Search Results for: "theological anthropology"

Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy

Philosophy and Christianity make truth claims about many of the same things. For example, they both claim to provide answers to the deep questions of life.

In Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Zondervan, 2016), EPS members, Paul M. Gould and Richard B. Davis, edit, compile and introduce interactions on four predominant views about the relationship between philosophy and the Christian worldview and their implications for life and practices.

The contributors and four views include:

Each author identifies the propositional relation between philosophy and Christianity along with a section devoted to the implications for living a life devoted to the pursuit of wisdom. One of the benefits of this book is the point-counterpoint responses and replies among proponents of each view.

In their resourceful introduction, Paul Gould and Rich Davis explain the background to this “four views” discussion and provide some historical background, as well as helpful summaries of each position in the conclusion.

In the reader-friendly, Zondervan Counterpoints format, this book helps readers to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of each view and draw informed conclusions in this much-debated topic.

Gould and Davis present their co-edited volume with the intent to help resource and encourage professors, students, pastors and other Christian leaders.

Their own “advice to students” embodies the ideals of this book. How might one think about going into philosophy?

Follow on Twitter news about the book by going to @FourViewsCPhil. Follow also co-editors Gould @PaulMGould and Davis @RBrDavis.

Readers may also enjoy the following other projects and resources provided by the Evangelical Philosophical Society:

A Substantive (Soul) Model of the Imago Dei: A Rich Property View

Learn more about this Routledge Research Companion to Theological Anthropology and this chapter contribution!

The psalmist raises a profound question, “What is humankind that you are mindful of them?” One aspect of this question is, “what is it that composes humankind?” Are humans bodies, brains, soul-body units or something else? Another aspect of the first question is, “why are we images of God?” and “what does it mean to be an image of God?” Surely the second question has something to do with the first.

As images, humans reflect and represent God. In order to answer the second question, we must say something in reply to the first question. In the present chapter, I endorse a substance dualism model of personal ontology as a satisfying way to make sense of the imago Dei (i.e., the image of God) by contrasting it with one sophisticated view advanced by Kathryn Tanner.

For further study:

  • What models of personal ontology coherently account for the Scriptural data on human beings?
  • What are the distinctions between various models of personal ontology as constructive accountings of a substantive image?
  • Does substance dualism have the resources to account for a robust biblical portrayal of embodied human nature?

The Dual-Function of the Imago Dei as the Key to Human Flourishing in the Church Fathers

Learn more about this Routledge Research Companion to Theological Anthropology and this chapter contribution!

This chapter tries to show how a rich anthropology informed how the earliest Christians saw the unity of heaven and earth in the human person’s imaging the divine.

An “image” by definition both unites as well as distinguishes the copy from the model, the participant from the Participated-in. As such, the first Christians saw how the human person reaches excellence only by embracing God’s good creation in such a way that they discovered how God was “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

As creatures immersed in this world of materiality, relationship, flux and time, Christians were called not to apologize for being bodily or contingent, but to find God precisely there: in the very mundane and material world in which they were planted. In the fourth century, however, a “stern minded” Christian anthropology that (perhaps unknowingly) sought to extinguish the imaging of God in order to make the soul one with God in such a way that one’s own will and desires became dangerous distractions.

The ascetic and hermetical movements of the post-Constantinian turn in the life of the Church thus gave rise to a theology of sanctity that required gargantuan feats against one’s humanity (one thinks easily of Simon the Stylite or Patermutus, who in the hagiography of John Cassian, wins favor for standing silently while monks beat and berate his young son). As the monk replaced the martyr, much of Christian theology forgot that the human person has been given the primal vocation of finding God in one’s everyday life and need not have one’s own humanity absorbed into a monism which finds distinction and individuality sinful. Instead, as later correctives show, imaging God means encountering the divine through the human, finding God in his good and doxologically deiform creation.

