Renewing America’s Soul: A Ten-Session Small Group Study Guide
Dr. James Beck's review of, "Renewing America's Soul: A Ten-Session Small Group Study Guide," by Howard Butt, Jr. and Steve Sheely.
Howard E. Butt, Jr., Renewing America’s Soul: A Spiritual Psychology for Home, Work, and Nation. New York: Continuum, 1996. ISBN 0-8264-0880-X (alk. paper). $19.95.
Howard E. Butt, Jr. & Steve Sheely, Renewing America’s Soul: A Ten-Session Small Group Study Guide. Kerrville, TX: Laity Renewal Foundation, 1996.
Howard Butt’s earlier book, The Velvet Covered Brick, earned him a well-deserved reputation as a provocative thinker who was capable of challenging both lay and professional readers with new ideas and concepts. Renewing America’s Soul continues in this tradition. The primary contribution of his earlier book was in the area of servant leadership, and the primary contribution of this current title will be in the area of the integration of psychological concepts with a commitment to biblical ministry in home and work. Howard Butt, Jr. has been a successful businessman and an effective trainer of the laity at the Texas retreat he founded, the Laity Lodge Retreat Center.
The author’s interest in the topic area of this book arose out of the crucible of his own personal psychological crisis. Mr. Butt’s hard-driving business style came to a temporary halt several years ago when he sank into a clinical depression which required professional care. The current book is an amalgam of the experiences Butt encountered as he climbed out of the deep pit of depression with the help of his psychiatrist. His previous understanding of success in his personal, church, and business life all had to be re-worked in light of the personal crisis through which he personally came. The integration of psychology and biblical concepts, which form the heart of this book, is thus based the author’s unplanned journey through his dark night of the soul.
Howard Butt discovered that the key to his healing would focus on the resolution of his highly conflicted relationship with his own father. Howard Butt, Jr. had to come to terms with Howard Butt, Sr., now deceased. As Howard, Jr. worked through these issues, he discovered that certain tenets of psychoanalytic theory made good biblical and personal sense: the universal presence of generational conflict between parents and children, childhood preference for one parent over the other and the reverse (parental preference for some children over others), conscious or unconscious hostility on the part of the child for the non-favored parent, and adult ambivalences throughout later life transferred from childhood conflicts onto adult relationships. These cardinal features of Freudian thought proved to be life savers for Butt as he struggled under the weight of trying to understand his personal depression.
The book focuses on how these concepts also relate to the New Testament material describing the Apostle Peter. The author begins with gospel accounts and later devotes several chapters to material from Peter’s epistles. Butt, for example, spends considerable time commenting on the great confession of Peter as found in Matthew 16: “Who do you say that I am?” . . .”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” . . . “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” The author correctly notes that the passage features a heavy emphasis on father-son relationships. Jesus is defined by the confessing apostle as a Son, and Jesus Himself attributes the spiritual insight Peter is expressing to the heavenly Father. Moreover, as soon as Peter confesses the true nature of Jesus and thus takes a major step in his personal faith journey, Jesus immediately refers to Peter as Simon Bar-Jona, thus noting the apostle’s own identity in relationship to his earthly father. Butt feels that this famous exchange gives us a clue to a little-known feature of our relationship with Christ: God intends that once we get our relationship with Jesus Christ in order we also attend to needed repairs on our relationship with our earthly parents. For Butt, this sequence was precisely his own personal experience. As he learned more about the intimacy Jesus sustained between Himself and the Father, he was equipped to unravel the knotty relationship with his own dad that had been such a source of frustration in his earlier years.
The prime value of Renewing America’s Soul lies in the exemplary ease with which the author integrates psychological concepts with a faithful understanding of the biblical text. Butt is successful in this enterprise precisely because the integration was first personal and then later transcribed into writing. The material is authentic and helpful. Not every reader will agree with every instance of integration, but all readers should recognize the genuineness and realism with which Butt writes. A helpful small group study guide is also available as an accompaniment to the larger volume. Its ten session format makes it usable in many settings; the handbook is well written. (Available from Laity Renewal Foundation, P.O. Box 670, Kerrville, Texas 78029-0670).