Thoughts, Engagements, and Updates

4 Jun 2018

A Theology of Juxtaposition for Everyday Life


My first official publication on the theology of juxtaposition was finally published last week on HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, Volume 74, No 2, a4630. It was exciting to work on the paper with my long-time friend and brother in Christ, Dr Joe Miller of Southern California Seminary, USA. You can download the full paper online here.

The paper basically responds to the spiritual struggles and issues associated with having a relationship experience with God by proposing a pastoral theology of juxtaposition which emphasizes the ‘power of two’ through incarnational creativity and pneumatological ecclesiology (the third dimension of this theology is not covered in this publication). This proposed theology first supplements the work of the pastoral carer by creating a transformative container through which young people, or believers, already within a redemptive Christian community, can grow spiritually and deepen their relationship with God. Secondly, the theology of juxtaposition targets the spiritual needs of hurting youths by creating a magnet space within the church community that models incarnational love, pastoral care, and support through creative means. Finally, the theology of juxtaposition also integrates the power of the Holy Spirit, as the ultimate caregiver in times of conflict, into each believer’s unique journey of faith and healing. Most importantly, there are broader implications of this pastoral theology in everyday life, as we will see in this blog culled from the last section of our paper.

“Over the years in talking with teens in trouble, one of the things often observed is that young people feel unworthy of God’s love and mercy, especially when they have fallen short of a moral standard as established by the spiritual influencers in their life. This unworthiness often leads to feelings of anxiety and shame which hinders spiritual growth. By applying the pastoral theology of juxtaposition in spiritual care, the first task in helping a struggling youth would be to identify with them as Christ identified with humanity through incarnation. That is, find a way to meaningfully permeate the life of the youth so that they can know that they are not alone in their struggles. Unlike Christ, the pastoral counsellor is not a perfect vessel, but one who has experienced shame and guilt and therefore can relate to the life experience of the person in crisis. The creative process of incarnation can also take the form of validating the challenges of a conflicted youth while also pointing them to the incarnation story of the suffering Christ who having been tempted in every way just as they are, yet emerged triumphant in the end (cf. Heb 4:15). This insight into the incarnated life of Christ, underscored by his earthly experience of suffering and triumph, creates the very creative container in which we can engage and transform the youth and help them forge their identity in Christ. Pastoral juxtaposition also points to the truth that we make our best work, and live our best lives, by charging into the power of the Holy Spirit who stands as our counsellor and advocate in times of conflict. The spiritual growth process is facilitated through the help of the Holy Spirit who directs and guides the youth in their journey of faith.

“In addition, it is also possible that the proposed pastoral juxtaposition may not totally resolve the cognitive dissonance between the youth’s story and God’s story. Affirming the feelings experienced by the youth and at the same time conveying the story of God’s grace through pastoral incarnation is a better approach of engagement in terms of collapsing the vast space between both God’s story and youth’s story. God’s story is rooted in the idea that none of us is worthy. Yet despite our sinful nature, God’s love in the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit transforms us. Fuller theologian Amos Yong refers to this as an ‘apostolic experience’ with a Christological promise, given that ‘it is pneumatological: the experience of the resurrected Christ is recounted as goodnews after Pentecost’. The promised Spirit of God released unto believers on the Day of Pentecost brought about power to fulfil the apostolic mission that would later make followers of Jesus shared witnesses to the world (cf. Lk 24:49; Ac 1:8; Ac 2:6, 7, 12). Thus, we are enabled by the power of the Spirit to not only hear God’s story, but also to become participants in this story as we fully embody the story of incarnation in the world.

“Object-relational theorist Donald Winnicott talks about what he refers to as the ‘transitional phenomena’, which was a term he used to describe the intermediate area of human experience that is in-between space. The notion of pastoral juxtaposition as a magnet space seems to belong to that inner reality and outside world. This is perhaps the power of juxtaposition because it speaks to us of a transitional world and holds out the promise that our rather self-destructive, chaotic experiences could become whole again as we engage with this in-between space of creative incarnation and pneumatological spontaneity. It would be a space in which we are at peace with our identity in Christ and in our relations with others and at one with the Spirit of God. The transformative power of this truth is not only inspirational, but also ontological. This means that the power of pastoral juxtaposition lies both in the ability to inspire the teen and in the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about genuine transformation of mind that can overcome past suffering.

“Maintaining a relationship with God may not be realised outside the community of believers. Spiritual growth and intimacy with the Triune God are not complete until our story is juxtaposed within the context of a redemptive community. Ultimately, this may require identifying with people within the family of God who can walk with us as partners in faith, and to whom we can be accountable, as we grow in faith and maintain our relationship with God in everyday life. Pastoral counsellors within the context of an evangelical church community must exude qualities of pastoral incarnation as reliable figures who have laid down their lives to serve others and embody the presence of the Spirit of God as a demonstration of his power in their lives. These qualities ought to be found in Christian counsellors, youth leaders, church leaders or pastoral carers who engage in pastoral juxtaposition.

“There is no end to the notion of pastoral juxtaposition. It could be a new way of thinking within the Body of Christ that makes each believer accountable to each other, and thus collapsing the vast space between one another. Pastoral juxtaposition recognises the relatedness of a creative incarnation and engagement with the Spirit in Christian counselling. How we go about managing these two relationships within a church community is an area of study open to further exploration with implication for both spiritual care and health care.”

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