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THE CHARACTER OF A REFORMED PSYCHOLOGY

But what is that psychology? How are we to conceive of that psychology which we have said is so necessary?

We must conceive of it, first of all, not merely as Christian, but as specifically Reformed. Let me explain that. There are forms of so-called Christian psychology; perhaps you are aware of some of them. One of the more familiar is perhaps that psychology which is practiced by a man named Clyde M. Narramore, who has a radio broadcast originating out of California. Another is that of Jay Adams, who has a counseling center in Philadelphia, PA, and who has written several books on this subject of a Christian psychology. Another is that kind of psychology which used to be practiced at Pine Rest Christian Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And there are more. All of these-are Christian psychologies, but all of them fall short for a variety of reasons. Some divorce the work of psychology from the church, and especially from the office of the ministry; that, by the way, is one criticism that I have of Jay Adams. Many, in fact, all, without exception, I think, do not stress the Reformed idea of the covenant; many do not have a proper conception of the doctrine of sin and grace; they do not have an antithetical Reformed world-and-life view; and most are very heavily influenced by the psychological theories of the world. So we must not speak of a Christian psychology—that is not enough. We must speak of a Reformed psychology. A generally Christian psychology is a broad roof indeed; it covers a multitude of evils. But when we speak of a Reformed, and especially of a Protestant Reformed Psychology, we speak of something different. We speak of a psychology that stands in harmony with our Reformed view of Scripture and of the Reformed Confessions: one which stands in the line of continued development of the faith of our fathers, going all the way back to Calvin and even farther. But what then specifically characterizes such a Reformed psychology which we must have?

In the first place, and primarily, a Reformed psychology must be God-centered. This seems to be a contradiction, because we said a little while ago that in psychology we study the idea and being of man. We do not study the doctrine of God; we do not study the attributes of God: who is God, what is God—that is not psychology. It seems strange, therefore, to speak of a God-centered study of man. But yet it is precisely the nature of a Reformed psychology that it is theocentric. Psychology must be theocentric in the sense that it is Scriptural. Scripture, after all, is God’s Word; it is God’s speech, God speaking through the inspired writers to His people, God’s revelation to His people. And that Scripture reveals God’s will for all things, and reveals also the proper idea and conception of man. Therefore, when we are Scriptural, we are truly God-centered. In that sense of the word we bow to the Scriptures. We accept God’s Word to us as to what man is and in what relationships he stands. Our whole view of man is completely determined by what God says. You ask me, “What is man? How do I learn what man is?” I say, “Go to the Scriptures.” There you will find the answer. The Word of God will tell you what you are; the Word of God will tell you what you must be; the Word of God will tell you all you need to know for your eternal salvation and for your life in the midst of the world. Even those facts which science tells us must, therefore, be interpreted in the light of God’s revelation to us, and never apart from it.

In the second place, Reformed psychology must in the nature of the case be a covenant psychology. And that immediately implies the proper conception of man. We must speak of man in terms of his creation, of his fall, of sin, of the curse and its results, of all the problems and difficulties which stem from that sin of our first parents. We must speak of man in terms of God’s people who through Christ stand in the covenant of friendship with God. We cannot spell that out in detail here. But suffice it to say that we must construe all things, also psychology, covenantally. That implies also a view of the Christian man as he stands in Christ the Head of the covenant. Christ has redeemed us from sin and the curse; Christ calls us to live a life of sanctification through His Spirit; Christ is He through Whom alone we stand in the proper relationship of friendship to our God. That after all is the heart of the matter, is it not? The whole matter of sin and grace? All of our thinking must be in those terms, without exception. We must not have any of that modern garbage about arrested development and all the rest of that nonsense. We talk concerning sin, concerning the hard reality of the effects of sin in our lives. We cannot speak of spiritual-mental problems, we cannot speak of any area of psychology, without speaking in terms of sin. Let me put that bluntly: if you have a problem of a spiritual-mental-psychological nature, whatever it may be, your problem is one thing, and that is sin. Perhaps a specific sin, perhaps not. Perhaps a chain of sins, one leading to the other, but nevertheless, your problem is simply sin. That is the heart of the Reformed psychology. It is sin, for which the only cure is the blood of Jesus Christ, not all the headshrinkers in the state of Colorado, or in all the 50 states put together. The grace of God, that is the only remedy. A Reformed psychology must therefore be not only God-centered, but also covenantally Christ centered.

