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Succumbing To A Very Unchristian Idea (Post 1 of 2)

Recently two Christian leaders asked for my advice, and I had to give them some bad news. This week and next I’ve decided to share with you my advice (removing names and other identifying information). I do so to surface again how insidious and pervasive non-Christian thought patterns are in our culture, and how easy it is for us, if we are not vigilant, to begin thinking “unChristianly” about important issues, rather than thinking Christianly about everything.

A Deeply Unchristian Assumption In A Deeply Christian Leadership Book

A good friend recently asked me to review the manuscript of a book he is preparing for publication. He has theological training and is an excellent and thoughtful author. I enjoy reading what he writes and always come away with new insights. This manuscript was no exception. 

His ministry includes serving believers called to the world of business. So he is thinking much about how he can help these men and women be faithful to God’s call and have a redemptive influence in this critical sphere of influence. 

To this end, he is writing a book that will weave biblical themes into a discussion of how to lead well as a business professional. This conversation about effective leadership is noble and much needed. And he is one of the most well-spoken and well-trained people I know, certainly the type of person who should write a book like this.

However, as I read the draft of the book he sent to me and others for comment and critique, I found one “fatal flaw” that negated the value of much of the rest he had to say. To his request for feedback via email, I sent him a note sharing my concern. 

The Same Unchristian Assumption Surfaces Again

The very next week I was talking to another friend who gives leadership to a vital ministry supporting church planters. He told me about a webinar he was planning with a psychologist who has written a book popular in Christian circles. 

When he shared the name of the book, my antennae went up again. I told him about my concerns with my friend’s manuscript. As a truth-seeker himself, he asked me if I would be willing to share my unease in more detail. So I forwarded to him my email (removing all identifying features). 

Before sharing the specific email with you, I will summarize the main points I want to get across.

Why This Assumption Often Trips Us Up

The Opportunity

God has created a marvelous, intricate, fascinating world, and he calls us to explore every “nook and cranny” to learn everything we can about it. As the author of Proverbs says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” (Proverbs 25:2) In other words, it is a great honor, given to us by God, to discover truths about his creation!

One aspect of creation to be explored is our physiology, including our brains and how they work. The field of neurophysiology is committed to this task. Neurophysiologists are making great strides in developing a better understanding of these intricacies. Increasingly sophisticated technology is immensely helpful in this, allowing scientists to discover more and more of the brain’s activities.

The Concern

One theme of Western thought since the Enlightenment is reductionism—the assumption that we can reduce everything to matter. In this case, the temptation of the neurophysiologist– filtering into the broader culture–is to assume what we know about the brain is the end of the story. The temptation is to assume the brain is not just  part of what is involved in thinking, desiring, feeling, and choosing, but it is all there is to the matter. In other words, this part of Enlightenment thinking reduces us from immaterial beings who have a material dimension (a soul with a body) to nothing but a body (and most importantly, a brain). 

The Solution

We can avoid this reductionistic temptation by constantly checking our assumptions, musings, and conclusions against what we know from Scripture. In this case, the biblical view is that ultimately, one’s mind, using the brain as an instrument, causes thoughts, feelings, desires, and choices. This view best explains all the biblical data, as John Cooper explained so well in his Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. I’ve also written more on this topic here from the vantage point of Christian philosophy.

So I told my friend that to think Christianly about this topic is to understand that neurophysiology is not the whole story. This reductionism capitulates to physicalism, the unbiblical view that all which exists is physical. To fall into the trap of going along with those who reduce all mental life to these brain events is to think unChristianly. 

Conclusion

Having summarized the concerns I express in the email I sent, next week I’ll share the email itself, and their responses. I hope this will help you think more Christianly about this vitally important issue as well.

Until next week, grace and peace.

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