Psychology: A Student's Guide

Psychology: A Student's Guide


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This accessible volume introduces students to the study of psychology from a distinctly Christian perspective, examining issues such as morality and personal identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433539787
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 11/30/2014
Series: Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition Series
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

Stanton L. Jones is provost and professor of psychology at Wheaton College. He has written numerous books and articles on the interface of the science and profession of psychology with Christianity, including Psychology: A Student's Guide and a prominent article in the journal American Psychologist.

David S. Dockery (PhD, University of Texas) is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also is the chancellor of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, following five years as president. He is a much-sought-after speaker and lecturer, a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and the author or editor of more than thirty books. Dockery and his wife, Lanese, have three sons and seven grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt



Some who trace the history of the field of psychology suggest that the discipline leapt into existence in Europe as a scientific splinter from the field of philosophy initiated by professor of philosophy Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt — as the story goes — put aside the increasingly fruitless speculations of philosophy about the human person and decided instead to do what scientists must do: build a foundation of sure knowledge by focusing on "the data."


In reality, psychology did not simply leap into existence in the late nineteenth century. Psychology, as more thorough histories document, has been around in some form since the dawn of human self-reflection and intellectual inquiry. Our understandings of the human condition as well as of the world around us have always drawn upon "data" of some sort, with that data interpreted through human reason operating in the context of a set of presumed understandings that have shaped and guided that inquiry.

Here, I want to pay particular attention to the "presumed understandings that have shaped and guided" inquiry. Specifically, I want to outline how psychology has developed in the context of Christian reflection and more recently in a Western intellectual tradition in which Christian and other religious perspectives have been pushed aside.

The most rigorous ancient outlines of human psychology are attributable to Plato, Aristotle, and other great ancient Greek thinkers, who explored human motivation and reason, the purposes and shape of human community, the form of optimal character, and the nature of human dysfunctions. Concurrent with but independent from the development of Greek thought, the Hebrews developed their own religious and intellectual traditions in the context of a dizzying array of ancient Near Eastern cultures, resulting — by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the self-revelation of God the Father — in the Old Testament.

While the Old Testament contains little that looks like psychology by today's standards, it is nevertheless true that there is much "psychological" material there, particularly fundamental understandings of the nature of what it means to be a human being. The Old Testament depicts the first human beings — despite being "very good" (Gen. 1:31) — as succumbing to sin and reaping the full consequences for themselves and all their ancestors. Old Testament passages speak of emotions, motivations, beliefs, character and virtue, social institutions, and many facets of the human condition. Wisdom Literature such as Proverbs offers concrete guidance for proper human development, for parenting, for the development of moral character, for shaping social relationships, and other topics. The moral laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy provide a backdrop of God's intent for human action that help us understand what it means to be human. While this may fall short of constituting an academic discipline, the Old Testament does offer rich teaching about what it means to be a human being.

The first book in this study guide series explores the rise and evolution of the Christian intellectual movement. Grounded in God's truth as revealed in the Old Testament, the expanding early church first received a new set of God's revelations from the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ and then further instruction from the inspired writings of the apostles — the New Testament. Then as the church grew explosively throughout the Roman world and other areas, problems arose in key theological areas.

Many of the growing number of Gentile converts were blessed with thorough preparation in the great intellectual traditions of the Greco-Roman world and used this intellectual preparation in service of Christ. The early Christian church did not take a stance of rejection toward secular knowledge but rather sought to purify and properly use secular thought in service of Christ. Early Christian thinkers used the work of Plato, Aristotle, and others as tools in their theological and practical endeavors, with these resources interpreted in light of the teachings of the Scriptures. Dockery and George note that the "third century saw the rise of schools, intertwined with classical learning, science, philosophy, and centers of art. The Christian intellectual tradition shaped by serious biblical interpretation began to develop and mature in the Schools of Alexandria [Egypt] and Antioch."

Thus began the great Christian intellectual tradition, including science more broadly and specifically Christian psychological inquiry. Sophisticated forms of psychological thought emerged in the early church as pastors, bishops, theologians, and others struggled to understand how to best guide the formation of Christian character, heal the wounds of the broken and struggling among their flocks, and offer the best pastoral guidance in all circumstances. Augustine (fifth century) developed sophisticated reflections on human psychology grounded in the Scriptures and "flavored by the philosophical tradition inspired by Plato." Pope Gregory the Great (sixth century) developed a sophisticated pastoral psychology containing a kind of personality theory that was to guide pastoral care in the Western church for centuries to come.

The difficult period between the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of the European Renaissance has long been labeled as the "Dark Ages" by secular chroniclers of intellectual history, some of whom claim that the Christian tradition suppressed the advance of scientific/secular knowledge until progress reemerged in the Renaissance as a result of the rediscovery in the West of the work of Aristotle. Many historians now dispute this interpretation as wrong on at least three fronts.

