I’m convinced that love is core. And I’m convinced that the notion that humans look for love in all the wrong places is right on.
Now, you’d think that every Christian doing counseling would agree. But some of us nuance this differently, and the nuancing is important. I’ve taught Psychology in Relation to Theology courses for almost a decade, assigning a wide range of works from authors like Tripp, Lane, Powlison, Crabb, Allender, McMinn, Shults and Sandage, Nouwen, Johnson, and more. And while I think they’d all agree that we look for love in the wrong places, they might debate, a bit, on how critical and core love is.
I’m going to flesh out the reasons why I think Love is at the Core in several posts, utilizing theology, psychology, neurobiology, neuroanatomy, biology, and more. But one question I’d like to pose to you arises from a recent debate around Christian ways of articulating the human problem and its cure. I’ve been a bit critical (though I agree with so much) of a fairly popular article by a fantastic person and extraordinary contributer to Christian thinking on human change and growth, David Powlison. In Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair (by no means his only work or exhaustive work), he writes:
When the conceptual structures of humanistic psychology are “baptized” by Christians, the fundamental “rather than God” at the bottom of human motivation continues to be missed. For example, many Christian counselors absolutize a need or yearning for love. As observant human beings, they accurately see that fallen and cursed people are driven to seek stability, love, acceptance, and affirmation, and that we look for such blessings in empty idols. As committed Christians they often want to lead people to trust Jesus Christ rather than their idols. But they improperly insert an a priori and unitary relational need, an in-built yearning or empty love tank as underpinning the heart’s subsequent divide between faith and idolatry.
I am one of those who does precisely what Powlison is talking about, and I don’t believe its humanistic or extra-biblical. Indeed, I think Love is what makes us human. I start with a positive understanding of Exod. 20 and Deut. 5 (The 10 Commandments), that God made us in and for love. I don’t see idolatry as a priori, in other words. I see love as prior to everything else. The law attempts to re-direct us to love.
If this makes me a humanist, so be it. John Calvin was strongly influenced by the humanists of his day, unapologetically. My sense, however, is that Powlison’s influence is, in fact, more Freudian. It’s a belief that behind all good things lie hidden urges and wayward desires. This way of thinking has so permeated 20th-21st century thinking that it has manifested in a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’, as Ricouer suggested.
In other words, I’m suggesting that a Christian view of human beings move beyond a pessimistic anthropology (though never, ever denying human sin and pathology) to a hermeneutic of love, rooted in God’s Trinitarian periochoretic love.
Before I write more, what are your initial thoughts? Am I caricaturing a certain camp unfairly? Am I wrong to suggest that, perhaps, Powlison might be as influenced by secular psychology as I am? Is the 20th century Freudian/Humanist psychological debate analogous to the current Christian debate on these issues? Let me hear your thoughts.