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Relational Integration, Part I: differentiated relationality between psychology and theology.

In Part I of a two-part manuscript, we describe the contours of a relational integration approach to the relationship between psychology and theology. This approach builds on the tradition of the integration of psychology and theology but thematizes relationality at the levels of both content and process. We argue that it is persons who seek to integrate (or not); thus, integration is a relational process that inevitably involves the challenges of conflict, power and control stances, and difference. Therefore, relational integration necessitates differentiated capacities for mutual recognition and collaboration across disciplinary differences. We contrast our differentiation-based approach to relational integration with other published views for relating psychology and theology and outline relational integration as (a) embodied and (b) hermeneutical.


The relationship between psychology and theology has been a central theme of Christian literature on integration over the past 50 years, although a historical review shows that various efforts to engage psychology and theology can be traced back to seminal church figures, such as Augustine and Aquinas (Johnson, 2010). Models for relating psychology and theology continue to be debated among Christian scholars and practitioners. Parallel debates can be found in the broader literature in areas such as science and religion or spirituality and health. The debates often include questions of whether to epistemologically privilege science or religion and the practical implications of such privileging. At times, contemporary "integration" of psychology and theology or science and religion is offered as an explicit, defined position (e.g., Collins, 2000; Jones, 2010); alternately, integration is sometimes suggested as a more ambiguous interdisciplinary goal. In this article, we focus on relational dynamics in the integration of psychology and theology but also offer some connections to broader interdisciplinary integration.

Since scholars have often been the primary contributors to published literature on integration, it may not be surprising that the focus is typically placed on integrating abstract bodies of knowledge. What have been largely overlooked are the actual interpersonal dynamics of integration. The limited consideration of actual relational dynamics among psychologists and theologians is striking particularly among Christians who hold a relational view of God and a relational ontology of personhood. Entwistle (2010) offers a partial exception by suggesting relational metaphors for individual stances on integration (e.g., enemies, spies, colonialists, neutral parties, allies), but his focus is not on actual embodied relational dynamics. In the initial edition of their edited volume on four views for relating psychology and Christianity, Johnson and Jones (2000) note the possibility that a fifth view has emerged among some theorists (e.g, Sorenson, 1996). This potential fifth view emphasizes an "ethical (embodied, experiential, practical, personal) dimension of the Christian's involvement in psychology" (Johnson & Jones, 2000, p. 244), although Johnson and Jones concluded the "ethical call does not constitute a separate approach" (p. 245). In a recently updated volume, Johnson (2010) adds a distinct fifth view by Coe and Hall (2010), which captures some of our interest by emphasizing the "important connection between relationality and knowing" (p. 215) and the spiritual, emotional, and character development of the psychologist. We embrace this emphasis on a relational understanding of spiritual formation and the way in which relational ontology influences epistemology. Yet we want to extend relationality beyond a one-person view of integration toward two-person and systemic understandings of relational integration. None of the authors in Johnson (2010) focus specifically upon the challenges or potentialities of actual relational interaction and collaboration between theologians and psychologists, nor do any focus on the positive aspects of diversity and differentiation with respect to their particular view.

Not only are we interested in two-person and systemic relational dynamics, but we also attend to the reality that the processes of relational integration of psychology and theology unfold within diverse social contexts. Theology and psychology are formal scholarly disciplines, but at a more basic folk level, everyone is both a theologian and psychologist. Everyone holds assumptions, however implicit, about ultimate concerns (theology), and everyone engages in observations about people and the world around them (psychology). All persons, including pastors and theologians, engage in some type of psychology; and psychologists and therapists will inevitably convey underlying theologies or assumptions about what is ultimately important and good. At times, psychologists, theologians, pastors, and therapists need to make their best individual attempts at integration "on their own," that is, they will need to seek to integrate their own understandings of theology and psychology for a situation at hand. But there are also actual interpersonal and contextual dynamics at play between theologians and psychologists as well as pastors and therapists, which influence the relational and social processes of integration or dis-integration. It is obvious that books and journal articles do not do the work of integration. Rather, it is real people who attempt (or avoid) collaborative integration as part of relational and cultural systems that shape the process of interdisciplinary discourse. We resonate with the recent articulation of a "tradition-based" approach to integration which calls for integrators to acknowledge the particularity of their theological and theoretical traditions and embodiment rather than implying it is possible or desirable to integrate generic or monolithic versions of either discipline (Wright, Jones, & Strawn, 2014, p. 37).

Our overall goal in this two-part article is to articulate the contours of an approach to the integration of psychology and theology that we call "relational integration." We suggest that relational integration is (a) embodied, (b) hermeneutical, (c) developmental, and (d) intercultural. Our view of integration builds on the prior work of integrative theorists in both psychology (e.g., Balswick, King, & Reimer, 2005; Collins, 2000; Dueck & Reimer, 2009; Jones, 2010; Sorenson, 1996; Worthington, 1994; Wright et al., 2014) and theology (e.g., Green, 2005; Murphy, 1990; Reynhout, 2007; Wolters, 2007). Yet our emphasis is on a thoroughly relational approach to integration with a thesis that differentiated relationality is formative for shaping collaborative integration. Our commitment is to a Trinitarian and incarnational understanding of differentiation-based relationality as the heart of a theological anthropology that values community, collaboration, alterity, and social justice. We will suggest healthy collaboration is a vastly underrated challenge in human relationships for reasons that are both theological and psychosocial. However, growth in capacities for collaboration that is both healthy and socially just is essential for Christian maturity in our increasingly diverse world. We believe relational integration is a fairly unique view that can serve to integrate conceptually and practically several positive trends in the contemporary discourse on the integration of psychology and theology, including emphases on relationality, spiritual formation, collaboration, diversity, ethics, and social justice.

