For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 1


This final post of 2005 begins a short series that examines what I believe to be a pressing issue that is flying under the radar of the American Church. If we do not address it humbly and prayerfully in the coming year, I believe we American Christians will preside over a Church (and societal) implosion of our own making.

The thought that I cannot escape is about just that: thought. Our brains consist of two hemispheres, each with a God-imparted function. The left hemisphere handles language and logic, the right, narrative and art. The left excels in processing the batting averages of the 1927 Yankees and understanding that pigs can't fly, while the right finds wisdom and beauty in a poem or painting.

If Christianity in 2005 can be examined in any light, I would offer that the battles we are now seeing for the heart, mind, and soul of our Faith are those of the right and left hemispheres.

Some reading this will view what I have to say as nothing more than the ongoing tussle between modernism and postmodernism, or the Enlightenment and the post-Enlightenment. On some levels, this would be true. However, I do not believe it is necessary outcome that one or the other of those labeled sides should win, but that God's mind about our minds holds the key to where His will for us as a Church dwells.

Talk to anyone who studies trends and you'll hear them proclaiming that we are moving from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age. Where the Information Age's hallmark is the processing of data, the sine qua non of the Conceptual Age is design. Now that even a six-old can jump on a computer and find out facts about dinosaurs that paleontologists of thirty years ago had to spend months unearthing, data is cheap. The Information Age's attempt to make it exclusive to drive profits failed. It is no longer enough to have data. The power center has moved away from data-crunching to creating what machines cannot: objects of beauty. The new ruling class has shifted from computer systems analysts to graphic designers.

What has been commodified in the process is the very heart of the last Age. There are dozens of MP3 players on the market, but despite the fact that each is a technological marvel undreamed of twenty years ago (and with a price point that is startling), only one of those players has captured the zeitgeist of the transition from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. Why is Apple's iPod outselling all the other MP3 players combined? Design. There are more-powerful MP3 players on the market, some selling for less than the iPod, but Apple's MP3 player dominates all others because Apple understood that design matters. As a result, the iPod is now iconic.

Design has triumphed as a result of the wealth of our day. A hundred years ago, a toaster was remarkable. Just having one of those expensive devices put you in the swanky minority. Yep, it's a toasterToday, though, it is no longer enough to build a toaster that toasts bread. We've seen toasters. Virtually every Western home has a toaster. Because a $7 toaster is possible, the companies that make toasters can't operate on the hope that people want their bread toasty. Something as humble as a toaster has to make a design statement or it will not sell. That's a profound paradigm shift. (Take a few minutes to marvel at what toasters look like today if you don't believe me. Note also the price paid for cutting-edge toaster design.)

The fallout of the design explosion that heralds the Conceptual Age is the ascendancy of the design-rich right hemisphere of the brain over the left. This, too, marks a sea change. Most of us did not grow up in a time that placed right-brain thinking over left. Our heroes are thinkers, not artists. Our educators drilled into us the truth that facts won out over concepts, our elders belaboring the reality that diagnosticians were the cream of society, able to follow a well-memorized flowchart to whatever answer was desired. There was the future! We had the data to prove it.

But they were wrong.

What is most frightening about the audacity of our elders to so drastically miss the future is what that failure has meant for the Church. So stay tuned for the second part of this post—next year—to find out how Christians must live in our brave new Conceptual Age world.

Tags: Artists, Designers, Design, Thinking, Feeling, Brain, Church, Faith, Christianity, Jesus, God

10 thoughts on “For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 1

  1. Anonymous

    Interesting post. Both hemispheres of my brain will follow this series to read your take on Daniel Pink’s notions as you interpret them vis-a-vis the american church.

  2. Gaddabout

    If you already run on Mac OS, iPod makes much more sense than a 40 GB Dell MP3 player.

    I love Mac OS, but I’ll give you that Apple is chiefly appealing to the masses because of its beautiful design. I know I have sat and gazed at the new iMac’s for hours. They are stunning for what is essentially the same thing that comes much cheaper in a vanilla box.

  3. Michael Rew

    The Church needs to realize we all have the same set of data: God’s Word. We all need to know the same Truth: Jesus Christ. But we must know Him through experience and expression, which can vary wildly. A five-piece band, an orchestra, an organist accompanied by a choir, and a soloist all have the same overall title. They are musicians. But all can honor God, Biblically and beautifully, with different sets of music.

