Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Danger of the New Monism: Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 2

The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 1
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 2
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 3
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4b
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part c
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5b
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5c
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 6
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Complete Series


What follows is a series of posts regarding the New Monist movement which combines neuroscience with theology and argues that science has "proven" we have no soul.  The problem I have with such a suggestion isn't just the challenge it presents anthropologically, but soteriologically. How does denying the existence of our soul affect our understanding of the gospel? That's one of the questions I hope to answer.  This debate is another example of the challenge that science can present for Christian theology.


The Debate: Do We Have a Soul?

Due to recent developments in neuroscience, psychology, and other schools, the debate over the soul has become more heated.  Traditionally, Christians have affirmed the existence of the soul, but many are beginning to reject such an assumption. For the purpose of brevity, this paper will limit itself between monism and dualism. Though a trichotomy view of man remains a common view by some Christians, it, like dualism, affirms the existence of an immaterial soul/spirit and it is that fundamental belief that monists reject.

In Defense of Dualism

So do we have a soul?  From its birth, Christians have answered such a question in the affirmative.[1]  Christians have believed historically that man is both body and soul and between death and the resurrection the two will be temporarily separated. This includes Augustine,[2] Thomas Aquinas,[3] John Calvin,[4] the Heidelberg Catechism,[5] and many more. The historical record shows that in each age of the Church, the belief in both the body and the soul and an intermediate state was defended.

The grounds on which dualism was articulated was based primarily in Scripture. Scripture, and particularly the New Testament, overwhelmingly affirms the presence of anthropological dualism. In the Gospels, for example, Jesus repeatedly affirms dualism. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), for example, both persons die and find themselves immediately in their eternal state - one in “Abraham’s bosom” and the other in Hades. This text clearly affirms an intermediate state especially since both men are dead and yet living while the rich man’s brothers are still living on earth. The resurrection had not yet taken place, thus suggesting an intermediate state where the man has both a body (which is buried at this time) and a spirit.

Likewise, while on the cross, Jesus tells the repentant thief next to him that “today” the thief would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:42-43). Such language implies an intermediate state. After all, in spite of many other attempts to redefine the word, “today” means today. That day both Jesus and the thief would be in paradise even though their physically lifeless bodies remained on the earth decaying.[6]

Then there is the question of where Jesus was between His death and resurrection.  The language to the thief on the cross clearly implies that between Friday and Sunday, Jesus’ Spirit was separated for a time from His body.  This point is critical to understand as the cross and resurrection becomes the catalyst by which the Apostle Paul lays out his eschatology of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Just as Jesus’ Spirit was separated from His body after His death and prior to His resurrection, so will we. At our death, our spirits and bodies are separated for a temporary time only to be reunited at the resurrection.

But there is another important point to be made here. Christians have always affirmed that Jesus is both God and man (the Hypostatic Union). At the Incarnation Jesus did not cease being God, but in the mystery of the incarnation, He took on flesh. Monism risks heresy when the question of where Jesus was between His death and resurrection is raised.  Monism denies the soul thus leading to the conclusion that when Jesus died, He literally ceased to exist and yet Scripture is clear that God is eternal and always has and always will exist.[7] 

The same message of dualism continues beyond the Gospels.[8]  In Acts 23:6-8 Paul, a former Pharisee, claims that he was on trial due to his belief about the resurrection. Luke then juxtaposes the views of the Pharisees with the Sadducees noting that the latter reject the resurrection, angels, and an immaterial soul. Luke makes clear that Paul sided with the Pharisees thus affirming his belief in angels, the resurrection, and the soul.

Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul lays out his view regarding the resurrection. As mentioned above, the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to Paul’s understanding of our resurrection. In verse 51-52 Paul notes that the resurrection is a future event which will occurred after a time of “sleep.”  Furthermore, this resurrection is not individualistic, but will involve all believers. The monists argue the opposite. Because they affirm that the resurrection happens immediately after death, they argue that resurrection is an individual event, but Paul argues here and elsewhere (see particularly 1 Thess. 4:13-18) argues that it will be a corporal event.[9]

Consider also 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 where Paul describes his visions of the “third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body” (vs. 2). Paul reaffirms in the next verse that he “was caught up into paradise” either “in the body or out of the body” (vs. 3). Clearly, Paul affirmed the possibility of a temporal disembodied existence.

Again, more passages from the New Testament could be cited in support of anthropological dualism and the intermediate state and for centuries Christians have pointed to these texts to defend their position.[10]  What is missing from this very brief survey is any mention of the Old Testament and it is here where many monists point to defend their view. Certainly there are plenty of passages in the Old Testament that promote dualism, there is no doubt that the clearest dualistic language is in the New Testament.[11]  Monists who spend their time in the Old Testament must first deal with these clear texts.