Interdisciplinary Integration Understood Relationally

Integration as a Relational Process

The neglect of relationality in integrative literature is curious since the research of Sorenson, Derflinger, Bufford, and McMinn (2004)--the only systematic program of empirical research on integration among Christian graduate psychology trainees to date--identified relational dynamics between faculty and trainees as the most influential factor in trainee reports of learning integration. Sorenson (1996) does not use the term "relational integration" but he frames integration as deeply personal and relational:
   Integration is personal in the sense that it occurs through
   contact with persons-in-relation, including other creatures
   and God ... Who we are to each other, how we treat each
   other has direct bearing on the quality of integrative models
   we can imagine and sustain, (p. 206)

Recently, we have joined several colleagues in exploring relational integration as a framework for understanding and practicing interdisciplinary relationality between theologians and social scientists (Brown, Corbin Reuschling, & Dahl, 2011; Sandage & Brown, 2010, 2012; Sandage & Shults, 2007; Shults & Sandage, 2006). Relational integration involves moving relational dynamics from background to the foreground of interdisciplinary integration and attending to the personal relational dynamics between theologians and psychologists (or other dyads in interdisciplinary discourse). Here we outline the contours of a relational approach to the integration of psychology and theology by thematizing relationality at the levels of both content and process. Relationality provides a useful theme for the content of integration, particularly within the Trinitarian Christian tradition. But we suggest that relationality also shapes the process of integration, providing both barriers and pathways to collaborative integration, since humans are relational beings. The theme of relationality also serves to highlight the reality that psychology and theology emerge within sociocultural contexts, and relational dynamics within and between these contexts influence the integration process. While perspectives on interdisciplinary relations are frequently debated as abstract philosophical positions, we want to consider the possibility that neurobiological relational templates might actually shape different epistemological views and capacities for collaboration.

Relationality is a vibrant theme in both theology and social science. The Christian tradition in particular emphasizes that God is relational. As Trinity, God always exists and acts in relationship (LaCugna, 1991). Theological anthropology is also illuminated by understanding relationality as part of the imago Dei and as a central dynamic of human nature (Grenz, 2006; Shults, 2003). Various theories within social science also highlight the relational dynamics of humans nested within social or ecological contexts. For example, emerging connections between research on attachment and the field of interpersonal neurobiology reveal how relational experiences form relational templates in the brain used to configure working models of self and other. These internal working models of relationship shape "alterity," that is, interpretative schemas and levels of openness to those who are deemed "other." This social science emphasis on the profound significance of human relationships in both development and transformation coheres in significant ways with the biblical emphasis on community and loving one's neighbor.

Integration as Relationally Conflictual

If integration is understood as a relational process, it will inevitably lead to episodes of relational conflict even when pursued with positive intentions. A good analogy can be seen in efforts toward racial integration in schools and other social systems in the United States (U.S.). Historically, there has often been idealism that simply desegregating and mixing different races will generate cooperative relationships. Certainly, desegregation has often generated important gains for equity and social justice and remains a vital part of cultivating healthy multicultural societies. Yet human finitude and fallenness remain pernicious dynamics that contribute to both structural and interpersonal dynamics of exclusion even when contact across differences increases (Volf, 1996). Too often this well-intentioned but also idealistic vision of racial integration has resulted in abandoning the effort once the difficult realities of conflict and resistance across differences emerge, particularly when dominant group members have opposed more personal forms of integration with minorities. And in the U.S. context, neglecting racial integration leaves the unjust hierarchy of white privilege in place.

Martin Luther King, Jr., (1963/1986a) arguably the most important "integrationist" in U.S. history, highlighted the relational dynamics of integration in his aptly titled essay, "The Ethical Demands for Integration":
   Integration is creative, and is therefore more profound
   and far-reaching than desegregation. Integration is the
   positive acceptance of desegregation and the welcomed
   participation of Negroes into the total range of human
   activities. Integration is genuine intergroup, interpersonal
   doing. Desegregation then, rightly, is only a short-range
   goal. Integration is the ultimate goal of our national
   community, (p. 118)

Certainly, racial integration in the U.S. is a much more dramatic, complicated, and even violent story than the challenges of integrating theologians and psychologists, but we believe a very rough parallel holds, offering a dose of realism about the role of conflict in relational integration. Social and interpersonal integration across any significant human differences will present relational challenges that necessitate growth in spiritual and psychological maturity.

Effectively relating across differences requires humility and the developmental capacity to take the perspective of another. King (1968/1986b) also said, "Integration is meaningless without the sharing of power. When I speak of integration, I don't mean a romantic mixing of colors; I mean a real sharing of power and responsibility" (p. 317). For some, the pursuit of integrative shared power and responsibility can involve a sacrificial loss of privileged status. It may also involve the loss of the comfort and familiarity of associating only or primarily with others of the same race, gender, worldview, or discipline. This process can involve anxious moments of misunderstanding or conflicting perspectives. Given these realities, the virtues such as humility, justice, and forgiveness are necessary for a constructive process of relational integration.

