ASA’s 75th Anniversary

In 1941, before the United States entered WWII, before antibiotics or AIDS, before nuclear power or bombs, before computers or even transistors… five scientists gathered in Chicago to start the American Scientific Affiliation. Now 75 years later in 2016, PSCF will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of ASA with a theme issue dedicated to the history of ASA. Such reflection may offer insights to orient and inform how we understand our present, and thoughtfully develop from here.

Chris Rios is an assistant dean for graduate studies at Baylor University. He wrote most recently After the Monkey Trial: Evangelical Scientists and a New Creationism (Fordham University Press, 2014). His essay here describes some of the first fifty years of ASA with an invitation to carry that story forward on to the present, and what ASA might be and pursue on into the future. The essay is intended as an invitation. Readers are encouraged to take up one of the insights or challenges, or maybe a related one that was not mentioned, and draft an article (typically about 5,000-8,000 words) that contributes to the conversation. These can be sent to Dr. Rios at He will send the best essays on to peer review and then we will select from those for publication in an ASA 75th anniversary issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The lead editorial in the December 2013 issue of PSCF outlines what the journal looks for in article contributions. For best consideration toward inclusion in the theme issue, manuscripts should be received electronically before 1 February 2016.

In addition to article submissions, Dr. Rios welcomes short reflections (100-500 words) on the following questions:

  1. What were the most memorable, meaningful, or important events in the ASA’s story so far? What were the biggest challenges the ASA has faced? What or who ought to be remembered?
  2. What is the current state of the evangelical engagement with science? What are the pressing issues? How should the ASA respond?

Looking forward to hearing your perspectives,

James C. Peterson, Editor
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
CSCA Past-President

Hearing God’s Voice in Nature

Canadians share enthusiasm for faith+science dialogue around the table at this summer’s meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation​.

“Hearing God’s Voice in Nature” was the theme of this year’s annual meeting of our partner group, the American Scientific Affiliation. It was held at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa Oklahoma, from July 24 to 27. The campus was a very intriguing setting. As usual, the ASA staff efficiently carried out their duties, seeing that all ran smoothly. Program Chair Domenic Halsmer and Local Arrangements Chair Wes Odom worked hard and graciously to ensure a productive and spiritually enriching time. The contingent from Canada and the CSCA (pictured) numbered about 20, including the foursome from the Sikkema Family from Langley B.C.

The theme verse was taken from Psalm 11:2 “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”, and it was evident throughout how respectfully participants hold this verse close to their hearts, life, and work. It is my observation as well, that two, perhaps unintentional subthemes developed as the meeting progressed. One comes from “the darker side” of nature, the other from the constraints of science as a discipline.

The first subtheme was skillfully defined in the opening plenary talk, given by “our own” Bethany Sollereder. It was entitled “Blood, Fire and Fang: Listening for God in the Violence of Creation”. Bethany shared how, if we really look around, and we really want to hear God’s voice, we need to discover it also in the violence, extinction and suffering that has been an inherent part of our created world for a very long time.  There is an ambiguity in creation’s witness wherein we can also discover God. It is not simply “all things bright and beautiful”. The voice of God is still there, if we listen, in part because God cares, because God’s love is limitless, and because, intentionally, divine love is vulnerable.

This theme emerged again in other talks. CSCA vice president Janet Warren presented a talk entitled “Through a Glass Darkly: Human Hindrances to Hearing the Voice of God”, and noted the complexity of listening for God through innate and acquired obstacles which are part of our humanity. Canadian Denis Lamoureux, in his talk entitled “The Cosmic Fall and Natural Evil: Biblical Considerations”, faced the topic of the cosmic fall with exegetical skill, and the theodicy as fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Four vignettes from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa OK – Photos credit: Bob Geddes

