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Christian Psychology in an era Openness

Al Dueck 
 


          I am delighted to be with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Though we are separated by culture and language, yet we have a common faith.  Your desire to be theologically faithful in the midst of your culture echoes the yearning of my own heart. 
 You have specifically asked of this delegation that we address how a psychologist can be a Christian.  Fuller Theological Seminary has had a School of Psychology since 1965.  In the early years the American Evangelical church resisted psychology as a secular discipline that was of little use to the church.  We believe that psychologists can make contribution to theological reflection and that theology must inform our psychological practice. The express purpose of our twenty-two faculty is to facilitate conversation between the disciplines of theology and psychology.  The School of Psychology has now graduated some 730 doctorates in clinical psychology and 590 in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Students take courses concurrently in theology and psychology.
          I will begin by suggesting starting points for the theological construction of a culturally sensitive approach to Christian Psychology/Pastoral Counseling.  Then I will illustrate how theological reflection and psychological practice can respond to the traumatic effects of violence on individuals and society.  Finally I will outline below some guidelines that seem to shape the conversation between church and culture, Christianity and psychology. 
A Christian Psychology
          A genuinely Christian Psychology/Pastoral Counseling begins with particularity, with the story of Reign of God, the life of Christ and the mission of the church.  Theological construction begins from here, I would suggest.   The trajectory to the implications will vary since your context is communist and ours is capitalist.
          First, Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of God. (Mt 4:23)   We are encouraged to seek first the Kingdom of God and so I would like the psychology I practice to be consistent with God’s purposes.  The Kingdom of God represents for the Christian the ideal of the good society.  In my counseling then, I hope those who mourn will be blessed and comforted, those who hunger for justice will be filled and those who are meek (not violent) to be empowered.  (Mt 5: 3-10)  A psychology which is built on a foundation of justice or love of enemy is more consistent with the Kingdom of God than one which is not.
 Second, a Christian psychology must answer the question what it means to be human.  I submit we begin with the life of Jesus as an example of what it means to be fully human (Heb. 4:14,15).  After all in Christ we have one who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, “one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”   Jesus is our foundation (I Cor 3:11).  A psychology then which assumes that personal happiness is the end of life is not consistent with the life of Christ because it fails to take seriously Jesus invitation to take up willingly the cross of suffering.
          Thirdly, a Christian Psychology will help the church to be faithful to its calling, a sign of the Kingdom of God.  After all, we are told that through the church the wisdom of God will be made known to the larger world and especially the authorities. (Eph. 3:11)  The church community is not perfect; it is a community under construction.  There may be brokenness, conflict, depression, anger, sickness or severe mental illness.  The task of the Christian Psychologist is first to help the church address its brokenness so it can be a better light set on a hill.  And because God so loved the world, the Christian psychologist also responds to the pressing problems of the larger culture.
Christian Psychology and suffering
          The past century is one long litany of massacres.  In 1915, the Turks annihilated a million Armenians.  In 1937, the Japanese gunned down 300,000 Chinese in Nanjing.  Three million Jews were gassed by Germans during the Second World War.  In Vietnam, Americans massacred a village at My Lai.  Over a two-year period from 1981 to 1983 and under a Christian president, Rios Montt, some 100,000 Indians were killed in Guatemala. In Africa, the Hutus and Tutsis and in the Balkans, the Serbs and Croats took turns decimating each other.  God have mercy on us. 
         In the past several years I have accompanied students to Guatemala to experience first hand the effects of three decades of civil strife.  Marco Antonio Garavito , a local social worker, listed the effects on his society of such violence:  distrust, inhibition, anomie, ideological polarization, consumerism, individualism, hatred, rigidity and more violence.  One of the students here at Nanjing seminary told me how difficult it is to share deeply with others the pain that one may be experiencing, as if one has to keep it a secret.
 The effects on the survivors of atrocities seem to affect generation after generation.  I know.  I am a survivor.  Some 50,000 of my Mennonite ancestors living in the Ukraine were killed by the Red and White armies during the Bolshevik revolution.  One of those killed was my wife's grandfather.  Nightmares followed for family members who witnessed the execution. To this day they will not speak of the event. But if the trauma is not addressed the emotional scarring continues.  For some survivors, the trauma makes them more rigid.  For others opinions and convictions become more black and white.  My wife's father witnessed the event and to this day remains paranoid that all world crises are some way a result of the Soviet communists.  In 1989 when I visited the Ukraine he worried that I would not be able to return.  Such are the effects of violent revolution.
          How can a Christian Psychology respond to such suffering?  It is not enough to simply reassure survivors that things will get better or to quote Scripture that the suffering is part of the will of God.  The Christian Psychologist will seek to bring the healing balm of Gilead to specific effects of the trauma.   As I work with individuals who have been traumatized, I do so in the spirit of offering them a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus (Mt. 10:42).  I ask them to tell me the story of their suffering, whether the person is a victim of parental or cultural violence.  What happened?  What emotions surfaced?  How were you affected?  I find that the victim may need to tell the story again and again. Slowly, as they express their deep sense that God has failed them or their pain and anger in the presence of a person who cares and is not anxious, they often become more peaceful, gain more insight and trust God more.
          If psychologists who are not Christian can help me understand the effects of trauma, would I reject it?  For example, research indicates that traumas affect persons in a variety of ways such that related events or persons can reawaken all of the original pain.  And so I prepare them to recognize the minefields. Anniversaries of a death are particularly difficult. I remember as a five year-old sitting beside my mother on a special Sunday dedicated to honoring fathers.  She was crying; her husband had drowned several years earlier.  And so I prepare  survivors for these difficult times.  I am not always effective, but I can be a faithful presence for them.  I can help them recognize ways in which God is present in their lives.


