I was reading the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 18.3 this week and I found myself reflecting on the similarity between A Christian’s assurance of salvation and the attachment science’s concept secure attachment. Here’s what the Modern English Version of the most relevant portion of 18.3 says:
“because [the Christian] is enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given to him by God, he may—without any extraordinary revelation—attain this assurance by a proper use of the ordinary means. It is therefore the duty of everyone to be very diligent in making certain that God has called and chosen him. By such diligence his heart may grow in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties which obedience to God requires—the proper fruits of this assurance.
Within the Reformed Christian tradition, the assurance of salvation is a core doctrine. When I study the WCF I do so reading the confession along with Chad Van Dixhoorn’s commentary Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Van Dixhoorn notes on p.231, in contrast to the Reformed tradition, “some people and some traditions worry that if we are sure about our salvation, we will live carelessly – that we will ‘continue in sin so that grace may abound’ (Rom. 6:1-2),” where as with believers who embrace assurance of salvation, “the truth is that children of God are stronger and more cheerful in their obedience when they delight in the love of their Father.”
Van Dixhoorn goes on to quote two Puritans, Thomas Brooks and Thomas Watson to reinforce the logic of assurance of salvation as a biblical doctrine that properly enhances security for believers rather than excuses antinominianism. Here are the quotes from p. 232 of his book:
“As the old Puritan Thomas Brooks once said, ‘the being in a state of grace will yield a man heaven hereafter, but ether seeing of himself in this state will yield him both a heaven here and a heaven hereafter’. Or as Thomas Watson explained, ‘it puts a man in heaven before his time’. What these two friends of assembly members had to say was probably learned by considering what the Apostle John wanted his readers to see: if we have fellowship with christ, then we find ourselves walking ‘in the light, as he is in the light’; we discoed that ‘we have fellowship with one another’; and we rejoice for evermore that ‘ the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin’ (1 John 1:6,7).
This seems very close to what we in mental health call secure attachment with an available other – parent, spouse or spiritual being. Secure attachment is simply the idea that humans are wired to seek safe and reliable bonds with other humans, so much so, that without adequately secure bonds in relationships, humans begin to decline and develop symptoms consistent with mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
The primary difference as I see between assurance of salvation and secure attachment is that the latter does not guarantee union with Christ, but the former, as far as WCF 18.3 seems to suggest, is the duty of the believer to pursue and know with certainty his or her secure bond with God. I think that is how a Christian can could use psychological language to convey that he or she appropriately and rightly draws from one’s faith in God, union with Christ, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit in daily living. I see secure attachment as a most fully experienced by those who have faith in Christ, but thankfully, also is one of God’s common grace mechanisms available to all people simply because it is biologically wired into all people.