Naturalism vs. Theism

More than 60 International emotional health and wellness professionals, theologians, and members of the clergy have converged on the Loma Linda University campus in California, October 12-15, to lead out in presentations and workshops for a multidisciplinary, multicultural conference to advance a biblical framework for achieving emotional wholeness. An escalating number of people in today's fast-paced, high-stress society--both inside and outside the church--are seeking life-coping skills and emotional healing from mental health professionals, and Seventh-day Adventist health organizations, with their emphasis on whole-person care, are recognizing the need for a stronger focus on this issue. The extra edge of Adventist emotional health and wellness practices, however, is a biblically based foundation. The focus of the LLU Emotional Health and Wellness Conference is to explore the role of these Bible principles. Adventist Review features editor Sandra Blackmer is on site covering the four-day event.

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The tension between two worldviews—naturalism and theism—and their relationship to mental health is a prominent theme at the Emotional Health and Wellness Conference being held at Loma Linda University, October 12-15. Brent Slife of the Brigham Young University Department of Psychology, one of four Thursday morning keynote speakers, explored this dichotomy of philosophies in his presentation titled “Including God in the Theory, Research, and Practice of Psychology.” According to Slife, the two views are incompatible.

“While naturalistic psychologists deny the necessity of God in their interpretations,” Slife said, “theists view God as an essential element in their interpretation of the world. . . . Secular psychology rejected faith and adopted naturalism, which allows that God could be involved at Creation but not in any way that makes a difference after that.” These assumptions, he said, are relevant to the practical applications of therapeutic care, in that secular therapists teach their clients “godless understandings of themselves—that God does not matter at all.”

A danger also exists for Christian students of psychology, Slife noted. Teaching naturalism “moves even theistic students away from their theistic beliefs across their years of study,” he said.

CONFERENCE VENUE: The emotional health conference is being held in the Jetton Pavilion of LLU’s Centennial Complex. [PHOTO: Melissa Blackmer]
A biblical-based worldview is integral when considering the Seventh-day Adventist belief in a caring, creator God and the whole-person care approach of the church’s health organizations. Adventist health-care professionals adopt the concept that the physical, emotional, and spiritual components of individuals all need to be treated and addressed.

“The Bible is not just another source of information,” said Lisa Beardsley, General Conference Education director, a former vice chancellor of LLU, and the opening Thursday morning presenter. “It’s to be used to transform both the healer and the patient, contributing to the harmonious development of the whole person and restoring the person to whole health.”

Presenter Eric Johnson, professor of Pastoral Care for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, underscored the vital role that pastors play in emotional wellness. Johnson believes that whole health involves conforming to the heart, mind, and life of God, and so both theologians and psychologists are needed to work together with clients toward reaching that goal.

“I place immense value on psychological literature, . . . but I’m also critical of it,” Johnson said. “It leaves out some of the most important aspects of human life because it’s secular, and views [the human condition] as if God did not exist.” It offers “no promotion of values and morality beyond what is ‘adaptive.’”

The director of the research track of the afternoon workshops, David Williams of Harvard University’s School of Public Health and an LLU alumnus, presented a wealth of empirical evidence regarding the important role religious beliefs play in mental health. High levels of religious involvement, he said, relate to lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as have a profound effect on lifestyle. He added, however, that religion can also increase anxiety when people are subjected to congregational criticism, when too many demands are made of them, and when personal problems and evil in the world cause individuals to doubt their religious beliefs.

“The United States leads the world in prevalence of mental disorders,” Williams said. “U.S. immigrants fare the best regarding their physical and mental health,” he noted, but added that the longer they live in the U.S., the greater is their decline in these areas.

Workshops were held throughout the afternoon on topics such as chemical dependency; integrating whole-person care in primary care; biblical and evidence-based viewpoints of premarital and marriage education; living with chronic pain; God’s plan for renewal, recovery, and restoration; and Christian cognitive-behavioral therapy; among others.

To learn more about the Emotional Health and Wellness Conference—A Biblical Worldview in Practice, click here.

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