In recent years, the field of positive psychology has provided new insights into the characteristics that make an effective leader. Research based books like Grit by Amanda Duckworth, Mindset by Carol Dweck, and Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson highlight concepts and practices that can help a person to become a thriving leader. Although often found in the “Self-Help” section of a bookstore, these books are based on rigorous research.
As I use this books in seminary classes, a third dimension is brought to bear--theological reflection. Since the writers often come from a secular perspective, their research and writing needs to be evaluated in light of our understanding of who God is, who we are, and the work of the Spirit with individuals and groups.
In doing this, I start with several assumptions:
First, all truth is God’s truth. Scientific research and scholarly investigation give us a better understanding of how God’s creation functions. God has given us the ability to learn from God’s creation and creatures.
Second, each of us have been created in the image of God but we are, at the same time, unique individuals. God has created our minds and bodies to work for our good. Scientific study continues to provide new insights about how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, NIV).
Third, every researcher or writer has a bias--certain presuppositions that he or she brings to their work. Part of our task is to recognize the person’s perspective and consider how it enhances or limits their findings.
Fourth, anything that argues against the reality of God’s work in our lives and God’s desire that we become truly human must be used with care and skepticism. Many of the authors in the area of positive psychology respect the place of the holy in a person’s life.
Even with these limitations, disciplines such as psychology, sociology, physiology, and philosophy can provide Christians with fresh insights, encourage new applications, and open creative paths of research for us.
As we use these tools, we are often pushed outside our comfort zones, and I think that is a good thing. This is part of our calling to be on mission for God in this world.