Category Archives: Books – Epistemology/Hermeneutics

Book | In Search of Self edited by van Huyssteen and Wiebe

9780802863867Van Huyssteen, J. Wentzel and Erik P. Wiebe. In Search of Self: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Personhood. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2011.

The following two paragraphs provide a good flavor for this collection of essays that explore the human self in an interdisciplinary conversation.

“While neuroscientists like Daniel Siegel, Louis Cozolino, and John Cacioppo have argued for a deep neurological basis for interpersonal attachment, neuroscientist and anthropologist Terrence Deacon has take a different direction in developing theories about the emergent self and the symbolic human mind by focusing on the remarkable co-evolution of the brain and language. Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili and archeologist David Lewis-Wiliams each in there own way developed different conceptual frameworks for these neurological processes and their connection to the complex spectrum of human consciousness, embodied emotions, and the unmistakable fact that all humans are significantly ‘wired,’ not only for attachment, but for alternate states of consciousness. In addition, cognitive scientist like Harvey Whitehouse and Justin Barrett focus on the evolution of the human brain’s natural disposition for metaphysical and religious questions, and primatologists like Frans de Waal are specifically looking at emotionally empathetic experiences in primates, linking the emergence of the self directly to the evolution of moral imagination. And as we saw earlier, this conversation gains new depth through the work of constructive psychologists/theologians Pamela Cooper-White and Leon Turner, who want to move away from monolithic notions of selfhood to the malleability of psychological processes that give reality to nonpathological notions of multiple selves. Neuroscientific ideas of spectra of consciousness, combined with the ideas of constructive, multiple selves, indeed pose a very serious but ultimately exciting challenge to Christian-theological notions of person and the imago Dei. This challenge is deepened by evolutionary epistemologists like Franz Wuketits, and archeologists and paleontologists like Steven Mithen, Ian Tattersal, and Richard Potts, who all argue that hominid and human brains, and therefore human selves, have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to make physical, emotional, and spiritual sense of their environment. Scholars like Maxine Sheets-Johnstone have pushed even deeper into the roots of these questions by embedding notions of self, self-identity, and intersubjective communication, in the embodied prehistoric evolution of human sexuality, communication, and morality.

“The interesting question for us, as interdisciplinary theologians, is whether these multiple disciplinary perspectives might afford some degree of convergence on the intriguing, multilayered question of what it means to be human, and what the implications of this for theological anthropology might be. Human nature and the idea of self have, of course, always been at the heart of theological reflection, but these interdisciplinary themes have not yet been dealt with adequately. It is precisely because the horizon of interdisciplinary possibility contains such opportunities for collaborative understanding that we take up their approach in their volume.” (17-18)

I found one article particularly interesting as it related to my research.

Neuroscience and Spirituality” by Eric Bergemann, Daniel J. Siegel, Deanie Eichenstein, and Ellen Streit.

This article proposes that the human brain flows in two directions. The bottom-up flow brings experiential knowledge of the body-in-its environment “up” into the consciousness. The top-down flow brings socially constructed and learned meaning-making symbols “down” to make sense out of the bodily experiences. This convergence of flow is also similar to and connected with the left-brain/right-brian dichotomy in which the left brain sorts through the ephemeral data of the right brain with symbols and narrative connectivity.

The human brain, the authors also propose, has a natural propensity to construct a sense of the individual self that is cut off from other selves and objects in the world. This individualizing propensity is intensified in the Modern Western Culture which has provided multiple symbols, narratives, and cultural reinforcements that the radical, individual self is the primary reality that must be fostered, and protected at all costs. Spirituality, they propose, is a universally recognizable human phenomenon in which mental disciplines allow the top-down flow to be tempered and brought into balance with the bottom-up flow. This balance helps the individual self recognize that it is actually interconnected to all things in the universe. This spiral discipline of attunement can bring physical resonance between the body and the environment and promote peace.