A biblical case study of relational conflict that explicitly holds up a set of virtues for navigating ethnic and theological differences is offered in Romans 14-15, where Paul addresses two groups in the Roman church, each of which has distinct religious convictions and practices. The "weak" abstain from eating meat, likely in response to idolatrous associations with such eating, while the "strong" practice no such limitation. Paul makes it clear that these practices arise from each group's set of convictions. Some commentators are convinced that the division between weak and strong is, at least in part, an ethnic one (Shogren, 2000). Paul's solution is not that one group must conform to the beliefs and practices of the other; alternately, he does not offer a mediating position and practice for the whole of the Roman church. Significantly, Paul's exhortations allow each group to continue in their convictions, with clear admonitions for both groups to welcome the other. Both groups are to offer Christian hospitality and refrain from judging or despising the other. "For Paul, unity in the body of Christ does not mean the sameness of all the members; it means the solidarity which can endure the strain of the differences" (Kasemann, 1971, p. 3). The choice to offer deep welcome, without expectation of assimilation, is an act of integration not simply desegregation.

Mutual Recognition in Relational Integration

The conflict in interpretations between rival traditions can also be paralleled in the interpersonal matrix of interacting subjectivities. Mutual recognition is a relational stance that represents a healthy and creative alternative to discounting or ignoring an "other." Benjamin (2004) defines mutual recognition as the intersubjective capacity to see others as equal subjects and agents with differing perspectives, in conjunction with the reciprocal experience of the other's acknowledgement of oneself. Building upon relational theories of human development, Benjamin suggests mutual recognition is challenging, since another person's differing subjectivity can confront one's own perspective with the reality of difference. Benjamin suggests human nature includes a struggle with desires for narcissistic omnipotence, an interesting point of connection to many theologies of sin, and the quest for omnipotence among dominant groups serves to perpetuate relational complementarities of master/slave or subject/ object. In contrast, mutual recognition is grounded in more egalitarian forms of relational reciprocity between two subjects. Mutual recognition allows for a collaborative, bi-directional relationship, which allows a shared third dimension to emerge, which Benjamin (2004) describes as "that to which we surrender" (p. 8).

Hoffman (2011) utilizes Benjamin's notion of mutual recognition in seeking to integrate two traditions that have often been presented as rivals--psychoanalysis and Christian theology. The postCartesian, relational turn in psychoanalysis can facilitate an integration of relational psychology and theology through a realistic awareness of intersubjective conflict combined with the hope of mutual recognition. Mutual recognition involves a two-way, co-created relationship of mutual influence and integration (Benjamin, 2004), which fits the paradigm of the relational integration of psychology and theology. Integration develops through intersubjective dialogue that periodically requires repair following destabilizing conflicts. In contrast, several other approaches for relating psychology and theology (e.g., classical Freudian psychoanalysis, evolutionary psychology, biblical counseling) have tended to be employed in ways that privilege one discipline over the other in a hierarchical dynamic of control and unilateral submission. Based on systems theory, power and control are not inherently good or bad dynamics but ones that need to be dialectically balanced (Maddock & Farson, 2004; Sandage & Brown, 2010). Power is the capacity to influence others, and control is the capacity to limit influence from others. Relationships typically suffer under extreme imbalances in power and control. Such imbalances could include the abusive use of power that restricts the freedom, boundaries, and personal control of the other or the erection of impenetrable boundaries of control which cut off mutual influence altogether.

One consequence of a hierarchical relationship of imbalanced power and control is an avoidance of the potential constructive conflict that arises from a more open and cooperative relational stance. Our experiences in team teaching integration courses and relating with other scholars and professionals in interdisciplinary settings have revealed that some people feel a strong preference for ordering a hierarchy of disciplines prior to bringing disciplinary perspectives into interaction. For example, someone might ask, "If there is a conflict between psychology and theology, which one wins?" We do not have related survey data, but it is interesting to note our experience that, if asked for a specific example of that type of conflict, the person is rarely able to give one. (1) We are not suggesting these conflicts do not exist; we do wonder, however, if the anxiety about an anticipated conflict may be so great that actual interdisciplinary exploration is hindered. In a later section we will discuss ways a discipline might be privileged at the content level in certain domains within the integrative process. Here we want to clarify that our preference for an egalitarian, relational approach to integration between psychologists and theologians requires internalized growth in spiritual formation and Spirit-led constraints against one disciplinarian seeking hegemony over another (for further discussion of these issues, see Porter, 2010a, 2010b; Sandage & Brown, 2010). Differences in perspective may be useful in a respectful process of seeking greater truth if the various parties exercise personal and intellectual humility and remain open to new understandings, as well as the reality that persons of the same faith may arrive at differing conclusions.

Integration as Differentiated Relationality

We suggest that the ideal of relational integration can be understood as emerging from differentiated relationality, that is, integration that prioritizes relational connection between differentiated integrators. This integration model highlights a dialectical balance for interdisciplinary work between (a) maintaining personal identity and disciplinary integrity and (b) fostering authentic relationship, dialogue, and mutual influence across disciplinary boundaries.

A common concern about integration is that it necessitates, or at least encourages, a loss of disciplinary distinctiveness. The concept of differentiation answers this concern by highlighting the importance of maintaining an appropriately distinct stance within one's own disciplinary methodologies and conceptualizations while engaging in authentic conversation for integration (Brown et al., 2011). Alternately, differentiation is sometimes misunderstood non-dialectically as meaning separation or independence. In Bowenian theory, differentiation of self (DoS) is a dialectical construct that involves a capacity to integrate thoughts and feelings, as well as a capacity for intimacy and autonomy in relationships. Those with high levels of DoS are generally capable of self-soothing the anxiety of being in close proximity with others as well as the anxiety of being independent or alone. In fact, DoS is particularly useful for understanding the relational capacities necessary to "hold onto oneself' amidst the vulnerability of mature intimacy without excessive fears of engulfment or abandonment, a challenge that is frequently underrated (Schnarch, 2009). Empirically, DoS has been associated with numerous indices of relational health and maturity (Skowron & Dendy, 2004) as well as several measures of virtue and Christian spirituality, including: (a) forgiveness, (b) gratitude (c) hope, and (d) spiritual well-being (for summary, see Sandage & Jankowski, 2013).

