In his book ‘Created in God’s Image,’[1] Theologian Anthony Hoekema supplies a quote from the works of G.K. Berkouwer which reads, “The sciences which deal with certain aspects of man can make no more than a partial contribution towards our understanding of man, and cannot unveil the secret of the whole man.”[2] It is from this platform that I would like to launch into what I believe to be a balanced relationship between theology and psychology. To begin, I will address two potential ditches that we can fall into when approaching this subject.

On the one hand, it has become common, even amongst Evangelicals, to view the Bible as nothing more than an ancient compilation of Near Eastern writings that hold little to no value for the modern man. This ultimately stems from a low view of the sufficiency and necessity of Scripture, and those of this persuasion relies almost exclusively on the works of prolific ‘ists’ in society. These include psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, pharmacologists, ecologists, biologists, physicists, and even astrologists. While many of these have provided significant benefit to the advancement of humanity (with the exception of astrologists) on some general level, as Berkouwer stated, they only offer a ‘partial contribution.’ Indeed, we can marvel at the work of brilliant pharmacologists who have, through the Lord’s common grace[3], advanced the efficacy of modern medicine and provided man, to some degree, with a greater quality of life. Nor can we deny that the remarkable discoveries of certain physicists who have revealed to us the invisible world of micro-organisms, atoms, and bacteria have granted us a deeper understanding of the world around us. Although these advances in human ingenuity have benefitted mankind on some level, they offer us nothing in the way of answering man’s greatest dilemmas. Fallen man is still subject to the burdens of conscience, sickness, pain, loss, and death. To these problems, the sciences are always searching for answers, yet never coming to a knowledge of the truth.

On the other hand, there are those of the ‘holy elite’ class who would declare that the sciences have offered nothing to mankind of any substantial benefit, and they have actually been a detriment to us. Colossians 2:8 is often quoted in these circles, as it warns not to let anyone take us ‘captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.’ Taken on its own, this verse would seem to support this view. Still, when we place it within its proper context, we see that Paul is not condemning ALL forms of philosophy or human traditions; instead, he is cautioning them against those teachings that would harden them to the truth of the Gospel. As John MacArthur puts it, philosophy ‘referred to more than merely the academic discipline, but described any theory about God, the world, or the meaning of life.’[4] The Colossian church lived amid a society that flourished in ‘Jewish legalism and pagan mysticism.’[5] With these two worldviews posing the threat of infecting the Colossian church, and with early forms of Gnosticism breeding within the city grounds, Paul warns these young believers not to stray from the purity of the message he preached to them. Such deviations are both empty and deceitful. Thus, to say that scientific contributions to mankind are entirely useless seems to have no Biblical warrant.

What, then, does this say about the overall contribution of the sciences to mankind? Or of what benefit are they to the Christian? If we find ourselves with two ditches on either side, then it is usually safe to say that there is a trekkable path that weaves between upon which we can confidently travel. When we look, for example, to the psychological advancements and observations praised by society and the medical community, we see little acknowledgment of the sufficiency, clarity, authoritativeness, and necessity of Scripture. In fact, modern man (like those who have gone before) has sought to declare its independence from God. Philosophers such as Fredrich Nietzsche have made the bold statement that, since the time of man’s enlightenment, ‘God is dead.’ That is, we have outgrown our need for a personal deity and have discovered the ‘Holy Grail’ of human autonomy. This view has been further developed by men, such as Sigmund Freud, who is considered by some to be the father of modern psychology.[6] According to Jay Adams, Freud viewed Christianity as

“an illusion that had to be dispelled. Like all other religions, it was a sign of neurosis. Religion, he taught, was born out of the fear of the great untamed universe surrounding primitive man. At first there was no such thing as moral scruples. But since every man wanted to follow his own wishes (instinct), he clashed with others trying to do the same. In order to survive, men found it necessary to live and work together. Thus morality was the outcome of the growth of society, which could exist only by adopting codes of conduct. Conscience was built up because violations of the code were punished severely by the crowd.  Eventually the code was said to be sanctioned by a god (or gods), thus raising the moral code in stature. Religion belongs to the infancy of the race. Man needs to grow up out of infancy, and that means out of religion… Religion was invented, he claimed, to fulfill man’s needs. When one comes of age, he no longer needs religion.”[7]

