The Western world operates according to two lines of thought. They’re parallel. That’s not good. What distinguishes parallel lines damages the Christian faith.
Parallel lines are a recent development. The ancients imagined life as spheres, as in the shape of the universe. Or God. The Corpus Hermeticum, a body of early Christian texts from Hellenic Egypt dating back to the 3rd century, pictured God as a sphere. This continued through Giordano Bruno (16th century) who described God as “an infinite sphere.” We see spherical thinking reflected in architecture, as in church domes.
With the Enlightenment, interest in the sphere waned. René Descartes, the man most associated with the Enlightenment, conjured up a universe with parallel lines of knowledge. Seeking to safeguard the knowledge of God from science, he restricted scientific knowledge to only “clear and distinct ideas.” This is the realm of reason, measureable and observable. The problem is, God is Spirit, shrouded in mystery and immeasurable. Descartes recognized this, conjuring up a parallel line—religion.
The Western church rapidly came to a “comfortable cohabitation with the Enlightenment.” Christians adopted Enlightenment ideas, unwittingly using parallel line language such as “integrating faith and work.” Integration implies two entities. Yet there is no Hebrew word integrate. All creation is integral, seamless. One God. One creation.
Or we hear “connecting Sunday to Monday.” I speak from experience. At one time that was my organization’s moniker. But I came to see I was wrong. We don’t connect a seamless world. One God. One creation. Cohesive.
And how about the phrase “engaging culture?” Engaging implies the church is here; culture is out there. We have to engage it. Parallel lines. But culture is not a “thing” out there that we seek to “engage.” It is the air we breathe. You don’t engage air.
Parallel lines paved the way for positivism, a 19th century movement that made a hard distinction between reason and religion. The reason line deals with facts. It’s superior. The religion line deals with faith. It’s inferior. As evangelicals were pushed to the periphery—exile—many created parallel sub-cultures, “Christian” schools, music, books, and so on. This unwittingly furthered linear thinking, a parallel lines world.
Now we’re discovering how linear thinking is a product of the brain’s left hemisphere. Recent findings from neuroimaging reveal the left hemisphere loves straight lines, not curves or circles. This is problematic, as the left lobe has no direct contact with reality (no straight lines are to be found in the natural world). The left hemisphere doesn’t care. Left to itself, it’s confident in its capacities yet in denial about its own limitations.
We observe this in today’s left-brained Western church. Some of my friends who are Christians don’t like hearing this, but what distinguishes parallel lines is they never intersect. Never. I can’t say it enough. Parallel lines never intersect. As long as the church operates according to parallel lines, it will never integrate, connect, or engage anything.
The reality is the world God created doesn’t operate on parallel lines. The truth is, linear thinking Christians are not in the reality business. In reality, God is an infinite sphere. The universe is a sphere. When Christians use language reflecting parallel lines, they make it highly unlikely that others will ever take the gospel seriously. One example.
The other night I met a man who works in private equity. He’s hesitant about social impact investing. It sounds mushy, risky for ROI. This man runs on one line—markets, which are efficient (shortest distance between two points is a straight line). He’s left-brained, the half with an affinity for the mathematical. He imagines morality operating on a second line. Social impact investing might be effective, but who knows? It doesn’t look efficient. In his mind, markets and morality operate on parallel lines. They don’t intersect.
Another example. I’m working with a firm that has “the public good” as its aim. The public good was once understood as seamless with The One True God who is good. We can’t seek the public good if God operates on a parallel line. They never intersect.
The solution is dis-covering the integral nature of all things, the seamlessness of the universe. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is “a treasure hidden in the field” (Mt. 13:44). This is an older sense of discovery, of finding something that was already there. In ancient times, it was believed truth is covered and we have to dis-cover it.
Neuroscience is dis-covering the two hemispheres collaborate in a spherical pattern where we get closer and closer to the truth yet never completely arrive. We know in part—something the Apostle Paul wrote 2,000 years ago. We would be wise to ditch the Enlightenment, dump its language, and re-dis-cover the ancient wisdom of spheres.
 Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010)
 Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 33.