Select Quotes

“As it turns out, this self-centered view is not solely a product of societal norms, but in fact has a neurological basis behind it. The human neocortex constructs its own vision of reality. And one of those realities is the illusion of a continuers and a separate self. Rather than seeing the interconnected role we play in a larger while—as one specialized cell in a complex living organism where each organ system depends on the others for their survival as a whole—we instead have neural patterns that create a sense of our isolation, independence, andd, ultimately, one-of-a-kind notion of a ‘me.’” (89-90)

“One view of the way the six layers function within the cortex is that incoming data streams ‘bottom-up’ to enable us to have sensations of our outside or inner world. At the same time, memory processes trigger a ‘top-down’ flow in which prior learning influences the flow of data from layer 1 to 2 to 3. As top-down at layer 3 meets bottom-up at layer 4, the two streams collide and the outcome of this mingling directly influences our experience of awareness in that moment in time. How we shape the balance of op-down and bottom-up determines our experience of consciousness. In this way, experiences in our families and our larger cultural milieu will influence how top-down perception shapes and filters our ongoing couscous experience of the world and of the self. As there is no ‘immaculate perception,’ our sense of an ‘I’ will be sculpted by the neural top-down views we’ve learned earlier in our lives.”  (92)

“Spirituality [is] ‘the state of experience in which we are aware of a larger interconnectedness of all things.’ Achieving a degree of spirituality that creates a sense that we are part of a greater whole is directly linked to neural circuits involved with attunement and resonance. When we allow the mind, or the process that regulated the flow of energy and information that occurs within the body and our relationships with one another, to embrace the reality that this flow interconnects us all, we expand our constrained sense of a separate self to an awakened sense of an interdependent whole self.” (94)

“Spiritual practices have the power to reimmerse us in bottom-up processing so that we can become freed from the top-down optical delusion of our separateness. They expose us once again to the bottom-up experiences and feelings of resonance we relied on as children so that we can see the true nature of reality. This is spirituality writ large.” (94)

Book | Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics by Jean Grondin

introduction to philosophical hermeneutics coverGrondin, Jean. Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1994.

Jean Grondin

Author – Jean Grondin

The following illustration represents the history that Grondin sets forth in this book. It provides a nice frame for understanding how hermeneutics shifted in the mid-twentieth century from positivism to a more communicative, constructivist perspective. This was not an overnight switch, nor was it a complete shift, of course. The perspective that is now considered post-modern, or late-modern is actually the natural product of the romantic movement in the 19th century. Grondin explains how the violence of the early 20th century exposed the shortcomings of rationalism and positivism, thus opening the door for the neo-romantic philosophies to bloom.

This illustration is interactive in my Prezi on the Hermeneutical Shift.
A Visual History of the Hermeneutical Shift according to Grondin

Putting Willard on the Raft | A Reflection on Gary Black’s book The Theology of Dallas Willard

ProtoevangelicalBlack, Gary. The Theology of Dallas Willard: Discovering Protoevangelical Faith. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

gblackThe Author – Dr. Gary Black, Jr.

This essay is both a reflection on Gary Black’s book The Theology of Dallas Willard, and a huge note of gratitude to Gary for shedding light on a much needed subject. This book has not only helped me make sense out of my own spiritual journey, but it has greatly enhanced my dissertation work in the area of missional spirituality in the suburbs.

(The following is a personal narrative of how I interacted with Black’s book. Click here to view my annotated highlights from the book.)

Dallas Willard played a huge part in my spiritual formation and was catalytic to my departure from the evangelical, seeker targeted, mega-church world. Willard led me into the rabbit hole of house church and emergent theology; which led to my crash and burn; which led to my cross-country relocation, reemergence in the ELCA, and my current experience of writing a PhD dissertation in Congregational Mission and Leadership at Luther Seminary.

These are the pages from my journal on the day that Willard’s final chapter in Renovation of the Heart propelled me to leave the mega-church. I had a visceral experience of God saying, “Go!”

Yes, I blame it on Willard. Actually, I owe it to Willard, because this journey is the best thing that could have happened to me. I believe it has been led and empowered by the Spirit all along the way. However, my experience at Luther has left me perplexed over what to do with Willard. Now that I am on this side of the Evangelical borderland and immersed in postmodern, missional ecclesiology, does Willard still resonate?

I encountered Willard’s books while I was on staff at a mega-church in Las Vegas and working on an M.Div. from Bethel Seminary. I first read the Spirit of the Disciplines, then The Divine Conspiracy, and finally Renovation of the Heart. These books connected with me because Willard was writing from within the Evangelical camp and speaking to the questioning Evangelical mind. I was ripe for his words. He dislodged me from the party-line, consumerist, evangelicalism that fueled the baby-boomer seeker church and provided the framework for how we would eventually structure our house church.

