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Posts Tagged ‘divine simplicity’


9780801019449Around the turn of the millennium I read Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence. This is a subject I’ve wanted to think about more, but never seem to get to. The kids’ movie, Inside Out, is an application of the theory to a young girl’s life as she deals with loss after moving across country for her father’s new job. I’ve pondered this as a parent and a pastor who sees many struggle with a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ).

Aubrey Malphurs, a seminary professor who has written a number of books on church planting and leadership, has released a new book entitled Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders. I thought this would potentially be a good resource as I hope to develop greater EQ among our congregation’s leaders.

Malphurs wrote this book because he saw many gifted students leave for the mission field or church planting to return beaten because the team “couldn’t get along.” He believes that greater EQ would help these team members address the conflicts which arise in a much healthier way so those missions could continue and thrive.

“Simply stated, the purpose of this book is to come up with a process or pathway that challenges Christian leaders to become more away of, understand, and manage their emotions and those of others so that they can be emotionally mature leaders who relate well with and truly inspire their followers.”

Simply stated, the purpose of his book is addressed from page 99 onward. That is about 42 pages addressing his model for development followed by about 60 pages of appendices with various exercises.

Part 1 is three short (!) chapters (34 pages total, with lots of white space and questions at the end of each chapter) which introduce EQ. In some ways it reads like a syllabus. It conveys a brief history of EQ and conveys the importance of EQ, particularly among leaders. IQ deals with how you learn. EQ is about how you relate. Successful leaders are able to learn and relate well. There isn’t much to say about this section except that you get the feeling that this isn’t necessarily a unified theory. There are some disagreements in the field which become more apparent in Part 2.

“I define emotional intelligence as an awareness of our emotions and the emotions of others around us so that we can handle well our emotions and theirs (especially the harmful ones), with the result that we relate in a Christlike manner with those within or outside the body of faith.”

Part 2 helps people to understand EQ. He defines it, defines emotions, lays out the primary core emotions and then puts forth a biblical theology of emotions. This is the heart of the book which prepares you for his own model for assessment and development. Here we see the differences the theories have with regard to core emotions. They are kind of slippery, those emotions.

Malphurs brings us into the nature vs. nurture debate. Some theorists lean toward nature (so if you don’t have it, forget about having it) and others toward nurture. He fails to conclusively address this. He says it is perhaps both but doesn’t explain why. I found this to be a frequent problem with the book: he makes assertions but doesn’t provide any sufficient rationale for those assertions.

He also mentions that emotions shouldn’t be confused with temperament, moods, IQ, and feelings. He covers this in a page. I’m all for succinct but this is too brief since this seems to confuse people. They need some hooks to hang the information.  He then moves on to the next quagmire.

“However, emotion is one of the most difficult concepts in psychology to define and understand completely. … I define an emotion as a unique, unplanned urge to love, hate, or express some other feeling that happens subjectively, subconsciously, or physiologically and is directed externally toward a person or thing.”

As a soft science, psychology can be more difficult to express and quantify. I have a degree in counseling, I get it. But in theology, another “soft science” if you will, we make distinctions. It is all about distinctions. Malphurs appears to consistently contradict himself, perhaps because he’s not making distinctions. Emotions are different from feelings (chapter 4) but … we see here that they are connected somehow since they are the urge to express a feeling. Quagmire. He doesn’t really differentiate beyond feelings are physiological as opposed to mental though he brings that into his definition. He is less than clear on this, as well as the difference between an attribute or an emotion. Attributes always exist, while emotions (the root of feelings?) change. He thinks love is a core emotion (an unplanned urge), but also calls it an attribute. Later he writes “Anger is an attribute of God.” and “Anger is an attribute of Christ.” So, God is characterized by anger? I really struggled with this section since he appears to confuse/conflate categories. In his chapters on a biblical theology of emotions he repeatedly does this and never really grapples with divine simplicity and impassability as well as possible anthropomorphisms. He simply calls those who minimize emotions Christian stoics. There is more theology that needed to be done here, but once again he simply makes assertions without proving his point.

Some of his polarities seem off as well. “Hope is the opposite of fear.” I tend to see hope as the opposite of despair which is quite different from fear. Malphurs seems to create more confusion than clarity on these issues.

