(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Paul Tournier was a Swiss doctor in general practice in Geneva. He was brought up in a Calvinist church and experienced a conversion when he was about eleven years old. He was emotionally reserved, having been orphaned early in life. He was graduated in 1923 and by that time had gained confidence in his studies and in student affairs. Even so, his early medical practice was marked by great formality with patients. However, in 1932, after attending a small Christian group inspired by the Moral Re-Armament movement (MRA), he had a deep spiritual experience that gradually freed him emotionally and helped him enter a meditative dialogue with God. In this he was greatly helped by his first wife, Nelly. From 1937, his clinical practices changed dramatically as he moved more into the role of counselor.

Tournier became concerned with reconciling the scientific and spiritual practices of medicine, and this concern expressed itself in a series of books and essays, beginning with Médecine de la personne (1940; The Healing of Persons, 1965). At first, these circulated only in the French-speaking world and were met with a good deal of skepticism. With the translation of The Meaning of Persons in 1957 and its publication in the United Kingdom and the United States, his ideas began to gain some acceptance. Tournier’s easily digested wisdom of European psychology and theology met a real need in the English-speaking world. While his psychological theories are eclectic, it is possible to see the influence of Emil Brunner, one of the Geneva group and a noted neo-Calvinist theologian, in his religious expression.

In the early 1960’s, almost in fulfillment of Tournier’s own theory, there was a growing desire to break out of current pietistic rigidities and to seek spiritual renewal, which included a concern for inner healing. His other books were translated, including...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Collins, Gary R. The Christian Psychology of Paul Tournier. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1973. Collins is an evangelical who was forced to study Tournier through the interests of his students. He went to Geneva and talked with him at length. He is not uncritical of Tournier’s theology but tries to make a fair assessment.

Hacpille, Lucie. Le Défi de l’âge: Se réconclier avec la vie—Hommage à Paul Tournier. Paris: Éditions Frison-Roche, 1993. In the absence of recent English reassessments of Tournier, this French work is the best availaible.

Johnson, Paul E., ed. Healer of the Mind: A Psychiatrist’s Search for Faith. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1972. A collection of essays, including an autobiographical one by Tournier.

Peaston, Monroe. “Aspects of the Person: Some Themes in the Recent Writings of Paul Tournier.” Pastoral Psychology 33, no. 1 (Fall, 1984): 35-43. Peaston updates his earlier book.

Peaston, Monroe. Personal Living: An Introduction to the Thought of Paul Tournier. New York: Harper and Row, 1972. A good introduction to Tournier’s thought and writings until 1970.