Christian Books

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy by Donald R. Hands and Wayne L. Fehr

Who might this book interest? This book would definitely interest clergy and those who counsel clergy.  Yet, I think that the application of this work may extend beyond its intended audience.  It may also interest those who are involved in any type of Christian-based counseling or Christian-based recovery work.  Overall, it would be a useful book for several audiences.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary: The authors, Donald Hands and Wayne Fehr, represent two disciplines: psychology/clinician and theologian/spiritual director (xix).  This can readily be seen in reading this work, although it does seem that psychological theory and clinical work dominate the monograph.  Still, the book is an easy read with some very helpful ideas for the integration of psychology and Christian spirituality.  I easily read it in a single day.

Section one, which includes chapters 1 and 2, covers the problems that they’ve encountered in working with clergy as well as the process of healing.  In chapter 1, they discuss “family of origin” issues, and the problems that arise from those issues.  As in chapter 2 and throughout the book, the authors frequently make us of “recovery” concepts and methods.  Much of what they present is an integration of these with the Christian spiritual tradition.  For example, when they speak of the process of healing, they overlay the Christian spirituality concepts of purgation, illumination, and unification with their own uncovery, discovery, and recovery, which are drawn from a recovery perspective.

Section two, which includes chapters 3 through 5, discusses intimacy with self, others, and God.  Drawing on Erickson, Gerald May, and Rollo May, with Jung subtly, but consistently looking over their shoulders, chapter 3 discusses self-intimacy.  In this chapter, they begin to develop their model which will be used throughout these chapters.  It draws upon the concepts of personal power and capacity for relationship. 

Additionally, chapter 4 speaks of interpersonal intimacy and introduces the interpersonal theory of Harry Stack Sullivan.  This important psychological theorist provides a progression for developing close interpersonal relationships: self-worth followed by intimacy followed by sex.  This chapter builds on the self-intimacy discussion and provides a good conversation on developing integrated clergy sexuality.  This is meant to help clergy understand their sexuality as part of them and to develop chastity within their given state of marriage, celibacy, or singleness.

Incorporating the spirituality of recovery’s twelve steps, chapter 5 concerns them with intimacy with God.  More often than not, this element is missing with clergy who come under their care.  Unfortunately, this is the primary issue for clergy!  They maintain a public spirituality, but neglect a personal spirituality.  The authors discuss counterfeits to intimacy with God and provide suggestions for recovering one’s personal walk with God.  Finally, chapter 6 summarizes and concludes the book.

Evangelical Assessment: I have to offer two of criticisms and one compliment.  First, the writing is sometimes difficult to follow.  I often found myself trying to figure out if the authors were building on the previous section, or providing several suggestions for applying the previous section.  While well-written, and an easy read, I found it frustrating at times to distinguish what their objective was within a given chapter.

Second, the book seems to uncritically “Christian-ize” psychological insights.  They often take psychological concepts, whether from the recovery movement, Jung, Sullivan, etc., and artificially overlay them with Christian spirituality.  I find this disturbing.  Considering one of the authors comes from a theological viewpoint, I expected a more critical analysis than their approach provides.  This kind of uncritical incorporation of psychological concepts into Christian spirituality seems to baptize those concepts with divine authority, which is a concern.

Lastly, I appreciate their overall focus.  First, they consistently argue for the correlation between intimacy with self, others, and God.  Typically, if we are struggling in one of these areas, then we are struggling, to some degree, in all three.  One relationship affects the other relationships.  Second, they constantly state that intimacy with God is the primary need for spiritual wholeness.  While I may take issue with the authors at times, I appreciate this continual and persistent focus on intimacy with God.
Hands, Donald R. and Wayne L. Fehr. Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy: A New Psychology of Intimacy with God, Self and Others (The Alban Institute, 1993).

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