I graduated from my fundamentalist college, and because of my circumstances really had no other option but to move back in with my parents. They had moved halfway across the country, so coming back to my parents, in some ways, wasn’t really coming “home.” As a military brat, though, I’d learned to adapt quickly so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They had found a new church– this time, there was nothing fundamentalist about it, although still conservative Baptist. During the summers, the church holds a variety of “classes” on Wednesday night, and the summer after my graduation they began a class that was an introduction to NANC– the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (Nouthetic being just another word for biblical). NANC is one of the largest associations of biblical counselors, but they are primarily a certification program for pastors and laymen– one that they claim is “attainable for even the busiest pastor.”
However, NANC makes it supremely clear that in order to be certified, it is important for you to confirm that “your personal theological views and those of your church align with NANC’s views.” It became clear to me very quickly why this was so important to them– while NANC is not as bad as many of the other associations as far as their relationship with psychology is concerned, the certification program is really more of a theology course than anything else. And one of the elements about theology they emphasize is how vital it is to have a “correct” theology.
And that is where NANC and I part ways. Because I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “correct” theology among men. There are a plethora of systematic theologies that have been developed by individuals or by denominations– and every single last one of them disagrees with another. I believe that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and while it is a Christian’s duty to “rightly handle the word of truth,” I don’t think that forming a “correct” systematic theology is possible. There is orthodoxy, and I think that’s as close as we can possibly get. When it comes to theology, especially, the ancient motto of “in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity” should be our north star.
Yesterday, when I was trying to explain to my husband why fundamentalists despise psychology so much, I realized that there are two underlying reasons:
1) Fundamentalists believe, to their core, that they have the “right” theology. This is even evidenced by their name.
2) Fundamentalists distrust and despise “humanism” and “secularism,” which they define as false, man-made religions. I was taught that even humanists think that their belief is a religion– they use the opening paragraph of the Humanist Manifesto I to prove their point.
Like most faith systems, fundamentalism is a vast network of ideas that are linked and interwoven. It’s difficult to try to pick it apart, so if I miss something, please feel free to point it out in a comment.
Fundamentalism is essentially reactionary and fear-based, and one of the biggest things they fear is science. They’ll deny that until they’re blue in the face, claiming that it’s not science they don’t like, it’s metaphysical naturalism, but they also argue that modern science is inherently naturalistic, so . . . Basically, it goes like this: fundamentalists argue that modern science is based on neo-Darwinian evolution, and they also argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is false to the highest degree. Evolution teaches that mankind is not created in the image of God, we’re just one step above the animals. This leads science to ignoring one basic, “fundamental” truth about human beings: that we are born with a sin nature.
Therefore, anything that springs from this naturalist view of the world must be wholly wrong. This include ideas like empowerment, personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and even happiness. They believe that everything in modern psychiatry and psychology is based on Freud, who they refer to as a “perverted drug-addict.” They put blinders on and refuse to acknowledge that most (with extremely rare exceptions, but I’m not a psych student, so I can’t be absolute) modern psychologists parted ways from Freud decades ago. Modern psychology ignores the need for “repentance,” they say. They teach and believe that nearly anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is actively destroying our nation’s “Christian principles”– like marriage:
How many marriages have been weakened or “put asunder” in the name of helping achieve empowerment or personal fulfillment? Where is their absolute stand for the foreverness of marriage and family as required by God’s holy Word? Where do such christian psychologist’s get the authority to justify encouraging divorce on the basis of abuse allegations or spousal misconduct? Why do they ignore the covenant aspect of the marriage institution? Have they forgotten that these sacred institutions of marriage and family are not secular but were ordained by God and are not to be put asunder? [emphasis added]
Many people, including those involved with A Cry For Justice, talk about how many Christians over-emphasize the importance of marriage, even in the face of abuse. Leading fundamentalist leaders, like the Perls, advocate that a woman “submit” to her husband in nearly any situation, although they don’t outright encourage staying in an abusive marriage (which, in reality, is a moot point, but I’m trying to be fair). This idea has even trickled down into mainstream contemporary Christian fiction. But fundamentalists don’t just imply this– they are overtly explicit on this point: there is never a good reason for a divorce. You can “separate” from an abusive spouse, but you are not allowed to legally divorce that person, no matter what danger that might pose to you or or your children. Because of this belief, every single fundamentalist I know will tell you to seek biblical counseling– because “secular” and “humanist” psychologists will not prioritize your marriage over your health and safety.
