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Misunderstanding People – Crabb’s Unconscious
What Larry Crabb Really Teaches About the Unconscious
We are now in a position to discuss the Bobgans’ objections to Crabb’s doctrine of the unconscious. We have already seen that Van Til believed that the Bible supports the doctrine that there is an unconscious aspect of human character. (Van Til uses the expressions "unconscious" and "subconscious" interchangeably). Van Til even believes that the existence of a subconscious follows necessarily from man’s state as a created image-bearer:
He also suggests that,
Now, someone may want to challenge Van Til’s reasoning, but nevertheless his words should alert us that the whole issue is more complex than the Bobgans imagine.
Chapter 9 of Prophets of Psychoheresy I is where the Bobgans first try to demonstrate that Crabb’s doctrine of the unconscious is Freudian-based, and not founded on the teaching of Scripture. Their argument has five elements. First they point out similarities between the definitions of the word unconscious as given in the secular Dictionary of Psychology, and the use Crabb makes of the idea of unconscious forces within the personality.3 Secondly, the Bobgans find fault with Crabb for finding anything of value in Freud.4 Thirdly, they quote a particular aspect of Freud’s doctrine of the unconscious that is indeed biblically objectionable, but they leave the reader unaware until four pages later that Crabb explicitly rejects Freud at that point. Fourthly, they assert that Crabb teaches what he does "without Scriptural warrant;" "without providing a biblical definition of the unconscious;" and without providing "biblical verification of his view."5 And, fifthly, they quote Crabb in several places, but misrepresent to the reader what Crabb’s words mean. I will comment on each of these points in turn.
There are indeed likenesses between Crabb’s doctrine of the unconscious and the doctrines of secular psychology. There are also similarities between the Bobgans’ doctrine of the scientific method and Karl Popper’s. However, if the Bobgans had thought through their doctrine biblically (and I believe that they haven’t) they would realize that, necessarily, there are vast differences. Recognition of the similarities does not make the differences of no account.
In the same way, too, a Christian can praise a non-Christian for what is valuable in his thinking without becoming allied with his ethical rebellion against God, just as the Bobgans praise Popper as a "world-renowned scholar and philosopher of science."6 A Christian’s thinking can be stimulated and helped forward by what the non-Christian has to say, just as Jay E. Adams was encouraged by what he read in the secular psychologist O. Hobart Mowrer. (Adams wrote the preface to the section of Prophets of Psychoheresy I that discusses Crabb. His views on counselling are similar to those of the Bobgans themselves).
Here are some of the things Adams has to say about Mowrer:7
However, Adams also says:
This stimulation of Christian insight by the work of non-Christian, humanistic thinkers is an example of exactly what Van Til teaches us we should expect and welcome.
Now, let us consider some statements from Crabb which provide some interesting parallels to what Adams has said:
He also says that one of the core realities denied by secular therapists who use the psychodynamic (i.e., "medical") model
Thus, Crabb rejects Freud’s denial of human responsibility just as vehemently as do Mowrer and Adams. The difference is that Crabb believes that, nevertheless, there are other useful insights to be found in Freud whereas Mowrer and Adams reject Freud entirely. I think that Crabb is right. I think that Mowrer and Adams, having rightly rejected Freud at one point, have rejected him at all points without stopping to consider seriously whether there was anything of value there that should have been retained.
Be that as it may, we see once more that the Bobgans can only legitimately argue with Crabb over the detail of what he believes is valuable in Sigmund Freud; they cannot impugn him (as they relentlessly do) for being willing to learn from Freud. Crabb’s openness to Freud is no different in principle to Adams’ openness to Mowrer.
The Bobgans are correct when they say:
Four and five pages later they enlighten their readers that:
However, throughout the intervening pages of criticism of Crabb, the Bobgans have allowed their readers to believe that Crabb’s doctrine is identical with Freud’s, as they describe it there, in its entirety a doctrine whose denial of personal responsibility is repugnant to every Christian. Every statement of criticism the Bobgans make of Crabb in those pages therefore carries with it a negative emotional force that is likely to grip an unsuspecting reader and persuade him or her to accept the Bobgans’ criticisms as factual, without careful analysis.
The Bobgans believe that their words do not bear what I have asserted here, because they have previously said:
However, that sentence of the Bobgans’ only intensifies the reader’s expectation that the aspects of Freud’s theory that they summarize on pages 126-130 are therefore exactly those with which Crabb agrees if not, why spend time elaborating them? (I do not believe that the Bobgans deliberately structured the chapter to mislead in this way only that that is indeed the effect of what they have written).
Moreover, their attempted summary of Crabb’s position is not in itself accurate. They are right in recognizing the emphasis Crabb puts on personal responsibility. However, Crabb would hold that we are wilfully responsible for the "wrong assumptions in the unconscious" themselves, not merely for the wrong attitudes and actions that originate from them.
When their specific criticisms in this section of Prophets of Psychoheresy I are analyzed, they too are found to be empty, none more so than when they say:
On the previous page, they have asserted:
Quoting Psalm 139:23-24, they then say what is undeniably true:
Apparently, the Bobgans think that this reference to Psalm 139 proves them right in saying that the idea of the unconscious is unbiblical, for they provide no other justification before leaping into their accusation, in bold type, that Crabb teaches what he does "without Scriptural warrant." However, the wonderful fact of God’s grace, that "He knows and He brings cleansing to those inner parts that we may never understand," does not mean (1) that those parts do not exist; (2) that it is inherently impossible for us to learn to understand them; or (3) that we ought never to try to understand them.
In a similar vein the Bobgans carry on to say:
Two chapters later the Bobgans will give some detailed arguments against the evidence that Crabb believes he finds in the Scriptures in favour of the existence of the unconscious. As I will show, those arguments also fail. However, at this point in their book (chapter 9) they have not even provided those arguments. They simply tell their readers, falsely that there is only one plank to Crabb’s argument, and that one a false one, and they carry on from there as though the matter were settled. They are like a Jehovah’s Witness who says "John 1:1 doesn’t mean what the orthodox church says it does. Therefore there is no Trinity. End of matter." The reader who uncritically accepts what the Bobgans have said up to this point has been set up to view Crabb with a very jaundiced eye indeed, and to give even less critical thought to the remaining charges.
When the Bobgans quote Crabb’s words,
they give their readers their own interpretation of what he means, saying,
However, Crabb’s words follow an extended quotation that he has given from a passage by Richard Lovelace.25 In this passage, Lovelace asserts that during the past two centuries the church has declined in its understanding of the depth of sin, and, in particular, of "the deforming presence of original sin, the compulsive force operating behind individual acts of transgression," whose effect is that "the human heart is now a reservoir of unconscious, disordered motivation and response, of which unrenewed persons are unaware if left to themselves."26
After giving this quotation, Crabb says,
Now, you may wish to argue with Lovelace and Crabb over the content of what they are saying, but when you read the full context of his words you cannot deny that when Crabb finds fault with pastors who preach an "iceberg" view of sin, he does so because he believes they have failed to read the Scriptures with the same depth of understanding as their forefathers of earlier centuries, not because they have not listened to Freud.
So the Bobgans proceed. At every point with half-truths, untruths and foolish statements that they themselves firmly believe, they poison the uncritical reader’s mind against Crabb.
(After reading a footnote, click your browser’s Back button to return to the point in the document from which you branched to the footnote.)
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