Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel
by Swanie Khoo
In the work of professional psychology, we have now a forray of theories, therapeutic techniques, and modern psychotherapies which has all too frequently ignore the spiritual element in human life. In Care of Souls, Dr David Benner recaptures the place of the spiritual in psychological work. Among the many benefits of the use of modern therapies and medical science, he has also emphasised putting God's priorities above one's own in the practice of Christian soul care.
Care of Souls provides an account of Christianity's historical practices of soul care through a culmination of his many years of scholarship, teaching and clinical work. However, I found its dense prose difficult to comprehend and some times confusing and it was also difficult to capture his train of thought. I have to say it was not an easy book to read.
Benners starts the book helping me understand soul care. He asks “What is soul care?” He claims soul care as “the support and restoration of the well-being of persons in their depth and totality, with particular concern for their inner life.” Benner posits that care of souls came from a latin word, cura animarum, where this word embraces both care and cure of the soul. Many times in the text, he interchanges the words care and cure of soul. However, both care and cure have both very different implications and it made me uncomfortable to claim that the 'Cure of the Soul' is part of the work of a psychotherapist. Psychotherapists treat the soul by easing suffering, helping people in emotional pain to reclaim meaning and purpose and encouraging people to see themselves, others and the world more accurately. I believe that psychotherapists care for the soul. The cure of the soul is God's work; it is the result of God's redemptive work in one to completely heal and repair one's damaged soul. I agree with Benner that clinical tools and integrated therapies aid healing and nurture of the soul, but to completely cure the soul of deep-seated emotional wounds and freedom from compulsive disorders, are beyond the work of a psychotherapist or the use of theory or methods and mainstream psychotherapies and its interventions. The cure of a damaged soul will not be complete without the involvement God and the work of His grace. I feel strongly about this because I was once that damaged soul, damaged by the world around me. It was only God who saw me in my devastation, and only He could deliver, heal and do His deep repair to make me who I am today.
I found the seven characteristics of Christian soul care helpful to measure my own qualifications. He poses that there is no higher calling than that associated to care of souls. This is such a strong reminder for me as I thread into the world and work of soul care. Although I have worked in the corporate world, dealing with people and development of individuals but the work of soul care, is truly a vocation called by God, because in this work, I need to put on the personhood of Jesus, and to care for individuals, I need to see them through the eyes of God, without any prejudices, or judgement. I recognise and agree with Benner, that I have to be spiritually mature, strong in the Word of God, and have a developed habit of prayer. Having said that, it reminds me again, that this is beyond the theories and therapeutic practices that I am learning. I am not called to care for souls because I am good in the therapeutic techniques, but it's about having a heart that cares, and empathises, and trusts in God for these people that God cares, and whom He endows into my care (my version). Benner quotes Thomas Olden, “Neither analytical skill not theoretical knowledge can have positive effect if there is no genuine and compassionate care for others. It is only the companionship of grace, drawing on resources beyond one's own that wisdom will be found for this task.” Many times, in my...