I quote this at length because I believe it is important to have a proper understanding of the worldview that Freud contributed to the psychological community, and beyond. There are many well-meaning individuals (even Christians) who have been influenced by Freudian methodology in various universities across this county. While Freud may have made some accurate observations about the human psyche (in the same way a broken clock is right twice a day), the undesirable aspects of his worldview have bled through as well. Not only was he clearly an enemy of religious thought, but Freud also emphasized the animalistic nature of mankind and significantly contributed to the idea that, at our core, we are sexually driven beings who have a right to fulfill such needs. Denying this ‘right,’ as he called it, was a contribution to man’s psychological unhappiness. Thus, while in many respects, Freud is considered a genius by the estimation of man, in the sight of God, he was a fool (see Ps. 14:1).

Also worth noting, Freud was an avid determinist. Webster’s dictionary defines determinism as ‘a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws.’[8] In fact, the popularly coined ‘Freudian slip’ refers to unintentional errors that people make, which reveal certain subconscious feelings. In Freud’s mind, there were no accidents or coincidences. Every action and every word revealed something about the sub-conscious realm of man and was taken into consideration. It should be noted that determinism should not be confused with the Christian doctrine of providence, which places the will of God at the center of all things. As the definition above implies, determinism seeks to empower natural processes to an almost supernatural level to explain the world around us and the people who inhabit it. So although the result of determinism may resemble certain aspects of providence, the means couldn’t be further apart. In the former, reality is fixed by ‘preceding events or natural laws,’ while in the latter, God is at the center doing ‘all that He pleases.’ (Ps. 115:3).

So what do we make of this? Is God silent in the midst of modern psychology, or are there truths we can glean in the teachings of men like Sigmund Freud? The words of Peter Kreeft seem to be on track when he says, “Just as it’s possible for a Christian philosopher like Augustine or Aquinas to use the categories of non-Christian philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, it’s possible for a Christian psychiatrist to use the techniques of Freud without subscribing to his religious views.”[9] I would generally agree with this statement, yet with some reservations.

First, we must always remember that it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves. No philosophy or psychological advancement can take its place. To remove the person and work of Christ from care and counsel is to provide false assurance to men and women, regardless of whether their lives seem to improve for the better.

Second, before we delve into the secular teachings of men, it is crucial that we have a firm grasp of what the Bible teaches. No matter what use the studies of psychologists has, God’s Word stands as the final authority on all of life. While it is true that the Scriptures do not speak in detail about every situation we may find ourselves in or every decision we will have to make, it does provide the necessary framework for living all of life to the glory of God. To place too great of an emphasis on extra-biblical sources of any kind can lead to a low view of Scripture’s sufficiency. When the ‘ists’ of the world become the go-to voices for all of life’s dilemmas, then we ultimately silence the wisdom of God, which is intended to comfort us in the midst of life’s greatest trials.

Third, we must be cautious lest we allow the teachings of men to influence our interpretation of Scripture. As J.I. Packer rightly concludes, ‘…Scripture must interpret Scripture; the scope and significance of one passage is to be brought out by relating it to others.’[10] Any other lens we use in the interpretation of God’s Word will ultimately result in an abuse of the true meaning of the text. How many cults have been formed because men have read something into the Bible that was simply not there? Or how often has Scripture been used as a platform for the promotion of personal ideologies or to justify the use or misuse of one thing or another? Simply put, we can not approach Scripture with the intention of proving one idea or the other. Rather, we are to test all such ideologies against the clear teaching of Scripture to see if they hold any value.

Fourth, Scripture must be the blueprint for our methodology. Researching the various observation/counseling methods of secular psychologists and psychiatrists may provide general examples and statistics that offer insight into the human mind, we should seek to utilize such data in an evangelistic way. The goal of all care and counsel is to see men and women come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ or, if they are already saved, to guide them in seeking the presence of God in whatever trial they find themselves in. Fanciful self-help tactics offer nothing in the way of lasting peace, since, as Augustine so insightfully stated, ‘You have made man for yourself, and restless is the human heart until it comes to rest in you.’[11] The Westminster Shorter Catechism responds to the question of man’s ultimate purpose with the response, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.’ Thus, whatever means we employ, they must strive for that end.

