In the field of psychology there has traditionally been an emphasis on psychological disorders—the various ways in which people malfunction in regards to their patterns of thought and behavior. That is, you might say that the standard approach in the field has been negative. A recent movement in the field, led by such scholars as Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, aims to correct this by focusing on healthy or well-ordered human traits and behavioral patterns. This alternative (or supplementary) approach has been dubbed positive psychology.
Although very influential, not much work has been done in Christian psychological circles to assess this approach. This past weekend I was privileged to speak at a conference of the Society for Christian Psychology devoted to precisely this. The theme was “Towards a Christian Positive Psychology,” and I was among several invited speakers who addressed themes related to the subject. Each of our papers can be accessed here.
The Society for Christian Psychology was founded in 2003 by Eric L. Johnson, who is still the society’s director. The group is committed to the idea that work in psychology—whether scholarly or clinical—should be practiced from a Christian perspective. This is not mere integration of faith and psychology, but rather an approach that aims for a more complete and thorough intertwining of Christian worldview with psychological theory and practice. Some good resources on the distinctives of this approach are Psychology and Christianity: Five Views and Eric Johnson’s Foundations for Soul Care (IVP, 2007).
In developing the model of Christian psychology, Dr. Johnson regularly invites Christian philosophers to contribute to the society’s publications and conferences, such as the one held last weekend. This is because philosophers are uniquely equipped to address issues related to human
consciousness, behavior, and ethics the understanding of which are crucial to psychological inquiry and counseling. Another benefit is that there has been a renaissance in Christian philosophy during the last generation that is essentially what leaders of the SCP envision for the field of psychology. So Christian philosophers are able to helpfully model this approach.
Among the Christian philosophers participating at the meeting (pictured at left) were Robert C. Roberts (Baylor University), Kevin Timpe (Northwest Nazarene University), Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (Calvin College), and myself. Roberts, a leading virtue ethicist and the author of numerous highly acclaimed works on the subject, including Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology, gave a paper on the virtue of temperance. Timpe, author of Free Will: Sourcehood and its Alternatives, discussed freedom and moral character. Konyndyk DeYoung, author of Glittering Vices, gave a presentation on the vice of sloth. And my paper was on the virtue of open-mindedness. All of our presentations were well-received by those in attendance and prompted vigorous discussion.