Possible works for further study (by author):

Questions for Further Study

  • As a created image, the human person is called to find God as an embodied reflection. This means to find God as “All in all” (1 Cor 15:28) and not directly as he dwells in and of himself. Why do you think that most religious traditions fail to embrace creaturliness and all that it entails (materiality, relationship, desires of the heart) as the foundation of searching for the Transcendent?
  • What does the incarnation for Christians do to affect this understanding?

Redemption, the Resurrected Body, and Human Nature

Learn more about this Routledge Research Companion to Theological Anthropology and this chapter contribution!

In answer to the question, “What us human nature?”, we might ask: What are the essential properties of being human? Is being embodied one such property? The answer you give will depend both on your metaphysics (e.g., whether you are a dualist or a physicalist) and your theology (e.g., whether you think there will be an “interim period” between your death and the general resurrection).

A distinction must be made between minimal dualism, expansive dualism, and the anthropology that most Christians have held. It is based on dualism, and thus affirms that human beings can for a time exist as disembodied souls, but also holds that human beings, in their most complete and perfect form, are embodied persons, and will be so in heaven. Those bodies will be transformed “glorified” bodies and in them we will see God.

For Further Study

  • Which counts for more in deciding on a Christian anthropology, philosophical or theological considerations?
  • How exactly does a glorified body differ from an ordinary earthly body?
  • What exactly is the beatific vision?

Anthropological Hylomorphism

Learn more about this Routledge Research Companion to Theological Anthropology and this chapter contribution!

This chapter attempts to present one version of anthropological hylomorphism which is inspired by the Aristotelian tradition.

Anthropological hylomorphism is the view that human beings are compounds of matter (Greek hyl?) and form (Greek morph?). According to this view, the soul of a human being is its substantial form. In the first part of the chapter this hylomorphism is presented and some difficulties pertaining to it are explored, for example: Does one human being have only one substantial form or many? Which kind of entity is a substantial form? Is it an entity at all? And can the soul, understood as substantial form, explain anything? In the second part of the chapter it is investigated how anthropological hylomorphism accounts for three central topics of Christian belief: the creation and beginning of an individual human being, the moral responsibility and moral status of human beings, and, finally, their bodily resurrection.

Questions for further study

  • How can this version of hylomorphism account for substantial change?
  • Is the matter that is formed by a substantial form prime matter or proximate matter
  • What are formal explanations and who needs them?

Interview with Andrew Loke: A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation

Christian philosophers and theologians continue to work-out different models for understanding the complexities of the incarnation, especially in light of objections to the doctrine and fidelity to Christian tradition and witness. Andrew Loke recently published A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation (Ashgate, 2014). Andrew is Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong.

In the following interview, we discuss his ‘kryptic model’ and some of its implications in light of different approaches to the doctrine of the Incarnation. He also situates his model in light of biblical and historical theology interests. Finally, he offers some perspective on what the kryptic model might achieve among inter-religious and inter-denominational discussions.
When you stand in awe of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, what is it that most captures your imagination? Where does your mind begin to immediately wonder?

The Maker of the universe becoming a child on earth for us–what an astonishing thought! What a real historical event worthy of the greatest celebration! My mind and heart are captivated by those glorious carols which are sung every Christmas. I particularly like this line from “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
‘Glory to the newborn King!’

Is the messianic identity and mission of Jesus the central concern of the doctrine of the incarnation? If so, is the ‘metaphysics of’ and ‘theology of’ that concern a subsidiary interest or something else? How do you see this?

The messianic identity and mission are indeed central, but the doctrine of the Incarnation also needs to be defended against the accusation of incoherence by sceptics from various traditions (Jewish, Islamic, etc.) throughout the centuries.  They have pointed out, for example, that being divine entails being omniscient and omnipotent, but the New Testament portrays Jesus as having human properties such as being apparently limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32) and power (John 4:3-6).

