Humanistic psychology gives us a doctrine of man radically at odds with Scripture. It has become routine for clergymen to look to humanistic psychologies for guidance in pastoral counselling, and books applying such psychologies to pastoral problems have had a ready market and a widespread influence. The result has been die steady infiltration of humanism into Christian circles and the steady erosion of the Biblical doctrines of man and of salvation.
In analyzing the Biblical doctrine of man and the psychology of man, it is necessary, first, to recognize that man is declared to be a creature, created by the sovereign act of God on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1: 26-31). This fact gives us a radically different picture of man than that provided by evolution. Instead of emerging out of chaos and an animal ancestry, man is the direct and immediate work of God.
This means, second, that man has a short history, not a long and unknown past. That short history is very extensively documented by Scripture as well as by man's own records. Man is therefore subject to explanation by a documented record, not a long and hypothetical past. This documented record makes excuse and evasion less tenable, whereas an unknown past erodes responsibility and introduces confusion and uncertainty. Thus, for the Christian, man's psychology is a documented record.
Third, by virtue of the fact of creation according to a pattern, the eternal purpose and counsel of God, (and in His image), man's psychology is not an evolving fact but a fixed reality. Man is more than an existing being who is in process of making and defining himself; he has already been made and defined by God. Thus, the psychology of man posited by Freud,1 or by Sartre,2 and others, is fallacious. Man's nature is neither fixed by an evolutionary past, nor an open question to be determined by man. It is a given fact from God.
Fourth, man was created a mature being, not a child. This is a fact of central importance. We thus cannot make child psychology basic to an understanding of man. According to Jastrow,
What we may accept is the principle that the child is an authentic embodiment of the earliest, racially oldest, most persistent, truest to nature, depository of natural behavioristic psychology.3
Humanistic psychology looks backward to a primitive past in order to explain man, whereas Biblical psychology looks neither to the child nor a primitive past to explain man but to a mature creation, Adam, and to God's purpose in man's creation. If man in his origin is a product of a long evolutionary past, man is then best understood in terms of the animal, the savage, and the child. However, since man was in his origin a mature creation, his psychology is best understood in terms of that fact. Man's sins and shortcomings represent not a lingering primitivism or a reversion to childhood but rather a deliberate revolt against maturity and the requirements of maturity. By ascribing to man, as humanistic psychologies do, a basic substratum of primitivism and racial childishness, this revolt against maturity is given an ideological justification; the studied and maturely developed immaturity of man is encouraged and justified. If man is reminded rather that he was created in Adam into maturity and responsibility and that his revolt is against maturity and responsibility, his self-justification is shattered. It has become commonplace for persons seeking counselling to discuss, not their problem, but their childhood, their parents, and their environment in order to "explain" their present "situation", that is, their failure. The fact of a mature creation is one of the basic and most important facts of a Biblical psychology. It is a fact of incalculable importance.
Fifth, man was created a mature being in terms of the sovereign purpose of God, so that the meaning of man's life transcends man. Man can never be understood in terms of himself but only by reference to the sovereign purpose of God. A humanistic psychology will always deny this transcendence and will therefore deny to man the meaning of his existence. Existentialism is more honest here than most humanistic philosophies and psychologies; it does not define man or ascribe a meaning to life and man: "Man is." For existentialism if man is anything, it is because man makes and defines himself. This self-definition is essentially an anarchistic process, in that each man is his own universe and the god of that private universe. According to Scripture, however, man was created, and every man is born into, an already defined universe made by God, and every man has a specific responsibility to that triune God and to men and the universe under God. Not only is man's existence a created and defined fact, but the conditions of his life also. At no point in his life or imagination can man step outside of God's ordained order into a realm of humanistic or man-made freedom. The freedom of man is itself a condition of God's creation. Every hair on man's head, every imagination of his heart, and every fiber of his life and experience, is an aspect of God's creation and His sovereign purpose.
Sixth, man was created in the image of God. As Van Til has pointed out,
He is therefore like God in everything in which a creature can be like God. He is like God in that he too is a personality. This is what we mean when we speak of the image of God in the wider or more general sense. Then when we wish to emphasize the fact that man resembles
God especially in the splendour of his moral attributes we say that when man was created he had true knowledge, true righteousness and true holiness. This doctrine is based upon the fact that in the New Testament we are told that Christ came to restore us to true knowledge, righteousness and holiness (Col. 3: 10; Eph. 4: 24). We call this the image of God in the narrower sense. These two cannot be completely separated from one another. It would really be impossible to think of man having been created only with the image of God in the wider sense; every act of man would from the first have to be a moral act, an act of choice for or against God. Hence man would even in every act of knowledge manifest true righteousness and true holiness.
Then after emphasizing that man was like God and in the nature of the case had to be like God we must stress the point that man must always be different from God. Man was created in God's image. We have seen that some of God's attributes are incommunicable. Man can never in any sense outgrow his creaturehood. This puts a definite connotation into the expression that man is like God. He is like God, to be sure, but always on a creaturely scale. He can never be like God in God's aseity, immutability, infinity and unity. For that reason the church has embedded into the heart of its confessions the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. God's being and knowledge are absolutely comprehensive; such knowledge is too wonderful for man; he cannot attain unto it. Man was not created with comprehensive knowledge. Man was finite and his finitude was originally no burden to him. Neither could man ever expect to attain to comprehensive knowledge in the future. We cannot expect to have comprehensive knowledge even in heaven. It is true that much will be revealed to us that is now a mystery to us but in the nature of the case God cannot reveal to us that which as creatures we cannot comprehend; we should have to be God ourselves in order to understand God in the depth of his being.4
Man was created good because he was created in the image of God. Therefore, righteousness, holiness, knowledge, and dominion are normative for man. Sin is unnatural and a deformation of man's nature, a cancer and a sickness unto death. "Thus we hold that man appeared originally with a perfect moral consciousness."5 Man, created in the image of God, "had to live by revelation." Since man is God's creature, every condition of man's life and every fibre of his being must respond to God's law word for its health.
