The seventh chp in David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway concerns spiritual formation. The primary direction of the chp is to return counseling to the church and to get more church in the psychologist’s office. [Now he’s meddling with my wife’s vocation.] He challenges the authority inherent to Christian therapy and the narrative structure that many derive from therapists to explain their life. Do you think what we now call “Christian therapy” belongs in the local church or in a (parachurch) professional office setting?
Fitch contends that postmodernist critiques have devastated the legitimacy of therapy. But, when evangelicals send their folks to the therapist’s office they are giving away spiritual formation. Here is his point of view: “Therapists train the patient to look constantly inward and to center oneself on one’s emotions. Therapists ask constantly, ‘What does that say about you?’ ” (184). Underneath Fitch’s chp is a belief that modernity’s values are inherent to the therapeutic process. This chp in Fitch reminds of James Houston’s book, The Mentored Life. See the response of Brad Bergfalk and me.
He begins with a simplistic summary that evangelicals accept psychology as a science and that therapists superficially harmonize Scripture and psychology. [At this point I’ve almost put the book down, because I know far too many theologically-sophisticated therapists and psychologists and books.] He contends, accurately and now I’m back on board with him, that postmodernity demonstrates that psychology is an “interpretive enterprise” (184). As such, it is only one explanation.
As such, psychology may not be in line with Christian truths and genuine spiritual formation. Will it treat “dysfunction” or “sin”? Will it be Jungian murderous psychodrama or will it be cross-based forgiveness? He sees them as “two different ways of interpreting our reality” (187). “Psychology aims for satisfaction in one’s self while Christianity aims for a satisfaction in Christ” (187). “Psychology and Christ therefore form two different kinds of people” (187).
He provides a more extensive look at a Jungian approach to “sin” vs. “shadow.”
Therapy needs preaching about repentance and restoration. Here are his suggestions for returning the work of therapy as part of the church’s spiritual formation:
1. Recapture the confessional as a “safe and confidential” place. [Frankly, this can be in a therapist’s office or in the local Starbuck’s.] Fitch has “triads” in his church: groups of three who are accountable to one another.
2.Practice therapist agreements within the church: work to get closer connections of the therapist and the local church. [He admits this has not been able to be worked out in his local church.]
My response to this chp?
1. Fitch simplifies psychology into an either-or world, which is unfair to thoughtful Christian psychology and psychologists. It is just as easy to do this to his field (pastor, professor, writer) as it is to psychologists — but it does not help to simplify or take eggregious examples. The single most important source, perhaps, for Christian evangelicals is the Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology ed. by David Benner, and there are others — he needs to interact with the best of the approaches not the stereotypes.
2. I agree that more psychologists need theological training and they need to work out the practices of repentance and penance in the therapist’s office; and I believe that many pastors need more sophisticated training on what psychology, in a Christian mode, looks like. And confession to one another is a good thing.
3. We need to ask why it is that Christian psychology has developed as a parachurch enterprise and is not found as often inside the walls of a local church? (And here I would contend, once again, that parachurch is a label — “church” is not just inside the walls of a local congregation.)