I remember the morning quite vividly – though I’ve never really relayed it so as not to frighten the wife and kids…nor my extended family, my church, or the ministry where I work.
There I lay in bed alone, Bible yet unopened across my lap, as I attempted to do my morning “Quiet Time” ritual of conversing with God and learning from his “Word.”
Full of doubts and questions and unable to hear much in return, I remember the thought flashing across my mind: “Oh crap, what if none of this is REAL?”
And in that moment, I allowed myself to believe it.
And it was good.
Now let me back up a bit to before that “fateful” day.
Having been kicked out of Vacation Bible School at the age of five, though continuing to attend a Mainline denomination and never really doubting God’s existence, I certainly kept a strong skepticism toward church itself – especially anything and anyone I deemed too “religious.”
That all changed at the age of twenty when, in a crisis moment, I found myself alone in my car at night, crying out to God…and a voice answered back. It was not an audible voice but a deep “knowing” – something that words can barely express.
And I felt complete and utter PEACE – peace unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.
The moment was very REAL. God was very real.
And it was good.
For the next twenty plus years I threw myself into evangelical Christianity, dedicated to following that voice wherever it led me.
Sure, that skepticism of church never fully left me, and sure, there were plenty of things I heard and read that just didn’t seem to match up with the reality of the world around me, but I always pushed those questions off to the side because of that voice.
That voice was just too real to deny. It was proof to me that there was more to this world than cold, hard materialism.
Yet here I lay now in bed, unopened Bible on my lap, believing just that – that there was nothing more.
The questions had become too much, and God was no longer REAL.
But the moment itself was very real.
And I felt complete and utter PEACE – the same level of peace I’d experienced before when I first heard a voice, but this time, for me, the voice no longer existed.
But how could it be that I could experience such peace when it meant giving up so much? When it meant changing the trajectory of twenty plus years of my life, disappointing family and friends, and giving up my career in ministry?
It was because I no longer had to live in cognitive dissonance, believing in two different worlds, two different realities.
One world allowed me to believe in the realities of life’s experiences but had little room for that which was “other.” The other world allowed me to believe in the real presence of a personal, loving voice, but had little room for many of life’s experiences. To continue to try believing in both was simply no longer cognitively and emotionally sustainable.
To believe in just one, after having spent many days creating what felt like countless excuses, finally allowed me a much-needed rest. And it was good.
Now, when I say it was the “day I became an atheist,” I literally mean it was a “day” – as in a 24-hour period. I don’t mean to minimize the experience, nor do I mean to minimize the experience of those who have given up on faith for longer periods of time or even permanently.
I spent much of the day truly believing there was no God. And if 15-30 minutes in a car hearing a voice could change the trajectory of my life, so would several hours of truly believing in nothing.
Still committed to honest thinking, I set about the remaining hours of that day trying to conclude if God was even possible. What I did differently was to set aside any experience with that voice, as well as all the religious and Bible teachings I’d received, in order to determine if God made sense through logic alone.
I pledged to myself that I would live with whatever conclusions I came to, regardless of the consequences.
I won’t go into details here (you can read more about it in Rethinking God), but I will say that by the end of that 24-hour period I concluded that, due to the existence of real things like love, sacrifice, beauty, and human consciousness, the existence of something “other” like God was not only likely but probable. Furthermore, it followed that pure Christianity (“pure” as in intended by Christ and unadulterated by bad theology and practice) still made the most logical sense in relation to that conclusion.
But my faith would never look the same from that point on.
If I could summarize the past decade, including my prayer life, my research and all my writing, it is this: it has been about trying to reconcile the two different realities I have experienced. It has been trying to determine if those two seemingly irreconcilable moments – hearing the voice of a personal, loving God on one end and believing in a completely material, impersonal explanation for the universe on the other – could both be true at once.
Both brought me complete and utter peace, and both were very real. Could they both be part of one and the same reality?
Furthermore, could those conclusions be reconciled with both an honest study of science and an honest read of the biblical texts?
