Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Whole Story: Biblical Narrative & Counseling

In their book The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen note the piecemeal fashion in which we're prone to read the Bible along with its detrimental results:

Many of us have read the Bible as if it were merely a mosaic of little bits - theological bits, moral bits, historical-critical bits, sermon bits, devotional bits. But when we read the Bible in such a fragmented way, we ignore its divine author's intention to shape our lives through its story. All human communities live out of some story that provides a context for understanding the meaning of history and gives shape and direction to their lives. If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should. Idolatry has twisted the dominant cultural story of the secular Western world. If as believers we allow this story (rather than the Bible) to become the foundation of our thought and action, then our lives will manifest not the truths of Scripture, but the lies of an idolatrous culture. Hence, the unity of Scripture is no minor matter; a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers.
Among the "stories" that exercise great formative power in our culture are those told by the psychotherapeutic communities. These stories are practically inescapable. We hear them not only in professional counseling offices but on television, the radio and in casual conversations. When we see ourselves as characters in these stories instead of the biblical narrative of creation, corruption, redemption and consummation, phrases like self-esteem, self-love, needs, and codependence ring loudly in our ears, drowning out biblical themes like idolatry, self-denial, faith, and transforming grace. We may not completely abandon the Bible's story but we don't really expect it to speak as meaningfully about our problems as do the therapeutic tales.

In his unfortunately out-of-print book, Taking the Word to Heart: Self & Others in an Age of Therapies, Robert C. Roberts writes: "the kind of persons we become (the kind of character we develop) is a function of how we think about ourselves." This is just another way of making the same point as Bartholomew and Goheen. Whatever story functions authoritatively in our lives will shape us and our interpretation of ourselves. Roberts refers to the various schools of therapy as "alternative spiritualities" and offers the following warning:
The danger is that these psychologies may to one degree or another replace Christianity without most people even noticing that any substitution has taken place. In some instances the influence of the therapies -even from within the church - may be so strong that our character and relationships are no longer Christian but are now Rogerian, or family-systemic, or Jungian, or rational-emotive...In short, under the influence of these psychologies, our souls may turn out Therapeutic rather than Christian.
Too often believers regard the cultivation of the intellectual life as an abstract, impractical pursuit but it need not be. We should seek to think well so we can love (both God and neighbor) well. I'm grateful for the efforts of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation towardhelping the church to think well about how each of our stories is a subplot in the grand narrative whose central figure is Jesus Christ. David Powlison is one of those at the forefront of this work. Yesterday, Justin Taylor provided an informative introduction to Powlison along with a bibliography of his writing at Between Two Worlds. That entry prompted this one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to get off the subject KP, as we must continually check ourselves to ensure that we are looking at Scripture as God intends for us to see it (i.e. according to spirit and truth), especially as it concerns the mix of secular and biblical counseling perspectives and techniques, but it seems to me, and you may disagree with me, that the idolizing of Scripture has plaqued Judeo-Christianity in ways few recognize for some time now. Take for example an excerpt from W.A. Criswell's 1969 book entitled, Why I Preach That the Bible is Literally True, as he writes, "We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally." Now, I don't disagree entirely with Criswell, nor do I disagree entirely with this subject you've thoughtfully brought to the table of The Christian Mind, but I briefly mention all of this only to conclude with...there must be a balance as we look prayerfully and thoughtfully at God's Word.