The second subtheme was developed primarily by the second plenary speaker, Dr. Alister McGrath from Oxford. He was present through a video presentation and in virtual time for the question and answer period. As he reviewed the topic of Natural Theology, ( subtitled “Seeing God’s Footprints in Creation”), McGrath focused on the fact that science doesn’t answer all the questions, particularly certain aspects of the truly big questions. A Christian perspective provides a special and unique lens by which we can understand our place in the universe. McGrath’s comments and insights were picked up or affirmed in a number of other talks. For example, long time ASA member Walter Bradley, in his talk on “The Mystery of Life’s Origin”, noted how it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God with the tools of science. This was underscored by Ted Davis’ talk as well. He noted science’s inability to answer the basic questions concerning the “first and last things.

Other Canadian contributions included Alan Dickin’s talk entitled “The Need to Re-examine Noah’s Experience of the Flood”. Please note that all of the talks, in audio and abstract form, are available via the ASA website You will also see some of the other activities, such as the discussions from the Faith, Gender, and Career Panels, the other plenary talks etc.

As an aside, my wife and I decided to explore mid America by road on the way there and back. This meant taking some time to cover the historic Route 66, with its museums and restored gas stations, and also spending a day in Kansas City. I highly recommend the American Jazz Museum. It is very interactive.

A highlight of the meeting itself is in seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I have always experienced the love of God, the energy of the Holy Spirit, and the embrace of Christ at every ASA meeting, and this one was no exception. Thanks again to the ASA staff and local organizers. Start planning for Azusa Pacific next year, when the ASA will celebrate their 75th anniversary. We are.

Bob Geddes
Secretary Treasurer

Dan Osmond (1934-2015) – Mr. Valiant-For-Truth

Tribute to a visionary

By Don McNally

Dan Osmond (1934-2015)

It was with great sadness that I learned of Dan Osmond’s passing on Saturday April 24th. Not only had a very good and gracious man departed; a significant chapter in the history of the CSCA had also come to a close. For over 30 years, from the founding of the CSCA in 1973, Dan had been the preeminent voice of the CSCA. Although he withdrew from his high-profile advocacy and activism for the CSCA during retirement, he always had the work of the CSCA top of mind in his prayers and support.

In many respects, Dan reminds me of John Bunyan’s character “Mr. Valiant-for-Truth”[1] in the Pilgrim’s Progress. Like Bunyan’s character, Dan had a gracious and winsome tenacity in matters of faith. In whatever work he was involved with, Dan always saw the big picture in terms of God’s redeeming love in Christ. This passion for seeing all of life from this perspective, and particularly with his work in science, led Dan to play a leading role in the formation of the CSCA in 1973.

While the founding of the CSCA seemed like an outlandish idea at the time, in Dan’s view it was the only response adequate to the needs of the time. Well-wishers from the ASA looked on and took note of his zeal in promoting the vision of the CSCA to his contacts across Canada. In the ASA Newsletter of Fall 1977 it was noted that “The Canadians had the problem of a membership scattered across a vast country. But they have pizazz, judging from Dan’s report.” In that report, Dan shared his vision for the CSCA:

“I believe we must catch the vision of generations of teachers mistakenly teaching thousands of Canadian pupils with an anti-biblical bias; of pastors and their flocks with ill-conceived reflexes against science; of a public still somewhat misunderstood by the gurus of science holding forth outside their realms of competence; and of scientists afflicted with ‘nothing-buttery ‘ who, wittingly or otherwise, have excluded their Saviour from that aching, God-shaped void inside them. We must begin to respond more coherently and practically to the great moral issues that arise on all fronts out of science, medicine, and technology, in a world crying out for our talents to be used strategically.”

And respond he did. This passion was the focus for all of Dan’s work and the source of numerous initiatives to help students and faculty see the deep meaning of Christian faith for their work in science. Prayer and fellowship meetings at his home, unflagging commitment to meetings with students at the “Think Tank” over dinner at St. Michael’s College, formation of the CSCA as an officially recognized campus group at the University of Toronto, constant effort to bring the CSCA and Inter-Varsity together for joint ministry,[2] work on the John Templeton Foundation Board, numerous meetings with the CSCA and ASA, countless talks and lectures on faith and science–all of these activities were centred in his deep Christian faith.

