Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fuller's triune psychotherapy

Fuller Theological Seminary publishes a handy journal called Theology News & Notes. As part of Spring cleaning, I was reading through their Winter 2006 issue and discovered a very interesting progression, a "developmental teleology" which, beginning with a trinitarian (relational) anthropology, both describes and proscribes a thoroughly trinitarian and yet therapeutic approach to spiritual formation. I illustrate this progression through the following, which is simply clusters of quotions from the issue placed in my own particular order.


Developmental teleology is a theological understanding of human development (i.e. God's view of our completion) Narrative therapists tend to advocate a postmodernism that, following Nietzchean ideas, rejects metanarratives as a linguistic form of the will-to-power of a dominant group. Clients are seen as suffering the imposition of oppressive, life-restricting stories from without, handed down from family or culture. Metanarratives are to be replaced with alternative meanings that better reflect client preferences.

Spirituality, freed form the restriction of religious tradition, can be little more than an individual hodgepodge of personalized ritual and belief. To value religion for its usefulness is a form of idolatry. [Christianity isn't about "getting your life together." (Nouwen)] Many modern "spiritualities" reflect the individualism of our Western cultures--the self as autonomous, self-interested, and unencumbered by responsibilities for others. Healing is not assumed to occur in the context of a community, and hence an individualistic culture constructs a religion that helps me achieve my mental health. [Yet] the community is the smallest unit of health and to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradition in terms. Such implicit "religion" is substantively thin in that is generic, abstract and departicularized . . . traditionless.

We understand a person not just as an individual but as one who finds his or her true being in relationship with God and with others. We focus on relationality as the key aspect of being human and anchor our understanding of the human self in trinitarian theology. To be made in the image of God is to mirror this relationality--to exist as reciprocating selves, as unique individuals living in relationsihp with God and human others. To live according to God's design is to glorify God as a distinct human being in communion with God and others in mutually giving and receiving relationships. The church is a community of mutual moral formation that demonstrates the truth of its metanarrative in its life together. As [Christian therapists] it is faithfulness to our calling to "respond to the whole person God has created.

The transformation wrought in therapy has an emotional side and a spiritual side. The emotional side can be seen as the healing of the self while the spiritual side can be seen as the vision for a good life and the commitment and will to live in a way consistent with that vision. I would suggest that the tasks of both pastoral counseling and preaching share a common goal: to help the people of God imagine or reimagine their lives in terms of the present reality of God's reign and its future consummation. The goal, in other words, is to stimulate the imagination in such a way that one begins to locate one's story in the larger metanarrative context of the history of God's interation with the human race. As Dallas Willard has suggested, disciplined spirituality begins with vision. To re-imagine one's own story as part of the long train of witnesses to the grace of God as portrayed in Scripture is a remarkable vision, difficult as it may be to attain. Our spiritual struggle is that we cannot always clearly understand nor articulate how God's story is playing out in ours. But that is the sustaining purpose of eschatological hope. Christians confess a God who "will restore power where there is none and return order where there is chaos."

If each person is born in the image of God, then personal identity emerges--from childhood through adulthood--characterized by a sense of meaning that is rooted in belonging to God. This journey, much like the wanderings of the people of Israel, can be told as a history of spiritual development where the promise of a hopeful future is not determined by one's talent, opportunities or efforts, but by the providence of God's hope-filled future. . . . The goal of spiritual development is to love God and to love one's neighbor as oneself." Our ability to worship God the Father occurs through our participation in the life of the Son through the Spirit. A person's capacity for transcendence is embedded in relationships to others and ultimately to God . . . as such, spiritual development--like other aspects of human functioning--is dependent on the existence of developmental "nutrients" such as loving relationships, role models, and opportunities for righteous living.

Spiritual disciplines enable us to do what we cannot by direct effort; they "bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his kingdom." Spiritual disciplines paves the way for deep internal change that mere willpower can never bring about. Christian spirituality involves an awareness of and response to the Trinity as a community of mutual love, best envisioned as a journey of transformation through union with God.

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