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Healing the conflict between religion and psychology


F. LeRon Shults and Steven J. Sandage. Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2006. ISBN 080102823X; 304 pages; $24.99; www.bakerbooks.com. By Beth Robinson The Christian Chronicle Historically, psychology and theology have frequently been viewed as opposite ways of understanding the human experience. Psychology has placed the human experience in the center of creating meaning. In contrast, theology has placed God at the center of understanding the human experience. Due to these perceptions of the underlying source of meaning in life, those who study psychology and theology have frequently ignored the other discipline.
Regretfully, this schism has prevented these disciplines from learning from one another. A balanced discussion of the intersections of theology and psychology can provide a foundation for transforming the lives of individuals and communities.
The interest in the discussion of theology and psychology is supported by recent publications by scholars in the area. In 1996, Mark McMinn released Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling, which provides a practical discussion of the use of spiritual disciplines in the counseling relationship as well as a brief synopsis of the integration of psychology and theology. In 2002, Fraser Watts wrote Theology and Psychology, and in 2004, David Entwistle published Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity.
In Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology, F. LeRon Shults and Steven J. Sandage continue this exploration of theology and psychology. Their introduction presents a thought-provoking discussion of transformation, relational models and intensification of spiritual relationships. The authors present spiritual transformation as “developing qualitatively more complex ways of holding and being held in relation to others and the Other.”
They believe spiritual transformation occurs in relational contexts and is encouraged or inhibited by the relationships individuals experience throughout their lives. Ultimately, some of the relationships and additional life experiences provide individuals with the opportunity to intensify their spiritual understanding and relationships.
Our interactions and relationships with other humans impact how we view God and understand the concepts of love and faith. We find it difficult to separate our human interactions from how we perceive God and the way he will interact with us. For Christians in ministry, understanding how human interactions impact faith can provide avenues for strengthening relationships with God.
Following the introductory chapter, the authors present their information in three primary sections.
In the first section on Transforming Spirituality in Theology, Schults discusses reforming pneumatology and how it impacts perceptions and personifications of becoming wise, just and free. Schults provides information from Scripture, Christian tradition, philosophy and the natural sciences in his argument for a transformational theology. These relational models require considerable contemplation and examination. He repeatedly presents an articulate plea for intensification as a necessary component of transforming spirituality.
In the second section on Transforming Spirituality in Psychology, Sandage examines the research and theories about spirituality as presented in the discipline of psychology. Sandage examines spirituality and human development, spirituality, and health, spirituality and darkness, and spirituality and maturity. Sandage provides a brief summary of the psychological research that has examined spirituality. His review of the research makes it readily apparent that significantly more research is needed in the area.
In the third section on Modeling Spiritual Transformation, the authors present three case studies and utilize each of the case studies to illustrate the dynamics of how social and relational interactions lead to spiritual transformation and intensification of spiritual relationships. Each case study presents a spiritually challenging scenario and walks the reader through the possibilities for spiritual transformation. The case studies provide a thoughtful illustration of the material presented throughout the book.
Each section of the book provides insightful information about spiritual transformation. The introduction and the third section are the strongest primarily because both authors were involved in writing these sections.
While the book is certainly worth reading, it is disappointing that more attention was not given to a more direct dialogue of the integration of psychology and theology. Both Schults’ examination of theology and Sandage’s examination of psychology could stand alone. Each of these sections will lead the reader to contemplate theological and psychological suppositions with a fresh understanding of how they impact spiritual transformation.
The book masterfully presents psychological research, theological arguments and the concept of transforming spirituality in an astonishingly insightful manner.
The discussion of transformational spirituality moves the discussion of theology and psychology to a different level and provides a launching point for additional discussions and research.
If transformation is impacted by our interactions with others here, then additional research and discussion will provide a foundation for learning how to more effectively strengthen spiritual relationships by strengthening emotional relationships. This integration of the concepts of psychology and theology holds the promise of changing lives through transforming human and spiritual relationships.

BETH ROBINSON is a professor of psychology and the chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Lubbock Christian University in Texas.

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    April, 6 2011

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