When the house church crashed and burned, my desire to be a Pastor burned along with it. The collateral damage was that my desire to read Willard shriveled as well. I reawakened in the ELCA and was ignited by four professors at Luther Seminary, each contributing a unique perspective to my own. Dr. Craig Van Gelder introduced me to missional ecclesiology, himself coming from a Christian Reformed Tradition. Dr. Gary Simpson—a Lutheran Pastor—introduced me to Critical Social Theory (and a positive view of Tillich) and the revitalization of the Trinitarian conversation in the 20th Century. Dr. Mary Hess—a Roman Catholic Religious Educator—introduced me to Robert Kegan, Stephen Brookfield, Parker Palmer, a feminist perspective, and a socially constructed pedagogy. Finally, Dr. Patrick Keifert—another Lutheran Pastor—introduced me to phenomenology and the particularist approach to theology that emphasizes listening by dwelling in the Word and in the World.

My dualistic, modernist, self-centered approach to spiritual formation was thoroughly overhauled and I found myself both invigorated and perplexed as to how to make sense out of the eschatologically oriented, promise of a preferred future that is being continually created by the relationality of the Triune God, through a socially-constructed sense-making process of interdependence with the neighbor that was now dominating my imagination. My mother tongue is evangelical theology, and my default understanding of spiritual formation is evident in the Overflow Principle that framed my House Church years. The overflow principle, based on my understanding of Willard, simply states that I, as an individual, first seek to receive God’s love with my mind, spirit, and body, so that my heart can be transformed by it, filled with it, and then overflow it to others. These two pictures seem diametrically opposed to one another. Am I abandoning my Overflow self for an alternate relationality self?

I have spent much of my academic energy trying to reconcile these paradigms within the context of my research. One theologian that has helped me immensely is Stanley Grenz. He, also writing from the Evangelical starting point, was able to bridge the gap for me and help me appropriate the Social Trinity and the missio Dei.

A few months ago I decided it was time to go back and reread Willard’s Renovation of the Heart. I was a little afraid to do it, anticipating that I would have to reject it because it was too much like where I had come from to be able to incorporate it into my current research. I did revisit the book, and to my surprise and dismay, it left me equally perplexed. There were aspects of Willard’s theology that seemed blatantly decisional (dependent upon the human will), and most importantly, dualistic. I have been so captured by relational ontology and the necessity to re-imagine substance ontology, that the seeming foundation of substance dualism upon which Willard’s theology is built erected intellectual barriers for me. However, there was still something very appealing to his work that kept me longing to reconcile it with my research. I have had this gnawing sensation that Willard is still saying some essentially core things that are necessary to the conversation about spiritual formation and missional ecclesiology.

Gary Black’s book brought it all together for me. I was almost giddy as I read this book. Black’s scholarship and detailed effort to synthesize Willard’s theology into a cohesive whole, combined with his ability to bring Willard into conversation with post-hermeneutical, post-structural, post-modern philosophy brought forth the missing piece that I intuitively knew had to be there in Willard’s work. The missing piece: phenomenology.

Let me explain. Black points out in many places throughout the book that Willard’s theology is grounded in Husserlian phenomenological realism. Husserl, in the wake of post-Kantian dualism and subjective constructivism, proposed that, just because the individual cannot fully grasp the objective reality—as goes rationalism—it does not mean that reality does not exist—as goes Derridian deconstructivism. The personal experience of reality is limited, or “bracketed,” but not a complete fabrication of the mind. Phenomenological methodology is the study of the experienced “bracketed” reality, in its particular, case-by-case phenomena that leads to the provisional, communicative knowledge of the real. I learned this through Dr. Keifert’s class and the reading of David Kelsey, Edward Farley, and others.

