Monday, March 3, 2014

The Brain and Theology

Tim Jennings' new book, The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life, is advertised a bit as the newest exploration into neurotheology. As a psychiatrist, he has appropriate qualifications into the discussion, similar to Curt Thompson and his Anatomy of the Soul, which I reviewed a few years ago. In short, there were a lot of great points made in the book, but they weren't neurotheology or even centrally about the brain.

Jennings' work seems more to be a consolidation of his personal theology with examples from the Bible, his patients, and some neuroscience. His rationale for a loving God is frequently compelling, especially in the context of real-world relationships. He takes quite a literal view and interpretation of the Bible (or at least approaches it that way in his book), but he comes to very different conclusions than many biblicists, which I greatly appreciate. There were many explanations of biblical passages that he offered that were new to me and very moving and compelling. I hope more wrath-focused biblicists would read this book to offer a different option on how to still value the holiness and authority of Scripture while understanding it completely differently.

Ultimately, though, the title of the book seems like a bit of a false advertisement. Jennings definitely has neuroscience in the book, but that really wasn't central. Some of his theological theses weren't even supported by neuroscientific findings or interpretations. It seemed like he had many more anecdotal examples from his practice than brain science. That's not to say the anecdotes were bad; they were excellent and compelling. I found them excellent examples of the importance of paying attention to spiritual concerns while engaging in mental health treatment.

The narration by Sean Runnette was good (I've liked his stuff in the past). He kept me engaged and interested to continue listening. Although I wonder if there would have been a different nuanced emphasis if Jennings did the narration himself. I regularly prefer nonfiction read by the author, especially with texts that can be so personal, as with this one.

Overall, Jennings' work gives some good, multifaceted arguments for a loving, non-wrathful God that desired a relationship with each of us. I've heard many reasons for this theology in the past, but he offered several new narratives that are more moving than mere theology. Unfortunately, the book was lighter on neuroscience than the title advertises, and I wish he wasn't so dependent on a very literal approach to the Bible, which I personally find unnecessary and unsustainable. But this approach may be effective in reaching the people least likely to experience the loving, living Lord.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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