The Christian Significance of Psychology

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A couple of months ago Roger Bretherton sounded me out about speaking to the British Association of Christians in Psychology (BACIP) on the vocation of psychologists. I am very sympathetic to the idea that Christians can have a vocation to do things that are not explicitly related to church. Being teachers or doctors are obvious examples. But the vocation to be a psychologist seems to require more thought.

Fraser’s reflection

A famous Roman mosaic stating 'Know Thyself' Fraser Watts discusses Christianity and Psychology
“Know Thyself”

As I reflected, it seemed that I needed to start one step back, with the significance of psychology itself. The emergence of psychology at the end of the nineteenth century seems a very significant event, and to mark a deepening of the urge of human beings to understand themselves. That goes back at least to the ancient Greek motto, ‘Know Thyself’, but it seems to have deepened at various points, along with the rise of individualism.

There has recently been a remarkable turn towards inwardness and individualism that has affected almost every area of human life and experience. For example, morality has come to value ‘integrity’ more highly than almost any other virtue; religion is rapidly being replaced by spirituality. Psychology is both symptom and agent of these far-reaching changes.

A brief history

The emergence of psychology as an explicit academic subject (in the late 19th cent) and profession (in the early 20th cent) is a very interesting, not only for the evolution of human conscious, but also for theology. I sense it was an important moment for the unfolding purposes of God for humanity. It also provides a good springboard for approaching the vocation of the psychologist. So, I will want to look first at the vocation of psychology itself, or the role of psychology in the purposes of God for humanity.

Like almost every human development, increased self-knowledge brings opportunities and dangers. The heighted self-knowledge of contemporary people can lead them to be even more deeply trapped in their egocentricity, or it can enable them to rise about it. We are, in this sense, at a crossroads in the development of humanity, and one in which the purposes of God are very much at stake.

Roger generously agreed to let me approach the vocation of psychologists via this bigger issue of the Christian significance of psychology, and I will be leading a BACIP study day about all this on November 18th.

What are your thoughts?

I am glad it is some way ahead, as I still have a lot of work to do to get by thoughts clear. I’d be very interested to hear people’s thoughts about the Christian significance of psychology, both theory and practice. Details of the study day can be found in due course at:

Image via Michael Hurst on Wikipedia.

 – Fraser Watts