Sunday, December 14, 2008

Soul and Spirit II

The soul/spirit dichotomy is a discussion ripe for disagreement. I think discussion, however, can prove fruitful for growth and maturity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13 instructs us on the purpose of the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the Body of Christ are for the equipping of the saints "
until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

Here in the Bible-belt, one might infer from attendance at many, if not most Sunday morning services that this scripture is expanded to say, "and of the knowledge of salvation through the Son of God." Certainly, I agree that salvation of the souls of humans is a main thrust of the NT writings. Further it is clear, such is a commonly held belief among Christians and as such is a part of the "unity of the faith." I wholeheartedly agree it is an important component of the message of reconciliation we bring to those who perish spiritually. Yet, in and of itself, salvation of souls as the core meaning of the work of the Anointed One on the cross and the supernatural consequences of the resurrection is at best limited in its articulation of the supernatural intent for humans in the Father's heart; and at worst, it is incorrect and artificially binds those so taught in less than the full power of the knowledge of the Son of God.

The focus of teaching on the salvation of souls is, in my estimation, a product of the focus of humans on their soul existence. I observe we are largely concerned with our "body" experience throughout our lives, and thus, we focus our contextual understandings and development of our mind and hearts around the natural reality of our physical existence. Our intellectual constructs are highly developed but limited to knowledge of life as the soul within the body. Without the illumination of the Spirit of God, humans are trapped in the soul, build all understandings from that limited vantage point, and cannot see Jesus as the Christ.

There are differing semantics for the soul. Some are concerned with psyche, and an entire branch of knowledge called psychology has become a science (science as a term rooted in a word meaning "to know") in which one may be credentialed. This knowledge seeks to understand and provide therapy for the mind/body connection which is estimated to be at the root of human behavior.

My concern for searching out the topic in discussion is intended to push the envelope a bit. Is there a lack of unity in our traditions of faith? Is this lack a function of soulish constructs which result in disagreement and division? Is it possible that a supernatural experience of spirit, in and through the living Christ, is the unifying feature of Christian perspective?


Carey said...

Study of psyche is, I think, an endless gathering of fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is intellectually provocative, but not truly satisfying. For authentic fulfillment, we need to gather fruit from the Tree of Life (Gen 2:9, Rev 22:2.)
Sustaining our curiosity with the fruit of knowledge leads to self-consciousness (nakedness, Gen 3:7.) Drawing our sustenance from the Tree of Life is, however, Life-giving.
But here's the rub: in this world, it's had to know the difference.
The Spirit of God is our best counsel in this dilemma. And His Spirit is a constant companion if we do not drive Him afar with habitual sin.

craig v. said...

At the risk of veering off topic a bit, I have one caution. It has become almost a part of our tradition to see precise definition of words as central to Bible study. In my office I have books containing large articles on almost every word in the New Testament. I don't dispute the value of these books, but my caution is that this approach to Bible study can seduce us into distortions of how language actually works. In real life, words are used with varying degrees of precision depending on context. The Bible, for the most part, is written not in a scientifically precise language but in ordinary language. I find this a cause of wonder - God speaks to us the way that we speak to one another.

When we inquire as to the difference between soul and spirit we need to examine what kind of question we're asking. If we assume the Bible is some kind of theological dictionary we will misunderstand it. We will also find ourselves in endless debate over words (something the Bible warns against). I suspect what we really want to do (and what Ded is doing) is continue a theological discussion that the Bible begins. This gives us great freedom of expression.

Carey said...

Truly, I like was Craig has said. Let's not debate or nitpick about the meaning of words. God has seen to it that his word is carried from generation to generation in ordinary language. I have a soul . Don't you? But my soul yearns for the Spirit of God in the same way that the deer pants for water. How 'bout you?

ded said...

You said,
For authentic fulfillment, we need to gather fruit from the Tree of Life (Gen 2:9, Rev 22:2.)

A common theme for me in the Wild Wood. Amen to that!!

Craig v.,

The added tangents are never off topic, but much like the flow of a conversation around the coffee table. Your insights are always a rich addition, thanks!

