For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 3 (Conclusion)


In the previous installments of this series (#1, #2), we examined the increasing role that right-brained thinking will take in our era and what that means for an American Church largely given to operating out of the left hemisphere.

Having been increasingly disenfranchised by Evangelicalism in America, right-brained thinkers fled to other non-Evangelical Christian sects or abandoned the Church altogether. The Human BrainThe irony of this flight is that conservative Christians have lamented the death spiral of our culture, fighting tooth and nail against the threat of degraded culture, a culture largely derived from the vacuum created by the same conservatives' inability to keep the right-brainers in the pews.

Now the world is changing and left-brainers aren't adapting well. The transition from the left-brained Information Age to the right-brained Conceptual Age is creating a paradigm shift so extraordinary that churches in this country will need to adapt or find themselves increasingly marginalized as what is deemed essential in communication shifts from data, facts, and logic to relationships, art, and narrative. The problem facing the Church in this dramatic shift is that the whole of Christendom can't find a balance point from which to address this change. We've been so long in the left-brained aspect of Christianity that incorporating right-brained thinking in our message smacks of compromise to some. But right-brained people, long disenfranchised both inadvertantly and calculatingly, want to know Christ, too. And in many cases, our heavily left-brained presentation of the Gospel hasn't gotten through to them. Jesus is our model. Note his teaching method in the following:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

—Matthew 22:15-22 ESV

What we find in Matthew 22 is a classic case of logical teaching addressed to the left-brained intelligentsia of the day. The Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes who were constantly trying to trap Jesus into saying something that violated the Law were operating out of their tendency toward facts, data, and logic. Most times in the Gospels when we see people marveling at what Jesus said, more often than not it is a left-brained teaching He has given; He's trumped the intelligentsia at their own game.

But that is not the only way He taught:

And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear." —Matthew 13:3-9 ESV

Here we have narrative, the backbone of right-brained teaching. The images, in stark contrast to the Matthew 22 passage, are metaphorical. Jesus ends by saying that those who can understand should understand—not a left-brained summation at all. In most cases we do not see Jesus teaching the intelligentsia using parables—those are usually shared with the common people.

Jesus taught both ways: literally and metaphorically. If He truly is our model, we need to understand the balanced model He gave us. The pendulum is swinging from left-brained to right-brained. Where we Christians need to be wise is that we can't jump all the way over to the right-brained side, even if the world goes that way. But neither should we hoot about being dragged to the middle because, frankly, we need both approaches if we are to model the Gospel to the world in the same way that Jesus did.

"Change" becomes the word of agony and ecstacy here. Left-brainers have long viewed change as meaning that the Gospel will be changed. They have every right to fear losing the heart of the Gospel to overly nebulous and metaphorical language. On the other hand, I would offer that our failure in America (and other parts of the West) is that we've presented the Gospel in a way that is too left-brained. The result is that we've inoculated many people against Jesus.

Where this comes into play is when we start talking about changing the way we present the Gospel in 2006 and beyond. Large swaths of our culture are inoculated against the Gospel because they've heard it as nothing more than a set of facts for so long that they're immune to it. In the days of the early Church, no one had heard the message of Jesus. Today, though, people in America who have not heard of Jesus are a rarity. Because of this, the way we present the Gospel to that inoculated group must change to add more right-brained presentation. This does not mean that the Gospel is changed or compromised! Only that we consider enhancing our message with narrative, empathy toward others, the arts, and the other hallmarks of the right brain.

No longer can we rely on left-brained methodologies alone. The left-brained approaches worked okay (but not perfectly) in a culture skewed toward left-brained thinking. But as we've seen, the left-brained world is surrendering its crown to a brave, new, right-brained world.

We must also raise up the next generation of Christian right-brain thinkers to take back the cultural lead in the arts. Christians once dominated the arts, but do so no longer. Our lack in this area is telling to the lost. We've inadvertently sent the message that Christianity is the antithesis of all that is beautiful and creative. This clearly dishonors the Lord! Why should the lost be attracted to a warped Christianity that has so fervently stomped on the creative community the last hundred and fifty years? We look like we hate life.

