Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Pastoral Care and Unbaptised Secular Psychology

There was a trend (that is still being played out) in the 70s and 80s toward the clergy re/training in the human sciences like psychology and social work, etc. For some it was a natural move given their liberal theological position that struggled to give faith, theology and even God any firm foundations other than as a cipher for justice and care for others. For some it also provided a little insurance against ecclesiastical caprice! This confusion between the human sciences and Christian theology and practice was evident in the training I received in pastoral care back in the mid-80s. A large part of our practice and reflection consisted of learning secular techniques of counselling and then constructing a theological justification for the use of these techniques. However, it was all a little too uncritical. (One of the ironies in this is that those who advocated the mostly uncritical use of the human sciences were often those most critical of the church's alleged uncritical baptism of political power in the time of Constantine and since.)

Now, the human sciences are an extremely valuable and pragmatic grab-bag of theory and practice that serve us all well. Good therapy, when you need it, is a great gift. However, to collapse Christian pastoral care into this grab-bag of psychology and medicine is a mistake. Pastoral care is more than psychology conducted in a Christian context or by Christians supplemented with prayer and Bible reading. (Although it can be this too.) When this collapse occurs the goals of Christian pastoral care and Enlightenment
medicine and psychology become almost indistinguishable. For example, the tendency of the human sciences (and medicine) is to consider pain and suffering something to be avoided and eradicated. If it cannot be eradicated then the task is to help the client/patient cope with the pain. Well and good at one level, but we wouldn't want that to determine our response in toto. A specifically Christian response might be to spend some time on the person's relationship with God in the midst of the pain and suffering, and ask, "What practices might help this person remain faithful to God in the midst of this pain, and to know the continuing care of God in their life?" How might we help people cope with their experience of a providential God, their eschatological hope in the kingdom to come, and their current experience of confusion and alienation? The experience of pain and suffering can be a laboratory where we learn our need and renew our love for God in a more real manner. But that is a tough thing for a pastor to try these days because the aims of the secular human sciences and medicine have a virtual monopoly on the practice and goals of pastoral care.


  1. Pain and suffering is a gift to guide us homeward.

  2. Yes, but it is a tough perspective for a pastor to work from, and for those who suffer to work with.

  3. Ok, then gather without bias and prejudice the necessary resources to heal/bring them closer to God/Oneness.

    God/Oneness has already supplied the necessary resources, all mankind needs to do is to use them for the well being of all no matter what race, creed or religious affiliation they may have.