I am not an expert in theology, and probably will never be. However, I have been reading a book, “Theology and Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach” by Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger.
The book is an attempt to deal with conflicts between psychological answers for human problems and theological answers for the same problems. The author spent years seeking to integrate the answers. Seems like a worthy goal. In pastoral care, integration is a common goal. Some favor psychology and some favor theology, but most ultimately seek to bring them together for a common answer. Even those that don’t seek to do this (Levels of Explanation crowd), there is not tension between the two fields since each are meant to deal with separate issues.
Hunsinger ultimately went with a different approach. Psychology and Theology sometimes give different diagnoses and different prescriptions. Instead of seeking integration of the two… instead of picking one over the other… instead of saying they deal with unrelated parts of the person… she suggested allowing them to speak… providing two perspectives that give a broader insight of a condition whose full character cannot be understood strictly from one perspective.
Let’s bring this over to Missions. At first, one might be tempted to assume that there is only one perspective… biblical. If missions is carrying out God’s mission, it seems reasonable that the one perspective is God’s. But consider the following example. In missions, should one give money to to converts or potential converts? From strictly a Biblical perspective, the answer may not be determined with certainty. One should love neighbor (and enemy), and be salt and light in the misflavored poorly lit world we live in. Is giving money out a loving act in line with this? One needs the perspective of the social sciences to get a better understanding the problems of dependency and nominality of change. Yet the social sciences are also heavily limited as well. If the social sciences demonstrate real problems, they are heavily hampered in producing real positive change. As many have noted, Marxism (for example) has always been far better at pointing out societal evils than coming up with societal cures.
Looking at the image above, the book cover shows the value of intersubjectivity. The two blocks on the cover produce different shadows dependent on the angle of light. One can consider each shadow a different perspective. The three perspectives are necessary to provide a good understanding of the nature of the blocks.
Multiple perspectives, intersubjectivity, does not produce contradictions… at least in the negative sense contradictions are often viewed. Rather, they broaden understanding based on the differences, recognizing that the differences come, in part, from different viewing perspectives.
1. One does not have to see missions theology and the social sciences as being contradictory… in the sense that one must be right and one must be wrong. Rather, the “creative tension” between the two provides much insight.
2. One does not have to integrate missions theology and the social sciences, in the sense, at least, of trying to get a common answer out of the two fields. However, commonality may evidence a sound foundation to build from.
3. One doesn’t have to separate missions theology and the social sciences into different unrelated camps. Such an attempt would wrongly narrow the broadness of God’s role in the world anyway.
3. One can allow both fields, missions theology and the social sciences to retain their respective voices, providing different perspectives, creating a fuller understanding of the overall nature of the problems and solutions to the human condition.
Anyway… this is where I am today… no idea where I will be tomorrow.
- Biblical Theology from a Chinese Perspective (jacksonwu.org)
- Theology and Psychology: Brief Consideration (munsonmissions.org)
- The Importance of Theology and Theological Reflection in Youth Ministry (king.typepad.com)