By / Mar 4

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. 

By / Jan 29

A physician that merely diagnoses a problem is not particularly helpful. When we see our doctors, we expect the diagnosis as well as a treatment plan. Typically, effective treatment includes a correct answer to a “how” or “what” question. How did we get to the place we currently are? Or perhaps, what caused this problem in the first place? The answers to these questions take us to the problem’s source. If these questions are answered, then the future—the treatment—seems more plausible. 

Imagine we are not talking about your physical health, but our culture’s social imaginary—what our culture has accepted as normative. For example, how did we get to a place where the sentence, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” (19), is understood as coherent and meaningful? Carl Trueman’s latest work, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, like a good physician, goes beyond a diagnosis and explains the origins of our cultural moment. 

The path of the revolution

Trueman’s thesis is that the modern (or post-modern) view of “self” is the cause of the moral and sexual revolution (22). He believes it is near-sighted and without context to suggest that somehow the sexual revolution appeared out of nowhere in the 1960s. Instead, he argues, the ideas of particular intellectuals from the 18th and 19th centuries have become mainstream, even if undetected. They are the source of this new definition of self which, in turn, is the cause of the sexual revolution. The path of the revolution, according to Trueman, follows three simple steps: (1) the “self” must be psychologized, (2) psychology must be sexualized, and (3) sex must be politicized (221).

Step One: The self must be psychologized

For a culture to conceive that a man can, in any real sense, become a woman, a psychologizing of the self must take place. The statement, “I am whom I think I am; whom I feel I am; whom I say I am,” must somehow be considered sensible. For this thinking to become part of our social imaginary, the teaching and writing of four 18th– and 19th-century men had to be believed, even if unacknowledged—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Charles Darwin. Though most do not know these men’s specific teachings, and some may recognize their names, their ideas have seeped into our culture’s understanding of the world. 

Rousseau taught that men and women are essentially born good but social conditioning has corrupted all (111). Therefore, only through authentic self-expression, no matter the expression, can man and woman be made whole again and find true satisfaction and happiness. In other words, there exists no objective human purpose in this life; each is required to self-create. Toward the same end, Friedrich Nietzsche attempted to persuade other enlightenment philosophers of the consequences of “god’s death.” He convincingly taught that without a god, there is no telos to this life, and therefore the individual must create themselves, including their meaning and purpose (174). 

In contrast to Nietzsche, Karl Marx believed in a human nature; however, he taught that human nature is always in a state of flux based on cultural context. Additionally, according to Marx, because history is a story of the powerful oppressing the powerless, and because traditional morals were a tool of the oppressor, human nature does not include a responsibility to obey any “so-called” objective morality (191). Finally, Charles Darwin, perhaps the most well-known of the four, who was beloved by Nietzsche and Marx, obliterated the telos of mankind. If human life on Earth is not contingent on a creator, as Darwin opined, then the idea of an authoritative purpose to life is unnecessary. 

Trueman summarizes their contribution this way: “Darwin strips the world of intrinsic meaning through natural selection; Nietzsche, through his polemic against metaphysics; Marx, through . . . a radical and consistent materialism . . .” (191-92). In other words, for all of these men, meaning is created, not given, and therefore the modern view of self need not include the material, but only the psychological. Consequently, while “self” used to be defined by a creator’s purpose, a physical body, and one’s responsibility to a community, now it is defined by only a person’s will. 

Step Two: Psychology must be sexualized

Trueman then turns to Sigmund Freud to explain how the psychological man has been sexualized. He explains the main prod of Freud’s teaching as a polemic against civilization’s attempt to socially condition morality in order to curb sexual expression. For Freud, sexual gratification is the highest good for humans; therefore, sexual repression is not morally right, but morally evil. Additionally, he believed that a culture’s sexual ethic leads to inauthentic living. Hence, if “self” is psychological and true happiness is found in my unfettered expression of sexuality, then my true self—my identity—is nothing more and nothing less than the sexual expression I chose for myself. Trueman persuasively shows that before Freud, sex was an activity, but after Freud, sex was an identity. 

Step Three: Sex must be politicized

Perhaps the genius of Rise and Triumph is how Trueman detects the foundation of the politicization of sex. It is no secret, especially for those on social media, that the pre-political no longer exists. Today everything is politicized—education, morals, religion, pandemics, and especially sex. Trueman points to the Frankfurt school of the early 1900s to explain the existence of what he titles the “New Left” (229). He calls this the “shotgun wedding of Freud and Marx” (230). Marx’s ideology was economic, however the Frankfurt school, particularly through Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse’s writings, amalgamated Freud with Marx, resulting in a cultural Marxism where oppression can be, and often is, psychological. 

By combining the philosophies of Freud and Marx, a new victimhood was created. Instead of the oppressed being laborers who are exploited for cheap labor, the oppressed are those whose sexual preference, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on are not recognized and celebrated by the culture at large. These sexual minorities are now victims who ought to be fought for—enter the political scene with legislation to do just that. The process is complete. How did we get to a place where misgendering someone can get you fired? Where schools allow biological men in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms? These were accomplished in three easy steps: (1) the “self” has been psychologized, (2) psychology has been sexualized, and (3) sex has been politicized (221).

Trueman’s end is not just a diagnosis or an explanation of how we got here, but an exhortation to the church—a treatment plan, if you will. He briefly suggests three things that should mark a church in our present moment: (1) the connection between aesthetics and core beliefs and practices, (2) a renewed emphasis on community, and (3) a recovery of natural law and a high view of the physical body (402-7). 

A standard procedure for book reviews is to summarize, praise the good, and charitably critique the deficient. In this case, at the risk of sounding overly flattering, my critique is only that the book was not longer. Though much historical and philosophical ground is covered, Trueman’s mastery of the subject allows him to write in a way that the historian and philosopher respect, yet the layman understands. I am hopeful that Trueman will endeavor to write a sequel, possibly undertaking the practical side of how Christians might speak generously and convincingly to a culture that has redefined self. I could not recommend this book any louder. Every Christian who is paying attention to our cultural moment should have this book in their hands.