Knowing that Willard operates from a phenomenological perspective helps me in two ways. First, it allows me to understand why I continue to resonate with Willard. He finds the third way between the dichotomy of conservative Evangelicalism and deconstructive postmodernism. While I still think Willard’s language smacks of substance dualism, I believe he is actually promoting a form of relational ontology. ((This is a topic I will need to explore on its own. Simply put, Willard acknowledges both the particularity of individual parts while also recognizing the fact that they are relationally constituted at every level. The ultimate ground of being is the being of God. This paradox is better expressed in the relationality of God, in my opinion, thus further connecting Willard to my research, rather than distancing him from it.)) He—at least the way Black explains it—leans into the mysterious both/and of the inner/outer, individual/relational dynamic of the human being, the universe, and God. Willard resonates with a recurring theme in my research: The third way is Love, the agape which is the essence of God. ((Another tangent I must explore is to connect this idea to Jenson’s notion that the third person of the Trinity is the “tie-breaker” between the duality of Father and Son. Following Augustine, the Spirit is the Love between the Lover and the Beloved. The Spirit is the medium in which the particularities exist. Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982).))

Willard’s phenomenological starting point also helps me in a second way. It allows me to connect Willard to the conversation I have been having at Luther Seminary. In essence, Keifert has come to his perspective from his Lutheran background in a similar way that Willard has come to his perspective from a Baptist, Evangelical background. A phenomenological approach allows one to listen to the other, recognizing that everyone’s bracketed reality is valid and limited, thus able to contribute to the collective knowing of the real. I see this as also connected to Gadamer’s fusion of horizons and Habermas’ communicative rationality.

I drew an illustration during my independent study with Mary Hess that helps me discuss the postmodern shift. The illustration shows a ship labeled “deconstructive postmodernism” sinking after striking against the iceberg of nihilism. Another vessel floats near the sinking ship. This one is a raft labeled “constructive postmodernism.” The planks of the raft are lifeworlds (world views; perspectives) that are tied together. A male and female character each hold the handle of the rudder labeled “communicative rationality.” A figure of the incarnate God sits on the deck, pointing forward, and a sail labeled “the Human Spirit” is hoisted in the wind of the Spirit of God. This raft represents, what I consider to be, the necessary perspective for the church to navigate the waters of the postmodern reality. Now that I see Willard’s use of phenomenology, I feel that I can place Willard on the raft with the rest of my guides, to help me formulate my research and understand a missional spirituality for the suburbs.


Words cannot begin to express my gratitude to Gary Black for his fine work in this book. He did the work that I knew I was going to have to do, but didn’t have the time to do, for my dissertation. I believe this book will be a great help to many people, especially those, like me, who have so deeply valued the work of Dallas Willard.

Book | A Secular Age by Charles Taylor


The AuthorCharles Taylor


A key concept that comes from the book is that of the buffered self. Taylor argues that modern, western civilization has disenchanted the cosmos and moved away from a porous self—in which the person can be influenced and interpenetrated by forces and spirits of the cosmos—to the buffered self which lives primarily from its own lived, internal experience of reality. The self is detached, or buffered, from direct contact with reality and thus is able to interpret and create meaning from the subjective self.

View my Evernote Annotations

This is an important component to my research in spirituality. The following list is a series of reviews that I have read of the book. The following .pdfs include my annotations:

A review of A Secular Age by a Timothy Sedgewick

the world is interpreted in terms of the experience of the self, and the process of disenchantment begins. This “turn to the subject” breaks the sacred hierarchy. Interpretive lenses come to buf- fer the self. By degree, time is flattened until meaning is tied to historical cause and effect, so that history is tied to a universal moral order and notions of historical fulfillment. (513)

At the heart of Taylors argument is the claim that Christian faith is marked by three features: (1) the sacralization of life in which the human person is connected to society and the cosmos; (2) the conversion of the self which is grounded in and gives rise to a sense of the individual and his or her agency; and (3) a universal moral order and purpose which Christians are called to acknowledge, obey, and realize. (513)

Taylor suggests, for example, that Christian reform movements that seek to purify Christian faith in terms of conversion and an immanent moral order lead toward an “excarnation” of Christianity, a turning away from the experience of the sacred to right belief and practice, often with strong emphasis on duty and responsibility. (514)

Review of A Secular Age by Ian Ward

A Review of A Secular Age by Martin Marty

Among the delights along the Charles Taylor way are any number of provocative designations to match “exclusive humanism.” Among these are “the closed immanent frame,” “the narratives of secularity,” “the buffered identity,” and “fragilization,” along with easier-to-grasp categories for development, such as, simply, “loss” and “disenchantment.” (775)

