the emotionally and spiritually healthy pastor (5)

This is your brain.


This is your brain on relationships.



Neural networks alive, all cylinders firing.  This is how we were made, and made to thrive, so say interpersonal neurobiologists, the newest in a growing stream of psychological wisdom which sees relationality as central to what it means to be human. 

40 years ago, relational psychology was considered bad science.  Behaviorism and Freudian psychoanalysis ruled the day.  Then John Bowlby came along with a radical thought – human beings are relational at their core, and from birth these relationships must be valued.  Misguided relational attachments would lead to anxiety, isolation, anger, and more.  But secure attachment would allow women and men to thrive in their relationships as adults.

Bowlby’s radical thought dropped like a led balloon in the psychological community, which prized therapeutic distance, expert analysis, and well-timed intervention.  It couldn’t be as simple as relating more healthily, could it?  

Good science won the day.  

I’d like to think Bowlby, Ainsworth, and the attachment theorists at that time had tapped into creation’s deep knowledge.  Since then, I’d like to think that Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking research in emotional and social intelligence, and Dan Siegel’s groundbreaking research in interpersonal neurobiology has not only supported the early findings, but provided whole new realms of confirmation that God, indeed, create human beings in the image and likeness of trinity.   

So, consider this – having been created in and for relationship as image-bearers of a perichoretic, Trinitarian God, what does it mean for pastors to flourish in relationship?  And why do the statistics show the pastors are among the most lonely and isolated of all professions?  

Why do we, among others, tend to do life solo?  Why are we so prone to an individualistic spirituality?  

Are so-called “accountability groups” enough, or is greater transparency and vulnerability needed?

I’m curious, and be glad to hear your thoughts. 

On John Piper and Abuse

With all due respect to John Piper for the good things he’s done (and there are many…so be quiet all of you who’d say I am just trying to be nice. The Bible is replete with flawed characters…)

“If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.”- John Piper

This is more than disconcerting. I highlight it not to be polarizing, but as a pastoral teaching moment – because his is supposed to be a pastoral teaching moment. This is not just theologically and pastorally wrong, it is potentially dangerous. As an ordained minister and a therapist, I’ve seen abused women subjected to this kind of twisted theology – which somehow misses the significant theology of victimization in Scripture. Read my friend Justin Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace for more on this.

Even more, I’d dare say this comes under the category of “false gospel.” Yes, I said that about Piper. False Gospel. If the Gospel is good news to the poor, release to the captive, and freedom for the oppressed, then Piper is someway, somehow minimizing sin’s awful destruction to the human soul. He might have a lot to say about a theology of justification, but the Pharisees had the right answers, too.

Piper – yes, Piper – is minimizing sin and cheapening the Gospel. He’s bought into a modernist theology of individual sin, not corporate or structural sin (which is clearly the biblical model). And in so doing, he’s guilty both of bad theology and, even worse, of paving a path of credibility for the abusive husband who says, “Sweetie, I’m praying that you’d learn to submit.”

Now, I’m not even going to begin to address the deep, deep problems with Piper’s theology of submission.

I represent a large group of men who’ve appreciated Piper’s better contributions. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of writing off everything he’s done as garbage, though I’ve written before of my frustrations with him. I was a complementarian for many years. A combination of my study of Scripture in its (missional) context, my study of theology (particularly, the problematic Trinitarian theology/heresy which undergirds much complementarian thought), and my experiences as a pastor and therapist with abused women (and gifted women!) changed my mind…but not without careful thought. However, I want pastors to know that this counsel is dangerous.

It’s dangerous, even though he says some things that sound right. Beware of sounding orthodox, but promoting something quite unorthodox (translated – not able to glorify God).

It’s dangerous, even though he seems to ‘righteously’ affirm the importance of the church. Yes to getting the church involved. Unless the church leaders buy into this false Gospel.

It’s dangerous, even though I think many of you might feel, as I do, that he’s trying to be pastorally sensitive, of all things!

Pastors, especially…I want you to know there is another way. Another way to counsel people in this horrid situation.

Abuse and slavery are a part of our heritage as God’s people. We are victims. And God didn’t ever say, “Take another slap on the face.”

Just ask Pharaoh.

As it turns out, God is very much about rescuing his Bride from abusers.

* I want to thank Dr. Theresa Latini for this important reminder in our chapel message today at @westernsem

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