Many Christians have responded by saying that the Incarnation is a mystery. This is true, but the inadequacy with simply replying ‘mystery’ is that, since the Christian wants to make meaningful statements by affirming, for example, that the divine nature includes omniscience and that Jesus was apparently limited in knowledge as stated by the Scriptures, he/she must demonstrate what is meant (or what could possibly be meant) by these statements; it is not enough to claim that it is a ‘mystery’ and leave it as that. Moreover, the Christian must ensure that the explications of these statements do not result in contradictions. The problem with asserting that one can make contradictory statements about Jesus (e.g. ‘Jesus has complete awareness of everything and complete unawareness of everything simultaneously’) is that the person who makes such contradictory statements is not affirming anything about Jesus. Affirming ‘complete awareness of everything’ and ‘complete unawareness of everything’ simply cancel each other out; it is like writing something and then immediately erasing it, such that one ends up with nothing that is affirmed of Jesus.

Therefore, in order to make meaningful statements about Jesus in accordance with the Scriptures and to rebut the charge of incoherence, the Christian has to provide a model to show how concepts like omniscience and apparent limitation in knowledge can be affirmed of Jesus such that no contradiction results. The work which has been done in this area by metaphysicians and theologians can help to address the accusation of incoherence and open up conceptual spaces, so as to allow the Scriptural account of the Incarnation to be affirmed in all its glory and illuminate our understanding of God and humanity.

Systematic philosophical and theological accounts of the incarnation attempt to weigh-in on serious metaphysical, exegetical, theological and historical problems with the doctrine of the incarnation. Rigorous analysis and problematizing of issues seems to be the main approach. What are the limits and opportunities of such approach in light of the central concern of the doctrine of the incarnation?

Such an approach can be useful for clearing away the obstacles to the reception of the Messiah as God Incarnate. In particular, offering a defensible model of the Incarnation can aid our understanding of Scriptural passages relevant to the Incarnation and protect us against heretical notions. It can also be helpful for resolving longstanding interdenominational disagreements concerning the Incarnation, such as those between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, Dyothelites and Monothelites, and Lutherans and Reformed theologians. A review of church history shows that these disagreements are to a large extent due to neither side being able to see how the position of the other side could be possible within the bounds of orthodoxy. For example, the Reformed theologians fail to see how the Lutheran’s position on the unity of Christ’s person could avoid compromising Christ’s humanity, while the Lutherans fail to see how the reformed position on the distinction of natures could avoid compromising his unity. Hence, proposing a defensible model that would address the concerns of both sides would be very useful indeed, and further work in this area should be encouraged. However, this should be done with a clear recognition of its limitation, namely that it is not intended to provide an exhaustive description of Christ, and hence does not aim to dispel all mystery.

What are the main theses of your ‘kryptic model’ of the incarnation?

The key insight is that a divine person can refrain from utilizing his omnipotence when he carries out certain activities, such as walking to a town in Samaria. One can therefore suggest that the Son of God did this by the finite strength of his human body instead of utilizing his divine powers, hence he could experience fatigue as portrayed in John 4:3-6.

Likewise knowledge can be understood as a kind of power which one can refrain from utilizing. For example, a person might have knowledge of calculus, even though he might not be consciously thinking about calculus all the time. This knowledge of calculus can be said to be in his preconscious: when he chooses to utilize this knowledge by directing his attention to it, that is, when he chooses to consciously think about calculus, he can become aware of calculus.

Since having knowledge of a certain thing such as calculus does not require a constant conscious awareness of that thing, the knowledge of all things by a divine Person does not require a constant conscious awareness of all things by him. Thus, it could be the case that a divine Person chose to let his knowledge of all things reside in his divine preconscious at the Incarnation, and he freely chose not to utilize all of the knowledge in his preconscious, so as to consciously experience our human limitations.