Review of A Secular Age by Rene Kollar

An exciting aspect of the author’s story is his discussion of the nineteenth century, which some commentators see as the beginning of the age of unbelief. Taylor’s remarks about the Romantic Movement and the ethos of the Victorian culture are important in the story of secularity and also serve as a bridge to twentieth century development with its two world wars and culture of materialism. The result of this long history of secularism, beginning with the Reformation’s emphasis on individualism, is the current Age of Authenticity where freedom, self-expression, and personal choice are the encouraged and promoted. Taylor examines the cultural revolution of the 1960s and its gospel of individual freedom and shows how it challenged accepted religious beliefs. His comments on the nature of violence, especially in today’s climate of global brutality and bloodshed of a religious and ethnic nature, is noteworthy for people searching for value and meaning in life and society. (536)

Review of a Secular Age by John Kinsey

One of Taylor’s main themes is a critique of “subtraction stories” that try to explain the emergence of secular modernity as being an escape from or rejection of the errors, superstitions, or limitations of the medieval outlook. (75)

As Taylor sees it a key driver of change has been the determination “to make over the whole society to higher standards” (p. 63), in short the drive for “Reform.” The term is apt but potentially misleading. For what Taylor means by “Reform” includes but is by no means limited to the Refor- mation. It refers more broadly to those many currents of social, moral and spiritual renewal which, by virtue of their scope and intensity, tend to be highly interventionist, promote uniformity, and lead, often unintentionally, to a rise in the use of instrumental modes of reason. (76)

What emerges is a transformed and recognisably modern conception of the self – that of the “disciplined, disengaged agent” (p. 142).This conception has two main and closely related components: disenchantment and instrumental control. (76)

And since this transformation takes place in the context of both a clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural and the rise of mechanistic science, everyday life is eventually experienced and understood as embedded within an “immanent” natural order – or “frame” – that stands over against a now merely possible “transcendent” spiritual realm. Indeed, Taylor maintains that “the immanent frame is common to all of us in the modern West . . .” (p. 543). (77)

Review of A Secular Age by Richard Amesbury

The net effect of the past five centuries is not, for Taylor, the withering away of belief but a shift in its conditions – of what it is to believe. The characteristic feature of our secular age is what Taylor calls its “immanent frame”: life is lived within a self-sufficient, “natural” order that can be explained and “envisaged without reference to God.”17 God is manifest neither in discrete instances of the sacred as distinct from the profane nor in the moral order on which civilisation is said to depend.To say that the world can be understood apart from God is not, however, to say that it must be understood as closed to transcendence – for the immanent frame can be conceived as open to something “supernatural.” Indeed, the very distinction between the “natural” and the “supernatural,” like the modern conception of a miracle as a violation of a law of nature, belongs to the immanent frame – to a world understood in terms of an order from which God’s presence has receded. (73)

Review of A Secular Age by Vaughan Roberts

According to Taylor the phenomenon of secularization itself should also be understood in a nuanced way. First, it can refer to the way in which public spaces have been emptied of God or of any reference to ultimate reality. Second, it can mean the falling of religious belief and practice, particularly as found in the countries of Western Europe. Third, it speaks of the complete change in society whereby belief in God is no longer axi- omatic but is just one option among many. It is this latter process which Taylor seeks to describe in the term “the great disembedding,” which has led to the transformation of our “social imaginary,” or “the collective social practices which make up our common life” (172). One outcome of this has been that faith is often seen in terms of a dualism between “religion” and “spirituality.” (121)

As he seeks to draw his wide-ranging narrative to a conclusion Taylor speculates on the future of faith, and, whilst he admits that no one can predict how the story will continue to develop, he suggests that Epsteins notion of minimal religion “may turn out to be prescient” (770). He has earlier defined this as: ‘a spirituality lived in one’s immediate circle, with family and friends, rather than in churches, one especially aware of the particular, both in individual human beings, and in places and things which surround us … it seeks to honour the “image and likeness of Godwin the particular people who share our lives.’ (123)


Taylor describes our current problems with theodicy as being one of secular thinking having us ask the wrong question. The rational thinker asks “Why did this bad thing happen?”. We look for a logical reason. Finding none, we become angry with God. Taylor argues that the real question of theodicy is “Something bad has happened – so what is our response to be?” Will we choose revenge or forgiveness, judgment or reconciliation. If the goal of the life of faith is restoring communion then we will know how to respond to every unjust situation.

This is an article by Taylor in response to some of his critics…Charles Taylor responds to his critics