Integrative Thinking (Ironically, Almost Two Essays for the Price of One)

For all practical purposes, our universe is a closed system. Do not think I am discounting the role God’s intervention from “outside” creation plays in human history and destiny. However, creation is an integrated economy. That is to say that everything affects everything else though we may not see the connections between things. But ignorance does not render truth untrue. Because I am simply unaware of the correlation of things does not mean they are not connected, even if by nuance or along a convoluted path.

Previously, I have written on “The Value of Reading Broadly.” Great creative thinking comes by integrating great ideas (synthesizing – literally, fusing propositions). Creativity is a hallmark of the presence of God’s activity. But our specializing world  tends to undermine creativity on some levels and foster creativity in others. But narrow thinking is not a desirable trait in leaders or followers.

The loss of integrative (or, holistic) thinking has been driven by post-Enlightenment scientific categorization, whether in technical disciplines or social structure. We tend to isolate various factors of reality (compart-mentalizing) so that, in isolation, they can be reduced to quantifiable categories and tight enough detail to make them “knowable” to a high degree. Specialization is both a driver and an outcome of the increased complexity of society, especially in the proliferation of the marketplace. Integrative thinking steps back to see a bigger picture of how the divergent things of life connect.

Thomas Friedman, in his seminal book on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (2000), bemoaned this “lack of sight” amidst the increasing complexity of post-modern life, and especially the over-arching nuances of globalization. Electronic communications bring the world to our laptop and we are faced with a breadth of inputs heretofore unknown. Our natural reaction is to simplify news articles to sound bites and headlines so as to not be overwhelmed by or try to capture a comprehensive view of a world that is changing faster than our imagination can keep up.

Perhaps, however, one favorable outcome of this inundation of information will be the evolution of human thinking that, given the broad disparity of inputs, will begin to grasp the ecology, the integration, of all things and foster more of what Friedman labels the globalistic perspective.

Given too many choices and faced with a multitude of perspectives, we tend to choose to hear what does not disturb us by too many degrees in one sitting. We favor tunnel vision and the rejection of ideas outside our own way of thinking. The only option to grow is to embrace the tension (and humility) that comes from not being able to settle with all the data and the innumerable and indecipherable events that never cease.

As a Christian, I take this emotionally and intellectually destabilizing effect and turn it to a positive thought: I cannot control the world nor its influence on my life, so must turn to something or someone outside myself to make sense of it all. For coherence, I find Jesus Christ as the source of hope. My Bible promises that it will all make sense in the end though I may spend my days baffled by the pain and atrocities of a broken world. At least the Bible explains why it is broken and that, though I am not yet satisfied with the state of the world, gives me a sense of peace when I mesh it with the sovereignty of the love of an Almighty God. The path to human destiny has a purposeful end. While I may (and am called to) work diligently to create a better world, I can rest in faith in a good God who can see, understand, and synthesize all of reality toward that better world.

The mission of God in the world is the hope of the Kingdom Gospel that we can share with the world, as salt and light, living into that hope and demonstrating the better Way. The world is at odds with God and with itself as self-interest pervades global society. It is not overstating the case to say, outside the Kingdom of God, just as it was with Adam put out of the Garden of Eden, it is every man for himself.

But, if we can think (and thinking is one enormous gift of being made in the image of God) and have faith, we can align ourselves with God as He goes about resolving the brokenness of the world by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. We need only faith and obedience to follow Christ.  God is setting things right, working in and through us to to transform the world.

Integrative thinking begins with the reunification of our spiritual self with our temporal self. To be human, at least in this lifetime, is to be a being conjoined. We have unfathomable potential though it is constrained by our sin. We are too often in conflict with ourselves (Romans 7) but we are able, by faith and in Christ (Romans 8), to overcome the constraint of our corrupted flesh. Our temporal self is only temporary but it is out of this constrained state that we can begin to move into Kingdom living, developing our spiritual self, growing in grace, and bearing witness to the glory of God as our actions are brought into subordination to God’s will.

Dr. Kenneth Collins, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, wrote an article several years ago, entitled “Spirituality and Critical Thinking: Are They Really So Different?”[1] Even here readers might unconsciously isolate the spiritual part of themselves from the intellectual, assuming the two to function independently. But we are whole beings. Every aspect of our earthly life is connected to all the other aspects whether emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, and a lot of other “-als.”

Western individualism has contributed to the notion that we are somehow autonomous. We are not. Made in the image of God also means that we are communal beings by design. My physicality, intellect, spirituality, etc. do not function in isolation from each other or from these realities in others. Creation is creation, a unified (albeit, damaged) whole. Hence even the human race is not an isolated function within creation but rather an integral function of creation. Genesis 2:15 does not command Adam to work and take care of creation. The text implies that those are functions of being human by the simple omission of an overt command in the statement: “God placed the man in the Garden to work and tend it.” It is a declarative statement rather than a commandment, but an imperative all the same.