Sadly, we look like we hate each other, too. I've blogged many times in the last year about the Traditional Church/Emerging Church war. That this war is left-brained versus right-brained should be obvious to anyone who is willing to stand back and look at the two sides objectively. The selling points of the Emerging Church are directly out of the right-brained handbook: community, arts, relationship, sensory experience, and mystery. Likewise, the Traditional Church's talking points have long been doctrine, knowledge, tradition, individuality, and certainty. Where the two sides cannot agree is that their strengths are both good! And the weaknesses on both sides are terrible—easily ignored by the afflicted side, too.

If the Church is to be all Christ desires of it, then we must take action to resolve this battle of the left and right hemispheres. One of the most memorable ads of the 20th century went like this:

    {While eating their favorite food, two people walking down the street collide.} "You've got chocolate in my peanut butter!" "And you've got peanut butter on my chocolate!" Two great tastes that taste great together…

Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, right? We all know that one. Many of us will agree that chocolate and peanut butter blend nicely for a taste that's more than the sum of its parts. I like peanut butter and I like chocolate—but I'm crazy about them together. When the Traditional Church and the Emerging Church fight, it's a little bit like "I love my peanut butter and hate your chocolate!" and "Oh yeah? Well I love my chocolate and hate your peanut butter!" Meanwhile, we're missing how well they go together when mixed properly. It's like that with our brains, too.

I got the idea for this series from the story of Jon Sarkin in Reader's Digest (January 2006). Sarkin, a chiropractor (left-brained), suffered brain damage after a botched surgery. Part of the left side of his brain was destroyed. What was unleashed in the aftermath of his trauma was a buried artistic skill that has since been featured in The New Yorker and snapped up by art collectors. Yet while he gained something post-surgery, he also lost something.

The Church is not meant to live like a stroke victim. We can't gain a skill at the expense of another. God made each of us with two hemispheres. I believe that Adam expressed himself well out of both sides of His brain. More to the point, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ most certainly did. Not only did He teach to both sides of the brain, but His chosen profession, carpentry, is expressed through the rigor of facts and the grace of creativity.

The corpus callosum is a band of nerves that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. If ever we needed someone to be that part of the Body of Christ, it's now. We need people who can bridge that gap and bring doctrine and beauty, facts and mystery, and community and individuality together. Those might sound completely incompatible, but to a bridge person, they're not. The Church's brave new brain must work completely out of both sides if we are to fully reach the world for Christ and live in the fullness of what Christ gives us.

With the world shifting toward the right hemisphere in the way it thinks, we better beef up that side of our own if we are to bring the whole Gospel to the whole Man. Even then, just being in our right, earthly minds is not enough. We need to incorporate the mind of Christ, a mind that goes beyond earthly thinking into the realm of faith, the invisible, and the impossible.

But that's a whole 'nother series.

Thanks for sticking with this one. Hopefully it challenged both sides of your brain!

22 thoughts on “For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 3 (Conclusion)

  1. Ekval

    The trick of course is finding those bridge people. And that is a harder task than one might imagine since as you pointed out, most of us favor one side or the other. I once considered myself a right brained person, wanted to be a writer and an architect and yet today I find myself teaching science. I’ve come to realize that while I like to think I have a good imagination, sometimes I overanalyze it all.

    As with many things in life and faith it comes down to being able to see things from a perspective other than our own, ideally to see them from the view of Christ who is obviously the epitome of the bridge.

  2. Anonymous

    redbeard said…

    Amen, brother. Even churches that recognize the problem often don’t do anything about it. Most, unfortunately, simply criticize the right-brained as “lefties” or “liberals” or “(homosexual) artists.” And, you know, most artists I know aren’t those. They may be liberal – but there are reasons why they are liberal. The church should explore that, and endeavor to understand why many people are turning to liberalism and away from evangelicalism. Instead of crying, “You’re going to hell” perhaps we should ask them why they choose the politics and theology they choose.

