to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose specialty was metaphysics, but he ignores or knows nothing about Sir Karl Popper, probably the greatest philosopher of science of the twentieth century. Popper considered that the psychological theories formulated by Freud, Adler, and others, “though posing as science, had in fact more in common with primitive myths than with science, that they resembled astrology rather than astronomy.” Incidentally, astrology also has -ology as a root ending like biology.

Sproul’s next statement is particularly revealing:

I can learn something about you by observing your outward behavior. Your outward behavior, the phenomena of what you do is what is open to my eyes and to my ears. I can listen to the words that you speak, watch the actions that you perform. I can read the things you write—all of which things remain in the phenomenal world. But, I can try to make deductions about you from the phenomenal that I hope will give me some information about your soul [essence, numena].

Sproul adds:

Kant said, remember, you can’t do that. You can’t move from the phenomenal to the numenal. You can’t reason from the creation back to the creator, which of course put Kant on a collision course with the Apostle Paul.

Was Kant on a collision course with the Apostle Paul? Or, a more important question, has Sproul collided with both Scripture and science in giving his support to the pseudoscience of psychology and psycho-healing?

Science or Pseudoscience?

Sproul refers to “the relationship of the Bible to the secular science“(bold added). He clarifies to what he is referring when he says, “secular science,” by asking: “Why are Christians concerned about harmonizing what the Bible says with what the American Psychiatric Society says or what physicists say?” It is obvious from what preceded this question in his talk that Sproul is speaking of the psychological aspects of psychiatry and thus he is asking the question of psychology and physics. Popper, as well as many others would contradict Sproul’s statement and his position on science. Dr. Sigmund Koch, Director of the National Science Foundation study resulting in a seven-volume series titled Psychology: A Study of a Science, said, “I think it [is] by this time utterly and finally clear that psychology cannot be a coherent science” (italics his).

Notice that Sproul is comparing psychology and physics. Physics is a science. The psychology he refers to as “psychohealing” is not science. This type of psychology is the very wisdom of men about which God warns (1 Cor. 2:5). It is made up of “profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6:20).

General and Special Revelation

Sproul then talks about general revelation and special revelation. The Bible is God’s special revelation, and God’s general revelation is seen in the world. Sproul then says:

The Bible itself tells us that it is not the only source of divine revelation. The Bible teaches that the heavens declare the glory of God. And Paul labors the point in Romans 1, that God, who is invisible, manifests Himself clearly through the things that are made.

Following this, Sproul says something that is most important to understand if one is to understand one of the ways he became entangled with psychoheresy. He says:

What Paul is saying in Romans 1 is that God, who indeed lives in the numenal realm, reveals Himself in, through, and by the phenomenal realm; and that not only can we move from the phenomenal to the numenal with respect to God, we do; and because we do, it is the ground basis for the universal indictment of the human race, because everybody in this world knows that there is a God, not only because they can peer into the numenal world, but because the phenomenal world plainly manifests it.

What Sproul is obviously referring to is what Paul said in Romans 1:20:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Following this, Sproul makes the point that:

General revelation differs in many respects . . . from special revelation. . . but it comes from the same source. And, that source is just as infallible when He reveals Himself through nature as when He reveals Himself through Scripture.

Sproul and Coe (Graduate School of Psychology at Biola University) essentially share the same position on general and special revelation. Pastor Doug Bookman has written a critique of this position, which he regards as flawed. 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 consider 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 that 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 refutes the notion that human discoveries can be regarded as God’s revelation. He says:

The issue, then, is not whether it is possible that truth might be discovered by human investigation of the natural and moral universe; rather, the issue is whether truth thus discovered can be assigned to the category of general revelation, and to prove that such material discovery can effect spiritual change.

My contention is that by reason of the proper definition of the theological category “general revelation” and by reason of the intrinsic and divine integrity and authority that must be granted to any truth-claim that is placed under that category, it is erroneous and misleading to assign to that category humanly deduced or discovered facts and theories. The issue is larger than appropriate taxonomy. In fact, to assign such humanly determined truths to the category of general revelation introduces a twofold fallacy into the argument when it is used as a rationale for the integrationist position.