DoS has also been positively associated with higher levels of intercultural competence or the ability to manage "stranger anxiety" by relating effectively across cultural differences (Sandage & Jankowski, 2013). Differentiation does not involve a denial of differences nor an exclusive focus on difference. Rather, those with high levels of DoS can face and even value differences while also acknowledging points of similarity. This integration of capacities for both intimacy and alterity makes DoS a useful construct for conceptualizing the development of spiritual maturity (Majerus & Sandage, 2010). Differentiation promotes a willingness to tolerate anxiety and discomfort as part of a growth process (Schnarch, 2009; Shults & Sandage, 2006).

Differentiation and Integration

Differentiation and integration have been related by many developmental and social theorists (Bauer, McAdams, & Sakaeda, 2005; Kegan, 1994; Labouvie-Vief, 2009; Lewin, 1935; Mead, 1913; Ornstein, 2011; Piaget, 1952). Some have suggested a sequence that moves from the development of capacities to differentiate objects and perceptions to a later achievement of integration. In Loder's (1989) theologically integrative view of development, he suggests "integration is both a functional and structural coordination of the differentiated and specified aspects of the developing organism or personality" (p. 128).

However, others have described the possibility of an ongoing developmental spiral of differentiation and integration rather than a linear, unidirectional process. Kegan (1994) writes, "Differentiation precedes integration. Conflict precedes re-solution" (p. 326), and yet for Kegan this can be a lifelong dialectical process of growth in epistemological, psychosocial, and spiritual complexity. Siegler and Chen (2008) articulate a similar interactive model: "differentiation and integration were hypothesized to work in a hand-over-hand fashion, with initial differentiation of distinctive features allowing an initial integration of the features, which in turn allowed more nuanced differentiation and more comprehensive integration, and so on" (p. 433). Our understanding of differentiated relationality as formative for relational integration fits this dialectical, iterative, and non-linear model. We believe systems (individual or larger systems) need increasingly complex forms of well-differentiated integration to solve difficult problems, accommodate greater diversity, and continue processes of transformation over time.

Theological Differentiation

Both theology proper and biblical hermeneutics offer models for understanding integration as differentiated relationality. In theological perspective, God as Trinity always exists in differentiated relationality--separate Persons existing in intimate and cooperative relationship, and thus offers a model of ultimate differentiation. "The Trinity reveals the fullness and cooperative relationships between the members of the Godhead" (Brown et al., 2011, p. 116). LaCugna (1991) has explored the Trinitarian life as relational by emphasizing the concept of perichoresis, anchoring divine identity in unity and interconnectivity of the three "persons-in relationship" (pp. 270-271; also Brown et al., 2011, pp. 114-117). The early Christian heresy of modalism over-emphasized the oneness of God to the exclusion of differentiation, suggesting that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were "modes" of God but not true persons capable of differentiated relationship. An opposite tendency--to understand the Trinity as virtually three distinct gods--was clearly rejected in early church formulations. The importance of maintaining a dialectical understanding of the Trinity as one (in essence) and three (in person) was crucial in these formulations. Such a nuanced formulation provides an analogous pattern for disciplinary integration. While human beings will never achieve the perfect differentiation of God as Trinity, being created in the image of God means that human relationships can potentially achieve approximations of healthy differentiation.

Biblical hermeneutics also provides a model for conceptualizing integration as differentiated relationality, necessitating interpreters with high DoS. Gadamer (1975/1989) has used the image of the "fusion of horizons" to describe the experience of located readers engaging a text (or other persons or cultures). If a reader only experiences the text by assimilating it to their own location (a single horizon), there would be no differentiation of text from reader. By maintaining a recognition and commitment to the text as "other," the reader has the possibility of experiencing a "fusion of horizons"--in which their own location and experience is expanded by intersubjective interaction with the text--and a collapsing of text and reader is avoided. Yet there is congruence and a relational interplay between the two horizons, that is, there is an integration that occurs between two, still-differentiated realities (see Brown, 2007, pp. 15,66).

Relating with Differences

Differentiated relationality is helpful for understanding and participating in the personal challenges of interdisciplinary integration (Sandage & Shults, 2007). Scholars and professionals often have an understandable concern if integration is construed as an absence of disciplinary boundaries or differences, analogous to what Bowenians would mean by a fused or enmeshed family system. In contrast to Gadamer's (1975/1989) positive notion of a "fusion of horizons" which maintains the differentiation of the two differing perspectives, Bowen used the term "fusion" to indicate a relatively undifferentiated, anxiety-driven merger of two perspectives into a single relational horizon. Those who have spent many years developing professional or disciplinary expertise are wise to advocate for the retention of professional and methodological integrity and to attend to boundaries of competence. Psychology and theology are different disciplines with differing methods, traditions, languages, and social networks. They can be likened to different cultural communities, and like all cultural communities, differences within these disciplines are often as complex as differences among the disciplines. Differentiated relationality allows for integration to happen in ways that honor these disciplinary parameters and distinctives, without requiring either a collapse of real differences between disciplines or withdrawal from the integrative conversation via authoritarian claims by one or another of the disciplines at the table (for a nuanced proposal of an ordering of disciplines for integration, see Murphy, 1990).