  3. Redbeard,

    I had to delete your original post due to an unfortunate choice of words, but I reposted it anonymously. I appreciate what you have to say, but be a little more discerning in your word choice.


  4. Ronni

    Well on that note, I pulled out my watercolors again last night…

    You know I was so pigeonholed… I had to be left brained to make it in the world… so I became a computer geek… and the lack of expression drove me bonkers. I’m overly analytical with so many things it drives me nuts and I find freedom being able to paint and not have to analyze… People haven’t felt that freedom, our children don’t know true freedom, they are locked in their houses playing computer games or watching tv instead of being outside conquering an unknown world because of fearful parents… and we wonder why people don’t understand or crave the freedom we offer to share with them. They don’t understand when we tell them of the freedom and release and peace in Christ, because they have never felt freedom, or release.

    Enough with the rules of engagement in life… lets learn to love again. Lets learn to be whole beings again, body, soul, and spirit.

    Thanks Dan, you’ve just been another witness to what I’ve been hearing for the past few months. I’m so glad that others are hearing it too.

  5. Kim Anderson

    I found your blog through Two Talent Living, and I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.

    At our house, we talk about this tension in terms of the church’s failure to capture the imagination while focusing on bringing every (reasoned)thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We tend to forget that both items are in view in 2 Cor 10:5.

    Being both-brained folks, we look for a liturgical worship. It is one bridge to both sides: the text of a good liturgy is straight from the Scripture, while the reading of it is the dance the whole congregation performs together before God. It is beauty and reason.

    It’s a start. And it’s difficult to find a liturgical church which hasn’t made major compromises in the doctrine department. And that’s not even mentioning the music…or the sermon.

  6. jpu

    after watching the new Narnia movie yesterday, I realized that Lewis was able to use both sides of his brain equally well. we aren’t all renaissance people who are equally brilliant in both ways but we can all embrace both aspects of ourselves and the church.
    God is good

  7. Dan,

    Very excellent series. My wife posted a link to you and I’ve enjoyed your comments. As a graphic designer, I appreciate your thoughts on the “conceptual age.” I hope it is so. My profession stands to benefit well. I’ve heard others on this matter and it’s always encouraging to hear other Christians speak on matters of art in a good light, and not as a knee-jerk reaction against art in general. I thought your points abouts design and Apple’s iPod was an outstanding point about how design is really ruling the day, regardless of the bottom line of some companies. People deep down crave quality and beauty. How much more we Christians should be the best in these areas, striving in bearing God’s image to do great things creatively.

    Have you read Francis Schaeffer’s “Art and the Bible”? A small pamphlet book but powerful in it’s presentation of God’s creativity and the need for the church to claim beauty in art.

    Here’s another Jesus story you could add to your points about left and right brain solutions. When he was confronted with the Pharisees and the woman caught in adultery, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the sand. We don’t know what Jesus wrote, but my brother-in-law had a neat theory that He was drawing a keyhole, essentially saying, “So… how did you find out that she was in the act of adultery so that you have her here before me?” It’s funny to ponder that, but if so, it would be an exceptional right and left brain solution to the situation.

  8. Anonymous

    Your series has been very interesting, although I’m not completely persuaded about the importance of art in Christianity. I have dabbled in drawing and painting myself, coming from an artistic family. I am especially drawn to the art of illuminated manuscripts, which often have a religious theme. But, still, I’m not persuaded that even though God said, “Be holy because I am holy,” he also meant to say, “Be creative because I am creative”, at least not with the same kind of forcefulness. And then an odd bit of information about creative people came across the newspapers today, which reminded me of the subject of your posts. I’m not sure how reliable the news report is, but if it does carry any weight, it might mean that creative Christians should be very careful!

