The Glory of a Human Being Truly Alive - James Houston and Bruce Hindmarsh on Christian Psychology
James Houston and Bruce Hindmarsh, both professors of spiritual theology at Regent College, comment on the psychology inherent to Christian theology, focusing on the early Church and Desert Fathers and Mothers. Moderated by Steve Porter (CCT Associate Director).
Say on this theme of psychology, and thinking about again, some of the spiritual classics and some of the ancient Christian writers, it seems that in different periods in church history, and you two know this better than I, we see a tacit, sometimes fairly explicit Christian psychology with the Desert Fathers and Mothers for instance, or with Augustine’s Confessions of this exploratory, self-reflective journey.
Do we have some of the resources that we are in need of for this theo-anthropology within the riches of the Christian tradition itself, and into the degree that we do, to what degree does contemporary psychological work add to or further some of those findings?
I think the psychology inherent within the Christian tradition, is oriented towards an eternal end. And I think that’s exactly what we need, is the psychology of Jonathan Edwards, the psychology of Augustine, the psychology of the Desert Fathers. There’s a way people today might just complain and say, “Well that looks kinda yeah “there’s some platonic dualism there. “There’s this suspicion of the material world. “There’s an escape. “There’s an [speaks unclearly].”
And it’s easy to critique it, but that means, okay, we can easily see those things. Those aren’t gonna be our same dangers. But what are we missing? And I think in modernity, it’s just written in letters too large to read, and it’s unless we go back to this psychology, we’ll simply deal with people as our compact, enclosed selves. We won’t see the grandeur, the glory of the human person standing upright in the presence of God, what it means to be a human being. “The glory,” as Irenaeus said, “of a human being, truly alive.” So I think we need that psychology. And I think those are exactly the kind of resources for us to turn to.
And let me just add, I think that one thing that we really can be richly blessed from the Desert Fathers, is what we might now call the Ecosystems of the Seven Vices. To recognize that in the language of ecosystems that we’re familiar now with systems thinking, that, or ecologically thinking, that each of these is identifying a kind of environment that we have to be aware of. So, what are the environments that will help a skilled Christian psychologist to discern that needs a corrective.
In the Desert Fathers, the sense that the word of God is a personalized word that comes from the word of the elder. And so it’s an oral word, it’s not reified. And it’s the personal word that comes in the context of relationship. And it’s specified, it’s personalized and it is the authority of the word of God, it’s not the authority of the elder, but it comes through the elder. And there’s maybe something even about the orality of that culture, moving towards literacy. But the orality of that culture that makes that a particularly prophetic witness.
And you know the story of the one Desert Father who the disciple went to him and he said, “Father, give me a word.” Well, having been given the word, he didn’t go back and ask him anymore. It was enough, for life. [soft guitar music]