Sunday, February 5, 2012

Do I believe in the soul?

In a scientific age, the question of the existence and definition of "a soul" seems to be one that perplexes and confuses Christians. Earlier I posted a review I wrote of a disappointing book on the subject.

It seems to me that from a Biblical perspective the key concept is that of a whole person. When the Bible talks about "heart, mind and soul" it is not defining the separate parts of a person but rather trying to capture the concept of a whole person. Note that the "heart" it is discussing is not the bodily organ but the desires, intentions, and aspirations of a person. Souls cannot be detached from bodies; it is bodies that will be resurrected and exist eternally.
“We have been fooled, not for the first time, by a view of death, and life beyond, in which the really important thing is the ‘soul’ — something which, to many people’s surprise, hardly features at all in the New Testament.
“We have allowed our view of the saving of souls to loom so large that we have failed to realise that the Bible is much more concerned about bodies."
N.T. Wright, For all the Saints, Remembering the Christian Departed, 2003
[a large extract can be read here].

In the tradition of bad journalism, prior to publication of this book, The Times ran a misleading headline, Durham's new Bishop abolishes Heaven and the soul.

This issue is also explored in great detail in Nancey Murphy's book Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies. Based on hearing a lecture she gave on this subject, I have some sympathy to her views, and especially that she emphasizes the relevance of the concept of emergence, and the limitations of reductionism. However, at times I also find she over-uses technical jargon in a way that is not particularly illuminating or convincing.

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