    The struggle comes when presenting formulas over people. I go to most churches to fellowship with the people. If I wanted to go for the preaching and the music without paying any mind to the people, then I could stay home and listen to Christian radio. Indeed, if I wanted to go to church to “meet with God” and worship Him, then why do I go there when I could do the same at home? Because the more believers that are in agreement to worship and seek Him, the more powerful the experience and the expression will be. The better the results will be, too. Design has little to do with it if we divorce it from individuals. I might buy a very interesting toaster, but it would be more interesting if I went to the designer’s church and met the dude who designed it.

  4. Anonymous

    The Church needs to realize we all have the same set of data: God’s Word. We all need to know the same Truth: Jesus Christ. But we must know Him through experience and expression, which can vary wildly. A five-piece band, an orchestra, an organist accompanied by a choir, and a soloist all have the same overall title. They are musicians. But all can honor God, Biblically and beautifully, with different sets of music.


    However –

    While we do all have the same set of data available – roughly – not all of us experience the same sights and sounds. Not all of us process the data at the same rate or in the same way. We each look at the created world – the general revelation of God – in different ways, and we do not all see the same parts of it. So… we do NOT all have the same set of data.

    The Word of God in the English language does not mean the same thing when written in koine Greek – or in Mexican Spanish. You can’t force it to; it’s not possible for it to. It means something approximately equivalent, but it does not mean the same things; it can’t.

    Some churches today exalt thought above all else. Reason is IT, and emotion is out. Other churches excoriate reason, and proclaim experience the mother of all churches, which is a sweeping overgeneralization the other way. There are a few – a very few – churches out there who do not express a preference for one or the other, or who emphasize a balance between both while in submission to Jesus Christ.

    This entire topic is tied into all of church in a way that most people do not realize. Cessationists glorify Human Reason instead of God; Continuationists glorify Spiritual Experience instead of God; Peace churches glorify the fruit of the Spirit instead of God – and who are we all supposed to worship, and to whom is even every thought to be brought in submission?

    They’re all idolatrous, worshipping the creature (themselves and their opinions) instead of the Creator.

    How do you know when you’re really thinking, and not just reviewing a set of emotional constructs? How many of us have been taught to think? And why do we think that emotion and reason are diabolically opposed to each other?

    Interesting topic, Dan; I’d like to explore it some more.

  5. Weekend Fisher

    Say, anon#4, I liked your points. Tiny bit overgeneralized (!) but you can only say so much in a cmoments section.

    Dan, I’ll buy that design could be the Next Big Thing. (Have you ever seen the blog over at All Things Beautiful? Nicely done!) But like all the Next Big Things, this too shall pass. There may be a day when it’s easier to do good design; blog templates are a step that direction. Form and content will always both matter. I have trouble seeing the point of getting caught up with the Trend du Jour. Now serving Christ to the best of our abilities will include taking notice of the Trend du Jour, but not losing our focus in the meantime.

    Take care & God bless

  6. Ronni

    Dan, email me when you come up to Dayton for a visit… I have something you have got to see… a Christian Art gallery… in downtown Dayton. It’s an incredible and beautiful thing!

  7. Interesting blog Dan – I like where it is going.

    We are living in an experience-based economy and world. So much design (as the toasters point out) play on that. Most are blatantly retro – making those us older folk (boomers with money) remember early experiences of hearth and home which encourage is to buy the product.

    My favorite car right now is the new Mustang. I love the design – but it is purely because when I see it I am reminded of my teenage years. The design carries with it a message and connection with good feelings of the past. So in admiring it and (if Ford gets their way) buying one I am drawn to experience the inner longings the design aroused.

    Even in my field of work – rescuing orphans stranded by the massive African AIDS epidemic – getting the church involved is a matter of effective marketing (including design) and experience. It is easier to get someone to spend $3000 to experience Africa and come on a short term mission trip then it is to get them to involved in a non-experiential way like helping underwrite the mission.

    I look forward to the development of your thoughts.

  8. Pingback: A Quiet Simple Life » For all you both brained people out there (and everyone else!)

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