Monday, February 25, 2008

integration vs contextualization

As a Christian who counsels, I often distinguish between integration and contextualization. The nature of integration, I think, starts with two systems of thought and attempts to take the best of the two of them and to come up with a third something. My problem with this is that one is likely to lose the integrity of both and come up with something that’s a bit Frankensteinish. So if one takes family systems thinking and theology, at what level does one really lose the whole sense of a living, active God, if one’s theology just looks at the human part of the family system? As humans, our choice of what we take and what we leave behind has a great potential to go awry, so when we select from, it causes me some concern that we end up with a mythology (meaning “my theology”) where we end up having from both of the systems only what we choose, and we call that our integrated system.

But I prefer to use the word contextualization, because there’s a sense in which context says that one system is left entirely intact and the other is put within it to ask how the meaning of one is changed by it being in the context of the other. So when one calls one’s self a Christian, one says, “I will no longer see my life story as a life story separate from the life story of God, but I will see the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the context for my story. His story trumps my story.” It’s not that we’re going to try and work out some mutually acceptable terms. What Jesus has done is the entire foundation for my love and acceptance being a reality because of the gift of God, which we call grace.

So I want the nature of theology in my counseling to always precede the use of therapeutic terms, but it doesn’t exclude me from using therapeutic terms, so that when I use the term “family,” there’s something about God’s life as Father, Son, and Spirit, and the whole election of Abraham and all those that follow after Abraham, that shapes something about a family that is connected, that covenants together, that when I come and talk about family systems and what it means to trace out a genogram and to see where triangling is going on, it’s providing language that articulates what I already see in the nature and life of God. When Bowen talks about fight and flight as being responses to fear, we see that fear is foundational. We see in the Bible that perfect love casts out fear, and the nature of fear causing fighting and flight is certainly evident in the lives of all those people who were around Jesus and the way they responded to Him. And so there is an insight that can be seen within the context of Scripture where therapy plays out, gives language for, what’s going on in a way that is not forcing something onto the text, but is an insight that we’ve come to have that they may not have had at that time, but now we have the capacity to see that something’s going on, and it is not alien to what is there; it is further articulating the nature of what is there.

I do think that we have to be careful about always making sure that we’re not foisting onto the whole understanding of God revealed in Scripture from our therapeutic notions, but to recognize that the very purpose of Scripture is to explain the nature of the God-human relationship by first of all revealing who God is and what God is committed to, and then to see how that understanding of God shapes the ways we function in our communities of faith and in our families and in the ways that we engage our neighbors. And so we need to both critique and also employ the articulation of contemporary languages of therapy and leadership to further those biblical agendas once the biblical agenda is given precedence.

That is how I also function in thinking about marketplace as well as counseling as well as everything else -- that the theology sets the agenda, and that one might think of these others merely as languages that we’re translating into, just like translating from Greek and Hebrew into German for Luther or English for us. There is always the tension when you cross over from one language to the other that you may miss something. But if we’re going to keep it ever closer to the people who are supposed to hear the message, we have to act beyond our fears and be involved in that work of translation, or we won’t, as my friend Harry MacDonald says, “We won’t get the hay out of the hay loft down where the animals can eat it.” I think that the Bible wants us to get there, and that contextualized, contemporary modes of thought can be helpful in that journey, but they cannot set the agenda; that must be done theologically by the living God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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