You’ll also find this tribute in the 2015 CSCA Newsletter.

In the context of this life of service to the vision of the CSCA, Dan shared his retrospective on the founding of the CSCA in our 40th Anniversary Newsletter*. In many respects, this article was his last charge to the CSCA, and in this article he raised the question of whether the CSCA policy of being “neutral” on controversial issues concerning creation and evolution might not be counterproductive. In his words, “If being “neutral” is already a turn off for many students, should the CSCA consider changing tactics and doing more to defend ‘scientific truth’ with the kind of zeal it devotes to ‘Gospel truth’? Is not all truth God’s truth?”

On the matter of the close collaborative relationship between the ASA and CSCA, Dan was very clear: “Our unity in Christ, our desire to serve our Lord first and foremost and our reliance on the Holy Spirit have made it possible to work together in harmony on a win/win basis.” True to form, Dan was an active participant in the joint meeting of the ASA, CSCA and CiS at McMaster University last year, and he was instrumental in having John Walton’s special sessions on Genesis part of the program. He had come full circle from the highly successful joint ASA/CSCA meeting that he and his wife Faith organized at the University of Toronto in 1996.

Dan remained active to the end: working to prepare his farm at Roseneath for a new season, corresponding with friends and contacts on matters of faith, and preaching at his local church. Dan’s last sermon, just weeks before his death keyed off Psalm 46: 1-3 and selection of related texts on the theme: “Living in the fear of the Lord . . . therefore we will not fear.”[3]

When his Master came for him, Dan was found a faithful steward, busy with kingdom work.[4]

May we, like Dan, be “valiant for truth” in the firm conviction that “all truth is God’s truth”; may we share his vision for the work of the CSCA in close collaboration with the ASA; may we strive to reach this generation with the liberating faith of the Gospel which shall make us truly free from the false idols of our age; may we shine this light in the dark places of our world as faithful stewards of the living Word by whom all things were made.

[1] My title is also intended as a playful poke at the pretentions of Post-Modernism on such matters. For a thoughtful philosophical discussion on this topic see Simon Blackburn’s, Truth: a Guide (2007) and his talk, Truth & Relativism (University of Toronto, 2005) on YouTube:
[2] In June 2005 Dan wrote an extensive 57 page memorandum “Building authentic ‘educational’ and ‘witnessing’ IVCF communities in Canada’s universities”. The document still stands as a comprehensive and prescient assessment of what needs to be done to maintain an authentic Christian presence in all aspects of university life.
[3] Job 1: 6-12 Job 2: 1-10 Psalm 111: 10 Acts 9: 31
[4] I have concentrated on Dan’s faith life and vision in this tribute. A lengthy tribute could also been written on Dan’s considerable academic and scientific accomplishments.

Give the Gift of Kenotic Membership

Is God highly exalted, apart from creation, above and beyond space and time, transcendent? Yes. Is God present within creation, personally engaged, working in and through all things, immanent? Yes.

Some religions consider the divine as being an utterly transcendent, disconnected, dictatorial figure. Others regard divinity as being wholly immanent, found within nature, bound within time and space.

But the Christian faith acknowledges God as both transcendent and immanent. One event which gives great clarity and depth to this is the incarnation: God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6,7, NASB).

The apostle Paul commends this kenotic impulse to us: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (vv. 3-5).

Membership in organisations is often considered for its benefits; we ask, “What will I get out of being involved?” Let me encourage you today to consider this from a different perspective: “How can others benefit by my membership?” Many in the CSCA (and our parent/sibling affiliate the ASA) have thought, “I am the only Christian in my research group and the only scientist in my church.” Listing your name in our membership directory creates opportunity for real community by being there for that starting undergrad or grad student in science who has moved to your university, by supporting that new researcher or lab technician with Christian fellowship with other scientists.