First, there is the fallacy that might be termed falsely perceived validity. Revelation is from God; thus it is by definition true and authoritative. To assign human discoveries to the category of general revelation is to imbue them with an aura of validity and consequent authority that they do not, indeed, they cannot merit. Thus, to assign a concept to the category of general revelation when that concept is in fact a theory concocted by a person is, in effect, to lend God’s name to a person’s ideas. That is fallacious, no matter the intrinsic truth or falsehood of the theory under consideration.

The second fallacy might be called crippled accountability. That is, once it is acknowledged that these theories are revelatory in nature, the issue of challenging them becomes moot. Much may be said about testing the ideas thus derived before acknowledging them as part of that august body of truth that God has communicated in the natural order of things, or about honoring the distinction in intrinsic authority between general and special revelations, but to craft an argument for integration based upon the equal merits and authority of general revelation and special revelation is functionally to short-circuit such efforts and to deny such distinctions. Very simply, if it is revelation, then God said it; if God said it, then it is true; when God speaks truth, mankind’s responsibility is not to test that truth but to obey it. It is self-contradictory to insist that general revelation can include truths that must be “studied and examined for their trustworthiness.”

In summary, then, the integrationist rationale that arises from the claim that perceived truths established by human research constitute a subset of the category general revelation, and thus possess the authority and dependability native to revelation, is flawed first of all in its misdefinition of the term revelation. Inherent to the biblical concept of revelation is the idea of nondiscoverability.***

All Truth Is God’s Truth

Sproul declares that “all truth is God’s truth.” He then follows this by saying:

If what you’re learning in psychology conflicts with what you’re learning in the Bible, then that tells you one of two things. Either the psychiatrist has misinterpreted general revelation and he has been a faulty student in his own field. He’s done bad science. Or your understanding of the Bible is wrong.

Sproul further states that both general revelation and special revelation are infallible, both having come from God, but fallible humans attempt to understand both. In addition to the fact that this type of psychology, which is supported by Sproul, Coe, and Crabb, is not science, there are additional problems with this statement.

A lot of what Christians think Scripture teaches is simply not true. Thus they have no true basis for comparison, which is probably why there are so many Christian psychotherapists practicing so many different psychotherapies that are contradictory to one another. Sproul’s standard of conflicts between psychology and the Bible is his sole basis for rejecting any of the learning from psychology. Apparently the psychologist who meets Sproul’s criteria only needs to make sure that the psychology used does not conflict with Scripture. The intent and purpose of Scripture is not to be either a support or framework for worldly wisdom in the area of who man is and how he should live. Of course all must be evaluated in terms of Scripture, but that does not mean that a theory or opinion that is not in Scripture does not conflict with it simply because it is not mentioned. And, one Christian psychiatrist erroneously claims that all of the Freudian defense mechanisms are found in Scripture and thereby uses Scripture to support his scientifically insupportable psychological views.

How about using another criteria, such as “only if it is not at odds with other psychological systems”? (Of course that would eliminate all of them.) Or, “only if it is not addressing problems already addressed in Scripture”? The does-not-conflict-with-Scripture criteria is open to individual interpretation and this is why so many Christian psychologists have so many different, often-contradictory systems that they use. In addition, does this criteria for psychology not open Pandora’s box? For example, graphology, use of Hindu chakras, hypnosis, and levitation could all be rationalized to be “not in conflict with the Bible” by some Christians (not us!). But, should a Christian use them? We have challenged individuals like Sproul for years to name one Christian psychologist who will admit that what he uses from psychology conflicts with his learning from the Bible, even though it obviously conflicts with what other Christians glean from psychology and use in their practices.

Straw Man Fallacy

Another key to Sproul’s leap into psychoheresy is the following:

If you think you can learn all that God wants you to know simply by reading the Bible, you haven’t been reading your Bible, because the idea that the only truth is the truth that was revealed in the Bible is not a truth revealed in the Bible. That is a falsehood. That is a falsehood rejected by the Bible.

Sproul has committed a straw man logical fallacy. This fallacy is described in a logic text as follows:

The straw man fallacy occurs when an arguer responds to an opponent’s argument by misrepresenting it in a manner that makes it appear more vulnerable than it really is, proceeds to attack that argument, and implies that he or she has defeated the opponent. It is called the straw man fallacy because, rather than attacking the “real man,” the opponent sets up and knocks over a “straw man.”

