Renewal of the Mind: The Holy Spirit, Adoption, and Psychology

This paper will pick up these calls for a retrieval of Christian experience in theological reflection; it will examine the extent to which a theology of adoption can be better understood and illuminated using contemporary psychological categories and, therefore. provide a more substantive theological anthropology. Specifically, the paper will argue that a theological understanding of “neuroplasticity,” the theory that the brain can change itself and form new pathways for healing, must include a robust theology of the Holy Spirit. Historically theological reflection has had a place for Christian experience in theological method. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and others have each given space for considering the inner life and locatedness of the theologian. The space that was given to Christian experience or the emotional life was often tied closely to the work of the Holy Spirit. In recent years, Simeon Zahl has argued that the contemporary suspicion of Christian experience in theological construction has led to a minimising of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. This suspicion has led some to offer an account of theological anthropology which sees the inner-emotive life of the Christian as dubious. Zahl contends that theologians must once again make room for the affective side of theological reflection. In a similar vein, Matthew LaPine’s work, The Logic of the Body, has offered a helpful engagement with “theological” psychology. I will argue that while we can read “renewal of the mind” as a purely intellectual experience wherein we are able to think right thoughts, there is an affective aspect to this renewal that changes how we relate with God. This affective aspect can be seen primarily in the language of adoption. When we bring together Holy Spirit, adoption, and psychology, we can start to build a healthy theological anthropology that neither over-emphasises materialistism nor ignores the place of emotions. “Neuroplasticity” is a helpful tool for better understanding how the Spirit “renews our minds” when it is placed in conversation with a theology of adoption.

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