We who have positions of authority, responsibility, and seniority in our workplaces can answer Paul’s call by making ourselves available as conversation partners, coming alongside the next generation, inspiring them to a faithful and scientific life. We can share our journeys, its pitfalls and triumphs, its sorrows and joys. And we can make ourselves vulnerable to the challenges, enthusiasm, energy, criticism, and insights of our youthful counterparts. Together, across the generations, we can grow in answering God’s particular call upon us as “royal scientists” to search out the patterns that God has concealed within his creation (Proverbs 25:2) and to delight in and study the great works of the Lord (Psalm 111:2).

NOTE: For the month of December, members of CSCA/ASA can give gift memberships for only $10! (When you fill in the order, sign in first and leave your own name as recipient and not the person to whom you want to give it. You will receive a downloadable PDF with a promotional code that you will give to your friend. They need to activate the membership themselves in order to sign the statement of faith.) Non-members: Just tell someone who is a member that a CSCA membership is on your Christmas wish list!

We also encourage donations at this time of year. Click the button below, or use the “Support CSCA” tab above.

Donate Now Through!

Rosetta is Now Silent

Luke Janssen

We are pleased to republish today’s post by Luke Janssen, professor in McMaster University’s Division of Respirology, Department of Medicine, from his blog entitled Reaching into Plato’s Cave.

Genesis 11:1-8: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens …’ ” “The Lord said, ‘…Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building…”

Last night we lost the ability to communicate with the Philae Lander that the Rosetta Probe dropped onto Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, putting a premature end to our grand mission. Just as we were about to complete it. Now it goes to sleep, and may never be heard from again. How quickly the story turned around from triumph and elation to disappointment and finality.

A city with a half-finished tower. The probe with a crippled lander. Both a lasting reminder of our aspirations … and our limitations.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m really stretching out the parallels pretty thinly right now. But I couldn’t help it. As I took in the unfolding Rosetta Probe story a few days ago, I was reminded of the Tower of Babel story, as per my previous blog post. The evolving storyline over the past few days brought out a few other themes I might have toyed with if I was in a particularly theological mood … the comet’s path through the cosmos is controlled by Jupiter (aka the king of the gods) … the lander’s demise because it fell into darkness … the fact that it wasn’t firmly anchored on The Rock … hope gone because it lost sight of The Sun … The Sun may yet quicken it back to life …

But the sudden end to the mission, before it could be fully completed, over a loss of communication issue book-ended for me the Tower of Babel story once again.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t for a moment think that any deity found it necessary to put an end to this far-reaching expedition we started 10 years ago. But once again, we felt the audacity to reach for the heavens. And once again, just like in ancient Mesopotamia, the realization was forced upon us that we’re not the masters of our own destiny.

It was fun while it lasted. The lander gave us a few answers, and as tends to be the case in science, it raised many more questions. And certainly a little bit of controversy, with some asking “was it worth it”, and others diverting attention away from the mission itself and toward the shirt worn by one of the key scientists, who later gave a tearful apology.

Now the lander has fallen silent (although Rosetta still orbits the comet). But for a short while it told quite a story. It even serenaded us: The European Space Agency released an audio recording of the “song” coming from the comet and recorded by the approaching Lander.

A fitting reminder of the opening four verses of Psalm 19:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

May we never stop listening.

Or reaching.

The Stars Aligned

Bob Geddes

On the subject of science and faith, the stars literally aligned for me this past July. Early in that month I gave talks to two different age groups on the topic, at the national Presbyterian Youth Conference at Brock University (Canada Youth 2014). Two weeks later at McMaster University, just down the highway, was the joint annual meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation, and, from Great Britain, Christians in Science. Bethany Sollereder on the previous blog entry has shared some reflections on that meeting.

