Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Psychology in the Context of Holistic Mission: The Challenges of Witness, Worldview and Poverty

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Psychology in the Context of Holistic Mission: The Challenges of Witness, Worldview and Poverty

Article excerpt

In this article we seek to locate psychology within a theology of mission, specifically, reflecting on how the work of psychology integrates into God's holistic mission in the world. After tracing the history and core ideas of holistic mission and transformational development, the authors address three critical yet understudied issues for psychology vis a vis a holistic perspective: witness, worldview, and principles for working in the context of poverty. In doing so, they highlight important lessons learned from the relief and development community as it has grappled with these issues and discuss how holistic mission can guide Christians doing psychology internationally and provide a shared theological understanding for working collaboratively.

In 1991, I (Smith) stepped away from a position in the missions research group of a Christian relief and development organization to pursue doctoral studies in clinical psychology. It had been a stimulating multidisciplinary environment where I worked alongside a theologian, an anthropologist, a sociologist, and a number of missions and development specialists. On my last day, a colleague stopped by my office to say goodbye and as we were talking he jokingly quipped, "We're not sad you're leaving, we're sad you're becoming a psychologist." That skepticism was representative of the view of psychology within much of the international Christian missions community at the time. Psychologists were seen as mono-cultural, individualistic and imperialistic in their approach to "helping," relying on theories that were biblically suspect. In addition, despite the research orientation of many organizations working internationally, the profound suffering, disability, and higher mortality rates related to mental health problems in the international context were virtually unknown.

Aside from the longstanding and growing role of mental health professional in the essential work of member care-caring for missionaries and humanitarian workers and their families-a broader role for the field of psychology in the overall mission of the church was not clear and certainly not seen as a priority. Hunter and Mayers (1987), in the opening editorial of the second in a series of four Journal of Psychology and Theology special issues on missions and member care between 1983 and 1999, had optimistically noted, "There may be few aspects of integration of greater value than that of psychology and missions" (p. 270). However, they also acknowledged, "The relatively new discipline of psychology struggles to find acceptance and opportunity in the overall strategy of missions" (p. 270). Unfortunately, this assessment remains true today. In this article we suggest that this is at least partially due to Christian mental health professionals' lack of a comprehensive biblical understanding of God's holistic mission and its potential role in their respective fields.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, the field of Christian relief and development found a theological base for its work in the holistic mission paradigm that emerged from the first Lausanne Congress in 1974, and the research and conceptual work that followed (e.g., Lausanne Movement, 1974, 1989, 2004, 2011). As part of its integration agenda, psychology has not yet initiated a similar program of study and dialogue to more consciously find its place within such a broad mission framework. In this article, we will trace the history and core ideas of holistic mission and transformational development. We seek to locate psychology within a theology of mission, specifically, reflecting on how the work of psychology integrates into God's holistic mission in the world. We consider how holistic mission can guide Christians doing psychology internationally and provide a shared theological understanding for working collaboratively with others involved in the task of "the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world" (www.lausanne.org). Then, we will address three critical issues for psychology vis a vis a holistic perspective: witness, worldview, and principles for working in the context of poverty. …

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