Integral Theory as a proper noun is a set of ideas emerging mainly from the thought of American Buddhist philosopher Ken Wilber, who has sought to create a kind of theoretical map of the best of all the world’s great traditions. This is obviously an ambitious goal, and, as with any grand theory, Wilber has had to paint with some pretty broad strokes to make it work. But beyond Wilber, “Integral” refers to a broader emerging tradition that is seeking to integrate the best of premodern, modern, and postmodern worldviews and to live out what might emerge out of postmodernism. I believe an Integral framework has much to offer and is well-worth exploring.
At its core, I see the promise of an integral approach in the following:
- It is an evolutionary and developmental approach that understands that not only do species change, but cultures and people do too. It is therefore inherently growth-oriented.
- It appreciates the abundant gifts of premodern, modern, and postmodern cultures, while recognizing that each — both in its internal weaknesses and in its inability to communicate with the others — is insufficient. Just as we as individuals need to be able to integrate our past with our present in order to face our futures healthily, so too do we as cultures need a way of integrating the wisdom of past generations into our present realities if we are to move beyond our current cultural impasse. It is therefore inherently integrating.
- It demands that we examine every issue, concept, or thing from as many different perspectives as possible. It is therefore inherently holistic.
- It recognizes that every step forward involves an acceptance of greater complexity. It is therefore inherently inclusive.
Because of these characteristics, an integral approach to the big questions of life has significant and helpful explanatory power.
And so when I speak of being integral, these are the characteristics I have in mind. And regardless of the merits of Integral Theory as a whole, I do believe that whatever it is that emerges out of postmodernism must incorporate these characteristics. If nothing else, Ken Wilber has created an interesting sandbox for us to play in as we try to interpret our selves, our cultures, and our faith, and our past, present, and future.
I have explored Integral thought and applied it to contemporary Christian expression in several series here on the blog:
- Integral Basics, which introduces the basic components of the Integral worldview
- Integral Hermeneutics, which develop of model of biblical interpretation from an Integral lens
- Movements of Faith, which explores the different ways we can better show up for ourselves, each other, and God
- Growing with Intention, which looks at some specific ways Integral thinkers have demonstrated that genuine spiritual growth takes place
For more information, please see my Annotated bibliography on Integral thought.