Thus, it was with complete amazement that I recently learned about split-brain experimentation in which it was shown to be possible for one hemisphere of the brain to believe in God and the other hemisphere to be atheist. I discuss all of this in far more detail in Part 1 of this series, but in summary, the left hemisphere tends to focus on that which is mechanical and material while the right focuses on that which is living and “other” (and thus, the divine).
Per author and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, neuroscientific study has shown that it is necessary that BOTH hemispheres work together to achieve a true perspective of reality. However, as relayed in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making the Western World, the left hemisphere has taken over thinking in Western society ever since the Enlightenment, altering our take on reality.
In Part 2 of this series I focused on how such split-brain thinking has significantly impacted the Western church itself, affecting such things as the faith versus science debate, systematic theology, biblical interpretation, politics, the culture wars, and even prayer. These beliefs and actions have perpetuated a neurocognitive dissonance, resulting in my own crisis of faith and causing others to completely walk away from church because they no longer see the God that is presented as one that is real.
Of course, Western thinking cannot be held solely responsible for negatively impacting people’s relationships to God. There are plenty of examples of people turning from God throughout other areas of the world. Furthermore, there are abundant illustrations from the history of humankind that took place well before the Enlightenment, including in the Bible itself.
In addition, the case could easily be made that Western thinking has more positively impacted the world than negatively, especially as it has enabled societal and technological advancements that have helped preserve life and promote human dignity. It’s just that, as proven by its history of human rights violations and abuse, divisiveness, and now rapid decline toward a “post-Christian” society, Western civilization and the church itself still have a long way to go.
I would argue that split-brain, left-hemisphere dominated thinking originates as far back as humankind’s very beginnings. The story of Adam and Eve provides an almost perfect metaphor for this.
In Part 1, I shared how, according to McGilchrist, the way the brain hemispheres work is that the right side – which sees everything in relationship to the whole – takes in new information and then passes it onto the left – which focuses on particulars – in order to organize, categorize and put words to it. It is then the left hemisphere’s job to pass the information back to the right in order to place it in relationship to the whole again. Through the right side, the information is placed into context and is processed through such relational aspects as love, empathy, beauty, and even ambiguity.
In this sense, the right hemisphere is the “Master” and the left is the “Emissary.” However, this is not what always happens. Instead, the left, with its proclivity toward control, tends to hang onto the information in an attempt to make itself its own master. The result is divisiveness, certainty in rightness, damaged relationships, lifelessness, an inability to relate to that which is “other,” and a failure to comprehend full reality.
One can quickly see how the first three chapters of Genesis apply. God, the all-knowing Master, gave his Emissaries Adam and Eve the task of organizing and taking care of the earth (Gen 1:28). In fact, one of the very first tasks God gave to Adam was specifically to categorize by naming (putting words to) all of the animals (Gen 2:19-20).
Of course, as we know the story goes, the Emissaries chose to try to become like the Master by taking control of the one area they were not assigned – the task of categorizing good and evil (Gen 3:4). The result was an altered perception of reality as they hid in shame (Gen 3:8-10), divisiveness and damaged relationship with God and each other (Gen 3:10-13,16b), an existence caught up in the material as humankind would constantly toil over the ground (Gen 3:17-19), lifelessness as they would no longer eat from the tree of life (Gen 3:33), struggles with legalism as they continually attempted to categorize with certainty right from wrong, and a whole host of arrogant selfishness throughout the history of humankind (Genesis through Revelation).
One also cannot ignore the story of the tower of Babel relayed in Genesis 11. The left-hemisphere is the primary side for language, and it’s of no insignificance that people, after achieving one language, thought themselves powerful enough to build a tower reaching the “heavens” by their own means. They no longer needed the help or perspective of the Master in order to achieve their own self-importance.
Of course, in this case, God saw fit to put a stop to their plans, scattering them about the earth, confusing their left-brain dominated language and, thus, giving them a reality check regarding their part in this world.
So how do we do it? How do we knock down the figurative tower of Babel that has dominated our thinking in the Western church?
