Theory of Self Determination and Christianity

One of the joys of being an academic is reading in a wide range of research literatures and learning from them. Yesterday I was reading about the Self-Determination Theory. It’s a theory of human motivation, and it holds that humans have three general needs that they must meet for optimal function and growth: relatedness, autonomy, and competency.

Relatedness is being connected to others. Autonomy isn’t being independent of others, rather it’s “being a causal agent” in one’s own life. Competency is being able to control outcomes and express mastery.

This got me to thinking about how this theory maps on to the prescriptions of Christianity, and if this gives insight into the functionality (at least at the individual-level) of the faith.

Clearly Christianity fosters connectedness, both to other people and to God. At its core it teaches love for others and for God, and the faith is structured in various levels of groupings–from small groups to denominations.

Autonomy takes a specific guise. In one sense, Christianity promises freedom–from a sinful nature. In another, however, it’s about dependence and reliance on God and others.

Competency is less straightforward. There are verses that put forth the need to work hard to get what you want (thinking sluggards vs. the diligent in proverbs).  But, by and large, I don’t think that it teaches a lot about being competent (unless I’m missing something. Which, if so, I suppose calls into question my own competency). Instead the Bible seems to emphasize the competency (or ability to make things happen) of God, and so, perhaps that becomes competency for us as we tap into it via prayer and following Him.

I’m not sure that I would push this analysis too far, but it does give a different perspective for the ways that Christianity promotes functioning and growth.

  • Ruud

    Competence: what about the spiritual gifts? Co-workers of God, etc.?

  • Tony

    I would argue that one of the main points of the wisdom literature — specifically Proverbs — is to instruct us how to live competent, productive, satisfying lives. “The fool” seems the epitome of incompetence.