Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry (DMin)



First Advisor

MaryKate Morse, PhD

Second Advisor

Laura Simmons, PhD


Current research indicates that well-intentioned practices and programs aimed at forming people into the image of Christ are not producing the intended results. One roadblock is the misunderstanding and lack of value placed on the role of emotion in the transformation process. The purpose of this dissertation is to present neuroscience research about the integral role of emotion in one's life, and suggest practical ways to capitalize on emotion to effect transformation.

Chapter one describes the goals of spiritual formation, in contrast to current attitudes and practices of those inside and outside the church. It provides a basic introduction to the brain's emotional system and its significance for transformation.

Chapter two reviews the biblical narrative to demonstrate God's plan for personal transformation and the restoration of all creation, as well as the holistic role that embodied humans have in the process.

Chapter three explores historical trends, from the early church to contemporary times, for approaches to spiritual transformation. The ongoing shift in emphasis between head and heart is highlighted, as well as a review of individual and communal practices.

Chapter four examines neuroscience research that demonstrates how one's individual emotions can be tapped into to capture one's attention, improve memory and decision-making, and motivate one toward action. Chapter five explains attachment theory, the foundation of all emotional connection, including one's capacity for emotional contagion and emotional regulation.

Chapter six explains neural plasticity, emotional revision, and the power that relationships have to effect change in oneself, others, and one's relationship with God.

Chapter seven synthesizes information in prior chapters, and suggests approaches to spiritual formation-- from the ancient to the newly fashioned-- that are informed by the neuroscience of emotion. The ultimate goal is to describe a practical way forward for those striving to follow Jesus in a long-lasting, life-impacting way.