As a reminder, this is not a call to eliminate the functions of the left-hemisphere. Just as God chose not to destroy language altogether, we need to recognize that a way forward involves the use of BOTH sides of the brain in order to avoid the casualties outlined in my previous posts from this series. We need to acknowledge the significant part that both hemispheres can play in finding the kind of peace and sense of reality I found in experiencing both the material and the “other.”
Of course, I realize the irony of my trying to put language and categorization to solutions for the problem. I do not speak from a position of certainty but of personal thoughts as to how we can go about it. In addition, it is just a broad summary, as a lot more details would have to be hashed out by others smarter than me and in positions of influence. Therefore, please bear with me with the following list of recommendations to the Western church for overcoming split-brain thinking.
1) Return to Two Books theology.
Rather than seeing faith and science as being at odds, we must once again point to the value of God’s revelation through two books: God’s Word (scripture) and God’s World (nature).
While the church has often focused on scripture as a means of God’s speaking to us, it has missed out on the opportunity to hear God through observation of nature and through the sciences. As I demonstrated in Rethinking God, creation itself is God’s speech (Baldwin 180-185). Psalm 19:1-2 proclaims:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge. (ESV)
On the other hand, when science is left on its own, it misses out on the deeper meanings of life. N.T. Wright observes:
“Science can neither generate nor measure many of the most important things in the world – justice, spirituality, relationships, beauty, freedom, truth. All these contain deep paradoxes. Wise human flourishing means wrestling with those paradoxes rather than sweeping them aside in favour of this or that type of fundamentalism.” (Wright, “Wouldn’t You Love to Know?”)
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean” (Sacks 55).
Science and faith inform one another, and when they appear to contradict, it means we need to dig a little deeper. Often, it’s not that one is right and the other is wrong but rather our interpretation of either scripture or the scientific data is wrong. At various times when science has challenged me to relook at scripture, I’ve come out with a much richer understanding of the text than I’d ever had before, as well as a deeper faith.
Physicist and Nobel Laureate Sir William Henry Bragg once stated:
“From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped” (Salam 63).
2) Stop the sacred versus secular talk.
Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who preached to millions of Africans, reportedly started telling a true story about an atheist, and his crusade audience, thinking he was telling a joke, suddenly broke out in laughter. To his largely African audience, the idea of not believing in a god was preposterous. To them everything was spiritual, which stands in sharp contrast to the way we view things in the West.
In the West we have “sacred” versus “secular,” “religious” versus “non-religious” and “spiritual” explanations versus “natural.” The presumption, of course, is that the people in Africa are simply not as enlightened as we are to know there is a difference. This comes from an arrogant stance (and I daresay even racism-influenced belief) that denies the possibility that people from non-Western societies could actually have a better understanding of reality than we do.
The notion of sacred versus secular comes from “Epicureanism,” which I discussed earlier in the series – the idea that God resides apart from this world and only occasionally enters into it. The Western church itself perpetuates Epicureanism as it talks about the supernatural versus the natural, discusses heaven as a physical place where God separately resides, and delineates miracles from scientific explanations.
Furthermore, the church sets aside specific days and times for prayer and worship versus non-religious activities, creates its own separate industries such as Christian movies and Christian music, highlights different occupations as either “serving the Lord” or working in “secular business,” and in the case of politics, determines that there are times for spiritual or pastoral solutions and times to be pragmatic.
The result of this separation is that it often promotes guilt and shame for people when they engage in “secular” activities, an inability to recognize God’s activity in the natural, and perceptions of hypocrisy as the religious try to bounce between two different worlds.
The sacred versus secular invention, largely endorsed by the church, ignores David’s proclamation:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1 NIV)
3) Find a new language for talking about God.
1 Corinthians 14:10-11 (ESV) states, “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” While I realize that, ironically, I’m using this verse slightly out of context, I believe the concept still applies when discussing language of the mind.
In Part 2, I shared how the biblical authors not only wrote with a different physical language, they also had a different language for thinking that was more right-brain oriented than our modern Western approach to historical literature. Thus, we cannot solely bring our left-brained literalism to the text when attempting to interpret the Bible whose authors often borrowed from the “myth language” of the surrounding culture – a way of storytelling that used anthropomorphism and metaphor in order to get at higher truth.
