Over a decade ago InterVarsity Press published an edited volume entitled Psychology and Christianity: Four Views(2000). This volume contained chapters from notable Christian scholars David G. Myers, Stanton L. Jones, David A. Powlison, and Robert C. Roberts. The book presented four models of the relationship between Christianity and the discipline of psychology that included levels of explanation (Myers), integration (Jones), biblical counseling (Powlison), and Christian psychology(Roberts). This book came at a time when Christians were striving to determine how to establish a clearer picture of human nature. It addressed the concerns that many had about psychology being antithetical to Christianity, and it provided intellectually sound arguments for a variety of positions. The Four Views text also contained responses between the authors that highlighted points of agreement as well as disagreement among the models.
In Psychology and Christianity: Five Views, editor Eric L. Johnson (who coedited the Four Views text with Stanton Jones) is back to revisit the historical context and expand the dialogue that has been developing with respect to the interface (if any) between the discipline of psychology and the Christian faith. In addition to the four original models, a fifth view has been added in this updated volume. All of the original authors from the first edition have returned to reframe and revise their models (with P. J. Watson added as a coauthor of the chapter on Christian psychology alongside Roberts). The fifth model is presented by John Coe and Todd Hall and frames the interaction as a transformational view. As in the original text, each chapter is followed by short responses from the other essayists.
The chapters are well-written and present their models clearly. In Myers' levels of explanation, psychology is addressing questions of human nature from an entirely different framework and perspective. It represents a layer of explanation that is (simply put) different than a theological layer. It is asking similar questions, but is similar to Stephen J. Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria model. Psychology and Christianity may share similar ideals and goals, but they are better understood as coming from different magisteria (domains of authority). In Jones' integration view, psychology and Christianity are woven together and should not be isolated from one another. Heavily influenced by Abraham Kuyper's Reformed theology, the relationship between psychology and Christianity is less of a dialogue (levels of explanation) and more of a fusion of epistemological approaches, each bringing a unique voice to a scholarly duet. In Roberts and Watson's Christian psychology, Christian faith is utilized as a starting point to develop psychological theory-that is, psychology done by Christians has a distinctively Christian nature to it. In Coe and Hall's transformational view, psychology is a process of investigation that is both descriptive and prescriptive, but is for the purpose of changing people into something different and looks to soul care as a primary point of praxis. The biblical counseling model of Powlison is focused primarily on the manner in which biblical principles can be involved in the care of individuals in a therapeutic/counseling setting and focuses on the place of Scripture and theology within this context.
Each of the chapters is crisp and straightforward in style. I found that in each essay I was extraordinarily sympathetic to the author's perspective. The responses that follow each chapter helpfully highlight some of the points made, but occasionally seem to be either too broad or dithering about minutia. As a general rule, the authors are straightforward and to the point about strengths (and occasionally weaknesses) of their own models and include many helpful examples or personal stories to highlight the strengths, but with humility. The text focuses on psychology as a social science and emphasizes the culture's preoccupation with psychology as a therapeutic enterprise. Psychology is an incredibly broad discipline, and the text could easily include another chapter that is more in line with the contemporary trend of psychology becoming more of a natural science. There is an anthropocentrism about the text, with minimal time and space given to the non-human/comparative aspects of the discipline. This will upset few readers; but it is important to remember that psychology has a rather large comparative presence, and the absence of this that might put off those looking for a broader tent for psychologists focused solely on the human condition.
Johnson bookends the text with introductory and closing chapters: he begins by reviewing the history of the dialogue within the Christian community about psychology, and he ends by admonishing readers to remain focused on scholarly dialogue and the big picture. The attention to humility informed by various perspectives and the scholarly posture of irenic discourse is on target and fits perfectly with the text. In my opinion, the manner in which the chapters are presented and the responses of the coauthors provide an incredibly helpful tool for those looking for a text that feels like an academic conference. Johnson's editing, the authors' familiarity with one another, and the high level of scholarship avoid the sometimes uneven and choppy nature of an edited volume. This book is recommended for upper-division undergraduate or foundational-level graduate courses in psychology. While the size and scope limit the degree of depth that each of the models is able to plumb, it serves its intended role as a thoughtful presentation of each of the models. No doubt, readers will find themselves drifting towards one of the models presented, and their preference will be due to their affinity for the model rather than the rhetorical quality of the prose.