I just did a Google search on “gnosticism and psychology,” naively thinking I’d find a simple article drawing a connection between the two. Instead, I found multiple pages of scholarly articles, many of which apparently celebrate psychology as the modern form of gnosticism. So okay, there definitely is a connection.
Gotquestions.org provides a brief overview of gnosticism, starting with its original teachings. If you read this article, you’ll notice that gnosticism promises secret knowledge, obtainable only to those who are initiated into the mystical circle. In our day in age, psychologists become those elite mystics, promising that their techniques will help us unravel the mysteries of our inner being. So-called Christian psychologists claim an even greater ability to do so, since they presume that the Holy Spirit will give additional revelation. Certainly, friends, psychology is nothing more than an updated form of gnosticism.
But Christians, rather than seeing the connection between gnosticism and psychology as cause for celebration, ought to recognize that many New Testament epistles were written in response to the seeds of gnosticism being planted in the First Century Church. The letter to the Colossians particularly addresses the gnostic heresy by drawing its readers away from human philosophies and back to Christ. I look forward to writing detailed blog posts on various portions of Colossians in the near future.
Today, however, I think I will spend a few moments demonstrating that psychology attracts both Christians and non-Christians by promising special insight into the human psyche. I’ll speak from personal experience, but I more than suspect that my attitudes were not unique, particularly among women.
When the church I attended in California began integrating psychological principles into its sermons and counseling, I delighted in the prospect of understanding myself more deeply. Oh, the thrill of going deeper than “mere” Scripture! Christian psychology offered something that the Bible, as much as I claimed to love it, couldn’t give me.
I knew I had problems with anger, but the Bible only admonished me to exercise self-control. Psychology promised that, by uncovering reasons for my anger (which my pastor divined most likely came from childhood trauma) I could overcome anger without needing to actively control myself. Counseling, I believed, would rid me of all angry feelings so that I’d automatically respond to any irritant in a sweet, Christlike manner.
The Bible does teach that patience and self-control come from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), but it also holds Christians responsible to walk in obedience to the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit doesn’t magically remove our angry feelings; He just empowers us to choose not to act on them. No introspection. No analysis. Above all, no blaming our parents for childhood traumas which then excuse our sinful behavior.
Psychology, you see, offers us an excuse to stay in our sin “while we work on it.” Usually, that means our counselor has at least two years of income as she finds all sorts of underlying issues for us to work through. But we believe her psychological training gives her deeper knowledge than Christians trained in the Bible possess, and we enjoy focusing on ourselves.
In summary, psychology attracts us with its promise to supply special insight into our natures. It deceives us into thinking that God’s Word lacks the ability to address our issues and free us from sinful behavior patterns. Like all forms of gnosticism, it shifts our attention from the Lord to ourselves. And like all forms of gnosticism, it should be avoided.