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Right, Left, Right
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As Iain McGilchrist persuasively demonstrates in his book The Master and His Emissary, the right hemisphere is biologically wired - and Christians would add, designed - to take the lead in life. With our bi-hemispheric brain, the design sequence goes something like this: the right hemisphere openly welcomes new information (presence, receptivity), the left hemisphere makes purposive use of that information (re-presentation, analysis), and then sends the representation back to the right hemisphere for integration and greater depth of presence.
So far so obscure, scientific and boring, I know. But this order - right, left, right - shows up everywhere, once you know to look for it.
Take, for instance, the theology of the apostle Paul. Theologians sometimes refer to the “narrative substructure” of Paul’s theology. One thing implied by that phrase is that Paul’s theology begins with experience. Which is to say, he begins with the right hemisphere. Consider some examples:
Effectual calling / irresistible grace: Paul knew by experience that God draws sinners to himself with such power that even raging murderers cannot resist (Acts 26:11, 16);
Regeneration: Paul knew by experience that God opens the eyes of the blind to bring them out of darkness and into the light (Acts 9:8-9, 17-18, 26:18);
Union with Christ: Paul knew by experiencing the risen Christ that his persecution of Christ’s followers was actually persecution of Christ, demonstrating that believers are united to their Lord (Acts 9:4-5).
Not that Paul’s theology was from experience alone. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul engaged the analytical power of the left hemisphere to plumb the depths of religious experience. To complete the sequence, as Paul’s letters also make clear, theological knowledge must return to the direction of the right hemisphere and it’s prioritization of lived experience.
Quotation from Frederick Buechner
No matter how fancy and metaphysical a doctrine sounds, it was a human experience first. The doctrine of the divinity of Christ, for instance. The place it began was not in the word processor of some fourth-century Greek theologian, but in the experience of basically untheological people who had known Jesus of Nazareth and found something happening to their lives that had never happened before.
Unless you can somehow participate yourself in the experience that lies behind a doctrine, simply to subscribe to it doesn't mean much. Sometimes, however, simply to subscribe to a doctrine is the first step toward experiencing the reality that lies behind it.
Question from John Owen
How can we expect to teach God’s truth to others if we have never experienced it ourselves so as to become examples of its power?
Praying for and laboring with you,