In The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology, & the Church, author Brad D. Strawn explores how developments in modern science have changed ideas of spirituality, and the implications for the church.
The book argues against the long-held theological view that a soul provides the spirituality and mental capacities of a human being, and that these things are born from physical areas of the brain in collaboration with environment.
“Rather than positing a dualistic understanding of persons — for example, body and a disembodied soul — we argue for a holistic/monistic perspective, which conceives humans as embodied persons embedded in a world of relationships,” said Strawn, who co-authored the book with Warren Brown.
He noted that one advantage of a monistic or holistic approach to spirituality is that it encourages people to think outwardly, leading to new relationships, community ties and a sense of shared responsibility for one another.
Physical Nature contains elements of both science and religion, but the two aren’t locked in combat as they often seem to be in the real world. Strawn said he and Brown hope the book is interesting to scientists, as well as useful to practicing Christians.
He said that while his thesis may differ from traditional Christianity in its perception of souls, it does not detract from any religious values.
“We utilize the concept of emergence, that is the higher-order capacities that emerge from highly complex systems, such as the brain, to suggest that humans cannot be simply reduced to matter,” Strawn said. “Humans are unique not because God has given them a soul, but because of how he chooses to relate to us and empowers us to relate to one another.”
Vice president for spiritual development at Southern Nazarene University and a clinical psychologist, Strawn has written numerous articles on theology and psychology that have appeared in various journals.
Brown previously co-authored four books and is a research neuropsychologist, professor of psychology and a director at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
“Our goal in writing the book was to take what we believe to be an important theological anthropology and present it to a lay audience in hopes of impacting the church,” said Strawn. “We believe that the Christian life may look different based on how one conceptualizes the nature of the human person.”