A long time ago on a website far, far away (sorry Blogger.com!), I used to write about faith. I haven’t done that for a while- things got complicated, I left my church, and after that, bringing the subject up felt disingenuous. Explaining my perspective felt difficult; just saying either “Christian” or “non-Christian” wasn’t true, while saying “ex-Christian” implied a grudge or enmity which didn’t exist. I’ve since deleted the entirety of that blog from the internet, which may have been a bit hasty in retrospect. But I recently read part of a book which made me think about the subject again.
When I was a psychology student and in my “learn everything about Christianity” phase, I found a book called “The Integration of Psychology and Theology”. Then I forgot to ever read it. By the time I eventually started reading the book, it logically shouldn’t have meant anything to me. But I found a lot of value in how the book was written and how it approached both topics.
Integration… does exactly what you would expect; it talks about why people perceive conflicts between psychology and theology, and whether these conflicts can be overcome. It was written by the Rosemead School of Psychology, an APA-accredited University which aims “to train clinical psychologists from a Christian perspective”. The book lays out four potential ways in which someone can view psychology and theology:
- Psychology and theology are in direct and irreconcilable conflict, so one must eventually override the other.
- Both fields appear to have common ground because psychology is a subset of theology.
- Psychology and theology are like two trains on separate tracks, which don’t need to interact or to confront each other.
- Psychology and theology are separately valuable fields which have the potential to work together based on their underlying principles (This is the book’s main argument).
The book sets out from a foundation I value- it assumes both fields are valid areas of knowledge that have been affected by miscommunication and mixed messages, rather than two warring factions. The authors encourage practitioners from each discipline to step into each others shoes and understand why their field might come across as harmful or irrelevant, without placing blame for this gap on either side.
Integration… is based on a principle I strongly agreed with as a Christian, which these authors named “the Unity of Truth“. The Unity of Truth is the belief that if a God created the world and everything within it, including the processes and rules which govern that world, then all truth about that world must ultimately connect regardless of whether it was discovered through faith, through academic study, or another approach.
To me, this aligns with the scientific idea of Consilience, the principle that evidence obtained from multiple independent sources can converge to provide stronger evidence for a theory. For example, the height of a building should be the same whether it is measured by satellite mapping, by a mathematical model, or by a physical tool. If someone wanted to claim the building was actually a different height, they would need an explanation strong enough to counteract all three separate forms of evidence.
In both Consilience and the Unity of Truth, every process which is genuinely searching for truth is ultimately on the same side, even if divergent forms of truth-finding currently appear to disagree. Knowing this principle helped me study the apparent conflicts between faith and science when I was younger, and I still find it valuable now.
Although I found what I read of Integration…. interesting, its major draw was its attitude towards both subjects. It took the time to acknowledge flaws within both disciplines, but also to express their value. Integration… is built on respect, and I found reading its thoughtful analysis relaxing, especially as so much of what I read online recently has expressed a polarised, “100% for this or 100% against it” attitude.
As a result, I’m curious about how much of the book’s tone is a reflection of its age- it was written in 1979 – and how much is a reflection of it being a physical book rather than an article or column. If the idea of this book was tried again today, would people let it take the time to explore both sides?