What’s psychology doing at a Bible College?
Niki Hodson, GWC Lecturer, Children’s Ministry
BA (English & Drama) UCT, BA Hons (Psychology) Cornerstone
What’s psychology doing at a Bible college?
Have you ever told someone what you did for a living and had them give you a funny look? Or had them look at you in bewilderment and surprise? Or perhaps with a fleeting expression of judgement? I have! Since I started working at GWC, I have experienced some of these reactions when I explain to other Christians that I lecture psychology. What’s psychology doing at a Bible college? I can practically hear them thinking. Good question. To put it in context, I teach it along with Child Psychology as part of the children’s ministry higher certificate. Which means that, yes, our students are being taught about:
- Freud, the man who said that our behaviour is rooted in our unconscious desire for sex and other forms of pleasure
- Watson, who said we are just like animals, and that our behaviour is solely the consequence of external punishments and
- B. F. Skinner, the man who said that free will doesn’t exist
- Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, who both championed the humanistic movement, stating that all humans are inherently
good and have a natural tendency towards becoming their best selves
- Buss, the man who said that everything we do is caused by what our animalistic ancestors did in order to survive
Psychology at first glance looks dangerous, with opposing worldviews to what we have in the Bible. We all know that man is not inherently good, and that God has given us free will to accept or reject him. We know that we have sinful desires that cause death and destruction and are certainly not our reason for living. We also know that we were created as superior to animals and that we have a specific purpose upon this earth, as designated by a supreme Creator. So how can we reconcile psychology with theology? What can the field of psychology contribute to ministry? What place does psychology have at a Bible college?
Firstly, the theories of psychology can be separated from the scientific fields of psychology. Not all psychology stems from the musings of secular academics based on their own experiences. Child psychology, for example, has its theories based on the scientific study of development and in particular the study of physical development, the equivalent of which you will find in every medical degree! We use this evidence to train our students to know what to expect at each age of childhood. Things get a little more speculative when looking at exactly how the brain begins to develop thought and how emotional connections are formed, but scientific fact is the starting point and having an understanding of these areas when ministering to children is very valuable.
Secondly, psychological theories can provoke deeper investigation into the theology of the nature of man. Psychology aims to explain and describe human behaviour and what motivates our behaviour. The most popular theories attempt to explain how the personality develops and on how and why things go wrong. Hearing psychology’s take on personality and problem behaviour should make us want to reorganize it from a biblical perspective. Psychology has asked questions sometimes beyond what theologians have asked about the nature of man, and this can be a good opportunity for us to think deeper.
Thirdly, psychology describes what can go wrong in childhood. I’m sure you have all heard of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism – two psychological disorders that are often manifested in children. Through decades of research, psychologists have attempted to describe and classify mental symptoms into specific disorders and categories, for the purpose of being able to provide the most effective treatment. In other words, thousands of children have been observed; their environments have been carefully studied, their phases of development recorded, and each anomaly or symptom noted. From this research, we have an understanding of when something is out of the ordinary and of what that something might be an indication of. Having knowledge of this can help a children’s worker to identify a child in crisis.
For these and other reasons, knowledge of psychology is useful when working with people and especially children. With wisdom, discernment and an ever critical eye, valuable knowledge can be gleaned from the field of psychology. It’s not all bad, and of course at GWC we make room to compare the content to a biblical perspective, as we do in all things. As long as this is done in a careful and thoughtful way, there should be no need for fear of leading people astray. Instead, this knowledge can inspire us with the mystery of creation and God’s design in mankind.