The Psychospiritual Approach |

McMahon, T.A.

This world we live in "ain't heaven." Multitudes of problems which constantly beset believers and unbelievers alike make that very apparent. But Jesus said that He came that we might have life, even a more abundant life (Jn:10:10), and His words indicate His willingness to help those who commit their lives to Him. His offer is not only incredibly wonderful (after all, He's the almighty God!); it is the only true help available. God alone knows every thought, every action, every variable, how they interact, and what good or evil they will produce. The Spirit of Christ is our personal counselor. God's Word is our only true counseling manual, containing His insights, His corrections, His tender mercies, and His healing balm for whatever afflicts our heart and soul.

Even so, a staggering number of His own want "a second opinion."

This ominous trend taking place among today's evangelicals is greatly diminishing an already threadbare reliance upon the Word of God. It's particularly dangerous because much of it sounds biblical, and its chief promoters are for the most part highly influential evangelical leaders. This trend involves approaching life, solving its problems, increasing its benefits, even enriching one's relationship with the Lord, through psychospiritual concepts, techniques and methods.

The term "psychospiritual" will not likely be found in your dictionary, so here is our definition: Simply stated, it involves adding psychology to things spiritual. That would include one or more of the following innovations: supplementing spiritual content with psychological teachings; interpreting or explaining the spiritual through psychological concepts; validating the spiritual through the alleged science of psychology; integrating the spiritual with psychology. The term applies to the spiritualizing of psychology as well. For example, transpersonal psychology, the field's latest stage, has a vocabulary and concepts which are blatantly religious. Consider this quote in the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) Newsletter: "AHP has always held spiritual concerns close to its heart....We have championed the return of spirit to therapy."

We reject all psychology which implicitly or explicitly professes a) to have scientific understanding of the inner (mental, emotional, moral) workings of man, b) to have an objective knowledge of his nature, and/or c) to offer the cure for the problems of man's soul. We recognize that there are endeavors which would come under the umbrella of psychology and which fall outside the above description and its related concerns. However, the very few exceptions to the multibillion-dollar field of psychotherapy and its accompanying markets are hardly a redeeming factor. Psychological counseling is a religious wolf in pseudoscientific clothing. As Martin and Deidre Bobgan have stated (and impressively documented in their many books on the subject), "psychological explanations about life and psychological solutions to life's problems are questionable at best, detrimental at worst, and spiritual counterfeits at least." The bottom line regarding the psychospiritual approach is––it is a delusion.

True spirituality has nothing to do with psychology (1 Cor:2:11), a fake science based primarily on man's rationalizations, i.e., self-deceptions. True spirituality isn't something to which man's wisdom (1 Cor:1:20) can contribute, nor can man validate the teachings of the Scriptures. As a Christian, true spirituality is a product only of our submission and obedience by His grace to His Word (Jn:14:15). The idea that man can add anything to God's way is utter folly. Who would even dare? Yet as obvious as that answer should be, the psychospiritual delusion continues to grow.

Last summer 50,000-plus gathered in Colorado for the Promise Keepers Christian Men's Conference. Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, founder of the organization, declared in his address, "We're going to contest anything that sets itself up against the name of Jesus Christ." Obviously, the coach hasn't "scouted" psychospirituality. Two of the main speakers at the conference were psychologist James Dobson and psychology popularizer Gary Smalley. Of even more concern than what attendees heard from the speakers is the fact that each man received a complimentary hardback copy of The Masculine Journey: Understanding the Six Stages of Manhood by psychotherapist Robert Hicks (foreword by psychologist John Trent).

The book, written to help "provide directions for a man's life so that he doesn't get lost along the way," is mainly psychologically biased conjecture centering around six Hebrew words. In chapter after chapter, subjective insights into manhood are offered through quotes by a host of secular authors with a psychological bent, including Carl Jung, inner-healing therapist Leanne Payne, transpersonal psychiatrist/spiritualist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and Sam Keen, former theologian in residence at Esalen, the New Age/Eastern mystical therapeutic center south of San Francisco. Keen's books feature vicious diatribes against biblical Christianity.

The author of The Masculine Journey, who is also a pastor and seminary professor of pastoral theology, demonstrates what a perverting influence a psychospiritual bias can have. Consider the following small sampling of quotes (his and others) related to just two of man's alleged stages. The phallic stage: "Possessing a penis places unique requirements upon men before God in how they are to worship Him. We are called to worship God as phallic kinds of guys, not as some sort of androgynous, neutered nonmales, or the feminized males so popular in many feminist-enlightened churches." "I believe Jesus was phallic with all the inherent phallic passions we experience as men." This seems to be either the result of Freudian brainwashing or hanging out in locker rooms. Either way it's blasphemous.

Regarding man's (emotionally) wounded stage: "In order for men to discover what manhood is all about, they must descend into the deep places of their own souls and find their accumulated grief." "I am convinced many men in our society today are lashing out at women, at society, at bosses, even at God­all because they do not understand the wounding experience." "The story of Jacob...illustrates a young man having been severely wounded by a dysfunctional family system." You have to be totally indoctrinated by inner-healing psychobabble to derive even a jot of such nonsense from the Bible.

There are just too many biblically erroneous teachings in Hicks' book to cover here. Most involve his interpretations based upon psychology. Where do you find male and female categories of emotional woundedness? or anatomically related worship? Where do you find understanding manhood as a key to a godly life? You don't if you simply take Scripture at its word: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal:3:28)

At the end of the book we find this statement: "Promise Keepers wants to provide men's materials like this book...." Dr. James Dobson, on a recent radio broadcast, held out great hope that Promise Keepers would stir the coals of revival among men in this country. That is indeed a worthwhile hope, but it grieves us deeply to see that the sparks of truth are being fanned into false flames by the winds of psychospirituality. The unbiblical preoccupation of this Christian men's movement is with man himself and from man's perspective. It can only truly live up to Coach McCartney's contending for the faith exhortation by getting back to the basics of the faith. The emphasis has to be focusing on God himself, getting to know Him and His way through His Word. If not, it is at best doomed to a grace-barren, fleshly form of godliness. Sadly, attendees were encouraged in a postconference follow-up letter to purchase the study guide and to form The Masculine Journey study groups.

