Imagine that you sat quietly and alone reading a book about the Christian life. The book is outlining the benefits of being loving, patient and kind and as you read it you find yourself agreeing wholeheartedly. You know it would be great to be like that and you commit yourself to being more loving, patient, and kinder.
And then the ice cube
As you read, one of your family creeps up behind you and puts an ice cube down the back of your neck! You scream, turn around, shout at them, and perhaps even slap their hand away. Maybe some colourful language comes out of your mouth. So much for all those good intentions you just had about being more patient, loving and kind.
We’re all like this
This experience is familiar to many Christians, all our good intentions come to nothing in the heat of the moment. Jim Wilder puts this down to the discrepancy between the slow brain and the fast track brain in his book Renovated: God, Dallas Willard & the Church That Transforms.
Only for nutcases?
I first heard about this book when Jim was interviewed for The Holy Post Podcast. Jim is a Neurotheologian, a discipline that was completely new to me, but since he worked with the well-renowned theologian Dallas Willard, I wanted to hear him out and didn’t immediately dismiss neurotheology as only for nutcases!
The basic premise behind neurotheology
The essential idea behind neurotheology is that the brain is designed for attachment to God and works best when we are in loving relationship with Him, this was obvious once I gave it some thought. The good news is that we become like those whom we love, so if our primary attachment is to God, then we’ll become more like Him. I’m certain most Christians would recognise this in their own lives and are aware of the difficulties that beset them when their relationship with God is out of kilter.
Soteriology of Attachment
Jim Wilder and Dallas Willard suggest that at the moment we become a Christian, we form a new and primary attachment to God. The grand name for this idea is ‘Soteriology of Attachment’ (‘soteriology’ means ‘doctrine of salvation’). Other theories of salvation/soteriology usually focus on belief and an act of the will – we choose to believe in God and opt to put his will first in our life – but our will is fallible and what we believe is often incomplete. On the other hand, love and attachment are the strongest forces in our brain – think of the daring and irrational actions a parent will undertake to save their child in life and death situations. Soteriology of Attachment suggests that we are saved and transformed through attachment love from, to and with God. Personally, I want that kind of loving and transforming power in my life and I suspect I’m not the only frustrated Christian that feels this way.
Responding to an ice cube down the back
Let’s return to our original dilemma. How does a loving attachment to God help us to respond to someone in a pleasant way when they put an ice cube down our back? First off, it helps to recognise the difference between our slow brain and our fast track brain. Our slow brain takes in information by focusing on one thing at a time and making logical decisions. It is methodical, knowledgeable and responds to our will. In contrast, our fast track brain is where our spontaneous character shows itself in rapid reactions and constant processing of everything around us. To change our character then, we need to train our fast track brain and we’ll know that we have successfully done this when we spontaneously love our enemies – I suspect this won’t happen on this side of heaven for most of us! (By the way, acquiring knowledge and focused learning in the slow track brain still influences our character, but it is much less efficient).
Training the fast track brain
We have already mentioned one method for training our fast track responses above – namely that we become like those whom we love. As we strengthen and develop our loving attachment to God, we grow more like Him. Contained within Renovated is a description of Mutual Mind in which we draw so close to God that we learn to think with Him and therefore respond as He would. Spiritual disciplines can help with this.
The second means of training our fast track brain is to develop relational brain skills with others. The book is geared towards church leaders and an entire calendar of exercises and events that a church could orchestrate to do this is included. A list of other resources for individuals, couples and families is given in the appendix, but to obtain these it is necessary to purchase other materials or visit additional websites.
Buy this book! It will get you thinking with your slow track intellect and stimulate your fast track brain processes. One highlight for me was the Mutual Mind exercise in which I spent nine minutes enjoying a sunset with God. The emotions I felt as God gazed down on me and the sunset with love and joy will stay with me as a strong and distinct memory. If this helps me to respond in love when someone puts an ice cube down my back, then all the better!
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