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The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Church [Hardcover]

Warren S. Brown , Brad D. Strawn

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Book Description

June 18 2012 0521515939 978-0521515931
This book explores the implications of recent insights in modern neuroscience for the church's view of spiritual formation. Science suggests that functions of the brain and body in collaboration with social experience, rather than a disembodied soul, provide physical basis for the mental capacities, interpersonal relations, and religious experiences of human beings. The realization that human beings are wholly physical, but with unique mental, relational, and spiritual capacities, challenges traditional views of Christian life as defined by the care of souls, a view that leads to inwardness and individuality. Psychology and neuroscience suggest the importance of developmental openness, attachment, imitation, and stories as tools in spiritual formation. Accordingly, the idea that care of embodied persons should be fundamentally social and communal sets new priorities for encouraging spiritual growth and building congregations.

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Product Description

Book Description

This book explores the implications of recent insights in modern neuroscience that attribute mental capacities often ascribed to a disembodied soul instead to the functions of the brain and body in collaboration with social experience. It explores how this insight changes the traditional "care of souls," encouraging more attention to fostering spiritual growth through a social and communal focus.

About the Author

Warren S. Brown is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Travis Research Institute at the Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a research neuropsychologist with more than eighty peer-reviewed scientific papers on human brain function and behavior. He has also edited or co-authored four previous books, most recently Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion (with Malcolm Jeeves, 2009).

Brad D. Strawn is Vice President for Spiritual Development and Dean of the Chapel at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma. He recently co-edited the book Wesleyan Theology and Social Science: The Dance of Practical Divinity (2010) and he is an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Applying Science and Theology July 30 2012
By Jonathan M. Platter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brown and Strawn have produced an exceptional book in which they explore the physicality of human nature through the neurosciences and psychology. They begin with a thesis that it is not antithetical to Christianity to hold that humans are essentially physical. They claim that the body-soul dualism of much modern Christian thought is not properly Christian.

In fact, they assert that a physicalist view of human nature actually fosters healthier church practices and a more wholistic vision of formation and discipleship. They describe their position as that humans are embodied and socially embedded. This allows them to draw from social psychology in understanding human development and applying this to church practice.

This application is one of the great benefits of this book. The authors are not satisfied with abstract consideration of human nature, but recognize the impact our conceptions have on social interactions and ultimately church formation. This allows for more than just a wholistic view of human persons; it allows for a wholistic view of the church as well.

It is extremely accessible, thought-provoking, and worthwhile.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but based upon shaky presuppositions Dec 6 2013
By Jason Kanz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brown and Strawn's short book, The Physical Nature of the Christian Life, is a good little volume. I have had the pleasure of hearing Dr Brown speak on similar issues on the past. First, let me state the positives of this book. Part III of the book, which deals with the embodied Christian life and the church was excellent. The authors did a commendable job of examining church life and our embeddedness within the community. I also appreciated the way in which they tied together themes of attachment theory and neuroscience in their observations. It was reminiscent of Curt Thompson's excellent "Anatom of the Soul" in that regard. I found their commitment to growth in community to be such an important thing that is often missing in the modern church. Additionally, their review of the neuroscience literature was was well-written and accessible, even to a non-neuroscientist.

I did have concerns however. I agree with another reviewer (Green) who mentioned that the authors have trouble arriving at their conclusions by asserting that a monistic viewpoint is the only way to get there. I am probably a rarity, but I am neuropsychologist and a dualist, in part because I find the philosophical and biblical arguments more compelling, and relevant here, do not negate the importance of church life. Many of the suggestions that they make do not require a monistic point of view. Furthermore, they seemed to tie together too closely dualism and gnosticism, a leap that I fear they made too blindly.

As an aside, there seemed to be a hint of social constructivism informing their view of church, such that truth is constructed by the group itself, rather than being an objective entity outside of the group. This leans toward postmodernism and I believe is in error. Perhaps that was not the authorial intent, but it did seem in places to come through.

Finally, I wish they would have acknowledged some of the limitations of their own position and provided responses to them. There are compelling arguments from a philosophical perspective in favor of dualism. They failed to deal with the work of people like JP Moreland or Keith Ward. It seems that too often, when people disagree with some aspect of orthodox theology, they revert to the idea that the church fathers were simply too much influenced by the Greeks, Romans, etc. and then go on to say what the biblical authors really meant. I do not think they can make that leap.

On the whole this is a well written, accessible book, but I am afraid their excellent conclusions do not match their weaker presuppositions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Conclusions, but Unconvincing Path to Get There June 22 2013
By Matthew R. Green - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Brown and Strawn have written some worthwhile details while hanging them on what seems like a fractured frame. The premise begins with the idea that the human person is not primarily located in the mind while having a body as a sort of transport mechanism, but rather the mind is an emergent property of the physical nature of the body. We are not body and soul. We are our bodies, and our minds arise out of the complex dynamics of those bodies. Brown has defended this perspective elsewhere in significant measure and so only uses this as a foundation for a larger focus here. They go on to argue that this physical foundation for the human person has implications for how we ought to live our lives. They argue that being physical beings, we are driven not by that which happens in the soul, but by what happens to the body, particularly in social environments. We are shaped by relationships and social dynamics and also by our capacity for attention and self-reflection.

I really appreciate their treatment of the social and relational dynamics and their explanations of how they affect the human person to bring about both stability and growth. I appreciate their attempts to consider those dynamics not only interpersonally, but also how they play out in churches and small groups. I think they put forth some really valid and significant material on the socially-embedded nature of humanity and growth.

However, I don't think they at all were successful in connecting that social embeddedness to a monistic perspective on human nature. They defended monism fairly well, but it didn't seem to me like there was any reason to do so. It doesn't seem to me that a dualistic perspective on human nature would preclude one from having the exact same social nature.

The last two-thirds of the book has some good material about growth in relationships, but it just seems divorced from the first third. Strawn in particular is focused on the practical implications of monism, but I don't find his train of logic solid. His conclusions are wonderful; I'm just not sure the way he got there was necessary.
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