I put up a short series of posts just about a year ago that dealt with the science of sin, Christian virtue, and the importance of viewing ourselves as fully embodied persons. You can find the posts here: Science and Sin 1, Science and Sin 2, Science and Christian Virtue 1, and Science, Worship, and Fasting. Now, just about a year later, I would like to come back to the thoughts I was developing in these posts – and especially the thoughts in the third, Science and Christian Virtue 1.
There are several key ideas that we need to take seriously. The most important is human embodiment … we cannot separate soul, spirit, mind and will from the human bodies that contain said soul, spirit, mind or will. Scot’s book on fasting is a wonderful biblically based commentary on one of the consequences of our embodiment.
The second important idea is that the human mind or will is malleable – assuming that we believe in some level of free will (and I do) there is research that demonstrates that the human brain contains a conscious self-regulatory system. One of the researchers quoted in the article from Discover Magazine forming the basis for the first two posts on Science and Sin said: “This network provides us with the evolutionarily unprecedented ability to control our own neural processing – a feat achieved by no other creature.“
N. T. Wright’s book After You Believe develops his ideas on Christian virtue – and this development (although he does not get into science) is rooted in the biblical view of humans as fully embodied creatures. I was brought back to this book and these ideas by a recent video posted on BioLogos, the next installment of the video conversation between Tom Wright and Peter Enns.
As we look at the video and consider again the idea of Christian virtue, I would like to think about the question I posed in the post last year:
What is the role for human participation in the development of Christian Virtue and the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit? Does it matter?
In this video Wright responds to a question about his reasons for writing the book and a question from Enns about the role of Christian virtue in making us truly human or truly Christian.
Wright grounds his view of Christian character on faith, hope, and love and morality in a context of Christian eschatology. He comments that it is a mistake to look to rules, algorithms, or authenticity when we consider moral behavior and how we should live and respond. Rules don’t lead to maturity, algorithms – such as a situational calculation of the greatest happiness for the most people – don’t lead to moral behavior, and a quest to be true to self and live authentically also fails. Rather, we need to learn to embody and respond in the spirit of the Christian love. We need to develop virtue – exercise body and mind – so that the thinking is done up front. In this way we will develop the Christian character; we will, in time of crisis or peace, be able to respond without having to think about it, or look it up . This develops transformed lives and Christian character.
When asked if Christian virtue makes us truly human or truly Christian Wright responds both – we need to be transformed by a renewing of our minds. All of this is rooted in Romans 5 among other passages.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (NASB)
And now we get back to the science and my point from the first post in this series (last year): One thing that the science teaches us is that mind and body are not separable entities. We are organic unities. But the science also shows that effort and discipline can train the mind and and, to a certain extent, the will. As a baseball player must train and practice, as a musician must train and practice, so to must a disciple of Christ train and practice for Christian virtue. It may occasionally “just happen” as a gift and answer to prayer. But this isn’t the normal route any more than prayer alone makes a Christian athlete a great runner. If we do not train for Christian virtue, both individually and corporately as the church, we should not be surprised when we fail both often and badly.
What do you think? Does Christian character, Christian virtue, demand effort? Is Wright onto something or off base?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net