Human Defensiveness: The Third Way -- By: David Powlison

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 07:4 (Winter 2003)
Article: Human Defensiveness: The Third Way
Author: David Powlison

Human Defensiveness:
The Third Way1

David Powlison

David Powlison serves as editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He also teaches at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania. Dr. Powlison is the author of numerous articles and several books including Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare (Baker, 1995) and Competent to Counsel? The History of a Conservative Protestant Anti-Psychiatry Movement (Powlison, 1996).


Change is brought about, not by new observations or additional evidence in the first instance, but by transpositions that were taking place inside the minds of the scientists themselves. In this connection it is not irrelevant to note that of all forms of mental activity the most difficult to induce, even in the minds of the young who may be presumed not to have lost their flexibility, is the art of handling the same bundle of data as before, but placing them in a new system of relations with one another by giving them a different framework.2

This article will introduce no new observations and evidence. Indeed, it will work with some of the oldest and most familiar pieces of both “psychological” and “theological” data. But it is a transposition of that data, for it presents a new framework —a new system of relations. It asks for a flexible mind to relate what often functions as two discrete “departments” in the minds of Christians. It aims to portray such a tight relationship between biblical data and psychological data—between these two “departments”—that neither one can ever remain the same.

In some ways we are simply reassessing the nomenclature with which familiar things are discussed. The French chemist Antoine Lavoisier revolutionized chemistry in the 1780’s, and the core of his achievement was the introduction of a new set of terms. Subsequent to Lavoisier, even those who wished to dispute him were forced to fight on turf defined in Lavoisier’s terms. Something very similar happened with the revolutionary psychological systems of the twentieth century: they changed the terms in which we think about people and their problems. A reawakened biblical worldview will engage our culture in its terminology; we must offer something more clear-headed, comprehensive, fruitful, economical, and true.

Lavoisier’s goal was to improve science by improving its nomenclature:

However certain the facts of any science may be, and however just the ideas we may have formed of these facts, we can only communicate false impressions to others while we want...

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