First, it is clear that much intellectual work worthy of respect was going on during this period. Second, the collapse of the Roman Empire and the cultural turmoil that ensued made profound intellectual progress challenging; that the medieval Church succeeded in preserving much of ancient human knowledge was quite remarkable. Third, the characterization of the Renaissance as an intellectual step forward is exaggerated. Much of Renaissance thought was intertwined with magic, spiritism, superstition, alchemy, and ignorance. For instance, astrology reemerged and flourished during the Renaissance because Aristotelian cosmology made astrology a respectable part of natural science; this cosmology assumed that the celestial spheres exerted influences on daily life through "the natural forces that link heaven and earth."

Still, it is true that there were gaps in intellectual progress during the Dark Ages compared to the advances of the Scientific Revolution that followed. One fundamental problem of the period was the reliance of the Catholic Church (until the thirteenth century) on a synthesis of Christian theology with Platonic philosophy. There were limitations to the kinds of intellectual progress that could be made based on Platonic thought, which helps to explain the explosive impact of what transpired in the thirteenth century.


The writings of Aristotle had been lost in the European West but were well preserved and utilized in the expanding Islamic world. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic scholars in Spain collaborated in exploring Aristotle's thought, resulting in challenges to Platonic thought. A new synthesis of Christian theology with the thought of Aristotle began to emerge, particularly in Paris. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps one of the most brilliant intellects ever, used the thought of Aristotle to forge new reflections in theology, philosophy, and all of human knowledge, including insight on the nature of human psychology, and their applications to pastoral care. The resulting synthesis is often called Thomistic or Scholastic philosophy and theology.

It is common to attribute the foundations of modern science to Aristotle's renewed influence in the thirteenth century, but this is simplistic and misguided. In contrast to the sweeping deductions of Plato, Aristotle did use induction, reasoning from bits of "data" upward toward generalizations. But there is no such thing as pure induction; Aristotle's philosophical approach to the physical cosmos and psychology built on many a priori assumptions, including many that were false. Aquinas was cautious in his use of Aristotle, but for several generations after, Aquinas's disciples were aggressive and undiscerning in their embrace of Aristotle.

And then something happened that set important foundations for the Scientific Revolution. Because of the excessive promotion of the philosophy of Aristotle over Christian theology by some of the intellectual descendants of Aquinas, others arose within the pre-Reformation church and began to challenge these assumptions. For example, the bishop of Paris issued a series of condemnations of such views. For instance, Aristotle had proposed that it was impossible for a void, a true vacuum, to exist. By Aristotle's pre-Christian understanding, even a god could not make a vacuum; it was simply impossible. Some Christian thinkers followed Aristotle and argued that God could not make a void; God's power was limited by Aristotle's presumed necessary truths.

"Aristotle had attempted to describe the world not simply as it is, but as it must be. In 1277 [the bishop of Paris] declared, in opposition to Aristotle, that the world is whatever its omnipotent Creator chose to make it." The significance of this cannot be understated. Such an assertion of contingency serves to limit assertions that the physical world, or human character, must be a certain way because of the dictates of human reason. Rather, the mind-set that emerges is that things could be constituted any number of ways by God's contingent and free will, and thus we actually need to investigate physical (or human) reality to see how things really are rather than use merely rational deduction. This mind-set is part of an excellent foundation for the advance of science.

In fact, a number of other Christian principles proved to be fruitful in solidifying the foundation for the developing scientific revolution of the following centuries, by (1) providing a theological and biblical foundation for seeing physical reality as good and thus worthy of study; (2) motivating the search for universal laws by understanding the physical world as the creation of a rational lawgiver who made the world to reflect his rational mind; and (3) providing personal motives for scientists, such as improving the world to bring glory to God or helping to provide rational evidence for God's existence.


What we understand today as modern science began to emerge in the centuries that followed, thanks to the foundations laid by theological developments in the Catholic Church and in the emerging Protestant Reformation that began in the fifteenth century. Much of the emerging scientific inquiry and development (broadly conceived, and psychology more narrowly) was integrally intertwined with and fostered by Christian theological reflection, and many great scientists were devout Christians.

But, frankly, this was not the story I grew up hearing about the relationship between science and religion. In many places in Western culture today, religion and science are portrayed as antagonists. Many secular, anti-religious scholars have asserted that religion has always stood for dogmatic certainty, superstition, and authoritarian control, while science is on an open-minded, noble quest for truth, and thus that the two forces have been locked in conflict since the emergence of modern science. This "standard account" was systematized in the English-speaking world toward the end of the nineteenth century — at the high-water mark of the intellectual movement called the Enlightenment — by the work of two ardent proponents.

John William Draper authored the highly influential diatribe History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874), which has stayed in print for fourteen decades. Draper claimed that the Roman Church had perpetually displayed "a bitter and mortal animosity" toward science and fostered brutal persecution of scientists and other nonconformists. Draper even claims, wrongly, that the church had declared that "all knowledge is to be found in the Scriptures" and constitutes "all that he [God] intended us to know." This account suggests that the church attempted to maintain a stranglehold on thought to perpetuate its control in society. This control began to weaken when the Renaissance inspired human inquiry unfettered by a constricting dominance by Christian theology. Then scientists like Galileo and philosophers like Descartes launched an intellectual revolution, insisting on the primacy and power of rationality and the rejection of tradition and superstition. The secret to the pursuit of truth, in this understanding, was method: the scientific method guaranteed (or at the very least radically enhanced) the procurement of true knowledge. Similarly, Andrew Dickason White's A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896; also still in print) painted an almost identical picture of all-out warfare between science and religion.