Consequently, when we endeavor to interpret literally the often-metaphoric words of the biblical authors, we actually end up with a less accurate picture of the real God they were trying to reflect. In addition to the historical context, therefore, the church should also focus on context for language of the mind when examining scripture.
At the same time, the church also needs to find new ways to connect with our modern left-brained society. The many “kingdom” references, for example, do not have the same level of felt meaning to democracy-based Western civilizations for whom monarchies have little more than symbolic value. For an American, a “throne” does not have the same weight that it would have had for an ancient person living under its rule, and for the American it actually tends to evoke the image of a far-off land or fairy tale.
In his book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan Merritt demonstrates how “sacred words” are dying out in our modern culture. He commissioned a survey that showed that more than three-quarters of Americans have had very few spiritual conversations in the last year (Merritt 7-8) – a very odd thing for what is supposedly a “Christian nation.”
At the same time, we have to ask, what is a “spiritual” conversation? Stephen Hawking famously referenced “the mind of God” and Albert Einstein is legendarily quoted for saying that God “does not play dice.” Yet their references to God are often written off, including by Hawking and Einstein themselves, as not referring to the same “God” we mean when talking about spiritual matters. For them, it was merely a reference to the scientific “Theory of Everything” or “lawful harmony” of the universe.
But again, this assumes a false line separating the secular from the sacred, the natural from the spiritual. Thus, Hawking and Einstein’s “God” is not a different God, but perhaps an incomplete God. Similar to Polkinghorne’s teapot illustration, in which burning gas and a person wanting a cup of tea are simply left-brain versus right-brain explanations for the same event, science’s “God” and religion’s “God” can also be left and right brain descriptions for the same thing. We, therefore, need to be able to talk about God in both ways in order to have a more complete understanding.
And to a left hemisphere dominated society, especially one where sacred words have lost their value, and quoting Bible verses has diminished weight, we need to be willing and able to speak its language when talking about God.
I’m not advocating that we replace or dismiss the Bible, but rather for the equivalent of an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in which you have to start with speaking a person’s primary language in order to help them eventually learn the other.
The church needs to find a new language, consisting of both left-hemisphere and right-hemisphere thinking, in order to speak to modern Western culture and help it understand important truths revealed through the ancient biblical text.
4) Embrace uncertainty and mystery.
The left hemisphere of the brain is the side for certainty. The right hemisphere is the side for ambiguity and paradox. Unfortunately, the Western church, particularly the evangelical stream of which I have been a part, has most often embraced certainty when it comes to God.
The result has been legalism, judgmentalism, abuse of power, the shutting down of inquiry, and a whole host of other maltreatments that have left people feeling disenfranchised, distrustful and hurt by the church. The irony is that, in its attempt to be biblically accurate, it often presents a picture of God that is opposite to that portrayed throughout the Bible – and thus is unbiblical.
From Job’s questioning to David’s confused cries to Paul’s statement that we see only through a “mirror dimly” to God’s claims about himself, the Bible continually portrays a God that is way beyond comprehension. Add in the multiple paradoxes such as the Trinity, pre-destination versus free-will, fully God and fully man, faith versus works, a kingdom now versus a kingdom still to come, and an all-powerful, all-loving God who still allows suffering, and you’ll see a God that our left brains alone will never make sense of.
In Rethinking God, I point out that the farthest reaches of just the observable universe is 46 billion light years from here and conclude:
“Isaiah 55:9 says, ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.’ So, regardless of our religion, how much higher in comprehension are God’s ways compared to our own? At least 46 billion light years away.” (Baldwin 139)
Solomon, who was said to be the wisest man who ever lived, admitted his own inability to comprehend God, declaring that not even the highest heavens nor the temple could “contain” God (1 Kings 8:27). If neither universe nor the temple (the very thing that God himself specifically gave instructions for as a means of revelation of his character) could contain him, then why should we expect any science, systematic theology or even the Bible to do any more?
