Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Integrating Postmodern and Christian Contemplative Thought: Building a Theoretical Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Integrating Postmodern and Christian Contemplative Thought: Building a Theoretical Framework

Article excerpt

Responding to literature that invites Christian counselors to engage postmodern thinking, this article seeks to articulate a worldview that is integrally both postmodern and Christian. However, instead of being Christian in a broad sense, it draws upon a specific Christian tradition: contemplation. Building upon the strengths of both Christian contemplative and postmodern thought, and recognizing where the two disciplines are compatible and mismatched, a theoretical framework that is appropriate for the postmodern context is constructed. The resulting paradigm has two realities, two selves, two ways of communicating, and two speakers. Based upon this bringing together of postmodern and contemplative ideas, a model of counseling is briefly developed around the concepts of the therapy system, the therapy process, and the therapy relationship.

During the past decade, integration literature has shown an intensified interest in postmodernism. Numerous researchers have argued that Christian counselors must take postmodern thought seriously and draw creatively from it (Dueck & Parsons, 2004; Hall & Porter, 2004; Hathaway, 2004; Ingram, 1997; Jankowski, 2003; Olthius, 2001; Sandage, 1998; Shults & Sandage, 2003; Sorenson, 2004; Watson, 2004). These writers strongly believe that postmodernism can have a positive influence on the field of integration. In spite of many calls to critically engage with the postmodern project, a review of the literature reveals few efforts to carefully examine the postmodern worldview.

At the same time, as the Christian counseling movement is being asked to engage with postmodern thinking, it is also being presented with the benefits of integrating spiritual direction theory and practices-chief among these being contemplation. The topic of contemplation repeatedly appears in discussions of spiritual direction (Barrette, 2004; Beck, 2003; Blanton, 2005; Galindo, 2004; Goehring, 2003; Johnson, 2004; Moon, 2002; Moon & Benner, 2004; Rogers, 2004; Shea, 1997; Sperry, 2004; Tan, 2004; Tisdale, Doehring, & Larraine-Poirier, 2004). The Christian contemplative tradition is recognized as one of the streams of thought that has shaped the practice of spiritual direction (Mangis, 2001; Watson, 2003). Contemplation is often acknowledged as one of the key resources used by spiritual directors (Johnson, 2004; Leech, 2001; May, 1992; Merton, 190Oa; Moon, Willis, Bailey, & Kwasny, 1993; Moon & Benner, 2004; Tan, 2003 Temple, 2004). Finally, contemplative spirituality is thought of as a good fit with modern psychoanalytic theory (Mangis, 2001; Watson, 2003). However, in spite of these numerous references to contemplation, there have been no attempts within integrative literature to thoroughly describe a Christian contemplative perspective.

Unfortunately, the literature reveals only one article (Watson, 2003) that briefly touches on the relationship between Christian contemplation and postmodernism. Watson's (2003) primary interest is in outlining a model of spiritual formation that is informed by the contemplative tradition and by contemporary psychoanalytic theory. However, in the process, he advocates for bringing the insights of pre-modern contemplatives into our postmodern situation. Recognizing a resonance between contemplative and postmodern views of the self, he argues for building a bridge between postmodern concerns and premodern Christian contemplative thought.

The integrative movement is in need of a theoretical framework that integrates Christian contemplation and postmodernism. There is strong agreement among Christian counselors that Christian counseling should be carried out within a Christian worldview (Houston, Bufford, & Johnson, 1999). However, a Christian worldview does not exist in isolation. Instead, it exists within a context, and that framework can be a postmodern one.

The context in which traditional counseling theories were conceived was a modern one (Hansen, 2000). …

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