I was asked to do an article for the Presbyterian Record covering both events, and it was an interesting juxtaposition. As reflected at both meetings, I have found resolving the issues concerning science and Christianity to be a gospel imperative. Many recent surveys (by organizations such as Reddit, The Barna Group, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research etc.), are showing that an overwhelming reason why people, and young people specifically, are deserting the church is the perceived inconsistency between modern science and the teachings of Christianity. I had thought this not to be a necessarily Canadian condition, until discovering at the end of my youth talks, the most common comment was, “I am relieved I can study science and keep my faith.”

First page of the article in Presbyterian Record (October 2014, vol. 138, no. 9, pp. 27-30)

Relieved? It should be “excited”! As upheld by my interactions with the scientists who attended the McMaster meeting, there is very little to compare with God’s immeasurable love for humanity, when we use the biblical premise from Psalm 103:11: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is God’s steadfast love toward those who fear him.” The more we invest in scientific discovery, the greater we discover how much God loves us, and the more significant becomes what God did for us in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ, on our behalf.

Science and Christianity are a good fit. Science and evangelism are equally a good fit. In my own faith tradition, this connects with evangelical clergy of the mid 1800s who were fascinated by the ancient age of the earth itself. Many faith based astronomers had felt a similar awe for a couple of centuries already. This is a tradition we can faithfully share and uphold, and I am thankful for organizations such as the CSCA, who help lead the way.

Recordings of the talks given at the McMaster meeting can be found on the ASA website, (under “Annual Meetings”) and the article in the October Presbyterian Record can be located here or on the Presbyterian Record‘s website.

Bob Geddes serves on the executive council of CSCA as our Secretary/Treasurer.

Reflections on the General Annual Conference

This year’s conference marked my first joint conference between the CSCA (Canadian), ASA (American), and CiS (British) associations. It was, I think, a great success. While the CSCA regularly joins the ASA annual meeting, the addition of like-minded friends from across the pond brought a new dynamic to the meeting: a certain freshness and perspective that added a unique flavour to the meeting. Since I have been living in England for these last three years, the meeting was especially significant as it was a peculiar meeting of my worlds: my British friends were meeting my Canadian and American friends for the first time, and vice versa. The encounters highlighted some of the differences and similarities between the conversations on both continents. While skepticism about the authority of science on issues such as climate change and evolution are very different between the two continents — especially at the local church level — concerns surrounding how to read the Bible faithfully and well in light of science are the same.

Mixer after the opening plenary talk. (Photo credit Black Hills Photography Co.)

Perhaps the biggest highlight for me was the student event meeting, where the 28 students in attendance gathered together for in-depth conversation with the plenary speakers. After about an hour and a half of intense conversation, we shifted our locale to a local Boston Pizza, where the friendships continued to grow late into the night (or early into the morning, depending on how you are counting!). I sat at a table with two American and two British students, and we chatted for hours about science, religion, and cultural differences between our nations. It is these friendships, built from meetings like this year’s joint event in Hamilton, that will encourage and foster the trans-Atlantic dialogue necessary to moving forward in the ever-dynamic science and religion field.

Bethany Sollereder serves on the executive council of CSCA as our Student and Early Career Member.

The Image of God and Lab Rats

Keri McFarlane (The King’s University)

Animals are more like human beings than any other part of creation, yet human beings are described uniquely as being in God’s image. What are the implications of such similarity and difference for lab rats, pets, hunting, factory farming, vegetarianism…? In this essay, Keri McFarlane asks how animals are distinct from humans. Do animals possess rationality and the capacity for consciousness? Should animals have rights? And then begins to explore the practical implications. Her essay is not intended as an exhaustive discussion, but rather as an invitation to engage some of the essential questions. Readers are encouraged to take up one of the insights or challenges, or maybe a related one that was not mentioned, and draft an article (typically about 5,000-8,000 words) that contributes to the conversation. These can be sent to Dr. McFarlane at who will send the best essays on to peer review. With expert advice in hand, we will then select the essays for publication in a theme issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The lead editorial in the December 2013 issue of PSCF outlines what the journal looks for in article contributions. For full consideration for inclusion in the theme issue, manuscripts should be received electronically before 30 November 2014.

