Secular Challenges for Christian Psychology Students.


Theological Integration, one of several subjects, involves a lot of reading. Every week we are required to read chapters of books authored by theologians, biblical scholars, and then summarize those chapters into no more than 250 words (which is a tough task considering the amount of information there is within a chapter or two). But one of our readings really struck me, and I used its information elsewhere when I wrote about the secular values and how they impose themselves on us students within Worldviews class (you can read that full essay at my other site).

This piece was from a well-known Christian psychologist Eric Johnson authored for the Journal of Psychology and Christianity (1). His goal was to illumine the challenges that secular education has for Christianity, and how Christians should focus on maximal integration (p. 349). Maximal integration is the attempt for the Christian psychologist to fully integrate her Christian beliefs within her career. However, this becomes challenging when she is subjected to imposed secular values. What secularism does is relegate God/religion/doctrine from the public & psychological discourse (p. 341). In other words, a Christian psychologist cannot inform her patient that his depression is a product of a fallen world as outlined in Genesis 3. That, according to imposed secular principles, is not allowed; because that’s just religious stuff.

However, the great irony (as I argued for in my linked essay) is that secularism is an exclusive doctrine itself. It imposes its ideology of ridding God/religion/doctrine from discourse on others, and forces those who are believers (Christian, Muslim or otherwise) to adopt a worldview that they don’t believe in. If the Christian psychologist does not bow to this demand she will not be in clinical practice for very long, unless she goes into some manner of pastoral counselling. The sad thing is that the secular psychologist (who may be an atheist naturalist, for example) gets a free pass on imposing his secular values on his patient. This would strike one, especially as a Christian, as unfair. It also results in, as Johnson puts it, something called “Christian/Secular syncretism” which is essentially when the Christian unconsciously accepts secular values, mostly because it is forced upon her.

I soon realized that my own psychology education is entirely secular based. The vast majority of lecturers and students at my college are Christian. However, what I realized is that Christian students are being indoctrinated with a secular psychology education. This is obviously hugely problematic given the truth of the Christian worldview for we are impugning Christian truth with secular values. Nowhere in any of our textbooks is the doctrine of original sin or salvation mentioned. Nowhere is God, Jesus or demons or any other biblical supernatural entity mentioned at all. But on the Christian worldview these beings exist and they have influence over our lives; therefore assuming the truth of Christianity they surely deserve to be mentioned. Christian psychology students, as a result, are not being taught how to spiritually nurture those who require it most. A further symptom is seen in how Christian secular practicing psychologists into a state of Dissociative Integration (p. 348-349). Here the Christian psychologist embodies Jesus’ essence (of love, compassion, mercy etc.) yet avoids sharing such a message with her patients. Again, according to secular values, Jesus is just religious stuff.

Having taken this to the lecturers (two Christian PhD candidates) I soon realized that this was a fairly messy and complicated scenario. One is involved in clinical psychology while the other focuses on research psychology. I inquired of them how they deal with the imposing secular values so prevalent on their careers. Unfortunately, they did not answer my question sufficiently which is understandable given its complex nature. At least this goes to show that one would need extended time to flesh out an answer.

A further symptom that Johnson seems to have aptly diagnosed is that of Dual Allegiance. This is when, for example, the Christian psychologist embraces both secular and Christian values (however, Dissociative Integration factors in here for this same psychologist will not directly exhibit her Christian values in the secular clinical environment). For a presentation assignment I interviewed a third psychologist on a fragmented vs. integrated perspective of psychology. I found that she embraced Dual Allegiance as well as, interestingly enough, imposed her Christian values indirectly in her secular practice. What she said was that she viewed the practice of hypnotism as unbiblical because she believed it opened an individual’s mind to ominous supernatural forces. She followed this belief through into her actual sessions with clients though according to secular values this shouldn’t happen. This was informative in the sense of just how real the conflict is between Christian and secular values in psychology.


1. Johnson, E. The Three Faces of Integration. 2011. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Vol. 30, No. 4, 339-355.

5 responses to “Secular Challenges for Christian Psychology Students.

  1. Another great article, James. This is a growing concern of mine, as I plan to pursue a clinical program and career after my undergraduate degree. I’ve wondered how I can interact with clients in a secular setting while still embodying the love of Christ.

    I don’t want to water down my faith or my career, nor do I want to serve two masters or be two fragmented people at work and at home. It’s a struggle I’ve heard many believers pursuing a scientific career express.

    Thanks for your thoughts, James. I appreciate them!

  2. Pingback: A Critical Examination of Fowler’s Stage-Theory Model of Faith Development | James Bishop's Theological Rationalism·

  3. Hey James! I am currently an applied psychology major at Biola University. We focus on an integrative approach to science and faith. There is now a shift happening where psychotherapists within a clinical setting are recognizing the benefits of discussing religion and values within the session but not imposing one’s values and religion on vulnerable clients without stating at the outset what the therapist’s values, goals, and therapeutic procedures are (Hall & Hall, 1997). Psychotherapy is not a value-neutral process. I think this is a fair stance within mainstream psychotherapy. However, if one wants to have an explicitly Christian, Islamic, Buddhist practice then it should be stated at the outset that that is what you are. Is this fair in your opinion? What are your thoughts on this?

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