Boundaries: More Christian Psychobabble
Cloud, Henry, and Townsend, John. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1992. (296 pages.)
I chose to read this book after a recent discussion in my pastoral counseling class regarding boundaries and pastoral burnout. Somewhere along the line I picked this book up for free and had it sitting on my bookshelf, so this seemed like a good opportunity to read it. I had originally assumed that I would dislike the book because of (what appeared to me to be) an unbiblical approach to problem solving in people’s lives.
The thesis of the book is that, “we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t” (p.25). Part I of the book, “What are Boundaries?” establishes the theory behind the concept of boundaries. Part II, “Boundary Conflicts,” looks at the specific situations where boundary issues arise, such as marriage, work, or family. Finally, Part III, “Developing Healthy Boundaries,” gives some practical ways to apply the theory of the book.
Unfortunately, I can honestly say that my original assumptions about the book were confirmed. The kinds of boundaries I had encountered in my class discussion dealt with wisdom and responsibility: staying out of situations which may compromise one’s integrity; and making sure to limit one’s ministry time so that parental obligations are fulfilled. These kinds of discussions were entirely missing. In their place were discussions about asserting one’s rights and standing up to imposing individuals. Cloud and Townsend have very little discussion of sin, almost to the point of saying that our real problem is not rebellion against our creator, but failure to set proper relational boundaries. And what of Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile?
What was most frustrating is that something about the boundaries concept is clearly true, but it is so hard to get to through the layers of psychological theory was seems utterly opposed to a biblical anthropology. Given the popularity of this book amongst evangelicals it is not surprising that some reactionary Christians have rejected the discipline of psychology as mere “psychobabble.”