Tuesday, June 14, 2016

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 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.

Monistic Gospel
Part 2

Green makes this clear in his book In Search of the Soul.  In the introduction, he laments:
There has been very little work indeed on the implications of our portraits of the human person for our vision and practices of evangelism and mission. Instead, the longstanding and widespread assumption that the real person is identified with the soul has resulted in the primary attribution of missional interest to the saving of lost souls.  Addressing physical needs, in this rendering, has sometimes become a means to an end; witness, for example, the practice of some emergency-relief organizations, which require that the hungry listen to a sermon before partaking of the promised free meal.  Without prejudging whether body-soul dualism must lead to a relative deprecation of the body, we can observe nonetheless that body-soul dualism historically has done so when it comes to talk about salvation and practices of Christian mission.[7]
Contrast this with the viewpoint of the Christian monist in Green’s assessment.
[I]n their rendering, salvation would be defined in terms of human restoration; and, since the human being is inextricably bound up with the human family and with God’s created order, then salvation would of necessity be explicated as fully embodied, as oriented toward human community and as cosmological in scope.  “Healing,” in this portrait, could not segregate mind and brain, body and soul, person and community, or human and cosmos, with the result that Christian mission would have to be worked out in terms of practices that promote human recovery in the fullest terms. When it comes to “salvation” one could speak only of “human needs” and “human wholeness,” and not of “spiritual needs” (as if these could be distinguished).  Of course, this would require transformations in other areas of life as well.  The rigidly biomedical model used by most physicians and psychiatrists in the West, the work of pastoral care, practices associated with teaching and learning – these and many others would need re-envisioning in order to address human persons (and not bodies or souls or intellects) in community (and not as isolated agents).[8]
The difference cannot be more drastically contrasted.  In Green’s understanding, dualism promotes a “save your soul and get into heaven,” while monism promotes a more here and now, social justice gospel – or rather a holistic gospel that ministers to the holistic self.

This trend continues beyond these two leading voices. In his chapter, “What About the Dust?: Missiological Musings on Anthropology,” Michael Rynkiewich discusses the change in missionary activity in light of the anthropological monism. Like other monists, he criticizes the dichotomy of saving the soul without concern for body. After quoting Matt. 28:19-20 he writes,
A strong dualist ontology in Western culture has contributed to the view held by many Western Christians that it is possible save souls without bothering about the bodies, to speak words that convince without doing deeds that change, and to isolate individuals without considering their interrelatedness with community, land, and environment.[9] 
This then leads to the obvious question, “How will we do mission without souls to save?” An important question, to say the least, but unfortunately not everyone among the new monists have asked it, but for those who have, the answer is troubling. In his chapter, Rynkiewich’s argues that the monist-dualist debate informs our understanding of missions in three primary ways:  “It contributes to a more holistic theology of mission, . . . to a more incarnational theology of mission, and . . . to a more naturalistic theology of mission.”[10]

Rooted in a holistic, monistic understanding of man, Rynkiewich seeks a more holistic understanding of missions. This means that missions isn’t primarily about evangelism but also about social justice. One fundamental assumption here is that God is love and love demands relationship. God is sovereign, but “loving relationship is prior to sovereignty.” The reason is that sovereignty “depends on the creation for its expression. Before that, there was nothing to be sovereign over.”  =As a result, “The objective of mission is not to explain how a sovereign God loves, but to show to the world how a God of perfect love expresses sovereignty.”[11]

This applies directly to human personhood who is likewise defined relationally. Because the “Fall shattered the unity of the monistic living being and damaged (not totally and to irreparably) the relationship between the living being and the triune God, on the one hand, and persons, on the other.”  Salvation, in this paradigm, involves redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Rynkiewich writes:
Redemption means reconciliation for the living being with God, and restoration of the body to relationship with God, because a body out of relationship is an individual, lost, lonely, and incomplete.  Redemption and reconciliation are steps in the mission Dei, paths to God’s ultimate goals.”[12]
In summary, Rynkiewich argues simply, “A dualism that allows missionaries to separate evangelism and social justice is contrary to the missio Dei.”[13]


[7]  Green, Palmer, and Corcoran.  In Search of the Soul, 28.
[8]  Ibid., 28-29.
[9]  Rynkiewich, “What About the Dust?: Missiological Musings on Anthropology” in What About the Soul?, 133.
[10]  Ibid., 134.
[11]  Ibid., 136.
[12]  Ibid., 137.  Rynkiewich concludes this section by saying:
        If there is only body-mind, and within it neural networks that link to personal and cultural hermeneutic systems, then it is impossible to be in mission to the mind-soul without being in mission to the body.  If our pathways are affected by development, diet, and damage, and they clearly are, then how can we expect people to change their minds (repent and believe) unless we also work toward repairing damage and building healthy bodies/brains so that there are no unnecessary stumbling blocks to the gospel? 
        This view of mission requires us to rethink the priority of the Great Commission, Matthew 28, and join it with Luke 4 and the rest of the story.  In light of the whole story of God’s personhood (the economy of the Trinity) and God’s mission (creation, redemption, kingdom), we need continually to rethink our theology of mission.  A dualism that allows missionaries to separate evangelism and social justice is contrary to the missio Dei.  Ibid., 138.
[13] Ibid., 138.
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