Accordingly, we need to embrace uncertainty and mystery if we want a realistic and biblically accurate picture of God.
5) Find new ways (or, rather, old) for connecting with God.
Church structure has naturally lent itself to giving leadership to those with either the greatest oratory or administrative skills – both left-hemisphere dominated functions. Lost in this are individuals who are more contemplative, often more introverted, and who have a hard time finding a voice for the intuitive level of prayer that may be going on in the right hemispheres of their brains.
Additionally, church services often focus on corporate prayer in which individuals speak out loud their thanksgivings and petitions to God. Of course, many less verbal individuals, intimidated by an inability to find the right words to speak, either elect not to participate or resort to using rote language and “spiritual”-sounding phrases that have little connection to what is actually going on in their hearts.
Lost is an appreciation for silence, for contemplation, and patience for listening to that “still, small voice” which often looks a lot more like instinct, intuition, or simply “knowing.”
While important, focus in evangelical traditions on left-brained hearing God through his “Word” (as in specifically scripture) tends to downplay the value of hearing God through other means such as nature, liturgy, or art.
Artistic individuals in the church are given the limited role of expressing their hearts back toward God through music during a designated “worship time” in the service. Missing in modern Western evangelicalism are opportunities of expression through painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, and other right-brained means.
On top of all this is the church’s logical emphasis on step by step formulas for success, living a “blessed life,” and getting your prayers answered. Lost is the ancient practice of lament, which focuses on the realities of suffering in life while tapping into the deep right-brained emotion of grief.
Jesus stated that his sheep (followers) “know his voice” (John 10:4). Yet, so many people today struggle to hear his voice, citing unanswered prayers and an inability to hear as reasons for giving up on faith. If the church is going to knock down its tower of Babel and still reach the heavens, it needs to depend on both hemispheres of the brain and to newly lean in on connecting with God through many of the ancient means of contemplation, silence, liturgy, the arts and lament.
6) Return to the historic definition of God as “Being.”
After Moses asked for God’s name, God responded with the name “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). In historic theology this was often understood to mean that God defined himself as “Being” itself. The concept of God as Being is difficult for the left hemispheres of our brains to grasp (and thus a reason it is largely dropped from much of modern theology); therefore, I argue in Rethinking God that it was chiefly grasped by people like Moses in the deeper intuitive “knowing.”
Different than pantheism or panentheism, which see creation and the universe itself as either one with God or as a part of God, I propose that seeing God as “Being,” or the “Ground of Being” means that God is the active, invisible underlying source of all the laws that created and operate the universe. This is similar to Hawking’s Theory of Everything except that it also includes a personal, relational component to it (and, thus, the “I” part of the “I Am”).
Some fear that conceiving of God as “Being” or the “Theory of Everything” makes God an impersonal concept. However, as I contend in the section of Rethinking God titled “Closer,” God is not only the source of all natural laws that created the material, he is also the source of all relational laws such as love, empathy, compassion, and beauty. Thus, God as the “I” is the most personal being there is and covets relationship.
And when you think this through, you can see how the structure of the human brain (with humans made in the image of God) ties into the very nature of God. Thus, you have a left side of the brain that focuses on the material (the “Am” side of God) and a right side of the brain that focuses on the relational (the “I”). It’s just that because we suffer from split-brain, we have difficulty in putting those two together when conceiving of God, Being and reality.
But by seeing the two aspects of God as one, as two sides of the same coin so to speak, it actually works to resolve the issues outlined in this series and contributes to all the above listed solutions. It eliminates the Epicurean line separating the natural from the spiritual, thus removing the conflict between science and faith and the division between secular and sacred. It opens the possibilities of approaching God with both sides of our brains, allowing us to study God with both languages of the mind.
“Being” itself is such a large concept (the largest there is, in fact, with nothing bigger to define it) that it unlocks our minds to the mystery that is God. And it allows us to approach God with both hemispheres, helping us to hear him on a deeper level and through multiple means.