  9. Dr_Mike


    I think you are on-target about the problem of imbalanced or single-minded thinking in the church. I’ve often thought that you could categorize churches based on whether it is left- or right-brained in its emphasis/imbalance. The problem is deeply entrenched in most churches and denominations, however, and results in a less-than healthy local body of believers. I’ve likened the situation to choosing – when sailing in shark-infested waters – whether it is better to fall over the starboard or port side of the boat.

    The crux of the problem – and thus the focus for change – exists especially in the leadership of local congregations. Hemispherical balance among the pastors, elders, and/or deacons would be a quick way to effect change. Most churches, I think, attract both types of believers but quickly lose one or the other; balanced leadership, however, could successfully blend the two and produce a more fully developed church.

    Yours is an important, and likely much more reasonable, place to introduce change into churches that are fixated on one hemisphere to the near-exclusion of the other. It will take an act of God – i.e., a miracle – to actually get a church to change, but I couldn’t agree with you more concerning the need for churches to be able to balance the cerebral with the visceral (I really like those two words).

  10. Anonymous,

    No doubt God wants us to be holy, love Him, and love others. But He also made us in His image and part of that image is a creative one. God’s ability to bring something out of nothing is reflected in our own artistic expression.

    I’m not saying that all aspects of justification and sanctification revolve around art. But like so many other things in life, our daily existence involves doing mundane or even extraordinary things that still bear the mark of redemption. This is one of the truths the Reformation emphasized. Luther was a strong advocate for redeemed work and creativity.

  11. David,

    I haven’t read that particular Schaeffer book, but I’m familiar with his (and Edith’s, too) view of redeemed art. I’m fully on board with that ideal. The current backlash against contemporary art by new traditionalists is a welcome change.

  12. Dr. Mike,

    In my entire life, I was a part of only one church that maintained the right and left brain balance. I will also note that the life that church nurtured throughout our city was profound. But it was one brief shining moment and then the leadership left for other things and it all went left-brained. Today it is a shell of its former self. Still, the “diaspora” of that church is leading many others, though no one has had quite the same impact.

  13. I think that more and more Christians are noticing the absence of those between the ages of 18 and 30 in their churches. And they realize something has to be done differently. However, what many of us are wary about is SOME of the Emergent church’s solutions. Focusing more in a right-brained way is fine; but ditching the gospel or changing it is not.

  14. Diane,

    Absolutely! There can be no compromise on the core of the Gospel itself. I’ve routinely chastised the Emerging Church clan for being so wishy-washy on doctrine. You can’t change the Gospel.

    When McClaren says stuff about how its okay to be a Buddhist Christian, I want to pull my hair out. What he should have said is that it’s okay to be a non-Western, culturally Asian Christian. Sorry, but at some point we have to get down to absolute truth and to the dividing line. You can’t love two masters.

    But I also think it is short-sighted to see the tragic silliness that passes for “expression” in some cases in the Emerging Church and go hopelessly 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Do some Emerging churches border on syncretizing Christianity and pagan nature religions? Sure they do, sadly enough. But the response to that should not be that we think its okay to ignore Gen. 2:15 and just slash and burn the forests because Christians shouldn’t care one hoot about the environment.

    Christ-centered balance is needed on many issues.

  15. Left brain� right brain�?

    You lost me, Dan, on this one mainly because the brain stuff is such a trite metaphor anymore, not to mention being a regurgitation of the old “apollonian/dionysian” dichotomy, which came from either Matthew Arnold or Nietzsche, if I recall.

  16. Dr_Mike

    Mr. Moonbones:

    Think of it this way: Dan is calling for the church to be as Christ was, “full of grace and truth.” Grace (an affective experience) bound by truth (the cognitive), truth tempered by grace.

