Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Christian Perspective on Positive Psychology

Recently I have been reading through some books on Positive Psychology and trying to get my head round these from a Christian viewpoint. In doing so I found this series of talks by John Van Sloten from New Hope Church Calgary. You can find Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 on YouTube. I found these talks really helpful as he looks at one of these books that I have been reading in the light of the Bible. Van Sloten appears to talk regularly on cultural issues relating them to the Bible. I am finding these talks very inspiring and relevant.

Van Sloten’s starting point is that an optimistic outlook gives you more confidence for life – life feels more do-able when we feel positive. He argues that positive emotions and thoughts are a gift from God who made us with positive psychological capacities to give us a full life – to be fully human and to know God fully. For instance, in Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness we find this capacity inside of us whereas in the Bible we find this capacity outside of us – from God – whose Spirit has come to live within us.

John Van Sloten looks at what this worldwide phenomena of positive psychology and he looks at what one particular this key book Authentic Happiness has to say to the Bible and visa versa. I can identify with the way that Van Sloten felt he had to overcome a prejudice that ‘positive thinking’ was denial of truth. But I would tend to agree that there is a deeper understanding in Seligman’s book than I have found with positive thinking or positive confession teaching.

Van Sloten goes on to draw some interesting parallels between the signature strengths outlined and spiritual gifts and fruit of the spirit as defining characteristics that God has given us to enable us to live out of God’s love including loving ourselves – not in a selfish way – but in order to love others.

He relates the psychology phenomena of flow – when you are totally lost in a moment and time stops for you – to the Biblical idea of joy. He sees both of these as being times when we are doing what we are here to do when we are working to overcome a challenge by making things right. Perhaps worship when we are in this flow with God in mind?

He quoted Seligman “Flow occurs when the challenges you face perfectly mesh with your abilities to meet them” He then compares this to something he had often heard Christian preachers say, “Your calling is where your greatest gifts and talents meet the worlds greatest needs.”

As I have been listening to these talks I am getting more and more convinced that there is a lot to be gained from looking at books like Authentic Happiness and other books on positive psychology and examining them from a Christian perspective. Of course it is important to do this with discernment and I am particularly wary of a superficial positive perspective.

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