While I have not covered apologetics specifically in this series, seeing God as “Being” has major implications here as well. Almost all apologetics, as well as discussions about origins, center around the question of at what point, if any at all, was it necessary for a god to supernaturally enter into the equation. Because defining God as “Being” eliminates the Epicurean line, there is no “entering in.” God is natural to the universe and is always actively present in undergirding every natural process.
By defining God as “Being,” we can diminish the cognitive dissonance many experience in trying to see the reality of God.
7) Acknowledge the reality of spiritual warfare.
It may be surprising, but despite my push toward a more natural view of God, I still strongly believe in the reality of spiritual warfare. I have witnessed too much personally not to. It’s just that I believe the line separating the spiritual world from the natural world is not as clearly defined as we tend to think, and explanations for what is happening in the mind versus spirit are often, once again, two sides of the same coin.
Consider, for example, Jesus’s promise to his disciples that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18 ESV). Many have interpreted that to mean whatever happens in one location will also “magically,” in a sense, happen in another. But with the Epicurean line removed, it can be re-interpreted to be an acknowledgment of the interconnectedness of two seemingly separate realities.
“Dark” forces do exist (as well as those that are “light”), and it’s important in our connection with God that we do take authority over them. But they often don’t operate in the ways that we think. In our increasingly polarized society, built off the divisiveness and certainty of left-brain dominated thinking, it becomes easy to label those on “the other side” as deceived by darkness, while our own side as motivated by truth and light.
But the way these dark forces work is to get us to press into left-brain thinking more, convincing us that we are certainly the ones who are right, while detracting us from the ambiguity, empathy and humility of the right brain, which would enable us to more clearly see others as the Imago Dei (image of God) that we were all made to be. The result is a battle against our own “flesh and blood” rather than “powers and principalities” (Eph 6:12).
Avoiding right-brained thinking also keeps us from truly connecting with the divine and locks us into utilitarian conflicts with fellow human beings – conflicts that are only deceivingly couched in terms of “spiritual battles.”
Therefore, the church needs to acknowledge where the real spiritual warfare battle is taking place – it is a battle over our minds dominated by split-brain thinking.
8) Preach Christ crucified.
As much as I have had my doubts and as much as I have deconstructed problematic teachings within the church, there is one message I simply cannot escape – the story of what happened on the cross.
The story of the Christian church itself, in its 2000 year history, is a sordid tale of successes and failures, of proclamations of truth and outright lies, of rescued lives and horrific abuse, but there’s one narrative that still holds strong – the tale of its beginnings.
At the international ministry I’ve worked at for over 20 years, I’ve had opportunities to hear one on one the stories of hundreds of people from around the world whose lives have been radically changed because of that one single message. I’ve met former drug lords who are now reaching out to help people in their communities, survivors of abuse who should be embittered but instead share messages of forgiveness, hope and healing, and people who have lost it all but still find joy in the midst of their suffering.
This is despite any bad theology they may have heard along the way.
The church can toss out its structures and systems of teachings for all I care, but there’s one thing it must never stop preaching, and that is Christ crucified.
Christ crucified surpasses any wisdom our split-brains could possibly conjure. As Paul shared with the church of Corinth:
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:20b-25, ESV)
Re-translated pertaining to split-brains, verses 22-24 could be stated as follows:
The religious demand supernatural signs (the “otherness” of the right hemisphere) and the materialists look for rationality (the empirical evidence of the left hemisphere) but we preach Christ crucified, something that neither form of split-brain thinking can comprehend on their own. But to those who are called, it becomes real. For the irrationality of God is more rational than man’s rationality and the naturalness of God is more powerful than man’s abilities.
Some reading this, of course, may doubt the authenticity of the story of Christ. And as one who encourages honest questioning, uncertainty and mystery, I cannot blame you.
But honest questioning also demands that one equally ask, what if it’s true? What if it’s real?
What if Christ really was the incarnation of Being itself? What if he really was “fully God and fully man” (and thus the full enmeshment of spirit and material together as one)?
What if he really did die and rise to life again? What does that say about reality as we understand it?
