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Theology trumping psychology

14 October 2016

A stronger sense of a dialogue would help, says Anne Holmes

Rain to My Roots
Derek Osborne
White Tree Publishing £8.95*



MY PROBLEM with this book is encapsulated in the comment in Bishop David Atkinson’s foreword that the author “has a warm, evangelical and joyous tone that culminates in his closing chapter, bringing all things together in Jesus Christ our Lord”. This is all well and good in the context of a missional text, but it implies a supremacist approach to psychology and psychotherapy, established disciplines within the social sciences, and therefore, perhaps, a somewhat disrespectful one.

That said, I am aware that there are those Christians who fear that, if they approach a counsellor or psychotherapist for help with emotional distress, their faith may be dismissed as a defence against reality. If Osborne has these people in mind, then his book may help them in their initial approach to such a practitioner.

One of the attractive threads running through Osborne’s book is his use of poetry, and the title is inspired by a line by G. M. Hopkins: “Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.” His theme is the interface between biblical theology and human psychology, which are not to be regarded as equal in status. He asserts: “Theology as the queen of sciences should be normative, and indeed, formative for other areas of learning.”

He does not seem to have encountered practical theology, which welcomes a dialogue between key theological sources — scripture, tradition, and experience — and disciplines such as psychology and other social sciences.

Osborne has devised a three-part scheme for dividing his overview of different psychological insights and the psychotherapeutic approaches to which they give rise. His chosen epithets for the three parts are “depth”, “lateral”, and “height”, to reflect psychoanalytical foundations, formative influences, and a spiritual dimension respectively. His concern is to “critique psychological models and paradigms by exposing them to the light of revealed truth”.

As a “common-or-garden clergyman”, the author acknowledges his lack of formal training in psychology and indicates that he is not an academic theologian. This seems to justify his frustrating decision not to include either detailed references or a bibliography. This does not do justice to the breadth of his reading, and, at times, masterly summary of difficult texts.

In a way, this is a period piece, a thoughtful example of a genre in which the writer’s essentialist stance is assumed to be acceptable even in a post-modern age.


The Revd Anne Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, is a psychotherapist and self-supporting minister in the Oxford diocese.


*Rain to My Roots available from www.amazon.co.uk

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