Concerning Mark 13:32, it should be noted that the Greek word οἶδεν which is translated as ‘know’ means ‘to have realized, perceived, to know’; this word is often used in the New Testament in a general way, e.g. to know a person, to be able to understand/apprehend/recognize (TDNT vol.5, pp.116-119). Therefore, in view of its semantic range, in this passage οἶδεν can be legitimately rendered as ‘aware’. Thus, Mark 13:32 can be read as ‘But of that day or hour no one is aware, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.’ This reading fits the context perfectly: the disciples would be hoping that the Son would reveal to them the day of his coming, but no one can reveal what he/she is not aware. For our purposes here, it is important to note that such an unawareness of the Son can co-exist with omniscience in the same person because, as noted previously, omniscience does not require a conscious awareness of all the things known. A divine person can use his omnipotence to restrict the scope of his conscious awareness as well as the utilization of his omniscience, and in this state of self-restraint the Son was genuinely unaware of that day; it was not a sham.

What do you take to be the most salient evidence in support of your model?

The New Testament portrays Christ as having divine powers including the knowledge of all things (e.g. John 16:30, 21:17), but not utilizing them in all situations (e.g. Mark 13:32 and John 4:3-6 noted previously). His divine powers were largely ‘hidden’ (‘Krypsis’ in Greek) during the Incarnation, and only utilized on certain occasions to reveal his glory (e.g. John 2:1–11).  This is what my model postulates.

What might be the most contestable aspects of your model?

Its complexity. C. Stephen Evans told me that one standard criterion for the plausibility of a hypothesis is simplicity, and that my model fares poorly in this regard, for it seems to be much more complicated than alternative models such as the Two Consciousnesses Model and the Ontological Kenotic Model, and at times it seems as if it labours with ad hoc additions such as ‘it is possible that…’

This is an important objection, but I think it is answerable. Simplicity is a virtue and the charge of being ad hoc is valid only if all other things are equal. In this case it is not the case that all other things are equal, because alternative models such as the Two Consciousnesses Model and the Ontological Kenotic Model have significant problems which disappear on my Kryptic Model. Given this, the additions that my model makes are not ad hoc, because they help us to make sense of the Incarnation, the historical evidence for which has been defended by distinguished historians of early Christianity (e.g. N.T. Wright, Craig Keener) and eminent philosophers of religion (e.g. Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig). Additionally, it seems that a great level of complexity in the metaphysics is only to be expected given the sheer difficulty of the idea that a person could at the same time be a human as well as the Maker of the universe, thus the kind of additions that my model makes seems warranted.

What does your model make possible and plausible that other models fail to accomplish?

My model makes it possible to affirm that Christ had a single consciousness yet retained his divine powers at the Incarnation.

The plausibility of the model can be seen when we reflect on the following train of thought. Given that the Two Consciousnesses Model would entail the difficulties that Christ could have two contradictory self-consciousnesses simultaneously and that there could be an I–Thou relationship between these consciousnesses, which implies Nestorianism, Christ could have only one consciousness. Given the difficulty (which besets the Ontological Kenotic Model) of answering whether a divine person would still be divine if he were to give up his omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence (cf. Ps.147:4–5, Luke 1:37, Jer. 23:23–4 etc.), Christ must in some way be in possession of these properties (and this seems more consistent with Scriptural passages such as John 16:30, 21:17; Col. 1:17) but not utilizing them in all the acts that he did while he was in his incarnate state. This is what my model postulates of Christ.

In addition, my model answers other difficult questions facing the Divine Subconscious Model which have not been adequately addressed by previous versions of this model. For example, by postulating that the divine preconscious was not part of his human nature but was part of his divine nature, and that the divine nature and human nature were concrete and distinct parts of Christ, my model avoids a Monophysite mixture. Moreover, my model avoids Apollinarianism by postulating a human preconscious alongside a divine preconscious. While some recent advocates of the Divine Subconscious Model have denied Dyothelitism, I demonstrated in Chapters 5 and 6 that my model is consistent with the Dyothelitism of Maximus the Confessor.

Can you outline further work to be done by philosophers and theologians in light of your kryptic model of the incarnation?