In the third place, a Reformed psychology must necessarily be construed in terms of the offices in the church. Through the church, Christ the Savior of His people, speaks to those people. He is the Head of that church, Who rules that church by His Word and Spirit. All of our life must necessarily center around that church, because in the sphere of that church God reveals Himself in the line of the covenant. The church is absolutely necessary because it is the communion of the saints, the body of believers who are united in Christ as their covenant Head, and to whom Christ speaks as His body. And more specifically, we must speak of psychology in terms of the offices, and especially the office of the ministry. The minister is the ambassador of Christ in the world; he is Christ’s representative to God’s people in the sphere of the church. It is therefore the responsibility of the minister to care for the souls of the sheep; the apostle John quotes Christ Himself when he writes in Chapter 10 of Christ as the Good Shepherd Who knows His sheep and cares for them. It is the truth of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions that the minister of the Word of God stands as the official representative of that Christ Who is the Shepherd of His sheep. It is his duty and responsibility to care for the spiritual needs of His people, especially because he above all speaks concerning that vital matter of sin and grace. Christ, Who saves His people from their sins and from all of life’s problems, speaks through the minister. Read Romans 10. Read Hebrews 13:17, where God’s people are admonished, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief.” Therefore the spiritual, psychological care of the sheep is the duty primarily of the minister through the preaching of the Word. That is primary: for it is through the preaching of the Word that Christ speaks to His people concerning redemption from sin and its effects. The preaching of the Word is the most effective psychology there could possibly be, because the preaching of the Word, whether it teaches, whether it admonishes, whether it guides, whether it directs, whether it comforts, whatever it does, speaks to the needs of God’s people in this life, and speaks very practically, too. You know that from experience. The minister must, moreover, further instruct his people in the truths of Scripture, so that they may better know the truths of sin and grace as applied to their lives. And it is also his responsibility to attempt in the light of, and on the basis of Scripture to solve any spiritual-psychological problems that may come to his attention because, I repeat, through the office of the ministry Christ speaks to His people concerning all things, also spiritual-mental-psychological problems and their solutions. That, then, must be our starting point. Whatever else we may say about a Reformed psychology, and there are many more things which we can and must say, with that we must begin. Then we are on the right track. Then we cannot go wrong. 

THE ATTAINMENT OF A REFORMED PSYCHOLOGY  

And then, too, we are on the road to the attainment of a Reformed psychology. How do we get there?

In the first place, as far as our leaders are concerned, it is their responsibility to develop the idea and practice of a Reformed psychology. This has been done and is being done at the present time. We must not think, you know, that this whole idea of psychology is new; there are those that would like to have us think that, but it is not so. Much work has been done in the past, only in the past we called it by a little different name. We called it a world-and-life view. But yet, development continues. That must be done in the seminary, in the training of ministers of the gospel, of shepherds of God’s sheep. That has been done in the past, and that is being done now, and it will be done in the future. Our leaders understand the necessity of a Reformed psychology. They understand it far better yet than I do. They understand, too, that it is very difficult for God’s people to live in this complex modem age. They know that God’s people need answers to the problems of life. I know that they know that, because they have told me. That is true also of our ministers as they are in the parsonage and in the pulpit. Our ministers undoubtedly need further training in education in this whole matter of psychology, in the whole matter of the care of God’s people. They must always learn, even when they get to be old, because they always learn something new. And they must practice what they learn in the pastoral ministry.

But that is not what you really came to hear tonight—what our leaders have done and must do. You came to hear what you must do. And while we cannot talk about that in any great detail, let me lay down just a couple of guidelines.

In the first place, and this above all, do not under any circumstances, seek help from the sphere of the world. Do not do it. If you are in trouble spiritually and you go to the world for your help, you are asking for more trouble, and you will get it. Do not forget that when you step into the sphere of the world, you step among those who deny God and who deny His Word, who deny His revelation of what man is and must be. Do not ever forget it! Do not be taken in by all of their pious talk, because it is not true. I ask again: how in the world can one who does not acknowledge sin and grace, who does not acknowledge Christ as the Shepherd of the sheep, solve problems for a child of God? That is impossible, because they are sin-problems.

But that is negative; that is what not to do. There are many things which you can do.

First of all, you can cooperate with those who are trained and called in the care of the souls of God’s people. And that means primarily the ministers of the gospel. They have been trained in the Scriptural and spiritual care of God’s people. They are those to whom you must turn for help. In that connection I ask of you, though you are not my congregation, I ask of you as God’s people: go to your minister before it is too late. You know, I am rather young yet; I have not had a great deal of experience in this whole field, not nearly as much as the grey-hairs who have preceded me; but there is one thing that they all say, and that is, “When my people come to me, they have waited too long. They have gotten themselves in so deeply that I tear my hair trying to get them out again.” I have heard that said, I think unanimously, by our ministers. Go, then, before it is too late. You have enough common sense to understand that; I don’t have to instruct you. Do not go to the minister with every tiny little problem; if you don’t know what color shoes to wear to the neighbors—that’s no problem for the minister to solve. You are aware of that. But when you have a sin-problem, when you have a problem of a spiritual-psychological nature, go to the minister. Go to him as he stands as a representative of the Shepherd of the sheep; you will avoid a lot of difficulties for yourself and for everyone else if you do. It might not be easy, but do it anyway; you will not be disappointed.

In the second place, live Scriptural life-principles. You say, “That is easy to say.” But if you stop and think about it, that is no pious platitude or panacea, no simple cure-all. For when you evaluate your life in the whole aspect of psychology in the light of the Word of God, then you understand that truth; when you live as God’s people according to His Word, then your problems are easily solved, or they do not arise at all. When you live according to the Scriptures, then you know yourself; you know your relationship to the world, to others in the church, and to God. If you live according to those two great commandments that Jesus set forth in Matthew 22: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”—that is life right there. You say, “But that is too simple.” Oh, no, it is not; that is not simplistic. That is the truth of God’s Word, and that is the only answer that you have to all of your problems—the life of God. Study that Word, therefore; read that Word; discuss that Word among yourselves; discuss it in your societies; seek to counsel one another along life’s pathway. As far as problems and solutions are concerned, seek to develop in your understanding of what you are and who you are and what according to the Scriptures you are called to be. In brief, live a Reformed psychology.

May God give us the grace that, as we continue to develop in this area of Reformed psychology, we may do that in harmony with His Word and to His honor and glory.