This then is the basic and fundamental difference between Christian and non-Christian epistemology, as far as it has a direct bearing upon questions of ethics, that in the case of non-Christian thought man's moral activity is thought of as creatively constructive while in Christian thought man's moral activity is thought of as being receptively reconstructive. According to non-Christian thought, there is no absolute moral personality to whom man is responsible and from whom he has received his conception of the good, while according to Christian thought God is the infinite moral personality who reveals to man the true nature of morality.6
Seventh, God having created man in His image, ordered man to exercise dominion and to subdue the earth. This is man's basic calling and a basic aspect of the nature of man. Thus, not only is man's nature created by God, but man's calling to dominion is written into the nature of man. Inescapably, man is that creature who has been created to exercise dominion over the earth and to subdue it, to create tools and institutions whose purpose it is to enable man to bring all things to their proper development in the Kingdom of God. Man was created mature so that he might exercise dominion with his first breath, and the urge to dominion is a part of his life's blood. "Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet" (Ps. 8:6). This fact of dominion conditions man's life, his obedience as well as his disobedience. There can be no understanding of man's psychology apart from an awareness of this inescapable urge to dominion, which, in sinful man, becomes
a form of warfare against God. No psychology can begin to understand man apart from this aspect of man's nature, the calling to dominion. The fact is, however, that humanistic psychologies deny man's creation into maturity and fail to recognize the meaning of his calling to dominion. As a result, they not only fail to understand man but they also give man a false picture of himself.
Eighth, we are told that "male and female created he them" (Gen. 1: 27). The sexual character of men and women is not a blind and accidental product of evolution but the purpose of God and basic to any understanding of man. Attempts to deny the validity of Biblical sexual regulations, to read homosexuality as an expression of a primitive development or as another form of man's free sexual expression, or to deny the psychological differences between a man and a woman, are thus morally as well as psychologically wrong. The facts of maleness and femaleness are basic and constitutive of God's purpose for mankind, and any psychology which denies them is thereby sterile and void of understanding. Ironically, the humanists, who condemn Biblical standards as puritanical and inhibited, are themselves guilty of the worst inhibitions in their denial of sexual differences and their psychological validity. The equalitarianism of humanistic psychologies works towards a basic castration of the sexual nature of man and woman and is a major inhibiting force in modern society.
Ninth, basic to man's psychology is the creation mandate, "Be fruitful; multiply; fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1: 28, Berkeley Version). This commandment is preceded in the same verse by the declaration, "And God blessed them." The commandment itself is a blessing, and the act of obedience to every commandment of God is in itself a source of blessing.
Basic to man's nature as created by God, originally wholly good, is the urge to be fruitful and to multiply. Man's psychology as created by God is thus governed by this motive, and, however perverted, this motive cannot be destroyed without destroying man. Hostility to this fertility will thus mark a suicidal age.
The commandment makes clear that this fertility is an aspect of man's dominion: "fill the earth and subdue it." Of children, Psalm 127:3 says that they "are an heritage of the LORD." A heritage means two things: anything received from parents or predecessors, and also the condition or status into which we are born. As an "heritage of the LORD" children are thus our inheritance from God as well as a happy condition of life in the covenant. "Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate" (Ps. 127: 5). Not only Scripture, but the experience of history makes clear that fertility has been seen as an aspect of dominion and as an aspect of man's glory.
Tenth, it is twice stated in the account of creation (Gen. 1: 26, 28) that an aspect of man's dominion is over the animal world, "over every living thing." Man was thus created with a relationship towards animals established as normative to his healthy psychology. Man's relationship towards animals is therefore not one of warfare but of dominion. The fact that sinful men have treated animals as merely an impediment to be destroyed has not succeeded in effacing man's urge to a normative dominion over them. Men have tamed and harnessed animals, used them as pets, protectors, and servants, and they have often recognized that wild animals have a God-given function in bringing the earth under dominion.
Eleventh, man was created to live in a perfect world and to till it and to keep it (Gen. 2: 15). Thus, man's psychology has basic to it a relationship to the earth itself, which is reinforced by the fact that man was formed out of "the dust of the ground" (Gen. 2: 7) and then made into a living soul. Man is thus earth-bound, physically and psychologically. The earth is the area of his dominion, the place for his fertility to manifest itself, and his treasure to develop into that order which God requires of him.
These are some of the elemental and elementary aspects of man's psychology. Man was created into maturity, and his sin is a resolute but futile attempt to escape from maturity. However, while man may fail to meet his responsibilities, he can never escape them.
(Article taken from Rushdoony's Revolt Against Maturity, pgs. 5-12)
1. See R. J. Rushdoony: Freud. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publ. Co., 1965.
2. Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Nothingness. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.
3. Joseph Jastrow, "The Reconstruction of Psychology," in The Psychological Review, #3, 1927, p. 169, cited in Cornelius Van Til: Psychology in Religion, p. 58. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1935.
4. Cornelius Van Til: The Defense of the Faith, p. 29f. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1955.
5. Ibid., p. 70.