A lot of this literature, unsurprisingly, is about the tensions between the empirical and reductionistic methods of science and the metaphysics of Christian belief. In psychology these beliefs have to do with topics related to the mind/soul/spirit, human nature, and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Can there be a science of things like the soul? Or of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
Again, a lot has been written about these sorts of topics. For my part, I find discussions about things like the soul to be a bit intractable. I just don't think that's a nut that is going to get cracked. Basically, there's always going to be a disjoint between the empirical methodology of psychological science and the dualistic anthropology that many Christian psychologists are working with.
But beyond the nature and existence of the soul, there is one issue in this area that I am interested in. It has to do with theologies of human nature and their relationship to behavior change and psychotherapy.
One of the problems with modern psychotherapy, from certain Christian perspectives, is its optimistic view of human agency. Simply put, in modern psychotherapy humans are capable--with commitment and grit and aided by the science of behavior change--of improving their overall well-being. This is why you go to therapy after all. There isn't a magic wand or pill. But there is the expectation that you, with the help and support of the therapist, can make yourself happier and healthier.
That optimistic vision of human agency and capability doesn't sit well with certain theological anthropologies, Calvinism in particular. The optimistic and humanistic vision of modern psychotherapy crashes pretty hard into the doctrine of total depravity.
And it raises all sorts of interesting questions. For example, just how emotionally well-adjusted can a totally depraved person be? Can the elect get clinically depressed? And so on.
A part of the problem here for a Calvinistic anthropology is its notion that any spiritual improvement can't be the product of human initiative, choice or agency. In a Calvinistic anthropology we are so broken that we are incapable of helping ourselves. That view seems to doom the prospect of therapy right out of the gate. So it's not surprising that many Calvinistic Christians have a dim view of therapy. Therapy, in their view, is blasphemous as it suggests that we can help and even save ourselves. That's stated a bit strongly, but you get the basic idea. There is a clash of anthropologies between modern psychotherapy (high view of human agency) and Calvinism (low view of human agency).
One way, perhaps, to get around all this is to split the human person into two parts. Our carnal nature and our spiritual nature. Our carnal nature might be helped by psychotherapy. Psychotherapy might help us become more "well adjusted," in some carnal, non-spiritual sense.
Some people do make this sort of argument, but I find it to be muddle-headed. If I have, say, an addiction I think that's both a "carnal" and a "spiritual" problem. Working on one part is working on the other part. Our spiritual and psychological lives are intimately associated, if not the same thing. Trying to tease apart the "carnal" versus "spiritual" aspects of our psychological experience seems, to my mind, completely ridiculous.
And if that's the case, we come back to the problem of Calvinism and psychotherapy. If you are a therapist with a Calvinistic anthropology what, exactly, can you expect from your client? That is, if humans can't of their own initiative improve their emotional and spiritual well-being, if they must wait upon the grace of God, then what are you doing in the therapy room?
Basically, I don't know if a Calvinist can be a therapist.
By contrast, I do think an Arminian Christian is much better positioned in this regard. Arminians make room for human agency. They assume some human initiative. The will is free rather than depraved or in bondage.
This isn't to say that there aren't other sorts of questions to be asked here. (I've raised my fair share of questions about free will.) It's simply to say that an Arminian anthropology is better positioned relative to a Calvinistic anthropology in theologically supporting the prospect of Christian psychotherapy. An Arminian therapist expects to call forth from the client decisions and commitments that can move toward grace and well-being. Something is initiated by the agency of the client. More, Arminian therapists expect this from every client, Christian and non-Christian. This capactity to make choices is not limited to the elect but is, rather, available to all. Of course, we often refuse to make good choices, but a basic capacity exists, a capacity at the heart of the therapeutic project and process.
But a Calvinistic anthropology precludes all this as it denies this basic capacity. The will is depraved and in bondage and, here's the key point, there is nothing the client or the therapist can do about it. This is the conclusion that, as best I can tell, undermines the entire therapeutic enterprise.
But maybe I'm wrong about all this. I'm curious to know what you think. But I've always felt that being a Calvinistic therapist was a pretty weird thing to be, if not an outright oxymoron, due to Calvinism's very dim view of human nature.
By contrast, it seems to me that Arminians are much better situated to be therapists. Arminian therapists assume the raw material of human agency that is the prerequisite for the therapeutic process. The client has the capacity to make choices, most critically the capacity to choose to move toward God.
All that to say, while there has been a lot of ink split in Christian psychology about the reductionistic methods of the social sciences intersecting with Christian anthropology (e.g., the nature and existence of the soul), there has been less written about the rival anthropologies within the Christian tradition and which of these may or may not align with the theory and practice of psychotherapy.
Because here's my assessment of the situation. The problem many Christian psychologists think is the problem really isn't the problem. The problem, many think, is the reductionistic methods of science. Thus all this work to reconcile psychological science with Christian psychology. But as I assess the situation the problem isn't with science. The problem is with theology, specifically with a particular theological anthropology. The Calvinistic anthropology is a round peg and psychotherapy is a square hole. And the two don't fit. But that's not a problem with science. Because there are alternative anthropolgies within the Christian tradition that make for a better fit. Basically, I think all practicing Christian psychologists should be Arminian and their graduate coursework should educate them about Arminian theology.
Because even if Christian therapists are not confessing Arminians, they are functionally Arminian the minute they step into the therapy room.