People may discuss theological doctrines with great skill; but if they lack humility, they will displease God. Intellectual arguments do not make people holy and righteous. I should rather feel repentance in my heart, than define it with my mind. You could know the entire Bible, and be familiar with every exposition written by scholars; but if you lacked the grace and love of God, the knowledge would be useless
Why Western Christianity Failed 1
In September/October Deeper Walk International brought an interesting series of webinars on the topic of “Why Western Christianity Failed.” The speaker was Dr. Jim Wilder from Shepherd’s House in California.
- The first part was about a 300 year old philosophy that heavily influenced Western Theology.
- The second part looked at how medieval psychology influences us until today.
- And the third part explained how we ended up with a false dichotomy because of these two influences.
In this post I will give a short summary of part one:
The Voluntarist philosophy goes back to people like Réne Descartes. His famous “I think therefore I am” led to the idea that thinking is what makes us humans. Other rationalists and empiricists like John Locke, Gerorge Berkely, David Hume and Bertrand Russell followed. This emphasis on our left brain activity led others to the assumption that “it must be that the first beginning of faith lies in the will” (William Ames). As a result will and reason became the cornerstones of US theology. Conversion became a matter of the will and is based on right information and right choice.
Experience shows that this does not work. A lot of people have all the right information but make the wrong choices. More information (i.e. more training, more Bible study) is not the solution for everything. Why? Because this is not how our brain works. It is not the left brain hemisphere (which stores verbal knowledge) that takes care of our decisions. Actually, it is the first part of the brain, that won’t work properly when we are under pressure, or just sleepy. It is highly unreliable and can’t change our character. It is the right part of our brain (the relational, emotional center which stores experiential knowledge) that makes a pre-selection before we even start thinking about a decision.
Wilder points out that
We (the Americans) are the most well informed and best educated people in the history of our planet. We should be the best model of healthy community, character, maturity, and relational integrity in church and world history.
I am sure the same could be said about other countries with a high percentage of Christians.
Why do our choices and emotions not line up?
Could it be that we have developed a system that is focused on building our intellectual capacity – while our emotional, relational and character development have atrophied?
Thinking and willpower are not enough to transform our character.
The real control center of our life, including our cravings, is located in the right hemisphere of the brain. Any strategy that tries to solve our problems by bypassing the right brain hemisphere won’t work. As a result there are many people who have all the right information and are still a failure in character.
Wilder mentioned another very telling example:
Today the WWII veterans are getting older and many of them develop dementia. As a result of their failing will power, a lot of old fears, other negative emotions, bad temper and character defects come up. Their will power did not change them, but just held these negative things at bay.
This shows me that our will power can keep our negative emotions under control, at least sometimes, but it can’t change our character.
The same happens to us when we come under pressure in everyday life – our true self comes out and we are embarrassed about our behavior under stressful circumstances. This also happens to recovering addicts if they use cognitive approaches to overcome their cravings – this works fine as long as life runs smooth but as soon as the pressure is on (e.g. things don’t work out) this left brain oriented approach no longer works. Their (and our) good intentions go down the drain.
What we need is a character transformation that is right brain oriented.
All the right information in the world, our intellect and the will are not capable of transforming us. If we want to see real transformation and the fruits of the spirit, for example, control our tongue or our cravings, we need to give the right brain what it needs to change – joy strength, relationships and belonging.