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.