This is your brain on God

I just listened to the latest Holy Post podcast.

The second half is an interview with Dr. Jim Wilder, a “neurotheologian” with 40 years experience in clinical therapy. He just wrote a book called Renovated: God, Dallas Willard, and the Church the Transforms.

One thing he said in the interview really struck me. He said, (as I remember it, I didn’t go back to check the exact words), “It is what we love that changes us, not what we believe.”

The thrust of his book is that neuropsychologists understand the importance of attachment on human maturation and brain function. It affects everything. But we do not apply these insights to our understanding of faith and spiritual maturity and health even though we should. American Protestantism is very influenced by Enlightenment thinking and a focus on rational belief and knowledge of truth. But practically speaking for the church, knowing the right things, even believing the right things does not appear to change lives. Lives are changed when human attachments change. This idea has a long history in Christian theological thinking, you can see it in Augustine and the idea of disordered loves, and maybe even back to Paul with the old self/new self idea of putting to death old passions and coming to alive to love for God and his kingdom.

I thought this was very insightful and worth mulling over. First, because lots of people show up here on this forum in the middle of some intellectual faith crisis in which they are doubting the rationality of their beliefs or whether what they know as the truth is in actuality the truth. Usually the response seems to be to give people a book list and to tell them to exchange old sets of faulty knowledge for new and better ones designed to inspire different or more tenable beliefs. We focus a ton on believing the right things. I wonder how often that actually works.

According to this doctor, the focus of faith should be on fostering genuine attachment to God and to God’s people. Second, one of the biggest reasons I hear younger people stating for leaving their affiliation with Christianity is disillusionment with the people in their church. They want a divorce. Whatever attachment they had as children has worn off. Having the right answers is absolutely not the way you maintain attachment.

Dr. Wilder said that at the most basic level, attachments are formed when you feed someone (or something, it could be a puppy) and when you express joy at their existence. If people do not get “fed” by their relationship with God or God’s people, and they don’t feel like God or God’s people really want them around, they will look elsewhere for something to love. But if they do get those things, it can have a transformative effect on identity and behavior.

Anyway, all good stuff worth thinking about if you are involved in church ministry and like a little neuroscience with your theology on occasion. :slight_smile:


I really enjoyed this post.

It makes me think of these verses.

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 NASB

13 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I think often people get to caught on one one thing or another. One person is wicked, but enjoys theology and studying the Bible and debating it and believes they are good. Another person is a good person, but they don’t really both to know doctrine and they have these strong emotional connections to god and are righteous, but they just don’t ever really study it out in depth. You have some that enjoy theology and focus on righteousness, but they have no emotional connection and even when they do good they do it because they believe it’s the right thing and not because they actually care. ( that’s actually where I struggle the most. I’m not very emotional and use to think that love is just devotion. It’s sort of like if I were to see a homeless person and so I go to Burger King and get some food and drive to where he’s at and give him the food and some money and then drove off after wishing him well and I did it because I believe it’s the right thing but not because I love him. I did not try to know him. I did not try to talk with him. I just have food and bounced. I realized a while back I have that problem. I’ll do what I think is right because I think it’s the right thing to do based off of logical interpretation of scripture and did not even have a emotional connection what so ever. I’m not sure if I’m explaining it right but when I read verse 3 it convicted me and so now if I do something good for someone I try to actually onow them. I’ve given the same homeless guy before hundreds of dollars overs a years time and spent hundreds more on food and never once asked him his name.

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Fifty years ago this was me.

Inspired by Henry Drummond’s sermon on this I am now working on learning to love.
His sermon, the Greatest thing in the world is available as a book on amazon or narrated on audible and youtube .
Rev Prof Henry Drummond FRSE LLD FGS was a Scottish evangelist, biologist, writer and lecturer 1851-1897.
His books on evolution Natural law in the Spiritual World and The Ascent of Man were popular in his day. Much is not relevant today, but we could learn from his approach.
DL Moody in a tribute said “…Some men take an occasional journey into the thirteenth of 1 Corinthians, but Henry Drummond was a man who lived there constantly, appropriating its blessings and exemplifying its teachings. As you read what he terms the analysis of love, you find that all its ingredients were interwoven into his daily life, making him one of the most lovable men I have ever known. Was it courtesy you looked for, he was a perfect gentleman. Was it kindness, he was always preferring another. Was it humility, he was simple and not courting favor. It could be said of him truthfully, as it was said of the early apostles, “that men took knowledge of him, that he had been with Jesus.” …”


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