06 December 2013

Book Review: The Physical Nature of the Christian Life

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 Amazon reviewer 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.

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