From Attachment Theory to Winter Christianity: Part 4, Winter Christianity

As I mentioned in my last post, when I analyzed how the items on measures of attachment to God grouped up all the items related to relational distress grouped together. And when I examined this group of items they looked a lot like the content found in the lament or psalms of complaint. So I called this dimension complaint.

Along with these complaint items there was a second grouping of items in the analysis. These were more positive items and when I looked over these items I saw a common theme of engagement with God. So I called this dimension communion.

Now here was the critical insight from the analysis I conducted. I'd identified two dimensions that captured relationship with God--communion and complaint--and these two dimensions were orthogonal (at right angles) to each other.

That finding was huge.

As I've described before on this blog, this finding was huge because the implicit theory most Christians and churches work with regarding the relationship of complaint to faith is that complaint is antithetical and antagonistic to faith, that faith and complaint are polar opposites. This bipolar model is show below:

The assumption of this bipolar model is that as complaint increases faith decreases. Conversely, a strong faith is characterized by a lack or absence of complaint, a lack of doubt, protest or lament.

Like with the attachment research this bipolar model effectively pathologizes complaint. Any doubt, questioning, protest, anger or distress in your relationship with God is taken to be, in this model, as symptomatic of a lack of faith.

And yet, this bipolar model seems very much at odds with the biblical witness. This is the argument that Walter Brueggemann makes in his book The Message of the Psalms:
It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to me, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture. Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the larger number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about an incoherence that is experienced in the world…I believe that serous religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that acknowledgement of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith, as though the very speech about it conceded too much about God’s “loss of control.”
We can see here Walter questioning the central assumption of the bipolar model, that complaint is antithetical to faith: "We have thought that acknowledgement of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith."

But again, my research suggested that communion/engagement with God was orthogonal to complaint. And that meant that communion and complaint, set now at right angles, could create quadrants where various blends of the two could be plotted:

Importantly for our purposes, this two-dimensional model allows us to explore the quadrant where both complaint and communion are high. In a follow up article in 2007 I called the quadrant the Winter Christian experience as opposed to the Summer Christian experience where communion is high and complaint is low:

In the Winter Christian experience there is a great deal of complaint--lament and protest--but engagement/communion with God remains high. This is exactly what we see in Job and the lament psalms. Even with Jesus's cry from the cross.

And what this means is that communion and complaint are not antithetical. Communion and compliant can co-exist. And when they do they create the Winter Christian experience.

And this is ultimately why I moved away from the attachment paradigm. Specifically, in contrast to the attachment styles framework the Winter Christian paradigm depathologized lament.

In this model lament could be a natural, regular and even a healthy feature of faith. In this model you are not anxiously or insecurely attached to God. You're just a Winter Christian.

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