Differentiated relationality also allows for deep interaction between disciplines, especially when integrative conversations occur between scholars who prioritize the collaborative nature of integration and who are able to remain personally and disciplinarily differentiated from one another in conversation. Those high in DoS can generally maintain or regain their integrity and sense of self even in the midst of deep interaction with others who are different. Those with low DoS typically maintain selfhood through impermeable boundaries that cut off influence from the other. So relational integration requires psychologists and theologians to be persons growing in DoS, who can work within disciplinary differences without "selling out" disciplinary or personal integrity by glossing over important differences (Schnarch, 2009) or erecting anxiety-driven barriers of control that hinder mutual recognition and influence. We would describe "pseudo-integration" as a poorly differentiated combining or sloppy merger of psychology and theology. Alternately, precluding contact and influence from those with expertise in other disciplines is also problematic (e.g., those drawn to the psychology of religion and biblical counseling in their more reductionist forms).

Clearly, multiple barriers to interdisciplinary integration exist. Models within both theology and social science indicate that the capacities necessary for relational collaboration across differences are far from a given. Theologically, the realities of the fall, i.e., human waywardness, mean that it is easier to suspect the other and compete or control across disciplines than it is to partner together in mutual respect. This human inclination toward competition rather than cooperation may reveal an implicit assumption that we are able to transcend our human finitude and achieve a-contextual knowledge. Yet according to the biblical storyline, humanity's finitude is a creational reality rather than one that arises from the fall (Brown et al., 2011). Coming to terms with human finitude would also suggest pressing into interdependence and relational cooperation with others, since finitude indicates our need for relationship rather than some sort of absolute capacity for autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Four Key Dimensions of Relational Integration as Differentiated Relationality

In order to describe more thoroughly and concretely the contours of our view of relational integration as based on differentiated relationality, we offer four theses. Relational integration is (a) embodied, (b) hermeneutical, (c) developmental, and (d) intercultural (with the latter two being discussed in Part II of this manuscript).

Relational Integration is Embodied

Human life is embodied, which means relational integration is neurobiological. Research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology shows that the integration of differing neurobiological systems is necessary for healthy and coherent relational functioning (Siegel, 2007). Brown and Strawn (2012) have described how spirituality involves the relational coordination of neurobiological and other physiological functions. Hall and Porter (2004) argue that the integration of theology and psychology is neurobiological since cognitive reflection always involves parallel levels of information processing that include pre-verbal levels based on implicit relational knowing of emotional experience. For example, reflecting on a proposition such as "God is compassionate" will activate emotion-laden images at pre-verbal levels of information processing in the limbic brain related to relational experiences of compassion. For persons with securely attached relational histories, verbal and pre-verbal levels will be likely to integrate rather cohesively. For others with insecure attachment histories, the theological assertion that "God is compassionate" at the verbal level might either (a) activate agitation, sadness, and doubt that one could ever really experience that kind of relational compassion or (b) mobilize deactivation of emotions and relational longings in an unconscious attempt to keep theology rational or neocortical. Thus, the integration of theology and psychology involves a neurobiological referential process of linking feelings, symbolic images, and words, and individuals differ in the ease in which their brains make these integrative connections.

While popular Christian conceptions of the human person include a tendency to divide the human being into bipartite or tripartite existence, the biblical testimony lends itself toward a picture of the human person as whole and singular, though integrally connected in a communal web of relationship. In fact, intensely dualistic views of body and soul derive more from certain ancient Greek (Platonic) formulations than from biblical authors. The latter affirm the goodness of the material world through emphasis on the goodness of the created order (e.g., Gen. 1:31), the reality of the incarnation--God becoming human in Christ (John 1:14-18)--and the eschatological vision of human resurrected life (in some sense, bodily) in a renewed creation (e.g., 1 Cor. 15; 2 Pet. 3; Brown, 2010). As Corbin Reuschling (in Brown et al., 2011) frames it, "our entire existence--male and female, with flesh and bone, minds, spirits, and creative capacities, all that makes us who we are--is central to our humanity" (pp. 112-113; Green, 2007).

This view of the unity of the human person has numerous implications for relational integration. First, it reaffirms our earlier point that integration does not simply occur at the level of abstract ideas. Instead, persons, whole and embodied, do the work of integration. Theological reflection always involves the person doing the reflection and their particular neurobiological processes. Integrators cannot separate fully their ideas from their social locations, conscious and unconscious assumptions, and relational experiences. Paying attention to embodiment presses for recognition of both "creatureliness" (humans grappling with their own finitude) and location within, and relation to, the world (Kasemann, 1971) and our particular social contexts (Hall & Thoennes, 2006). Relational integration takes account of this fullness of persons in the integrative task. In fact, the Christian valuing of embodiment means that the integrator as a whole person is a potential strength rather than a detriment for integration (Brown & Strawn, 2012).

This differentiates our approach to relational integration from the five views for relating psychology and Christianity (Johnson, 2010), none of which explicitly acknowledge the realities of both relational embodiment and social location in the process of knowing. Yet the inclusion of embodiment in a comprehensive view of integration offers the possibility of highlighting the value of particularity for the integrative task. While theological method has tended to value and develop formulations that are more general and abstract than the biblical text itself (Reno, 2004), there is value in "staying in the particulars" in an analysis of a text, in a social setting or relationship, or even in an academic discipline when moving toward integration. Reno notes, "Bible scholars who offer theological comment tend to reach for the most abstractive and de-particularized formulations" (p. 389), which can be difficult for making embodied applications.