The whole point of creation is relationships—between God and us, within the human family, between us and “nature.” Creation has only been dis-integrated in the collective psyche of humankind blinded by sin. But vision has been restored in Christ such that, if we are willing, we can see that the expanses of the universe are built one subatomic particle at a time and it is all joined and held together by the electrical impulse (divine motivation) emanating from the heart and mind of God.

This discussion passes into the metaphysical and it should. God is beyond our comprehension and in many ways remains a mystery. But the mystery is tempered by trusting Him as we recall manifestations of His goodness (outcomes of love). With faith in our Heavenly Father, we can reconcile with our wisdom being foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19) and our righteousness being filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God knows . . . we all fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).

But despite our frailties, God opens the door such that we might grow more into His likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). Our growth includes a change in perspective that we are part of a much greater whole. Our lack of true, godly wisdom should humble us, making us less ready to reject the ideas and beliefs of others as we each come to terms with the degrees of our own shortsightedness (1 Corinthians 3:12). Perhaps as we set aside our attitudes of superiority, isolation, and umbrage, we can see as God sees the kaleidoscopic view of creation, of each other, of the many expressions of the Church, and of the hope of the redemption of all creation. Perhaps we can begin to see beyond the distortions of our own views that which has never been disintegrated in fact. God’s renewal of creation is the renewal of ourselves, that we would live into the very good God created in the beginning whole, integrated, perfectly functional, without death, or pain, or tears: paradisio for the family of God – His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Integrative thinking will lead us to a deeper understanding of the “otherness” (holiness) of God, and more effective witness and ministry to the world.


Addendum: Out of my pursuit of integrative thinking, I blend my thoughts of particular disciplines with devotional or contemplative essays. All is one in our relationship with God. Some question how a devotional (or meditative, or theological, or reflective) piece is relevant amidst discussions of business as mission or outreach ministries. It is precisely that God is in the midst of those discussions that reflection is of utmost relevance and importance. I have a growing appreciation for those who delve into Christian mystical thinking. I belief that mystery is the significant aspect lost to the pragmatism of much of the Church. We work according to our plans more often than following God’s inspiration. God inhabits His movements. There is no separation between the spiritual and practical. My hope is to help infuse our work with resting in God, knowing that it is not we who deliver salvation but God working in and through us as the hope of the world.

I do many practical things which, at least momentarily, distract me from their spiritual reality. But as I reflect between those activities, I am finding more of God within the activities. These insights often come in conversation with or reading the thoughts of others. I often find connections between my faith and my temporal being through a diversity of reading both Christian and non-Christian texts. Awareness of those connections, as understanding grows, lighten the burden of His yoke (Matthew 11:29-30). It is only with a great struggle that I shed the driven nature of our ungodly, driven culture. But Adam’s work before the Fall was without toil or the sweat of his brow, the ground was not cursed, producing thorns and thistles, and Adam lived without fear of death (Genesis 3:17-19). Even if we cannot understand, though it is worth the time amidst our busy-ness to slow down enough to think about God, “restfulness” is the truth of God’s restorative Kingdom for those who believe. My prayer is that by becoming more aware that God wants to spend time with us, rather than to be our taskmaster, we can find a way to integrate our conversation with Him and with each other . . . to see a grander vision of who God is and His presence and centrality in every moment.

God calls us to become like children (John 1:12). When we cry out Abba, Father (Romans 8:15), it is as a child unburdened by the assumption of our ability to resolve the perplexities of life. It does not absolve of us the work we have been given but it removes the laborious nature. It is not toilsome but rather with the joy of childlike play, knowing we serve purposes beyond the work itself, beyond the outcomes as ends unto themselves, and a God beyond ourselves. It is for this joy, this unburdened freedom, that we slow down, or even stop (Psalm 46:10), to know and hear God amidst our calling and work. Otherwise, all that we build is our vanity (Psalm 127:1).

            “In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight”– Proverbs 3:6.

            “Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart” – Psalm 37:4.

            “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” – Matthew 6:33.

Spending time with God should come before work. Intimacy with God precedes any worthwhile fruitfulness we bear. But Immanuel, God with us, abides as we work. The reality of God is integrated with our own, and with all we are and do . . . and with all others created in His image. Abandon I-they. In Christ, we are re-integrated as one body: We. Does your work work for the We of God and His creation, the integrated Kingdom of every tribe and tongue and nation?

[1] Collins, Kenneth J. “Spirituality and Critical Thinking: Are They Really So Different?” Evangelical Journal, 16(1) (1998): 30–43.


Filed under Devotionals & Meditations, Faith

2 responses to “Integrative Thinking (Ironically, Almost Two Essays for the Price of One)

  1. This, was profound, intellectually stimulating and appreciated. Well said, very well said! Thank you for sharing your gift.

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