The Incarnation is one of the central doctrines of Christian theology. It is the culmination of divine revelation, and therefore ought to determine our understanding of God and humanity. Christian theologian and philosophers working on the explication of Divine Attributes, the Doctrine of the Trinity and theological anthropology cannot afford to ignore how the Incarnation is to be understood. Working on these issues in light of this Kryptic model would involve, for example, the rejection of a strong version of divine immutability and essential timelessness, as well as the rejection of a physicalist account of human nature, as argued in Chapter 6 of my book.

Another potentially fruitful area of research concerns inter-denominational and inter-religious dialogues. Breakthroughs might be achieved by utilizing the insights provided by the Kryptic model to address the concerns and objections related to the Incarnation, which can be found in the writings of Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches, Lutheran and Reformed traditions etc., as well in the writings of Jehovah Witnesses, and Islamic and Judaist theologians etc. throughout the centuries. Hopefully, this would result in greater unity within the body of Christ, and more effective witness to the glory of the Incarnation.

Web Project: Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family Topics

Instructions for Submitting a Paper Proposal

Purpose: For scholars interested in ethics, theology, and philosophy work on ‘marriage and family’ topics, we invite carefully-honed papers that advances discussion of any of the below areas of the Potential Paper Topics.

If you are interested, please contact our project coordinator and editor Michael Austin (info below). Michael is seeking to coordinate all potential contributors and their topics for this endeavor. When you pitch your possible contribution, please provide the following:

  • Your name, institution and contact info.
  • Title and description of your proposal (e.g., 100 words).
  • Reasons for how your contribution will help advance the purpose of this project.

We are looking for papers that a) argue for a perspective on a marriage and family topic, or b) casts a vision for more work to be done in a particular area or c) offers a literature review and assess what seems to be ‘under-developed’ work.

Length: 1,500 to 2,000 total words (minimum). You are welcome to work with the Project Editor on length issues.

Deadline: TBD by the project coordinator

Project Coordinator and Editor
Michael Austin
Eastern Kentucky University
Department of Philosophy

Priority will be given to those papers that offer a perspective on questions and problems that especially hone in on what have been ‘under-represented’ in this theme for Christian philosophers. Please seriously consider developing paper topics with the below examples in mind. We encourage papers that will be of interest not only to the ethics scholar but also to the epistemologist, metaphysician, theologian, etc.


Find this Project interesting? See these other EPS Web Projects

Potential Paper Topics

Developed by Michael Austin (Eastern Kentucky University) & Joe Gorra (Veritas Life Center).

Much has been addressed by Christian philosophers on questions related to bioethics, reproductive technologies, and so on. But some under-represented ‘marriage and family’ topics include the following:

Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Issues in Marriage and Family Studies: If philosophy and theology are understood as ‘second-order’ disciplines, how might they contribute to the work and contributions of ‘first-order’ disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, cultural studies and their accounts of marriage and family? How might ideas and images shaped by these disciplines enable and clarify the work done by philosophers and theologians? We strongly encourage contributions from Christian philosophers who have understanding of the ‘meta-‘ issues involved with philosophy’s contribution to interdisciplinary discussions. We also encourage Christian non-philosophers to propose papers that are attentive to philosophical issues and concepts that converge with their discipline and areas of expertise. Co-authored proposals from philosophy and non-philosophy scholars are welcomed.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Ethics of religious upbringing of children: how to share, model, and influence our children for Christ in ways that honor God and respect them as well. Defenses of the morality of a Christian upbringing in the face of challenges at a popular level (e.g. Dawkins and “child abuse” claims) as well as at the scholarly level. How might philosophical accounts of ‘harm’ and ‘interest’ (of children, parents, etc) contribute to clarifying what is often a legally vague idea of ‘Acting in the best interests of the child.’