Second, both the unity of the human person and the corresponding value of embodiment suggest a need for integration of descriptive and prescriptive knowledge in relational fashion. Theology tends to emphasize the prescriptive--how things should be, while psychology and other social sciences emphasize the descriptive--how things are (Brown et al., 2011). Yet theology can also be descriptive, particularly when integrated with historical analysis. The social sciences can also be prescriptive in conveying values and metaphors of ultimacy. For example, Skinnerian behaviorism rests on a vision of social cooperation by accepting the "relentless power of natural selection" in a fashion that "takes on the proportions of a Calvinistic theory of predestination" (Browning & Cooper, 2004, pp. 125-126). This complexity highlights the unavoidable interpenetration of theology and social science even amidst their differing emphases. The levels-of-explanation view (Myers, 2010) for relating psychology and Christian faith thematizes the differences between disciplines--though it offers less for understanding this interpenetration of disciplines and collaboration between psychologists and theologians--as does a relational integration model.

A differentiated and egalitarian commitment to interdisciplinary integration invites engagement with theology for framing questions and providing formulations regarding how life ought to be, based on theology's strength in defining the prescriptive. Our view of integration equally and dialectically encourages the use of social science to frame questions and provide formulations regarding how life is, leading from its strength in defining the descriptive. Kierkegaard (1849/1980) voiced a similar dialectic in describing the self as a relational synthesis "composed of infinitude and finitude" (p. 29). To be intoxicated with infinitude is to try to escape one's finite humanity through spiritual grandiosity. To "lack infinitude," or a sense of the transcendent, results in "despairing reductionism" (p. 33). Kierkegaard's form of integration seeks to dialectically balance finitude and infinitude, the actual and the ideal. This dialectical and relational emphasis on embodied spirituality resonates with Sorenson (1996) regarding models of integration we can both "imagine and sustain" (p. 206).

These unique strengths of theology and psychology, respectively, highlight their primary disciplinary source material. Theology draws its reflections primarily from special revelation, focused on divine revelation in the Christian Scriptures, and climactically in the person of Jesus Christ. Psychology centers on what can be discerned from descriptive study of general revelation and, particularly, the created order. The inherent embodiment recognized by a relational integration approach suggests that both kinds of revelation are important areas of study, with no necessity to prioritize one over the other in terms of access or priority of insight. Such an egalitarian model of integration fits well with a coherent view of knowledge in which God is, in an ultimate sense, the source and goal of all things including the human quest for knowledge (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

Although there are significant theological debates regarding the viability of natural theology (related to the accessibility of general revelation to sinful humanity), there is good evidence that biblical authors in practice evaluated and drew upon sources of knowledge from what we would define as the arenas of general revelation in their theological deliberations. For example, wisdom literature (e.g., Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) offers reflections on insights from general revelation about both patterns and disruptions in nature and human behavior. According to the author of Acts, the apostle Paul drew from Greek poetry and philosophy ("in whom we live and move and have our being;" "we are his offspring;" Acts 17:28); here, Luke provides an implicit acknowledgment of the reality of general revelation in the very presentation of the good news of Christ (special revelation). In another case, Paul draws upon Greco-Roman moral philosophical discourse and values in Philippians 4:8, concluding his list of virtues with arete, the very title of Aristotle's book on virtue. While it is quite true that Paul calls the Philippians to consider (logizomai) this virtue list in light of the gospel (e.g., Philippians 4:9), in doing so he brings his Christology and Greco-Roman thought into dialogue with each other for his theological program. Christology is the lens, but his source material includes what we might call general revelation, in this case Greek philosophy. These textual examples suggest a hermeneutic of integration within the Bible itself.

Relational Integration Is Hermeneutical

Relational integration as embodied is intimately connected to the affirmation that relational integration is hermeneutical, since embodiment is inherently located and perspectival. As such, embodiment is related to the hermeneutical processes of interpreting life which always involve neurobiological activity. Integration of any kind, pursued from any methodological angle, is necessarily hermeneutical, since integration, as with all human tasks, is interpretative. Accordingly, numerous theorists in the integration tradition have pointed out that both theology and psychology are hermeneutical disciplines, since all theologians and psychologists pursue knowledge from particular locations and with assumed interpretive frameworks (Browning & Cooper, 2004; Collins, 2000; Wright et al., 2014). As Reynhout (2007) puts it, "transdisciplinarians are essentially hermeneutical agents, who are capable of achieving understanding across disciplinary boundaries only through acts of interpretation" (p. 98).

Even if integration is conceived as the task of a single person, it is the case that psychology and theology are not fully separable within the human person. As already noted, there is no psychology that is totally free of implicit theological assumptions or ultimate concerns. Understandings of human behavior are value-laden and convey goals or teleological orientations. Empirical research also confirms that personality traits and perceptual factors significantly influence theological interpretations, even in areas as central as Christology (Piedmont, Williams, & Ciarrocchi, 1997). If personality factors can influence views on Christology, it is of tremendous importance that we come to understand what we personally and communally bring to biblical interpretation and theological reflection. Alternately, hermeneutical criteria used to arbitrate differing interpretations in theology inherently come down to variables that include the psychological, such as integrators' confidence in their interpretations (Sandage & Brown, 2010). This necessitates psychological self-awareness for a responsible hermeneutic; we must acknowledge what each of us brings to the "texts" of Scripture and of life so that we can engage in responsible bracketing. As Hart (1996) has noted,
   Simple appeals to "what the Bible says" are always the sign
   of (no doubt unconscious) subservience to an interpretative
   tradition, not liberation from it. That which we mistakenly
   think we have escaped from is in reality free to
   exercise all the more influence over us, and is therefore all
   the more potentially dangerous, (p. 167)

Hermeneutical processes are also relational. Mangis (1999) has argued that one's hermeneutical stance is shaped, in part, by relational development. From a communal perspective, interpretations are also informed by our participation in particular community contexts. Here is where our approach to relational integration differs somewhat from that of Jones (2010), whose more foundationalist articulation of integration emphasizes rationality. While we embrace the general thrust of his integrative valuing of responsible theology and psychological science, we want to emphasize a relational and formation-based anthropology and epistemology. Our approach seeks to integrate emphases on relational spirituality and formation (like Coe & Hall, 2010), relational hermeneutics, awareness of contextual diversity (Wright et al., 2014), and mature relational alterity (Dueck & Reimer, 2009) within the integration tradition.