Looking forward to hearing your perspectives,

James C. Peterson
Past President of CSCA & Editor of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

Attend our Annual Meeting (July 25-28)

Randy Isaac

Randy Isaac, Executive Director of the American Scientific Affiliation

The following was contributed by Randy Isaac, Executive Director of ASA (first published under “The Director’s Corner” in the Summer 2014 edition of the ASA/CSCA Newsletter). Republished with permission.

“All things hold together in Christ,” the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colosse. His profound insight into the universality of God’s creative and sustaining power through Christ continues to bring us awe and wonder as we study the world of nature. Exploring that comprehensive perspective is the challenge for the ASA/CSCA/CiS* annual meeting this summer. The theme “From Cosmos to Psyche” reflects the entire spectrum of the universe. From the origin of the cosmos to the ability of our minds to have consciousness and to be able to reason, the unifying factor is Christ. As Christians in the sciences, we study nature not only to quell our deep curiosity to understand the world in which we live, but also to glorify and worship our God who created it.

Five outstanding plenary speakers, from Australia, UK, Canada, and the USA, who were profiled in our previous issue, will be addressing topics such as bioethics, cosmology, neuroscience, and biology. In addition, there will be a record number of contributed papers from our members, nearly 90 talks in four parallel sessions. There will be symposia on the physical sciences, life sciences, mind sciences, and environmental sciences, as well as a focus on emergence, theology, and on the application of science and technology in service to the poor. Some of these are discussed in more detail in this issue of the Summer 2014 ASA/CSCA Newsletter.

In addition, we are featuring two workshops by highly regarded leaders in the field. John Walton will teach a workshop on Genesis while Stephen Freeland will lead one on the origins of life. There are fascinating field trips to Niagara, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and a McMaster Campus Tour visiting the Nuclear Research Reactor and the Origins Institute. Our new affiliate, Christian Women in Science, will get together and have a special session. Finally, we are coordinating with “Academy Regained,” a special symposium by the contributors of a forthcoming book by that title. The science chapters will be covered in our meeting on Monday morning while the other chapters will be discussed at Redeemer College on Monday afternoon.

While the intellectual discourse at these meetings is a major attraction, I’d like to emphasize the human interaction factor. In today’s world, we are flooded with audio and video material of all types. It is often difficult to ascertain the quality and credibility of these materials. Furthermore, the only human interaction is the endless stream of comments that are usually unhelpful. In contrast, in our meetings, there are opportunities for personal interaction with other attendees as well as with the speakers themselves. Most attendees of past meetings report that this is the most valuable part of the meeting. During meals and in between sessions, there is time for discussion and sharing our personal perspectives.

We are interactive human beings with a capability and a need to connect with others. Those connections can be through electronic or written means but nothing can replace the need for direct personal engagement. Our annual meetings continue to provide that interaction in an environment of open discussion and often vigorous debates. Differences of intellectual opinion are respected throughout the meeting. A highlight of our time together is the awesome opportunity to worship God together, singing hymns and giving praise to our Creator.

We invite you to come experience one of our meetings for yourselves. Act now to register online here. We look forward to seeing you!

*This is a joint meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation, and Christians in Science (UK).

Psychology and Christianity: Friends or Foes?

One area in which the “war” between science and faith is manifest is the study of human mental processes and behaviour – commonly known as psychology. Mind or Spirit Some psychologists view Christianity as a “crutch” for weak people, or something that is obsolete given our advanced understanding of neuroscience. Some Christians view psychology as unnecessary – all we need to know about human minds is found in the Bible. And some Christians who are also psychologists compartmentalize their work and their faith. Yet, as with other areas of science, there is no need for conflict or separation. There are many areas of compatibility and much can be gained from responsible dialogue and mutual respect.