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysics of the Family: What is a family? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a family, on Christian theism? What biblical, theological, and philosophical data are relevant to this question? How important is genetics or biology to this definition? Or what value is there with respect to a biological connection of some sort between parent and child? Who is a father or a mother? How might a vocational account differ from strictly a biological account? How might we reflect upon ‘step-parenting,’ ‘foster-care parenting’ and ‘surrogate parenting’ in light of Christian theological accounts of adoption and hospitality of God? How might we think about the nature of parenting and family in light of the genetic modification of children and the technological possibilities of creating babies from three or more parents? And what implications do our answers to these questions have for the current cultural debates about same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting? From a political philosophy standpoint, what are strong, non-religious arguments for why a ‘secular state’ has an interest in protecting the family?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysical and Epistemological issues in Gender, Sexuality and Identity: What are necessary and sufficient conditions for defining ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality’ and ‘human identity’? On what basis are such distinctions drawn? In what sense and on what basis are these terms considered social constructions? ‘Self-identification’ of one’s experience as x, y, or z often populates studies in this area. Is this knowledge from a first-person perspective? Is it simply one’s construal? How might we understand the ‘authority’ of such claims relative to the authority of tradition, history, social institutions, etc.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral-Spiritual Formation of the Family: How does this occur, for both parents and children? What theological and philosophical resources can we bring to bear on this? How can parents be intentional about such formation for themselves and their children in the family? What does the Bible have to say that is relevant to such questions? And what do psychology, sociology, and other disciplines have to contribute to this? Is virtue formation and spiritual maturation in a family interconnected with being the roles of a mother and a father? What is the role of ecclesial communities in such matters of formation? Does the ‘Christian family’ exist primarily for the interests of the ‘household of faith’?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

  • For ‘ethics and family’ treatments, see Julie Rubio, Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (Georgetown University Press, 2010); Michael W. Austin, Wise Stewards: Philosophical Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel Academic, 2009).
  • For some work on the vocation of the family, see Gene Edward Veith and Mary J. Moerbe, Family Vocation (Crossway, 2012).
  • For recent article examples on philosophy and spiritual formation integration, see from the (Fall 2014) Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, Steve Porter, “A Call to Philosophy and Spiritual Formation” (248-257), and “Philosophy and Spiritual Formation: From Christian Faith to Christian Philosophy” (258-269); and also from JSFSC’s (Spring 2014), see Brian Brock, “Discipleship as Living with God, or Wayfinding and Scripture,” 22-34.

Non-Religious Arguments for Marriage and the Family: What are the opportunities and limitations for using ‘natural moral law arguments’ in public and pluralistic contexts? Are such arguments mostly useful for ‘consoling the faithful’? How are ‘secularists’ compelled by such arguments, if they are compelled at all? How might such arguments be retooled in light of changing plausibility structures in Western societies, which increasingly view Christian accounts of marriage and family to be contestable and not believable? How might sociological, psychological and economic reasons and evidences be more persuasive to most secularists than natural law arguments?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral Vision of Flourishing ‘Families’ in a Pluralistic Society: Culturally speaking, the experience of marriage and family is no longer a homogenous kind of experience in Western societies. Increasingly, we have ‘pluralist’ accounts recognized by law, legitimized by cultural pressures, and encouraged by various social institutions.

Drawing from Christian Social Thought, how might Christians envision a society that attends to our differences, even contradictions, regarding marriage and family flourishing? Is such a society possible? What conditions or values should shape how we are bound together? How might Christians think societally about such issues like ‘gay adoption,’ government assistance for unwed mothers, illegal immigration and deportation of parents, youth incarceration and single-parent homes, etc? What society should be built by Christian thought and leadership influence given the particularities of our cultural moment? We encourage constructive responses that seek to minister to each person made in the image of God, and seeks to uphold the social order.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

