Is Choice Theory in the Bible?
The ideas of choice theory have appealed to me a lot. Initially, I the appeal had to do with my belief that choice theory ideas would improve the school at which I was a principal. As I learned more about the ideas, though, I came to see that they were deeper than mere school improvement, as important as that goal is, and that similar to a C.S. Lewis phrase out of Narnia, choice theory involved “deeper magic.” In other words, unintentionally, Glasser had stumbled onto spiritual principles as his therapeutic strategies took form.
I have thought about choice theory and its comparison to spiritual principles a great deal and thus far it has appeared to me that they consistently strengthen and support one another. Choice theory is not a gospel in itself. Choice theory describes and explains human behavior, but it doesn’t empower. It can explain, as our last blog did, how a person can repeatedly choose an unhealthy way to meet a need, yet this insight does not necessarily bring about change. Scripture is full of choice theory, yet religionists have missed it. So many of us church-attenders have not come into a knowledge and appreciation for our own role in making good choices, in believing, in having a saving faith. Many are waiting for God to change them from the outside-in, like a giant puppeteer, but alas, they’re still waiting. So, anyway, I think the two – the principles of choice theory and the principles of Scripture – can help each other.
Over the years I have been collecting Biblical texts that speak to or support choice theory components. What follows are texts that speak to each of the basic needs. Glasser settled on five basic needs – survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun – although in Control Theory (1984) he allowed for flexibility in this list. My list of basic needs looks slightly different and includes – Purpose and Meaning, Love and Belonging, Power and Achievement, Freedom and Autonomy, Joy and Fun, and Security and Safety. I invite you to add to this list. What Scriptures have you found that support the basic needs?
Purpose and Meaning
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jer. 29:11
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” John 10:10
Love and Belonging
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40
Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 1 John 4:11, 12
Power and Achievement
Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desire. Ps. 37:3, 4
“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.” Ephesians 1:19
Freedom and Autonomy
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” Isaiah 61:1
Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom. 2 Cor. 3:17
Joy and Fun
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalms 34:8
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” John 15:9-11
Security and Safety
“Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety.” Proverbs 29:25
“I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27
I am comfortable with the concept of the basic needs. I cannot prove their existence, and if we agree on their existence we cannot prove exactly what a person’s basic need strengths are. Yet theory of the basic needs provides a very good starting point when considering personality and motivation. To know ourselves seems to be a life-long process. Sometimes when I pray I ask the Spirit to show me me. Over time I have come to see myself a little differently. I used to think that I have a very high power need; now it seems to me that my power need is somewhat average, while my love and belonging need is very high. Regardless, the premise of the basic needs is supported in Scripture. And it is so cool that God cares about our needs so much. As Paul wrote – “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Jim… for starters, I’m thrilled to have crossed paths with you recently and am grateful for the friendship and continued conversation… I still haven’t fully wrapped my mind around choice theory, but I do have a question that I believe will lead me to deeper understanding…
From Wikipedia… axiom #9 states, “All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.”
Jim you state, “So many of us church-attenders have not come into a knowledge and appreciation for our own role in making good choices, in believing, in having a saving faith. Many are waiting for God to change them from the outside-in, like a giant puppeteer, but alas, they’re still waiting. So, anyway, I think the two – the principles of choice theory and the principles of Scripture – can help each other.”
My understanding of the Gospel is that we, in and of ourselves, have an inability at “making good choices”. In Romans 7, for instance, the Apostle Paul finds himself saying “the things I know I should do, I don’t do and the things that I know I shouldn’t do, I keep on doing.” His answer is not “So I made a covenant to start making good choices and followed what I knew to be right.” Instead he asks out of frustration, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And the answer comes, “Jesus Christ my Lord!”
While I don’t believe that God is trying to make changes from the outside-in, I do believe that God desires to abide in us (see Revelation 3, John 3, John 15, etc.) so that through His Spirit, He empowers us live a life that is full of “making good decisions”. But the key ingredient is GOD working in us as we, left to ourselves, are incapable.