The claim that integration is hermeneutical does not, however, necessitate that all interpretation is purely subjective or relativistic, although some schools of thought in philosophical hermeneutics highlight relativism as a necessary outcome of human locatedness. Once again, a dialectical perspective can mitigate the tendency to arrive at one pole or the other--either assumptions of objectivity when hermeneutics is ignored or assumptions of complete relativity when hermeneutics is embraced. Sandage, Cook, Hill, Strawn, and Reimer (2008) have reviewed differing hermeneutical philosophies and argued for a dialectical model of hermeneutics in psychology, which can employ both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Brown (2007), attempting to account for the author, text, and reader of biblical hermeneutics, argues for a similar balance between seeking communicative intention and taking account of readerly location. These dialectical or relational approaches to hermeneutics in social science and theology suggest that none of us make interpretations based on a "blank slate." We are all shaped and influenced by our traditions and narrative contexts (Gadamer, 1975/1989) that provide theological and theoretical frameworks or plausibility structures for interpreting the data of life. Yet this dialectical approach is also able to affirm the possibility of development in human knowledge via a perspective of "hermeneutical realism" (Browning & Cooper, 2004, p. ix). Reality may be accessed less than perfectly or objectively by located, interpreting persons, but there remains a measure and possibility of accessibility.

To draw on the language of Ricoeur (1981), methods in both theology and psychology do offer "moments of distanciation" in the hermeneutical process that allow an interpreter to see the landscape differently (p. 144). This alternate perspective or frame-shifting offers the partial bracketing of some previously held assumptions, which in turn contributes to the possibility of new knowledge and explanation. The hermeneutical process in this dialectical model can then move to appropriation, or testing the fruits of explanation. Tests of appropriation can lead to revised understandings and the re-forming of integrative models. Here is where the relational integration of theology and empirical social science can mitigate tendencies toward gnostic or schizoid forms of cognitive speculation. History has shown that dearly held ideas of both theologians and psychologists can be proved wrong, so there is benefit to ongoing testing of ideas in mutual accountability. As Habermas and other post-Holocaust theorists in critical hermeneutics have argued, traditions can perpetuate distorted and oppressive ideas, with historical and contemporary examples of how the Bible was used to support slavery, Nazism, sexism, or Apartheid. There is a need to evaluate interpretive traditions with input from outside their own system and frames of reference. At least one contribution of such input is to help those inside a tradition to recognize the "pre-theoretical commitments" of that tradition, which underwrite that tradition but which are not and cannot be justified on purely theoretical grounds (Wolters, 2007).

It may be helpful at this point in our discussion to note that this view of relational integration between psychology and theology--with each bringing their unique contributions to common conversation and deliberation--is not antithetical to a view of theology doing both prescriptive and descriptive work. Although some Christian traditions may view psychology with suspicion, there is no way to avoid bringing views of human life (i.e., psychological formulations) to the task of integration. The question is whether well-informed, empirical study is sought or whether anecdotal descriptions of life--what we might call folk versions of social science--are presumed, (e.g., "In my experience, people do X when they encounter Y.") Empirical research is part of responsible stewardship of creation, highlighting accountability for using resources wisely based on descriptive evidence. As Green (2005) argues:
   It is not only that our doctrine of creation urges a unitary
   approach to knowledge, pressing us to account for natural
   science in our theological work ... There are also considerations
   of an epistemological sort--considerations,
   that is, which focus on how we know what we know.
   Accordingly, we must account for the reality that natural
   science is, and has always been, part of our worldview.
   The two, science and theology, interact in a more organic
   way than we often acknowledge, with the result that it is
   virtually impossible to extricate the one influence from
   the other, (p. 15)

While some theological questions cannot be studied with empirical methods (e.g., Is God omniscient?), there are many theological and ethical questions that can be investigated empirically (e.g., What processes help people to be more humble or forgiving?). We see great advantage in collaborative, relational integration between theologians and social scientists to investigate theological and theoretically derived models and to test models of counseling and other ministry interventions.

Here we diverge from the biblical counseling tradition, which, to our knowledge, has not submitted its approaches to empirical testing. In distinguishing his biblical counseling view from the other four views in Johnson (2010), Powlison (2010) has described empirical research as a "second-tier priority" and explained "the more significant proof of any of the five views presented in this book is whether it generates a truer understanding of actual human beings, starting with ourselves" (p. 198). While self-awareness is crucial, in the absence of empirical data (necessitated by human embodiment), it is hard to see how Powlison's view helps biblical counselors avoid the limitations of pure subjectivism and self-confirmation bias as they assess whether their approaches are effective. Without any empirical outcome studies by theorists of biblical counseling, we have no information on the efficacy of their particular approaches to specific problems. With empirically supported therapies currently available for distressed marriages, suicidality, trauma, depression, sexual dysfunctions, anxiety disorders, unforgiveness, and many other mental and relational disorders, we question the relational ethics of a non-integrative stance and an exclusive use of untested approaches.

