Shaping the Human Soul, Part 3
Note: In Washington DC, Church of the Advent has teamed up with The Trinity Forum to offer an exciting series of lectures exploring the synergy between modern science and Christian Faith. We are pleased to share the recent presentation given by psychiatrist Curt Thompson and philosopher James K.A. Smith. Together they discussed the process of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation through the lens of neuroscience.
In this video series, parts 1 and 2 contained Curt Thompson's presentation. Parts 3 and 4 feature James K.A. Smith.
Summary of the first half of Dr. Smith's presentation
The conversation between Christian faith and science has to begin from fundamentally Christological convictions.
It’s not enough to just appeal to a “Creator” and think that you are talking about how Christianity relates to science. All you get if you keep appealing to a Creator is a deistic conversation, and not a Christian conversation. The fundamental conviction that should orient the faith and science conversation for Christians is not just Genesis 1:1, it’s Colossians 1:17—“All things hold together in Christ.” The Christian side of the conversation needs to be thick and particular.
I want to talk about how the things that Curt has described relate to sanctification and discipleship. My working assumption is that Christian formation takes practice. Discipleship is not about acquiring new in-formation, it’s about undergoing habitual re-formation. So it’s not the dissemination of data, it is being rehabituated into a new story, the story of God and Christ reconciling all things to Himself.
That’s going to make a big difference in how you think about sanctification and discipleship, and that’s precisely why we need to take the body seriously. We have to take our embodiment and our materiality seriously if we are going to understand the dynamics of Christian formation.
Here’s my working principle, an incarnational principle—The Spirit meets us where we are. What do I mean by that? I have been impacted by a fantastic book by Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body. At one point he summarizes, “What and how anything is meaningful for us is shaped by our specific form of incarnation.”
I think there is a very important principle about how God relates to humanity. It’s the principle of incarnation—when God shows up, he meets us where we are. The Word becomes flesh, God becomes human. And this is the fundamental logic of incarnation in how God relates to us—God condescends to meet us as the meaty, embodied, material, fleshy creatures that we are; not by hooking us (or rapturing us) out of our embodiment.
This is a consistent principle of how God continues to work on us. In a similar way that God reveals himself to us in the Son—who is material and bodily—the Spirit of God molds us, reforms us, and transforms us by the same principle—the Spirit meets us where we are.
What are we? We are embodied creatures. We are made and created as material beings, and God meets us in that. Our bodies, our brains, and our environment are the three-legged stool of any experience we could possibly have. This is no surprise to God—He created all of those conditions. When God meets humanity, he meets us in that materiality.
This incarnational principle is pushing us to recognize that the conditions of creaturehood are also the conditions for sanctification. This is how God made us, and this is how He is going to renew us.
See part 4 for the second half of Dr. Smith's presentation.
Dr. Smith is a philosopher and theologian. He is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, as well as a Senior Fellow of The Colossian Forum. He writes and speaks frequently on philosophy, theology, and cultural criticism. He is an author of numerous books, including Desiring the Kingdom, and his newest book is entitled Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.