Book Review: ‘The Other Half of Church’ by Michel Hendricks and E. James Wilder

‘The Other Half of Church’ by Michel Hendricks and E. James Wilder The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

Michel Hendricks, author of ‘The Other Half of Church,’ was formerly a pastor of spiritual formation at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado.

Over 25 years of teaching and training others has taken him all over the world. With a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Colorado in Boulder, plus an MDiv degree from Denver Seminary, he has the credentials and resume to write and sell this book, and modern American Christians especially can be relied on to read it enthusiastically.

His partner in that endeavor and others related, Dr. Jim Wilder has 30 years of experience, and is also a globetrotter. Growing up in South America, he’s the author of nineteen books. One of them, a certain Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You, sold over 100,000 copies and is available in eleven languages. He’s also lectured as a guest at Fuller Seminary, Biola, Talbot Seminary, Point Loma University, Montreat College, and Tyndale Seminary, among others.

Wilder’s extensive clinical counseling experience has led directly to his branding as “chief neurotheologian” at Life Model Works, a nonprofit self-described on the organization’s website as residing “at the intersection of theology and brain science.”

Yesterday I finished reading Hendrick’s and Wilder’s collaborative work, ‘The Other Half of Church.’ And I will confess from the start no special love for this book, for reasons which need to be explained carefully and at some length.

For starters, there is a certain cost-benefit analysis which seems not to have been done carefully enough where combining the latest in brain science with tried and true Christian theology is concerned. What, for instance, happens to all our overhauled theology when the brain science gets updated again? Will we need to revise our theology again, if we were too hasty in transforming the renewing of our minds along the lines laid out here?

But there’s more. So also, the term ‘neurotheologian’ makes me uncomfortable. It reminds me of transhumanism for some reason. I imagine the influential churchmen of 2000 years coming back as cyborgs, or us looking back on them with some mixture of pity and contempt because we suppose our ability to describe how and where the electrical signals travel in our heads has improved the Bible.

Maybe I’m being excessively critical. If so, that’s not my goal. But then we can see in the last few centuries since the Enlightenment, and certainly before it as well, too much of what goes wrong when we get carried away with our pursuit of the physical sciences, then let them dictate to us our understanding of God and His Word. And we do not have to confine ourselves to hypotheticals here, since we have many cautionary examples in recent enough memory.

There are just some odd choices made in ‘The Other Half of Church.’ For instances, why coin a new term like ‘neurotheologian’ but use the Greek word ‘hesed’ throughout? It’s defined early on, yes. But by the end of this book, ‘hesed’ has been used so often and in such a way that it feels downright gimmicky. It feels as though someone came up with a formula in a lab somewhere by which they calculated that a certain proportional ratio of usages of ‘hesed’ to usages of ‘neurotheologian’ would cover all the bases with both traditionalists and innovators. A positive association game was played here, and it didn’t quite pan out.

But then the whole work feels a bit gimmicky, if I’m honest. The latest brain science is put forward in a similar way to how Richard Dawkins used to argue against the existence of God by use of lengthy non-sequiturs about how much we know in the fields of microbiology and astrophysics. This feels like Christians trying to prove that we can do science too, therefore you should believe in Christ and read the Bible and love your neighbor accordingly.

This feels backwards and foreign, I think, because neuroscience should get its legitimacy from our Christian faith based on God’s Word, and not the other way around. Yes, they prove here that they are able to describe certain electro-chemical phenomena in the brain which have been observed, measured, and recorded. And we get some interesting food for thought that way, sure. But that is not the same thing as establishing that this or that prescription for Christian life and thought necessarily follow, and I’m not so sure it strengthens arguments from the Scriptures either.

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