‘Health,’ ‘Well-Being,’ and ‘Holiness’ of Marriage and Family: Innumerable scientific studies have been written about the health and happiness of individuals, their family and affects on society. ‘Health,’ though, is usually given a reductive account: a scientific or medical question about an organism. Similarly, ‘happiness studies’ usually assume a psychological account about someone’s mental outlook on life. Is there a thicker account of ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ that includes but is not reduced to the hard or soft sciences? Moreover, Christians have historically understood marriage and family as sacred or holy, set apart for the glory and purposes of God’s work in the world. Is there ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ entailed by that sacred, perhaps even ‘sacramental vision’ of marriage and family? How might we recapture a more holistic understanding of eudaimonia as a collective, relational phenomenon, in family, church and state.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

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Distilling a Defense of The Soul: An Interview with J.P. Moreland

In my interview with J.P. Moreland, not only does he discuss his latest book, but he also discusses trends he sees in the culture that further require a defense of a substance dualist account of the human person.

The Soul seems to function as a ‘primer’ relative to your many other books and articles on this topic. If so, it’s striking to me that such a book would emerge now in this season of your vocation vs. at the beginning of your professional life as a philosopher. What do you find yourself wanting to emphasize now that is different yet similar to what you’ve been writing about all these years regarding the existence of the soul?

I wrote The Soul at this stage of my life rather than at the beginning of my career because I have studied the issue for many years and have a lot more to say about it now.  I have published a number of technical pieces on the mind/body problem and thought it was time for me to write a book that was accessible to thoughtful laypersons. 

For those that have not tracked your work on the soul, what might be ‘new’ to them compared to what else they may find in the literature on this topic?

There are really two emphases in The Soul that could, in some sense, be taken as new.  First, I am deeply concerned that there are such things as Christian physicalists.  For the life of me, I don’t see how one can, with integrity, avoid a dualist reading of the Bible, especially if the dualism in mind is not a fairly extreme form of Platonic dualism (the soul is immortal on it’s own, the body is evil as is manual labor, the final state will be disembodied).  I have read Nancey Murphy and Joel Green, and have listened to their lectures on this and had personal conversations with Green, so I know their views.  And without being mean-spirited, I am convinced that Christian physicalism is eisegesis that tries to find a way to read physicalism into the Bible so Christians won’t have to be embarrassed by an outdated dualism that has been largely undermined by science.  To address this concern, I devote an entire chapter of the book to a fairly careful interpretation of the key passages and show that dualism is the biblical view.  Second, over the years, I have picked up some new arguments (and some new ways to put old arguments) for a substantial, immaterial self/soul, ego, I.

The book is dedicated to your friend and mentor, Dallas Willard: “a man with the largest soul I ever encountered.” Of all that Dallas taught you, what’s the most indispensable insight he taught you about the human person?

Dallas taught me many things about human persons, so it is hard to boil all that down to a single insight.  But if I were forced to do so, I suppose it would be that laypeople think that science has shown we are our brains, that this is entirely false and, indeed, the view of the human person in the Bible is still the most reasonable view to hold: that the soul diffuses the body in such a way that the body really contains the soul (the body is en-souled matter), such that soulish dispositions reside in the body qua en-souled matter, and so spiritual formation includes attending to those dispositions by way of habit formation.

So, given what Dallas taught you, how have you tried to extend your own work ‘beyond’ Dallas?

A way of honoring any mentor is to attempt to extend what he taught you beyond his teaching by developing it more fully and extending it into new areas of reflection.  My main work that extends Dallas’ has been (1) developing detailed critiques of the various forms of physicalism extant in the current academic culture; (2) formulating more arguments for substance dualism.  These extensions are in my book.  I should say that I advance my arguments and hold to my views, not primarily because they stand as extensions of Dallas’ thought, but because I think they are true and rationally defensible.

In the Introduction, you spend about two paragraphs articulating some thoughts about human embodiment, where you “take the body to be an ensouled, spatially extended, physical structure” (16). Over the years, most of your approach to explaining the existence and significance of the soul has seemed to focus on acquainting people with the irreducible nature of nonphysical (spiritual) reality (e.g., consciousness) and showing the failures of philosophical naturalism. Is there a reason why your work has not also given priority to a focus on embodiment, given your Thomistic substance dualism? Wouldn’t that Thomistic sense of embodiment have an evidential force to explaining the necessity of a soul?