Integration of Psychology and Christianity


          I am encouraged by the desire of the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary to develop a theology that is sensitive to the Chinese context.     In the introduction to your hymnal I read that you called for songs to be written by Chinese authors.  Of the 400 entries you selected 100 and this morning, for the first time, I sang a Chinese hymn.  My eyes were wet with tears.  For much too long non-Western nations have sung exclusively the songs of Europe and America. 
          I am told that courses here in Pastoral Counseling are most popular. I am eager to see how you will develop a Christian psychology or Pastoral Counseling that is indigenous, which responds to the needs of your society and which develops an anthropology that reflects the best of your spiritual and cultural heritage.   Based on my experience we do well to avoid accepting uncritically or rejecting completely the insights of psychology.  We must discern when it is helpful and when it is not. 
          Discerning Affirmation. The early church was not afraid to interact with culture.  Paul uses the existing transportation methods (Acts 20:13) and his Roman citizenship when needed (Acts 22:25-27). If something in the larger culture is useful to his purposes, such as its poetry, Paul quotes it.  In his Mars Hill address Paul says:
From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him--though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring.' (Acts 17:26-28)
 I can imagine that the archetypes of Chinese culture would be apparent in the Tao.  Carl Jung more than anyone was sensitive to the deep cultural and symbolic dimensions of the human psyche.   A Fuller Theological Seminary student has examined the theme of Han using Christ as prototype.
          Thus one response of the church to the larger cultures is affirmation.  When psychology is helpful to the church, why not use it?  Many psychologists in China have served in teacher training institutes.  If educational psychologists find as a result of research that some children learn better if they are, for example, taught more visually than verbally, would we consider that useful in the context of education generally or in Christian education?  Dr. Wenzao Han, former General Secretary of Amity Foundation, has stated that in the new millennium China is making two historic transitions: from a rural society to an urban one and from a planned economy to a market-based one.   If families experience conflict as they move from rural to urban centers, would the research that examines the effects on parenting, relationships, authority, etc. be helpful?   How are individuals and communities affected by a change in type of economy?   Would any Western research on these two shifts be of help?
          Discerning rejection.  Then there is the opposite response of the early church to culture.  Sometimes the church has said a clear “No.”  There are times the early church experienced the world as dangerous and in conflict with the Gospel.
          Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world--the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches--comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
 In the Christianity to which I was first exposed, psychology was treated with suspicion.  Non-Christian therapists could not be trusted.  Any view of human nature was rejected that did not speak exclusively about the God we know in Christ or the church as a community of the Spirit.  So how could one possibly trust a psychologist?  Today, I feel this wholesale rejection was to the church’s own detriment.  However, a discerning withdrawal is still important.  American psychology emerged in American society and reinforces its values.  When those values are contrary to the direction of the Reign of God, we must say “No.”  A psychology which assumes violence is necessary for peace is less helpful.    Research in the United States with Chinese born individuals demonstrated that when they identify with their Chinese culture they were much more collective in their self-statements.   A psychology which focuses then only on the individual would then be a problem for a congregation that would like to develop or preserve a sense of community.
 Leaders of the Three Self Patriotic Movement have been concerned to develop an indigenous Chinese theology and so have had to bracket Western theological models.  While we have also been uncritically exporting Western psychology,  I can only encourage you as you develop an indigenous understanding of human nature informed by our common confession of faith. 
          There are times when the church is in profound exile but even then it has a role.  It is to take seriously the culture within which it lives.
 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29: 4-7)
          And so we learn the language of psychology, honor and collaborate with those who work to improve the welfare of our society knowing we are citizens of another country.  Fuller’s School of Psychology has for the past several decades sought the welfare of the city by learning the psychological language of our culture, by researching life as it is experienced in the West.  What is difficult to remember is that we are still pilgrims, this world is not our home and hence we are tempted to consider our research results an indication of reality when in fact it is our passing culture that is being described.
Conclusion
          In the early church there were church leaders who felt comfortable reading and using the insights and language of the larger Greek world.  Here are the encouraging words of Justin Martyr, an early church leader:
         I boast and strive with all my strength to be found a Christian. Not because the teachings of Plato are different from those of Christ, but because they are not totally identical. The same applies to the Stoics, poets and historians. For each man spoke well, in proportion to the share that he had of the seminal Word, seeing what was related to it.
        Whatever things were rightly said by any man, belong to us Christians.
        For those writers were able to see reality darkly, through the seed of the Word implanted within them.

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