However, the fundamentalist approach to psychology also completely dismisses things like “repressed memories.” Now, there is still debate regarding the validity of repressed memories, even in non-Christian circles, but fundamentalists in their fervor extend this dismissal to completely valid psychological events, like dissociation in PTSD, or the incredibly common and well-documented feeling of sexual abuse survivors, especially children, feeling “outside their body,” as if the abuse was “happening to someone else.”
Many in the church today have accepted a psychologized gospel in place of the biblical gospel. It has gotten so bad that preachers in some churches are even hiding out the adult daughters that have falsely accused their Christian parents of abuse, some of whom are preachers themselves and active in their faith. Brethren, this should not be!
How does it lift the cause of our Lord to support questionable abuse victims who testimony is based on delayed recall and without the necessary two witnesses, slandering parents in ways which defy the biblical principle decreeing honor for both our father and mother? Parents who have been given authority over us by the Lord cannot be rebelled against simply because they fail in their duties. All authority is really God’s authority and because it is, dire personal consequences attach to those who show that authority such rebellion and disrespect. [emphasis added]
I should take a moment here to make something blindingly clear: this is not a rare teaching. This horrifying idea is deeply entrenched in fundamentalist teachings about psychology. Because they dismiss “repressed memories” and “delayed recall,” this leads them to dismiss the claims of adult abuse victims who have never had the opportunity to speak out against their abuser. They tell children that they simply cannot be abused by their parents, and if they think they’re being abused, they should just be grateful for their parents “disciplining them.”
The “sufficiency of Scripture” comes into play, and to many fundamentalists, this extends to the notion that “if it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t exist” (my inner Star Wars geek is hearing the Temple librarian, Jocasta Nu, tell Obi-Wan that “if it is not in our records, it does not exist.” And, yes… I knew all of that off the top of my head).
Search the scriptures and compare your psychology to the life of Christ. Did Jesus Christ practise any psychology when he drove out demons and healed the sick? Did he use psychology to explain sin? Not likely and the bible does say whom we are suppose to follow as Christians. Jesus said come and follow me. He warned his followers and his followers warned others of false teachings to be aware of them. See if you can find any thing in scripture that pertains to psychology. You won’t find any thing that speaks for it because if you study the scriptures the word of God maintains that we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all shall be added unto us”. That means that God will give us the Spiritual Gifts that we need to reach out to others.
Just . . . so much . . . ugh. Again, solo scriptura takes over freedom and liberty, and confines fundamentalist to a narrow understanding of reality. The teaching that the “sufficiency of Scripture” extends to every single area of our life — and that we are forbidden from going “outside of Scripture” for answers. There is nothing we need that cannot be found in the Bible– going out “into the world” for help is sinful.
Another area of fundamentalist teaching I’ve talked about before. It’s the concept of dualism– the view that the physical realm is evil, but the spiritual realm is good. This leads to a disconnect between our minds and our bodies to a fundamentalist– the idea that our mind can affect our bodies, but our bodies cannot affect our mind. We can get ulcers from being stressed, but getting ulcers doesn’t cause stress. Our mental “strongholds” can give us bi-polor disorder, which can in turn be reflected in chemical imbalances, but chemical imbalances are not the cause of bi-polar disorder. It’s not a two-way street, to a fundamentalist.
Which is just crazy.
All of this is bat-shit insane, in fact. And absolutely terrifying. Teachings like this come to fruition in places like Sovereign Grace Ministries, or Mars Hill, or Calvary Chapel, or Bill Gothard’s ATI, or Bob Jones University.
If there is anything else that you’ve experienced in fundamentalist– or even just plain evangelicalism– please share. I can in no way be exhaustive, but this is an important area of teaching that the church needs an immense amount of healing.