I appreciate your thoughts on this a lot. I don’t want anything I say to in any way minimize the place of Jesus in our lives. He is everything, the First and the Last, Savior, Forgiver, Empowerer, Comforter, Everything.
There is a text that may be helpful here. In fact, it very much addresses what we are talking about. Jesus reminds us in John 15:5 that without Him we can do nothing. This text is commonly used to emphasize the overarching importance of Jesus’ presence in our lives, with which I very much agree. The second part of the sentence, though, talks about our doing. Whatever our doing is we can’t do it without the desire and the power (Phil. 2:13) that Jesus provides, but there is still something we do. When I started on this journey 10 years ago one of the questions I wanted to answer was, “What is God’s role and what is my role when it comes to salvation?” Choice theory is giving me insights into what my role includes.
Jesus created us with the power to choose, and He desires to re-create us daily to fully experience joy and faithfulness and self-control. This self-control can only be done because of Him and through Him, but we have a part in it. Maybe this is where we can really start to talking about spiritual discipline.
When you have a moment take a look previous posts in the blog, especially the We Want to Feel Good series, as they will shed light on this topic, too.
I think that what Pastor Gamble referenced from Paul actually makes more sense to me when I think about it in Choice Theory terms. Paul (and everyone) cannot directly control his feelings or physiology (“the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” idea), and he often fails, making choices other than the ones he desires to make (though they are still always choices). This makes a lot of sense when I think of the car analogy of Total Behavior. Part of Paul being empowered to make better decisions and grow toward God begins with him making the choice to change his thinking by acknowledging his failings and giving everything up to God (as Pastor Gamble noted), a being much more powerful than himself. In my own spiritual walk, I find that just that act–that choice to think differently by giving it up to God– makes good actions much easier to choose and radically changes my feelings and even physiological reactions. I can release the tension and pressure I put on myself to be perfect and to always make exactly the right choices. The irony is that the choice to give up that idea of total control on my part actually frees and empowers me to make those decisions, because I know God can open the right doors and help me to act and think in a better way. I still have the power to choose or not choose the path He leads me to, but inviting Him to set the direction makes me actually much more in control of all four aspects of my behavior.
Your explanation of how the concept of total behavior helps us understand Paul’s writing in Romans 7 is eloquent. I am really thinking about what you have said. I love the point you about the irony giving up or surrendering actually being empowering.
Thank you Jim for referring to both John 15:5 and Phil. 2:13. They are central to recognizing that we have access to Divine assistance to bring into being the choices that our sinful nature resists. I am so thankful that God continues to honor our freedom of choice and gives us His assistance when we choose Him instead of our weakness. Here is another little insight I got while teaching Introduction to Christianity just a few weeks ago. I was wrapping things up with a global view of the great controversy and showing my students the great news of God’s purpose for a restored world and restored lives for eternity. We read Rev. 22:12-16 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what they have done . . . ” It goes on to say that those who have washed their robes will have eternal life and can enter the city. Those outside the city include a list of very miserable and unhappy people. What caught my attention was the “reward is given to everyone according to what they have done.” At first reading it seems to hark back to legalism and I shudder. But this time when we read it in class choice theory solved the dilemma for us. I had been noting the repeated theme of freely choosing life or death throughout the year, so my students were completely comfortable with the Revelation passage when we asked the question: “What directs your behavior?” They clearly understood that our actions are directed by our choosing. Therefore, Jesus is really just restating that our reward is a direct result of our choice (“what you have done”). This is a long way from legalism and my students resonated with God’s consistent honoring our freedom of choice, even when that means choosing against Him. It was a Spirit led teachable moment for all of us.
Hi, Jim! I’ve been thinking some of the same things about CT. The scripture that has the most connection to me is, ‘As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” So Total Behavior is a result of the inner self.
Thanks, Brian. This text needs to be included among those that support the concepts of CT in scripture. Another one that I have now added comes from 1 John 3:20 where he writes – “Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and He knows everything.” This really places our feelings as one of the back tires.