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Book Review

How the Christian life is enhanced through community

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March 4, 2021

What is the nexus between the topic of the life of the mind and the issue of Christian formation? Brad D. Strawn, Evelyn and Frank Freed Endowed Chair of the Integration of Psychology and Theology (Fuller Theological Seminary), and Warren S. Brown, professor of psychology (Fuller Theological Seminary), seek to answer this question in Enhancing Christian Life. Strawn and Warren argue that through adapting philosopher Andy Clark’s ideas about Supersizing the mind, Christians can embrace their connection with other believers as part of the local church community. Simply put, the Christian is enhanced through the community they are a part of locally. The Christian faith is not primarily a private matter but a communal one. 

The work is broken up into three sections. Section one gives a broad introduction to the issues addressed, mostly dealing with the philosophical problems of memory, the mind, the body, and the soul. The authors argue for a holistic view of the human person, which sees the body, soul, and mind as an inseparable whole. Strawn and Brown argue against René Descartes’s concept of dualism, which treats the body/soul as individual mechanical parts that can be separated and function as individual entities (i.e., a brain in a vat). 

Section two further developed their view of embodiment and holism. In this section, the authors introduce readers to an array of authors and challenges of those who embrace a body/soul dualistic view (40ff). The authors maintain that dualism is rejected by modern neuroscience, philosophy, cognitive science, and many Christian theologians over the history of the church (42). Although the authors do not delve deeply into the reasons for rejection of dualism, they provide some reasons for embracing a view of holism. The primary reasons are that humans are embodied souls and how neuroscience has argued that the body/mind are material parts that are inseparable (45–50). 

Finally, in the last section, the authors argue how the embodied and holistic view of body/mind works out in the Christian life through extension in the local church. The Christian’s spiritual formation is both about individual growth and further enhancement through life in the body of the church.

Holistic nature of the Christian life

Strawn and Brown are right to emphasize the holistic nature of the Christian life. The church is usually referenced in Scripture in the plural form, which means, when God addressed the church, he addressed the whole body of believers rather than simply individuals. The Christian life is not solely about what the individual does or does not do. While individual responsibility is present in Scripture, this does not negate the church’s corporate reality as the body of Christ (i.e., Rev. 2). 

Another strength of this work is its emphasis on embodiment. Much of the current techno-science (i.e., Philip Hefner, Rodney Brooks, Ray Kurzweil, etc.) focuses on the possibility of extending human life and function beyond the present body and its limitations. This view often prioritizes the mind over the body. Much of the anthropology of techno-scientists is based on views of materialism and/or Darwinistic evolution. Thus technological enhancement of the body becomes about escaping death (i.e., immortality) or providing technological upgrades that only a select few may have access to which can lead to a greater disparity throughout our society (i.e., CRISPR gene-editing technology). 

Enhancing Christian Life reminds the believer and the Christian community that life is not merely about the individual but also the congregation. Life is about being bodily present to help the community see the glory and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Especially in Western cultures, there is a desperate need to be reminded that being human and being made in God’s image is about fulfilling the cultural mandate. This means in one’s treatment of themselves and of others, there is a responsibility to promote dignity and value; how one lives matters, what they consume matters, and the products of their work matters. 

Engaging dualism

Strawn and Brown could have engaged with substance dualism in more depth. J.P. Moreland (Talbot School of Theology) has written extensively on this problem (see Body & Soul) and argues dualism has been the historical view of the church. Moreland shows there is nothing in neuroscience, cognitive science, or word studies of the Old and New Testament that entails “dualism is not tenable” as the authors of this work argue (43). At a minimum, the presentation made by Strawn and Brown is a simplistic treatment of a historically enigmatic subject. For example, how does a rejection of the possibility of disembodiment affect the idea of life after death and the future resurrection of the dead? 

Another issue in their work is the integration of the philosophy of Andy Clark into their hermeneutic. Their approach seems to read their premise and philosophy (i.e., Clark) into the Bible rather than back up their claims with detailed biblical exegesis. Criticism aside, this work does bring to light the importance of discussing embodiment and how both philosophy and science are now realizing its importance. While the work claims to be for pastors, students, and laypersons, one should engage the book with discernment. Some of the arguments and presentations of dualism and holism’s philosophical problems potentially misread the existing literature surrounding the body/mind or body/soul issue. 

Joshua K. Smith

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