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Out of the Corner of God’s Eye

by Dr. Jay Gary, Nov 5, 2007


Wilber, on stage left, hosts his 3rd Integral Spirituality conference

In the final scene of The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), a squire says to the hero–who emerged unscathed from a duel, “Once again, Zatarra, God sees you out of the corner of His eye.”

For nearly a decade I’ve kept watch on Ken Wilber–out of the corner of my eye. Wilber is considered by many to be the “Einstein of Consciousness,” an enlightened pundit in a world of pre-modern gurus.

Through books such as Sex, ecology, spirituality (1995), Integral psychology (2000), or Integral spirituality (2006), Wilber has sought to shape the future of meaning, beyond what he sees as the collapse of the Great Tradition from both East and West; a collapse brought about by modern skepticism and postmodern deconstruction.

Wilber’s work has influenced various communities of practice, including the field of strategic foresight. In 2005 I produced a “Pathways to Foresight” DVD series, which featured a closing conversation on futures thinking by Dr. Richard Slaughter and Ken Wilber. It is common now to hear futurists talk about integral futures, and see them focus on “left-hand” quadrants of subjectivity and intersubjectivity, as they scan the horizon.

My primary interest in Wilber’s work has been what it reveals or conceals about leadership development, and in particular, Christian leadership.

It might seem oxymoronic to suggest that the church needs any help to survive postmodernism, and that from an American Buddhist. Yet even InterVarsity Press is asking, “What can evangelicals learn from world religions?” (McDermott, 2000), or Baker Academic is asking, “What does the outpouring of the Holy Spirit ‘on all flesh’ mean with regards to a global theology of religion” (Yong, 2005)?

Wilber’s primary contribution over the past two decades has been to distinguish psychological stages of development from spiritual states of consciousness. Think of this as the contrast between growing up in life vs. growing deeper in God. These two factors often don’t correlate in the spectacle of Gurus driving around in Mercedes or Ministers caught in sex scandals.

In keeping with my research interests in post-conventional leadership, workplace spirituality, and psychological integration, I recently spent a day in Boulder, Colorado, attending the final day of Ken Wilber’s 3rd Annual Integral Institute on spirituality.

Despite the presence of scholars such as Dr. James Fowler, renowned author of Stages of Faith (1981), the day-long workshop turned out to be more advocacy by practitioners, than critical inquiry. The program was aimed at personal application.

Wilber had 14 colleagues, or teachers of integral spirituality from various traditions sitting up front to kick off the morning sessions. Introductions alone took us to the first break! No time was allotted for audience questions, given the program had to allow each speaker to have their time in the sun. I wanted more from attending an Integral Institute. It over promised and under delivered.

As much as Wilber is seen as brilliant, hip, or progressive, I sense his Integral Institute is still an adolescent, seeking to find its way in relation to older institutions and other scholarly disciplines. It would be interesting to see if Wilber’s future Integral University can really take shape over the next decade and contribute to spiritual life through peer-reviewed scholarship and critique (Hughes, 2005).

While spirituality is primarily nurtured from our inner life, or the “intentional” quadrant, this sincerity, this integrity, this trust of spirituality, even as Wilber claims, must be in dialogue with the other lens of reality, including the behavioral, the cultural and the social/systemic.

Integral living cannot develop without integrated thinking across theories that guide our academic disciplines. It appears that Wilber and JFK University in California will host a scholarly conference on Integral Theory August 7-10, 2008. Whether this is worth attending, versus just reading published papers, I don’t know. What I do know is that the church needs more, not less, critical reflection among scholars on lived spirituality, in its varieties, in its every-day-ness and in its counter-weight against materialism (Waaijman, 2002).

Despite its non-theistic edge, Wilber’s integral philosophy is a valuable read for Christian leaders, provided they do so in a critical manner. Why? Today Wilber represents change with respect to natural spirituality. He could be a precursor of transmodern “hens” or “owls” in American spirituality.

8How should you access Wilber? His books are still the best way to encounter his philosophy. The web can help, but the web has multiplied various post-Wilber integral blogs. For balanced reading, without the hype either way, start with the “Ken Wilber” entry on Wikipedia.

After that, if you think God sees integral theory out of the corner of his eye, then I encourage you to ponder how it might or might not relate to spiritual formation, the spiritual disciplines, Christian maturity or an integrated Christian worldview.

One new resource that might help you is “Integral Christianity” by Rich Vincent, an e-book that Bimillennial Press recently. It evaluates how Wilber’s “theory of everything” can help followers of Jesus navigate the postmodern age, and how living traditions are for the open minded. After you read it, write me, I’d be interested to know what you think.

Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Hughes, R. T. (2005). The vocation of a Christian scholar. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
McDermott, G. R. (2000). Can evangelicals learn from world religions? Jesus, Revelation & religious traditions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
Vincent, R. J. (2007, e-book). Integral Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: Bimillennial.
Waaijman, K. (2002). Spirituality forms, foundations, methods. Leuven Dudley, MA: Peeters.
Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology, spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit, psychology, therapy. Boston: Shambhala.
Wilber, K. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Boston: Integral.
Yong, A. (2005). The Spirit poured out on all flesh: Pentecostalism and the possibility of global theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Jay Gary, PhD is president of, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years Jay has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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