The study of psychology, although not always labelled as such, is ancient. Much wisdom about human behaviour and motivations is found in the proverbs and prophetic writings. Jesus’ admonition to love and forgive others is seldom disputed. Theological masters, like Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin, wrote about the nature of the soul and mind, and spiritual direction has long been practised in the church. It is only in the past century that psychology has developed as a science. There are two primary areas: experimental psychology, which can be viewed like other sciences in terms of describing God’s creation (and therefore little disputed, although the interpretation of the data is often disputed), and clinical or counseling psychology, which is the source of much potential conflict with Christianity, and the focus of this discussion.

The Church has sometimes either denied the findings of clinical psychological science or uncritically appropriated its beliefs. However, the past few decades have seen much helpful discussion on responsible integration of Christian theology and psychology. Both psychology and theology have an underlying metaphysic (what we are) and ethic (how we should be), and recognize that these are complex. Both seek to understand and help improve the myriad mental and emotional problems which people experience, and thus have similar aims. Integration is a difficult task, partly because there are multiple variations and interpretations within both disciplines. I suggest an approach which considers similarities between theology and psychology within the biblical drama of creation, fall and redemption.

Both psychologists and Christian theologians affirm the intrinsic value and worth of human beings (theologians believe this is because we are created in the image of God and loved by him). Both recognize that humans are innately spiritual, and more than a random collection of neurons. People are also innately relational: psychologists use the therapeutic relationship itself as a means of healing, and Christians emphasize the importance of community, especially the church. Humans are rational beings, and psychology and theology draw on this capacity for reason. People are also innately moral, with an understanding of right and wrong. Finally, theology teaches that humans have free will, and psychologists know that the ability to choose is essential to any counseling process.

However, both psychologists and Christian theologians recognize that something is very wrong with humanity, evidenced in destructive behaviours as well as tormented mental lives. There is a profound alienation from self and other. Christians would include alienation from God, and would label this as sin, whereas psychologists would label it most often as illness. They would agree that the essence of the problem is relational; wounding occurs in relationship and causes guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, disordered perceptions, and poor self-esteem, for example. Problems occur as a consequence of living in a disrupted and disordered world (due to sin according to theology; due to neurochemical disease, poor parenting, or societal trauma according to psychology).

Both psychologists and Christian theologians attempt to help people by addressing and healing what is wrong. They recognize there is good in the world – “common grace” in theological terms. They stress the importance of loving relationships (Christianity stresses loving God first) both in the process and the content of psychotherapy. Both affirm the virtues of honesty, humility, respect, self-control, patience, courage, commitment, forgiveness, mercy and compassion. The so-called Golden rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) is used by both Christian and secular counselors. Alcoholics Anonymous is an excellent example of similarities between psychology and theology: they suggest belief in a power greater than themselves, encourage taking a moral inventory, admitting wrongs and making amends. Psychology and theology also have similar goals and processes. They aim to bring the unconscious into conscious awareness, or the darkness into the light; they work towards healing and wholeness, reorientation and reconciliation; they consider therapeutic/spiritual growth as a journey.

My focus on broad similarities does not mean I am unaware of differences between psychology and theology. However, I believe these disciplines can learn from each other. Christians are right to be concerned that perhaps the therapist has replaced the confessional priest, and that group therapy has replaced Christian community. Theologians can appropriate psychological research regarding human behaviour and psychotherapeutic techniques. Psychologists can mine theology with respect to human spirituality and the relationship between body, mind, and soul. I respect both disciplines and encourage each to think broadly and carefully consider the many potential areas of dialogue.

Janet Warren is VP of the CSCA. She will be teaching a summer course on the integration of theology and psychology at McMaster Divinity College:

Also see the September 2013 issue of PSCF for helpful articles on psychology and Christianity. That special issue was triggered by this essay posted on our website.