Series Links for “The Church’s Brave New Brain”


The three-part mini-series is listed here:


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!

For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 2


In the previous segment of this mini-series, we left off with the Church grappling with the transition from the Information Age (and its emphasis on data and logic) to the Conceptual Age (with its emphasis on design and empathy.) The fundamental switch here aligns with the move from left-brained to right-brained thinking.

Where the Church gets steamrolled in this transition is that it's been stuck in the tar of left-brained mode for a couple hundred years. When the Enlightenment made it all about what we thought rather than did, the Western Church bought into living totally out of its left hemisphere. The result has been an entire group of people within society disenfranchised by the one group tasked with disenfranchising no one.

If we were honest with ourselves, we Christians of 2006 should question where all our creative types vanished to. How many Christians do we know who make their entire living as full-time artists, novelists, musicians, and actors? Compare that with how many Christians we know who are middle managers, accountants, engineers, or computer IT gurus.

Two hundred years ago, Christians not only created the art, they supported it. I would dare say that the vast majority of art in Christian households today is not only NOT created by Christians, it's barely passable as art. Our slide to the left brain over the right created a dearth of Christian artists and their lack left us stuck with whatever was most easily mass-marketed. The result? Today's Christians are too often the people responsible for much of the kitschy garbage passed off as "art" that we see today. A gut-check is needed here. Compare what hangs on the wall of your local museum with that of your local Christian bookstore. I don't think I'm stretching when I say the artistic output of today's Evangelicalism might represent the nadir of artistic expression in all of Christian history.

Kinkade keeps on truckin'!

{Click on image to appreciate the full-sized horror of it all (pops)}

If we don't like the art that artists make today, we have our lack of patronage to blame for this, in part. Christian artists found the rising anti-art backlash in the Church meant that they could no longer afford to make a living as artists creating art solely for Christian crowds. As a result, Christian artists were stuck between putting food on the table selling art that appealed to secular crowds or starving to death trying to sell to an increasingly fickle Christian audience. Yes, many of them gave in to the prevailing nonsense that passes itself off as contemporary art today, but in the end we didn't support them and they had to eat. (Not trying to make excuses, just trying to point out reality.)

You know why the artist is different? Simple: he sees the world through a different part of his brain. Where the Church in America absolutely fumbled the Gospel here is that we automatically equated his different way of thinking with error. Not only that, but we painted (ugh!) the artist and all his friends as the very thing that is wrong with the world today. Strangely enough, he was thinking the same thing about us.

Now, as we enter 2006, we have an impasse. We decided we liked our churches stripped of anything that resembles art, good or otherwise. (I don't mean to pick on the Baptists here, but could there be anything more soul-anesthetizing than the architecture and interior decoration of your typical Baptist church of the last thirty years? Honestly, why can't our congregations inspire artists in their midst to create beautiful church art to offer up to God the artistic gifts He bestowed on those folks? It seems every kind of service is appreciated in our churches except the artistic.) The message to the artist was clear: your paintbrush is the devil's instrument.

Think what our churches would be like if we thought that everyone involved in the computer industry was creating the Beast's pathway. What if the engineers were building the antichrist's throneroom? And the accountants were only presiding over the one world money system and that infamous mark? Do you think that any of those left-brainers would hang around our congregations? Yet, in many cases, this is what happened to the right-brainers.

But guess what, left-brained Christians? Artists are the new power class in the Conceptual Age. You know, the bohemian with the soul patch. And guess what again? We drove his kind out of our churches with our total emphasis on left-brained thinking and our complete inability to appreciate what his right hemisphere (and his musical, empathic, theatrical, artist's bent) brought to our congregations.

But now that empathic artist is the one in charge. Left-brained Christians are gnashing their teeth over this. I see it every day. And the gnashing is only going to increase unless left-brained and right-brained Christians bury the hatchet—and not in each other. God created both left-brained and right-brained thinkers; it's about time the Church honored both.

In the next installment of this mini-series, we'll see how the Church needs to adapt to this cultural change and what it means for how we do ministry in 2006 and beyond.

Stay tuned!