    But if you do not find benefit from such a discussion, will you not at least allow the rest of us to profit from it? The brain stuff is not merely a “trite metaphor,” as you contend, but a remarkable expression of the Creator. Call it “heart,” “mind,” or “bowels,” if you prefer, but it is a window opening to the process of sanctification. To reduce it to a simple dichotomy, as you suggest, is to fail to apprehend the ineffable creativity of God.

  17. Caleb W

    I think one of the problems lies in what we expect of our church leaders – to have gone to Bible college, to study the intricacies of theology and the like. Which is all very important, but within the church and within the leadership of the church you need both those who are strong in the intellectual side of the faith, but also people who are strong in other areas of the faith, such as the practical and emotional. Not that the different things are mutually exclusive, of course, but most people will tend to be stronger in one area than another.


  18. Leta

    This is everything I love about your writing and the thought process behind it. It is a beautiful thing to be able to discuss faith in the context of iPods and toasters and small painted semi trucks. I even think I got your point. While I am certainly more comfortable with many of the philosophies of the emerging church, it is not just because it is more right brained (though that helps)- it is because it is less exclusionary and hostile to all the those hippie-vegetarian-artist-liberal-environmentalist types. While I don’t have the interest that you do in seeing the traditional church flourish (which is NOT to say I wish it to dissapear), from a more “outside” perspective, I think you are dead on when you say that the gap must be bridged somehow. Good luck to the corpus colloseum or the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup or whoever makes the connection happen.

  19. Well, Dan, you’ve got the gap between my hemispheres all dried up from friction — thanks for nothing!

    I would have thought that when the Pharisees went and PLOTTED how to entangle him in his talk they would have been at first engaging their right brain given the creative juices needed for figuring out the general feel of the plot’s plot, if you get my drift (not sure which half of my brain is working at the moment).

    But it is all an argument from silence, anyway, and basically a bit of entertaining (or destracting) pop-theology where attemps to read back into the Biblical text some modern notion of this or that and then come up with a ripping yarn bedecked with biblical proofs. (GASP!)

    What we are to to is to be submissive to and filled with the Spirit of God and he will do with our brains as he chooses (including the outcomes from our mental exertion).

    It is worthwhile noting that we “have the mind of Christ” and that MUST be in the church’s favour somewhere. Or, maybe we have just forgotten Jesus altogether and try and organise or structure our way into blessing (GASP #2!).

    To be sure, the Christian life is about being genuinely who we are as obedient servants of the Most High. And that means, just maybe, we will be either predominantly left-brainers, or right. Could it not be that God chooses to provide the church with a varyiable mix (weighting) of people who are one or the other, at any point in time to meet some need?

    The hemispheres aren’t the issue, or their employment over time. Rather, it is whether we adopt the patterns and thrust of the world. If the left-brainers can stuff things up so readily I don’t think the right-brainers are there to correct it — they will just mes up like everyone else unless they are in conformity to the will of God.

    Generally, it would have been honouring to other writers, those who provide you with a lot of your seed thougts and brain-information, to see a reference to your original source material for these posts (Pink?) or did I not read you thoroughly?

    I am curious to discover whether your concern for the honouring of right brainers will lead to a change in the face of your blog here, as you seek to embrace the arty-fartys of the church? May I suggest some artworks at in the sidebar, along with overtly dressed-up links to creative Christian bloggers who don’t do all the left-brained stuff all the time (as they provide a refreshing alternative to the drudgery of rampant pseudo-intellectualism in the church and in blogs).

    Just my thoughts, from some hemisphere somewhere.


  20. daniel

    Dan, I’ve always grieved a little for not understanding the thought processes of left leaning, artsy people. Maybe that’s why I’m always reading those types of blogs; just trying to get some insight into their world. Where they see a liberal Jesus I’m much more likley to see a conservative Jesus. I think the key for me here , as it always is, is the humility of Jesus and my imitation of that humility and its manifestation toward my brother. Your insights have energized my right brain into action not to judge my brothers service and offerings to Christ as worthless.

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

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