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Christianity, Psychology and Mindfulness

Shaun Lambert interviews Dr Roger Bretherton of the British Association of Christians in Psychology, co-editor of a significant book about mindfulness and Christianity 

 

Being Mindful Being ChristianI first met Dr Roger Bretherton, Chairman of the British Association of Christians in Psychology (BACIP) in 2012 when I was asked to contribute to a conference they were running on mindfulness. I asked Roger about BACIP and its aims and activities after the launch of a new book they have brought out called Being Mindful, Being Christian: A guide to mindful discipleship.

In the interests of disclosure I am one of the contributors, but the book is significant because of the way it brings together both serious theological and psychological reflection and analysis of the important area that is mindfulness. It is one of the most significant books that came out last year on this subject, with particularly important chapters on The Mindful God, The Mindful Person and The Mindful Christian.

 

 
So Roger, who are BACIP?
We are a network of just over 200 psychologists working in all kinds of domains, health, education, business, academia, who are also followers of Jesus.
 

What are your aims?
We exist to do three things. To provide fellowship and support for Christians facing the many dilemmas of working in the world of psychology. To serve the church with psychological insight where needed. And to be a sane voice of Christian belief to the field of psychology.
 

What sort of activities do you do?
We meet for conferences roughly twice a year, which cover all kinds of issues. Recent meetings have covered various themes such as spirituality and dementia, hypnosis, positive psychology, hope and gratitude.
 

Tell us about the book project?
The mindfulness book project came out of a series of conferences we hosted over several years on the subject of mindfulness. Not only did the topic stimulate great interest, but it also led to considerable debate among our members and the development of some exercises and resources. We therefore thought we should put this into book form, to be shared with a wider audience.
 

Why mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a huge cultural phenomenon. The expansion of mindful practice into almost all areas of our society, health, business, education, criminal justice, spirituality and so on has been incredible over the last few decades. At the same time, the scholarly work of psychologists has equally exploded, publishing over 500 new pieces of research every year.

It’s a big issue, the evidence that it does good for mental and physical wellbeing is pretty compelling, but a lot of Christians aren’t quite sure what to make of it, particularly its frequent association with Buddhism which can lead them to be suspicious that it is an alternative spirituality to Christianity.
 

Who are the contributors?
The book was written by ten people. They are members of BACiP or speakers at our conferences: clinical and counselling psychologists, psychotherapists, neuropsychologists, theologians and academics specialising in the field. The book was edited to sound as if one person had written it, which means that it draws on some very clever people but should be easy for anyone to pick up read.

 
What would you say is the key distinctive about this book?
Over the last few years there have been several really good books written by Christians on the subject of mindfulness. Wherever possible we have tried to acknowledge our debt to these, and mention them at various points.

Nevertheless our book has its own unique contribution to make. It makes a few assumptions: firstly that mindfulness is a state of consciousness available to any human being that does not belong to any particular religious tradition; secondly that Christians needn’t be nervous of it because we have a long tradition originating in Jesus himself that stresses mindful-like practices of non-judgement, compassion, gratitude and so on; thirdly that many Christians already practice something like this whenever they enter a prayerful state, seek wisdom from God, meditate on the Bible or worship. We can be mindful and be Christian, and many of us already are, whether or not we call it that.

After answering some of these ‘what?’ questions, we turn to ‘how?’ mindfulness can work in the Christian life. The majority of the book is therefore given over the mindful approaches we can and do adopt around prayer, compassion, bible-reading, gratitude, wisdom, character development, workplace ministry and so on. The book also contains various additional features: questions for small groups, further reading, historical examples, and short exercises and so on.
 

What are BACIP’s future plans?
On Saturday 1st April we will be holding an event to celebrate the publication of the book. The Revd Canon Dr Joanna Collicutt, theologian and neuropsychologist will be addressing the content and intention of the book as a contribution to the church’s view of mindfulness and Dr Miguel Farias, Reader in Cognitive and Biological Psychology at the University of Coventry, will speak on ‘Do Christians need mindfulness?’. Following the publication of his book The Buddha Pill, in 2015, Miguel was dubbed the "Richard Dawkins of mindfulness" by the popular press for his critical approach to the subject.

The half-day conference promises to be an interesting and  diverse discussion of the subject. Further details can be found on the BACiP website: www.bacip.org.uk.

 

Dr Roger Bretherton is Principal Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln, a Clinical Psychologist, who studies positive qualities of character like gratitude, hope and wisdom. At the moment he is studying the effect of humility in leaders, developing character strengths in sixth-formers, and training volunteer mental health support workers. He is also chair of the British Association of Christians in Psychology.
 
Being Mindful, Being Christian: A guide to mindful discipleship (edited by Dr Roger Bretherton, Revd Canon Dr Joanna Collicutt and Dr Jennifer Brickman) is published by Monarch Books

The Revd Shaun Lambert is Senior Minister of Stanmore Baptist Church and author of two books about mindfulness: A Book of Sparks – a Study in Christian MindFullness, and Putting on the Wakeful One


Related:
What does Mindfulness offer the Christian? Shaun Lambert offers a compelling explanation why Mindfulness should matter to Christians


 
Baptist Times, 24/02/2017
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