The Growth of Love by Dr Keith J. White

Review by Jo-Joy Wright

Keith White’s book The Growth of Love speaks from a world of inter-generational experience in living and working with young people to a world in need of love and community.He clearly states his authorial intent: to present an integrative reflection from psychosocial and theological perspectives on the worlds of children and young people, drawing on his experiences of living within the residential community/ extended family of Mill Grove to demonstrate what children need and how love grows, especially emphasising the importance of community.

His style of writing reflects the personal nature of his story and journey and delightfully draws on his vast store of poetry, sociology, anthropology and historical knowledge as well as child development and some Biblical insights

In exploring the nature of the five themes of the book (security, boundaries, significance, community and creativity) White provides a useful analysis of the dialogue and differences of key issues such as the “now and not yet” parallels of the Kingdom of God and children’s development: “needs” vs “longings / desires / hungers” with respect to human development. As he states, any such critique requires a clear perception of the goal of development if one is to determine the precursors of its attainment. He justly argues about the need for caution when applying stage models of psychosocial and faith development since Biblically children are not simply “not yet” adults.

Real life examples

The strength of the book lies in its multitude of real life examples of children’s lives from Mill Grove, White’s own life experiences and various international projects, showing the reader how White’s ideas and praxis can find synergy and where theory meets discontinuity. It would have been useful if a few of these examples could have been addressed in greater depth rather than dismissing the disparities, so that the reader practitioner could achieve a greater insight into the issues, since most of the psychosocial theories were themselves developed from real life observations. Much of the discussion of the sections on security and boundaries focuses on psychosocial theory, whereas the section on community emphasises sociological and Biblical perspectives.

The final sections on what hinders or enhances the growth of love will be extremely useful and thought-provoking for both practitioner and manager alike.


However, the main disappointment of the book relates to White’s original
intent: to present an insight into psychosocial and theological perspectives on the growth of love, held by his five themes. Within each of the five chapters on security (being reliably there), boundaries (patterns for life), significance (remembered by name, personal history), community (belonging) and creativity (unique and familial expression), White explores some child development / psychosocial or sociological theories and draws on either a few or a span (as in the community chapter) of Biblical insights. But the book would have benefited from a greater balance in the weight of the different sections within each chapter on the five themes. It would have emphasised the overall sense of story if, in the Biblical sections, White had reflected his discussion of each theme, using firstly the Old then the New Testament story narrative.

I would have also welcomed greater opportunity to learn from White’s vast store of theological knowledge, especially on the recent developments in Child Theology in which he has played a key part. The theological sections were really Biblical reflections. It would have been wonderful if the plethora of psychosocial theorists could have been set alongside key theologians’ views pertinent to the five themes, not just Loder and Barth.

Maybe Grenz, McFayden, and Zizioulas’s ideas on security and significance / personhood as “imago Dei” as Trinitarian community and how, being made in the image of God who is “being in communion” we are therefore made to grow, develop a sense of selfhood and to need love in relationship, to attach, boundary, be uniquely significant and creative as three Persons in One. The writings of Bauman, Schultz and Vanier on community would have grounded and developed the Biblical discussion, helping readers to take the vital, fantastic insights of His Word into their lives and work operationally. Psychologists and social theorists such as Alice Miller, Mooli Lahad and Bruhn would have complemented them psychosocially. Such expositions would have given the book a clearer foundation.

Writing in a compost heap

However, White himself states that the book has been written within the throes of the “compost heap” of community life and therefore he did not have the luxury of the space and perspective given to sociological researchers such as Bowlby or, I would argue, academics such as the theologians given above. As such, it is a feat that the book has ever been born.

It will hopefully inspire others who are grappling with such issues to dare to love well and to reflect on their own practice from a wide range of fields of theory and application how to be Christ in all our relationships within our communities and how to enable children’s pasts not to define them but to empower them to be rebirthed through love in relationship and to bring in the reality of God’s Kingdom now.

White, Keith J. The Growth of Love (2008)
The Bible Reading Fellowship, Abingdon
ISBN 978-1-84101-461-6

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