Fifth, it has often been said that ‘all truth is God’s truth,’ yet a more pertinent statement would be, ‘all salvific truth is Biblical truth.’ Truth has varying degrees of importance. For example, acknowledging that the sky is blue may keep us out of the loony bin, but acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Chris will keep us out of hell. In contrast to the teachings of relativism, this also implies that there is truth to be acknowledged. We do not live in a world where something can be true for you but not for me. While it may be said that I like peanut butter and you do not, it cannot be said that peanut butter does not exist. There are absolute truths upon which God has placed great emphasis. These are truths of eternal significance and should never be sacrificed on the altar of staying relevant to the culture.

Seventh and finally, we must always view man as a person created in the image of God. This stands in stark contrast to the teachings of Freud, who viewed man as a rational animal whose greatest purpose was to fulfill his or her sexual desires. To once again quote Kreeft, “Freud was a scientist, and in some ways a great one. But he succumbed to an occupational hazard: the desire to reduce the complex to the controllable. He wanted to make psychology into a science, even an exact science. But this is can never be because its object, man, is not only an object but also a subject, an ‘I’.” Freud had a low view of man, and it was displayed vividly through his teachings. We, on the other hand, must adopt the view that man is a creature created in the image of God and designed specifically to enjoy fellowship with God, in the presence of God. This is why, to bring us full-circle, Berkouwer made the astute observation that the sciences of men can only provide us with a ‘partial contribution’ of the whole frame of man. Without the Biblical worldview through which we can make accurate observations about man, we are left with partial snapshots of who man is. A study on characteristics of men who suffer from opiate addiction may provide us with some unique insights and even help us to better understand the specific circumstances surrounding a person’s suffering, but it is only through a Biblical understanding of who we are, who God is, what He has done, and what He wants from us, that men and women will experience true freedom from the bondage to sin and death, and be liberated to live a new life in Christ.

As a final means of encouragement, I would say that we should seek to use whatever means necessary (within reason) to win men to Christ. The fields of psychology, biology, physics, and the like, can be useful tools when coupled with and subjected to proper Biblical teaching. We should take up the call to be ‘wise as serpents’ (Mt. 10:16) in our dealings with men. Also, it is safe to say that many are well versed in these areas, and it can be beneficial to have some familiarity with certain teachings so as to apply Gospel truth to specific areas of life with greater efficacy. No matter what, we should be seeking the glory of God and the good of others in all of our affairs. If the sciences of men can help us achieve that goal in any way, then let us utilize their teachings with wisdom and prudence.


[1] Hoekema, Anthony A. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

[2] Berkouwer, G.C. Man: The Image of God (abbrev. Man). Trans. Dirk W. Jellema. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962. (orig. pub. 1957).

[3] Common (otherwise referred to as general or natural) grace, refers to the general goodness that God displays to the whole of mankind, whether redeemed or not. Although this has been a subject of no little controversy throughout the history of Christianity, it is clear that the Bible offers clear reference to its teaching (see Ps. 145:9; Mt. 5:45; Lk. 6:35, etc.). This stands in contrast to the special, or effectual, grace that God lavishes upon His elect in salvation, sanctification, and, ultimately, glorification.

[4] MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway, 2019.

[5] Ibid. (See introduction to the Book of Colossians).

[6] This claim has been disputed by those who study such things- See: Thomas, Julia. “Who Is The Father Of Modern Psychology, And Why Does It Matter?” Betterhelp. Last modified

[7] Adams, Jay Edward. Competent to Counsel: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publ. House, 1970, 16.

[8] “Determinism.” Merriam-Webster.

[9] Keeft, Peter The Pillars of Unbelief: Freud, n.d.

[10] Packer, J. I. “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1958, 106.

[11] Augustine, and Tom Gill. Confessions. Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2003, 11.