We have challenged for years those individuals like Sproul who use the straw man logical fallacy to name one Christian of any degree of intelligence who would say that “the only truth is the truth that [is] revealed in the Bible.” If Sproul can name one intelligent Christian who meets this criteria, we will print a retraction.

Someone once said that there is nothing so uncommon as common sense. Common sense should have ruled out this statement by Sproul, because who would say that flying an airplane, repairing an automobile engine, or transplanting a heart is in Scripture? However, when it comes to the essence of man and how he is to live, “all things which pertain unto life and godliness” have been given to us in Christ (2 Peter 1:3-4). Paul says that through Scripture man is “thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17). John says that the Holy spirit guides believers “into all truth” (John 16:13). John also says, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

We are told in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” And yet we are told in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We challenge Sproul, Coe, Crabb, and others to come up with one psychological wisdom of man that can promise and produce that!

After stating that “the Bible is not a textbook on economics” and that “the Bible is not a textbook on biology,” Sproul says: “The Bible is a textbook about God and man.” In referring to the Bible, Sproul also says: “It is the supreme psychological textbook.”

In summary of both his own talk and White’s talk, Sproul again raises the psychological wisdom of men to the level of science. He says:

Now what you heard from him [White] this morning and what you’re hearing from me is that the Christian who cuts himself off from natural science or from secular science has cut himself off from divine revelation (bold added).

While on the one hand Sproul refers to psychology as an “inexact science”; on the other hand he says:

The care of the human soul is one of the top priorities that God has given to you in your ministry. So, if there’s anybody that should be searching the depths of Scripture to understand the human soul, it’s the pastor. And, if there’s anybody who should be supplementing his search of sacred Scripture concerning the nature of human souls by studying secular psychology, it’s the pastor, because of what is at stake, the souls of your people. And, if there’s anything we dare not handle roughly or crudely or in an abusive manner, it is the soul of a human being.

Note: Man looks at Scripture and may conclude inaccurately from the Truth, but taking the conclusions of ungodly men (often antagonistic to God) and using them “concerning the nature of human souls” is unbiblical. The natural man cannot know the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14).

Just because one can know some generalities about God through general revelation does not mean that one can know the depths of man through general revelation. One can gain knowledge of man’s physical, organic, biological functioning and external behavior; but nowhere is there evidence that one can accurately know the mind or soul of man apart from Scripture.

Psychohealing or Psychoheresy?

One of the critical problems with Sproul’s talk is that he assumes that psychotherapy is science and gives his own say so as the authority. As we demonstrated earlier, when you open the door of science and expand your definition to include psychohealing, you must be consistent and include other fields and areas as well.

By implying that our position is opposed to science, Sproul has distorted what psychoheresy is really all about. We give both biblical and scientific reasons why Christians should reject the pseudoscientific theories and therapies of counseling psychology. We use scientific research to demonstrate the failures and fallacies of psychotherapy and other forms of counseling psychology and talk therapy. We are not opposed to science, but we are opposed to pseudoscience. Sproul presents pseudo-science as science and implies that those who are opposed to psychohealing are opposed to science. Sproul’s position on psycho-healing is both theologically and scientifically dangerously flawed and should be avoided by all believers.

Like Coe, Crabb, and other integrationists, Sproul gives no specific examples of what from psychotherapy is science. One time when we were speaking at a graduate school of psychology at a seminary we challenged a room full of professors and graduate students to give us one specific “truth” from psychotherapy and its underlying psychologies that is “God’s truth.” They had no answer. Coe has no specific answer in his work, Crabb has no specific answer in his work, and Sproul has no specific answer in his work. As it turns out, the answer to the seminar title “Psychology: Psychoheresy or Psychohealing” should lead one to conclude that both Sproul and White are guilty of psychoheresy!

PAL V11N6 (Nov-Dec 2003)

***Douglas Bookman. “The Scriptures and Biblical Counseling” in Introduction to Biblical Counseling, John F. MacArthur, Jr. and Wayne A. Mack, eds. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994, pp. 74. 75.