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The Christian Significance of Psychology

I was very interested to be invited by Roger Bretherton to speak to the British Association of Christians in Psychology (BACIP) on the vocation of psychologists. I am very sympathetic to the idea that Christians can have a vocation to do things that are not explicitly related to church. Being teachers or doctors are obvious examples; but the vocation to be a psychologist seems to require more thought.

As I reflected, it seemed that I needed to start one step back, and look at the significance for Christians of psychology itself. The emergence of psychology at the end of the nineteenth century seems a very significant event, and to mark a deepening of the urge of human beings to understand themselves. That goes back at least to the ancient Greek motto, ‘Know Thyself’, but it seems to have deepened at various points, along with the rise of individualism.

There has recently been a remarkable turn towards inwardness and individualism that has affected almost every area of human life and experience. For example, morality has come to value ‘integrity’ more highly than almost any other virtue; religion is rapidly being replaced by spirituality. Psychology is both a symptom and the agent of these far-reaching changes.

The emergence of psychology as an explicit academic subject (in the late 19th cent) and profession (in the early 20th cent) is very interesting, not only for the evolution of human consciousness, but also for theology. I sense it was an important moment for the unfolding purposes of God for humanity. It also provides a good springboard for approaching the vocation of the individual psychologist. So, I will want to look first at the vocation of psychology itself, or the role of psychology in the purposes of God for humanity.

Like almost every human development, increased self-knowledge brings opportunities and dangers. The heighted self-knowledge of contemporary people can lead them to be even more deeply trapped in their egocentricity, or it can enable them to rise above it. We are, in this sense, at a crossroads in the development of humanity, and one in which the purposes of God are very much at stake.

Roger generously agreed to let me approach the vocation of psychologists via this bigger issue of the Christian significance of psychology, and I will be leading the BACIP study day about all this on November 18th 2017. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

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