When he got to his model I noticed another glaring weakness: he neither addresses nor even mentions Ken Sande’s work on relational wisdom. I became aware of Sande’s work in this area a few years ago, so surely this newly published work should mention it particularly since he mentions a variety of secular theorists and tools. Malphur’s model has 4 skills, while Sande’s has 6. The difference? Sande brings in God explicitly so that we evaluate our emotions and how we manage them in light of how God responds to such circumstances. Malphur’s model has some use, but since the book intends to transform ministry, this missing piece would seem essential. It also provides a grounding factor to escape subjectivity regarding our emotions. How do I know if they are helpful/unhelpful, appropriate/inappropriate unless there is some standard outside of myself? God is the one who speaks to that and we should be skilled in discerning that too.

I wanted great things from this book. Perhaps my expectations were too high. But there were some serious flaws in this book. At times there are conflicting statements (at least on the surface, but he doesn’t clarify), there are many unproven assertions, some straw man arguments and serious theological gaps. He seemed bent on getting to his model and cut to the chase. I understand that leaders tend to avoid long books, but to adequately develop a skill you need to adequately understand some theory. Theory got the short end of the stick here, making the skills questionable as well.

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review.]

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For quite some time I’ve been utilizing triperspectivalism to understand, apply and communicate the Scriptures and theology. I have wished that John Frame would release an introductory book for people. It is tough to invite everyone to read books like The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. His shorter systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, has a section on triperspectivalism. But a small book that I could hand out to those intimidated by big books would be great.

If you read that first sentence and thought “what in the world is triperspectivalism?” this book is for you.

“Triperspectivalism is simply a teaching tool to help us grasp some of the deep things in Scripture. It highlights a pervasive pattern of three-fold distinctions, or triads, in the Bible.” Don Sweeting from the Forward

Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance is incredibly short (about 90 pages) and each chapter has review questions to help people process the information. It is therefore a relatively quick read. Frame has chapters on:

  1. Perspectives
  2. Perspectives and the Trinity
  3. The Threefold Gospel
  4. Perspectives in All of Life
  5. The Normative Perspective
  6. The Situational Perspective
  7. The Existential Perspective
  8. What to Do with Perspectives

“A perspective, literally, is a position from which a person sees something. … Ultimately, all this knowledge comes to me through my own body- through my senses and the operations by which my brain organizes my sense impressions into knowledge.”

While Frame speaks of three perspectives on truth, these perspectives are distinguished but not separated from one another. They include each other. The normative has to do with authority. God possesses all authority and gives His Word to us as a source of authority. The Word does not simply give norms, but describes our situation and ourselves. God exercises His authority in controlling our situations (circumstances). These circumstances reflect both His norms and our influence as sinners. God exercises His authority and control as He is present in creation and with His people. He is not to be confused with creation, but is present. This provides a brief example of where John Frame goes with this.

“These are multiple perspectives, but they all are part of the general personal perspective that constitutes my experience and assessment of the real world.”

I will come back to blog on the Trinity and his understanding of God’s simplicity in particular. This has been the subject of a recent controversy. I will also come back to blog on apologetics and how he things triperspectivalism can rescue use from the tribalism that divides the church in terms of apologetics. He lamented this tribalism after the death of R.C. Sproul last week. He and Sproul were born in raised around Pittsburgh, had a love for philosophy and studied it, and both taught systematic theology. He expressed that the fact that he and R.C. were on different apologetic teams may have been part of why they didn’t become friends. The fact that spent most of their time teaching in different parts of the country (before the days of the internet) didn’t help either.

It is hard for me to fully judge this volume. I tried to suspend my knowledge and view it as one who doesn’t think triperspectivally. But I ultimately couldn’t. I enjoyed the volume and thought he communicated his material clearly. But I didn’t arrive to the book with contrary presuppositions or “innocence”. My presupposition was that he is on to something very helpful and illuminating.

So, if you aren’t familiar with triperspectivalism and read this let me know how clear it is. I’m not so much concerned with whether he convinces you but if you understand it when done with reading the book.

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