The caution to recognize that we cannot reduce scripture to a set of definitions is well made and needed. Living itself and living in God all the more is learning how to suspend one's self on a tension of sorts. Planes fly as the forces of lift and thrust work together.

And you are correct. I do not head toward attempting a finite definition of the two words. There appears to me a tension between the two that Christians might more fully embrace as part of the walk of faith.

craig v. said...

I believe the tension you describe is also expressed in the New Testament as the tension between the flesh and the spirit. Unfortunately, flesh has taken on sexual meaning in modern English, but I think the idea in Paul, at least, is more along the lines of what you want to say about the soul.

Carey said...

To risk a secular context: Freud called it the ego . We call it the soul. He also referred to what we call the conscience(or Holy Spirit) as the superego .
Thinking people in the world are aware of the dichotomy, but I believe we Christians possess the more potent terminology when we refer to the dilemma as "soul vs. spirit." It really comes down to, every situation: " Self, Are you going to do the right thing or not?"
And there is, you know, a "right thing to do" in every life circumstance. An example would be infidelity vs. adultery.

craig v. said...

That's an interesting idea Carey. Part of the reason I put in my little plug for freedom of expression in this area is I wanted to avoid getting pinned to a framework that doesn't allow for exploring how secular theories might be used to express Biblical tensions. Put another way, how much of soul spirit talk is Biblical teacing and how much is it the Bible using the language and culture of its time?

Carey said...

Secularists are really onto to something. They know that something is wrong in human nature, but instead of accepting the cure--salvation--they tend to treat symptoms. Hence, all the "psyche," and "ego," analysis, which produces a thousand ways to analyze the problem of human depravity, but no real solution to the problem.
I am interested in establishing a dialogue with secularists, which is why I mention their originator, Sigmund Freud, in whom I have, incidentally, very little faith.
Anyway, your mentioning the "culture of its time" is a huge question, especially for those secularists whom we seek to convert. How much of Paul's soulish, or cultural prejudice, was evident in his comments about women covering their heads? (To cite one classic example, 1 Cor 11.) What does the Spirit of God really have to say about such issues as these: women covering their heads, or the length of a man's hair?
"Put another way, how much of soul spirit talk is Biblical teaching and how much is it the Bible using the language and culture of its time?"
I'm thinking it's maybe...50/50?
The bottom line is: man cannot save his own soul. Therefore he must turn to the Spirit of God, which is "the testimony of Jesus." (Rev 19:10)

ded said...


You write: "Self, Are you going to do the right thing or not?"
Thus, we are faced with the power of our will over our decision-making.

I think it is a logical conclusion, anyway. (craig v., I am not trying to slight Presbyterian/Calvinist traditions. For the purposes of delineating our souls from where we experience spirit, I have found myself where Carey has gone on many occasions. What God ordains is outside the box of me. I have to deal with my will, as my own willfulness is the very essence of my disobedience. But all of this is tangential to the current discussion.)

In your second comment, I see the mention of "salvation" as the cure. Agreed on the one hand, but so you bring up a concern I have that in part motivates this series. We Christians have so completely bagged the term salvation with a particular meaning (to the point that the partial meaning of eternal salvation of the soul is embedded culturally for both those who believe in the concept and those who reject it), that few hear the whole truth.

Salvation of the soul is an end result, but regeneration which is the pre-cursor to that end is the walk of faith in the spirit. For me, it is the core issue of being someone who can both ask the question, "Self...right thing or not?" and find the source of the power to override everything in the soul that would reach for what is wrong.

Carey said...

As usual, your last paragraph furnishes a succinct focus to sharpen our meandering quest.
"Salvation" is a great word, admittedly overused, and therefore robbed of its power. We rob God of his power when we compartmentalize his marvelous, infinite workings into our little boxes. I think that's why (perhaps) craig brought up the question about definitions a few entries back. Definitions can be helpful, but they are restrictive.
Anyway, thanks for, once again, guiding our discourse back to productivity. In the process, you have revealed plainly this element of the struggle (that we share): distrust for your soul, and acklnowlegment of dependency upon the Spirit of the Lord to overcome the soul's failings. Thank God for His mercy, and power.