At least three things cause tension between Theology and Psychology, today I want to explore two:
1) Psychology and subjectivity.
Psychology[i] is a soft science. It is susceptible to philosophical influences because the target of its study is immaterial (the human mind). Even the most secular materialistic psychologists acknowledge that the object if there is such a thing, of study in psychology, is abstract.
Still, psychology finds legitimacy in studying the human mind based on the idea of “logical positivism”. Logical Positivism came into existence to fix the disconnect between philosophy and human experience. Philosophy was stuck trying to figure out ultimate reality, giving a secular explanation of it. Then on philosopher, Edmund Husserl suggested that we put a pin in that question and simply take for granted what is common to human experience as real. Psychology builds on this as well as pragmatism.
Due to these philosophical origins of psychology, there is a general avoidance of making claims about what humans are, how humans work, or any other objective claim. Consequently, psychologists tend to go from description to prescription. Psychologists will preform a scientifically rigorous study of human behavior, memory, cognition, perception, sensation etc and then another psychologist will make suggestions for clinical application in a separate paper.
It is this reluctance among psychologists to make objective statements about reality that makes it difficult for their to be dialogue between themselves and theologians, since theologians are primarily in the business of explaining objective reality.
- Theologians don’t like learning from psychologists
Theologians have an issue with thinking pragmatically. They are happy to make objective claims about reality and give the task of translating those claims into daily life to individual believers. This omission is comparable to the psychologists omission of dealing with objective reality. Theologians neglect the immediate reality, that is the subjective data.
Theologians have a legitimate reason for this, since the discipline of theology and orthodoxy is an objective field of study. The neglect of subjective human experience is easy for theologians since their source material and object of study is the Bible. The Bible itself needs no modernization, progress and integration. The Word of God is fixed, definite and authoritative, which is why it is an excellent source for theology. Science however is progressing, and modernizing, and thus dialogue between the two is difficult.
[i] As a discipline, not including fields such as psychotherapy and psychiatry