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With the rise of multi-ethnic congregations, global mission trips, and world-wide communication, church leaders should read Dr. David Augsburger’s book, Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures.

Augsburger guides the pastoral counselor, or church staff member, on a tour through alternative worlds by exploring the care of souls across the rich variety of social contexts found around the globe.  Augsburger carefully and in compelling detail expands the Western pastoral counselor’s worldview to include a rich panoply of cultures which approach differently the experiences of conflict, individuality, the social group, mental health, family, and other issues of concern to our common humanity.  The reader learns, in other words, that her or his own culture is not normative for all cultures, thereby opening the reader to new insights in the pastoral counseling task.

Helpful chapter themes include subtitles which both describe and guide the reader on the intercultural journey.  Subtitles include: A Theology of Presence, A Theology of Culture, A Theology of Humanness, A Theology of Grace, A Theology of Value, A Theology of the Family, A Theology of Liberation, A Theology of Moral Character, A Theology of the Demonic, A Theology of Human Frailty, and, Models of Pastoral Counseling and Theology.

Two particular insights emerge as the reader moves from chapter to chapter.  First, human beings, despite wide cultural variance, hold basic human traits in common.   In other words, we as a species are similar in our common humanity, while at the same time we are diverse in our cultural expressions.  Secondly, the existence of dominant cultures does not mean that one culture is inherently superior to another.  The intercultural pastoral counselor learns to move from his or her culture into another culture, and back again, providing help at the “borders” of cultural intersection and insight.

Taking these two insights as the guiding light for the “interpathy” of the pastoral counselor, she or he is then able to resist the temptation to make others in their own image, or the image on their own culture.  Rather the aware intercultural pastoral counselor is able to help those in need within the context of the counselee’s cultural values, groups, constructs, assumptions, and traditions.  This allows the person helped to find their way to wholeness as defined by the society in which they live.

Intercultural awareness also enables the counselor to move beyond the idea that his or her culture is superior, and by extension, that his or her culture is the norm preferred by God.  This insight expands the theological framework of the intercultural pastoral counselor, providing the opportunity to relate to the God of all creation and cultures in a new, positive, and helpful manner.

By the same token, the book opens the idea of community to the whole world of cultures encountered by the counselor.  By developing cultural awareness, bridges can be built from the counselor’s culture into the cultural milieu of others, thereby expanding the communal relationships available to the counselor, and reciprocally to the counseled.

Augsburger even tackles the world of the mystical and apparently supernatural, providing access through both reason and faith to that which seems to be beyond scientific analysis.  Augsburger’s even-handed approach to the mysteries of demon possession, shamanism, and supernatural healing grounds the counselor in a real world, while allowing for the inexplicable and transcendent.

I commented to Debbie as I read through this book, that Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures contains enough material for several books.  This is not a fluffy, insubstantial volume.  But the persistent reader will find tools for personal reflection, and cross-cultural engagement.  If you need a good book about pastoral counseling, that also expands your cultural horizons, then this is the book to read.

Augsburger, David W., Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures. The Westminster Press (Philadelphia:  1986), 373.

Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of this book from Amazon, and received no inducement to write this review.