Whereas Hicks' book is designed to appeal to men, an even more destructive psychospiritual offering has been published for women. As a prolific author, television personality (Focal Point), radio broadcaster (The Chapel of the Air), and popular speaker at Christian women's conferences, Karen Mains has few peers when it comes to influence upon evangelical women. Presently she is chairperson of the trustee board for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and on the Board of Reference of Renovaré (Richard Foster's Christian mysticism organization). Her latest book Lonely No More is an exercise in journaling, i.e., writing down one's spiritual experiences, thoughts, emotions, dream interpretations, communications with God (and vice versa). In it she reveals her innermost "wounds," aspirations––and has an axe or two to grind.

The psychospiritual aspects of the book are reflected primarily in its inner-healing foundation, a mixture of Freudian/Jungian concepts and spiritual beliefs, practices and techniques. Karen received training in inner healing at the School of Pastoral Care established by Agnes Sanford, and considers Sanford disciple and inner-healing/spiritual therapist Leanne Payne to be one of her personal "spiritual directors" (see The Seduction of Christianity regarding the occultic aspects of Agnes Sanford and inner healing).

Inner loneliness and deep soul wounds, resulting from husband David's workaholism and lack of sensitivity to her needs, from Christian males resenting her leadership qualities, and from past experiences of repressive evangelical restrictions (theological and cultural), are among the "emotional hurts" Mains attempts to deal with throughout her book. The route of psychospiritual self-therapy through which she leads the reader is a deadly swamp of subjectivity infested with Jungian dream analysis, symbolic imagery, shamanic visualization, interactive communication with dream entities, projections from the (Freudian) subconscious, and mystical contemplative prayer and fasting. Her Jungian "spiritual director," a Roman Catholic nun and director of novice training, becomes her guide on her soul journey.

Karen reassures her (more than likely evangelical) reader that "spiritual directors are a part of the Catholic tradition,...who stand beside others in their spiritual pilgrimages and assist the practice of gazing Godward. Some Catholic seminaries offer advanced degrees in spiritual direction." Rather than reassuring, it's particularly frightening that a woman who claims to be "a historical evangelical" and "well aware of the dangers of undisciplined subjectivity" would buy such spiritual mockery, let alone try to pass it off as beneficial in knowing God.

In qualifying her admittedly "subjective experiences of the supernatural," she offers that the experiences "must not offend Scripture, orthodox doctrine or the traditions of the historical saints who have made the pilgrimage before me." The latter two "qualifiers" might be of value to Roman Catholics but certainly not to a Berean (Acts:17:10-11). And there is abundant evidence throughout the book that her penchant for the psychospiritual has corrupted whatever biblical sense she may have had. Consider the following:

Through my hardships I discover there's a small part of myself that hasn't grown whole along with the rest of me. It's been maimed by neglect during years of married life. I call it my "idiot-self." I'm discovering that this malnourished orphan needs to be nursed and nurtured. I must find the idiot-self creeping about in the infrastructure of my soul....Self of my self, this abandoned child is very much a part of me....I understand that in some way, I, the intuitive, introverted, feeling-proficient female, have become the substitute for [my husband] David's own female self, his anima, to use the Jungian terminology. He...functions for me as my animus....I have abdicated to my husband my own maleness....

(Concerning Mains' "malnourished orphan child within" and "Eddie Bishop," another entity which appears to her in recurring dreams, see March 1994 "Q&A.")

In addition to the book's Jungian and mystical preoccupation with self, the author offers the basic thesis of humanistic and Christian psychology: "My great concern is loving David; my great concern is loving myself. I know I will not care for him well until I learn to care for myself well." That is not the way Jesus put it nor is it the way of sacrificial love He both demonstrated and promises to live through us.

Although Lonely No More may be its author's most blatant exposure of what she believes, she and her husband David have championed psychospirituality for decades, from their radio and television shows to the material used in their 50-Day Spiritual Adventure for churches.

The books addressed above are merely two among hundreds like them currently offered at your local Christian bookstore. Psychospirituality is being offered by and for Christians in every medium available. It is big-time. The two top-rated Christian radio programs are hosted by a psychologist and two psychiatrists: Drs. James Dobson, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier. Christian psychotherapeutic centers, the biggest advertisers on Christian radio, overflow with believers. Psychological evaluation of those desiring to go into the mission field is becoming the rule; some missions organizations even offer or require training in psychological counseling. And with the blessing of numerous evangelical luminaries, a psychology-influenced gospel is being exported worldwide.

Is psychospirituality what the body of Christ needs today, even though it was unknown to believers for nearly two millennia? What's the fruit of this new thing? Can it add anything of genuine spiritual value to what has been readily available from the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the church? Is it a necessary supplement in order to produce love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control in the life of a believer? Pray and encourage fellow believers in Christ to drink from the Lord's pure, life-giving and grace-abundant waters rather than from spiritually toxic streams polluted by psychospirituality. Pray also that, just as Nehemiah was given the spiritual fortitude to throw the subversive Tobiah the Ammonite (Neh:13:4-8) and all his belongings out of God's temple, so too will God's people have similar strength and courage to jettison from His church the psychospiritual approach with all of its destructive baggage.