As a result of these works and others like them, many today are prone to believe in the warfare between science and religion. For example, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences issued a terse resolution in 1981 stating, "Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief." Instead of scientific and theological reasoning being understood as seamlessly interwoven and mutually supportive, the Enlightenment dis-integrated what had previously been a seamless and mutually supportive relationship. Deep wedges were driven between Christian reflection and science in general. It is these movements and their repercussions that have created the need today for integration, the intentional bringing together of Christian reflection and secular scholarship.

But for the possibility of integration to be intellectually defensible, we need a deeper understanding of the Enlightenment.


In Draper's and White's account, the Enlightenment established that science is a purely rational pursuit of facts, and religion is about irrationality. Stephen Toulmin criticizes this "Standard Account," suggesting a different and better narrative of the rise of the Enlightenment and the warfare account.

Toulmin suggests that the Enlightenment exploded in Europe because the continent was wracked with war for over a century. An economic depression and devastating weather conditions resulted in widespread hunger; massive unemployment created a huge pool of mercenaries to fuel constant warfare. Much of this warfare was, at least on the surface, religious in nature: Catholics against various types of Protestants, and Protestants against Protestants; neighbors killed neighbors in the name of Christianity. This insanity fueled in some intellectuals a deeply rooted conviction that religion was the enemy of concord and understanding. These intellectuals desired to find some foundation for human knowledge other than religion.

There was a preliminary phase of the Enlightenment, a humanist phase of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that was fundamentally Christian and manifested sincere religious devotion as typified by Montaigne, Erasmus, Rabelais, and Shakespeare. But according to Toulmin, the second and more secular phase of the Enlightenment overwhelmed the first and was typified by Descartes. The first Christian humanistic phase sought modest understanding, but the second phase reached for timeless theoretical certainty. And it was presumed that to reach such perfect truth, one had to rely upon human reason rather than and separate from the teachings and authority of religion.

The philosophy of René Descartes is often summed up by his famous statement, "I think, therefore I am." Descartes's method was the method of doubt, of setting aside all assumptions and religious teachings to reach for that which was indisputable and noninferential. Everything could be doubted except the reality that if I can doubt and think, I must exist. Descartes believed he had found the absolute foundation for secure, indisputable human knowledge and from there built upwards. Other philosophers crucial to the developing Enlightenment such as John Locke and David Hume joined Descartes in placing the knowing self, the person as an isolated, reasoning being, at the foundation of knowledge.

It is vital to note the isolation or alienation of religious faith, belief, and truth from the task of the pursuit of knowledge. The definition of the Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant in 1784 is telling:

Enlightenment is the human being's emergence from his self-incurred minority. Minority is the inability to make use of one's own understanding without direction from another. This minority is self-incurred when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! (dare to be wise!) Have courage to make use of your own understanding! is thus the motto of enlightenment.


Excerpted from "Psychology"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Stanton L. Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Series Preface 11

Acknowledgments 15

Introduction 17

1 Psychology in Its Intellectual Context 21

2 The Work of Integration and a Christian View of Persons 37

3 Neuroscience, Embodiment, and Mind 53

4 Behavior Genetics and Responsible Personhood 71

5 Positive and Applied Psychology and Sanctification 87

6 Psychology of Religion and Truth 107

Questions for Reflection 127

Glossary 129

Resources for Further Study 131

General Index 133

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“An insightful account of contemporary psychology and its relation to the Christian faith. Jones helps readers understand where psychology is today and how it got there. He shows how Christians can learn from and contribute to psychology while preserving a critical perspective rooted in biblical faith. A wise and helpful book.”
—C. Stephen Evans, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University; author, God and Moral Obligation

“This insightful, incisive critique of contemporary psychology is only possible because Dr. Jones is so deeply knowledgeable about both Christianity and psychology. As always, his writing is clear, direct, and thought provoking. Reading this book is like taking a guided tour of contemporary issues in psychology, led by one of the finest Christian thinkers of our time.”
—Mark R. McMinn, Professor of Psychology, George Fox University; author, Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling

“Stanton Jones has written a concise yet substantial Christian perspective and critique of the field of psychology, focusing on the key areas of neuroscience, behavior genetics, positive psychology, and the psychology of religion. I highly recommend this very helpful book as essential reading for beginning students in psychology.”
—Siang-Yang Tan, Professor of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary; Senior Pastor, First Evangelical Church, Glendale, California; author, Counseling and Psychotherapy

“This book takes you on a wild ride as it surveys topics including genetics, free will, positive psychology, and the psychology of religion within an evangelical Christian framework. Fascinated, I read this in one sitting. It is a wonderful, summative, yet critical introduction to thinking Christianly about psychology.”
—Everett L. Worthington, Jr., author, Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past

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