In summary, these texts clearly teach that man is made up of both a body and a soul.


[1]  This does not mean that every Christian throughout history has affirmed the belief in an immaterial soul. Certainly one could easily collect a list of theologians and Christians who were monists.  The point here is that the view held by far by Christians throughout the centuries has favored the belief in an immaterial soul.
[2]  In The City of God, Augustine commends one of his characters for “regarding man as neither the soul alone nor the body alone but the combination of body and soul” Furthermore, in his book On the Immorality of the Soul, Augustine notes that “the soul is present as a whole not only in the entire mass of a body, but also in every least part of the body at the same time.” Regarding Augustine’s anthropology, theologian John Cooper notes, “Augustine’s anthropology is a two-substance dualism.  Human beings are composed of spirit and matter intimately conjoined so that the soul permeates and animates the entire body.  Whereas the body depends for its existence and activity upon the soul, the reverse is not true.  Augustine’s view of the human constitution dominated Christian thought in the West unchallenged until the thirteenth century, as did his views on many theological topics.”  As quoted in John W. Cooper, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 11.  Ibid.  It should also be pointed out that though Augustine had been a Platonist, it is an oversimplification to contribute Augustine’s anthropology to just Platonism.  Cooper points out that in contrast to Plato, Augustine “criticizes Platonism for holding that souls are not created but are by nature self-sufficient and have existed eternally.  And he rejects the opinion that the body is intrinsically antithetical to the good.  These Platonic doctrines,” Cooper emphasis, “directly contradict the teachings of Scripture.”  Though much of Augustine’s theology “is recognizably Platonistic” it is simply inaccurate to limit Augustine’s view solely on Platonism.  Ibid., 10.
[3]  In his famous work, Summa Theologica, Aquinas plainly states that man “is composed of a spiritual and a corporeal substance.”  Cooper notes that “this is clearly a two-substance dualism in line with Augustine.”  Ibid., 12.
[4]  Calvin clearly states in his Institutes that “there can be no question that man consists of a body and a soul.”  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion trans. Henry Beveridge, revised (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 104.  Furthermore, in his book Psychopannychia, Calvin argues against soul-sleep defending the intermediate state and dualism.
[5]  Question and Answer 57 asks how the resurrection of the body comforts the believer?  The answer given is, “Not only will my soul be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but even my flesh, raised by the power of Christ will be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.”  As quoted in Cooper, Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting, 15.
[6]  Monists have tried to redefine the meaning of “today” throughout the years in order to avoid this clear conclusion. Instead of an objective time, some have suggested Jesus is speaking subjectively.  In other words, though it would seem like they would be in paradise “today” in reality it would be in the future. After all, eternity is without time and thus to speak of eternity in time-filled language is inaccurate. Others have made similar attempts but all of them are equally impossible.  See Ibid., 140.
[7]  Making this same argument, John Cooper argues, “Now if the extinction-re-creation account of Jesus’ resurrection is true, then the teaching of Chalcedon is false.  The two natures of Christ are separable and were in fact separated between good Friday and Easter Sunday.  The human being Jesus completely ceased to exist.  For on the monist-holist view motivating the extinction-re-creation theory, persons are essentially linked to their organisms.  Bodily death is complete death.  Persons do not survive.  So the divine-human person Jesus Christ did not exist for the interim.  Only the nonincarnate Word, the wholly divine Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, existed during that time. What occurred on Easter is essentially the same as the miracle of Christmas.  Once again the Word became flesh, this time resurrection flesh.  We do not have an incarnation and something essentially different – a resurrection – in the life of Christ, but two incarnations.  If the extinction-re-creationists are consistent, they seem closer to the heresies which Chalcedon rejected than to orthodox Christology itself.  For either the human nature of the Son is incidental even after his incarnation and was nonexistent for three Jewish days; or else we have two persons in Jesus Christ, a divine person who continued to exist and a human person who did not.  Neither option would have escaped condemnation at Chalcedon.”  Ibid., 145.
[8]  For more texts in the Gospels that support dualism see Matthew 10:28 (parallel in Mark 8:36-37); Matthew 16:26; Matthew 27:50 (pneuma); Luke 12:20; and John 19:30 to name a few.  Consider particularly Luke 23:46 (peneuma) where Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5 (LXX uses peneuma). Jesus is clearly speaking in dualistic terms here and seems to have a dualistic interpretation of Psalm 31.
[9]  See Ibid., 152-155.
[10]  Consider for example Acts 7:59 (pneuma); 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:21-24 (note Paul language of remaining in his body).
[11]  Consider for example, Genesis 35:18; 1 Kings 17:21; Ecclesiastes 12:7; and Isaiah 53:12 among others.  These passages, among many others from the Old Testament, suggest anthropological dualism.
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