While some approaches neglect empirical testing of their claims, we are also concerned to see hermeneutics taken more seriously in the task of integration. Negatively, what does it look like when hermeneutical location is ignored or minimized in integrative methodologies? An example is Roberts (2000), who articulates an earlier version of the Christian psychology view by arguing the goal of "read[ing] the tradition pure" (p. 155), as though it is humanly possible to completely bracket all theological and cultural assumptions or read "the Christian tradition" (p. 156) as singular. Yet there are many scholars specializing in biblical hermeneutics who value the Bible as divine revelation, without being compelled to speak of reading the Bible abstractly and directly but contextually (Brown, 2007, pp. 121-124; Enns, 2005; Green, 2007). In fact, claiming or believing one could read the tradition "purely" or immediately obscures the alterity or otherness of the text in its original context. Understanding texts, or people for that matter, always involves intersubjective (relational) appropriation or personal commitment and devotion.

While assumptions of objectivity lead some to privilege theology over psychology in interdisciplinary relations, the inverse is also true. In this alternate scenario, it is theology that is viewed as subjective and psychology as a scientific discipline possessing objectivity (e.g., views of Freud or Skinner). Dawkins (2006) uses evolutionary theory as a hermeneutical grid to evaluate religion in a uni-directional relationship of power and control. The title of his book, The God Delusion, would make an almost perfect bookend to the anti-psychology book Psychoheresies (Bobgan & Bobgan, 2012) on a shelf of counter-examples of mutual recognition. Several other views differ from relational integration and the goal of mutual recognition by implicitly supporting imbalances of power and control, such as Roberts' (2000) view that "the Christian tradition" should serve as a "prophylactic ... to bracket the substance of twentieth-century psychologies" (p. 156). The metaphor of a singular Christian tradition as a prophylactic and of psychology as a substance that needs to be contained or "Christianity itself might be poisoned" (p. 156) is a powerful image of control (in the sense of limiting the influence of contemporary psychology which is perceived as contaminating) (2) and a contrast to (a) our suggested model of relational integration through mutual recognition and differentiation and (b) recent invitations to awareness of the particularities of specific theological traditions (e.g., Wesleyan, Reformed, Anabaptist, Feminist, etc.) in integration discourse (Wright et al., 2014).

Hermeneutical awareness allows for a greater sense of differentiation in the process of integrative conversation. Differentiated relationality in the form of intersubjectivity and mutual recognition offers a "third" dimension to constructively triangulate a two-party system of psychologist and theologian. As Benjamin (2004) explains with respect to the psychoanalytic relationship, a third dimension opens space beyond the power struggles of a more dualistic, dichotomist vision of disciplinary integration. This "third dimension" derives from recognition that the psychologist is not psychology and the theologian is not theology. This "third space," drawn from sensitivity to hermeneutics, encourages a differentiated stance that invites both integrators to hold their views more loosely for the sake of the conversation and to envision the conversation itself as a third reality to be respected in its own right. Theological reflection on God as Trinity may provide a helpful analogy and ideal for this "thirdness." As Vanhoozer (2002) looks to the Trinitarian formulation offilioque to suggest a parallel hermeneutical consideration for the speech-act movement from illocution to perlocution, so it may be helpful to propose that interdisciplinary conversation "proceeds" from two interdisciplinary partners to a third space, which itself can be considered a part of the interdisciplinary process (p. 200). And, as we have suggested above, the vision of God as three persons who are one in essence promotes a differentiated and collaborative way of pursuing integration. Without offering simple solutions to the issues raised by interdisciplinary anxieties and conflicts, such a relational approach to integration allows a space for conversation between integrators and their disciplines.


In Part I of this two-part manuscript, we have described relational integration as an approach to psychology and theology that builds on the tradition of integration but emphasizes differentiated relationality at the levels of both content and process. The integration of psychology and theology involves persons and their relational capacities for collaboration as much as it involves abstract bodies of knowledge. We suggested relational integration is (a) embodied, (b) hermeneutical, (c) developmental, and (d) intercultural, and we drew upon social science and theology to unpack (a) and (b). In Part II, we turn our attention to contours (c) and (d) of relational integration.

Author Note: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Steven J. Sandage, The Danielsen Institute, 185 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02212. Email: References

Steven J. Sandage

Boston University

Jeannine K. Brown

Bethel University

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(1) We have also found that when conflicts do get nominated they sometimes reflect differing moral, social, or political values held by certain theological or psychological organizations rather than unavoidable conclusions from the data of those disciplines.

(2) As mentioned earlier in this paper, we are not using the term "control" in reference to negative personal motives but rather a systemic dynamic involving degrees of limiting the influence of certain "others" (Maddock & Larson, 2004).

Author Information

SANDAGE, STEVEN J. PhD. Address: The Danielsen Institute, Boston University, 185 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02212. Title: Albert and Jessie Danielsen Professor of Psychology of Religion and Theology, Boston University; Research Director and Senior Staff Psychologist, Danielsen Institute. Degrees: BS (Psychology) Iowa State University; MDiv (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School); MS and PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University). Specializations: Positive psychology, spiritual development, intercultural competence, psychology of religion, and psychopathology.

BROWN, JEANNINE K. PhD. Address: Bethel University, 6116 Arosa Street, San Diego, CA 92115. Title-. Professor of New Testament. Degrees: BS (Music Therapy) University of Eau Claire; MDiv (Bethel Theological Seminary); PhD (Luther Seminary). Specializations: The gospels, Matthew's gospel, biblical hermeneutics.
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Author:Sandage, Steven J.; Brown, Jeannine K.
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Date:Sep 22, 2015
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