And what if, as his earliest followers claimed, this material incarnation willingly humbled himself and suffered in order to somehow bring about reconciliation between God and humankind? What does it say about God?
German theologian Jurgen Moltmann proclaimed:
“When the Crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. He is not greater than He is in this humiliation. He is not more glorious than He is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than He is in this helplessness. He is not more divine than He is in this humanity. The core of everything that Christian theology says about God is to be found in this Christ event. The Christ event on the Cross is a God event.” (Moltmann)
Underlying this act, and throughout the ancient writings of scripture, is the continual theme of love. McGilchrist lists love as the source that can help us break free from the entrapment of Western civilization’s left-brain dominated world, stating:
“What ultimately unites the three realms of escape from the left hemisphere’s world which it has attacked in our time – the body, the spirit and art – is that they are all vehicles of love….for love is the attractive power of the Other, which the right hemisphere experiences, but which the left hemisphere does not understand….” (McGilchrist 445)
N.T. Wright also claims that love is the solution for our way out of Epicureanism into true knowledge, concluding:
“The secular revolution has separated out knowledge into objective and subjective. The scientist, in this paradigm, has ‘objective’ knowledge, tested in laboratories, universally true. The artist, the poet, the theologian, has ‘subjective’ knowledge – dreams, fantasies, unprovable ideas – which are to be set aside when we (metaphorically and literally) get ‘down to business’…. If you want true knowledge you have to love.
And to learn about true love you have to hear, to smell, to imagine the story of the crucified Nazarene.” (Wright, “Wouldn’t You Love to Know?”)
By the time I sat alone in my car crying out to God that aforementioned night, I’d heard the tale of the crucified and resurrected Christ hundreds of times. Up to that point, it was mainly just a story.
Until I heard the voice.
In that moment I experienced love like never before…real love in the deep “knowing.”
And suddenly, all the stories of Christ I’d heard made sense – often in ways that I still have trouble verbalizing.
At the same time, I equally cannot forget the day I chose not to believe. I experienced peace and a sense of reality that day as well.
But the beckoning call of love still pulls at me and I suspect always will.
It is the beckoning call that should pull at all of us.
This series is not a call for Christians to not engage in culture. Quite the opposite, for “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” But the Western church’s obsession with utilitarian politics, the culture wars, battles against science, and either/or certainty in its theology and practices has often made it lose track of its core message of love – the unconditional love from God to us as displayed on the cross and, in return, the same kind of love demonstrated to the rest of the world.
It is only when the church displays that kind of love that people can latch onto a God that is truly real and want to be a part of it.
In the final chapter of his book on the divided brain, McGilchrist humbly concedes that he can’t be certain of any of his conclusions. He writes:
“Certainty is the greatest of all illusions: whatever kind of fundamentalism it may underwrite, that of religion or of science, it is what the ancients meant by ‘hubris.’ The only certainty, it seems to me, is that those who believe they are certainly right are certainly wrong.” (McGilchrist 460)
And thus, as I conclude this lengthy series, I humbly concede the same. I really do believe in all my heart that split-brain thinking has significantly affected our take on the reality of God and that the means listed above are at least the beginnings of a way out. But I really can’t be certain.
Thus, I simply appreciate your having taken this lengthy journey with me.
Baldwin, Steve L. Rethinking God: Because God Is Bigger, Closer, and More Real Than You Think. In Excelsis Deo Press, 2018.
Merritt, Jonathan. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing–and How We Can Revive Them. Convergent, 2018.
Moltmann Jürgen. The Crucified God. Fortress Press, 2015.
Sacks, Jonathan. The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. Schocken Books, 2012.
Salam, Abdus. “The Art of the Physicist.” New Scientist. Vol. 35 (20 Jul 1967)
McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press, 2019.
Wright, N.T. “Wouldn’t You Love to Know? Towards a Christian View of Reality.” Grasping the Nettle Dinner, Grasping the Nettle. 1 September 2016, Glasgow, Keynote Address. https://www.graspingthenettle.org/watch/n_t_wright_2016.