You are right that the Aristotelian/Thomistic version of the soul and the way it is embodied has not been a major aspect of my writings, though I do lecture on it in my classes at Talbot.  And you are also correct that, given that a body is such only if en-souled—a body without a soul is a corpse, not a body—there are many powers in the body that are not, strictly speaking, physical (e.g., the power to feel anxiety in different parts of the body).  But one can only do so much, and as my career has developed, I have earnestly prayed for Jesus to guide my research and publishing, and as a result, defeating philosophical naturalism as a worldview, and showing that mind/body physicalism is at home in naturalism and not in theism, have been major preoccupations of my intellectual work. 

The last chapter, “The Future of the Human Person” is not about future trajectories in anthropology but about the afterlife. You spend a considerable amount of attention on hell, which evolves into issues of soteriology. While there are echoes of your book with Gary Habermas, Beyond Death, why include a discussion about hell in a book about the soul? Or, for you, what does eschatology and soteriology have to do with philosophical anthropology?

I remain unconvinced by the various physicalist attempts to render an afterlife intelligible, given a physicalist anthropology, and I have read most of those attempts.  Thus, dualism is essential for making credible the reality of the afterlife.  In this regard, the literature on Near Death Experiences provides overwhelming evidence for the existence of a soul and the reality of disembodied existence near or after death.  While I do not agree with the doctrinal ideas in every DNE account, there are simply too many credible accounts that have been studied carefully which lend support to dualism and a disembodied intermediate state between death and final resurrection.  In my last chapter of The Soul I include two NDEs that support these claims.  Besides, if one becomes convinced that the soul is real, then one should give serious attention to what happens after one dies.  In order to give guidance to such attention, I include as the last chapter a treatment of the afterlife.

Anyone who has read your articles and books for any length of time will quickly discover that you are passionate about ‘deconstructing’ the hegemony of scientism in the academy and in the culture at large. Is there a correlation between your critique of that epistemic-cultural hegemony and your (not often known) critique of the hegemony and domination of political power in a society?

There is, indeed, such a connection.  It is on the basis of the possession (or the perceived possession) of knowledge that people have the authority to act in public and shape the common good.  Unfortunately, scientism has led a number of cultural elites to reject traditional Christianity as outmoded and falsified, and to seek to replace it with progressive forms of secularism.  This movement is gaining ascendency in the centers of power in our culture—the schools, universities, media, entertainment, and politics.  This is why we must undermine scientism and contend for Christianity in the public square.  Journalist and regular contributor to Fox News on television—Kirsten Powers—recently converted to Christianity from a secular worldview precisely because she heard a rational defense of the faith and came to realize that the good evidence was on the side of the Christian religion.

We seem to live in a cultural milieu where there is widespread pluralism regarding ‘human identity.’ For example, it is not uncommon for the patterns of our public discourse to run wild with ‘identity talk,’ whether referring to ‘identity politics,’ ‘gay identity,’ or ‘national identity,’ and still more, our ‘Christian identity’ and ‘ethnic identity.’ Granted, these are probably not univocal meanings of ‘identity.’ But what do you make of the proliferation this ‘identity’ fixation?

The proliferation of ‘identity’ talk represents the rejection of essentialism with its replacement on a form of postmodern constructivism according to which I can construct any identity for myself I want and form groups of others with the same constructed identity.  This group hegemony keeps one from facing who they really are, essentially (image bearers of the biblical God who gave them a nature), and, instead, hiding from reality by the soothing comfort that comes from group reinforcement of their constructed world.

For many philosophers and theologians, your work has helped to shape plausibility conditions and pathways for others to traverse in ‘thinking Christianly’ about metaphysics, philosophy of mind and theological anthropology. What do you hope a next generation of scholars will be enabled to do with and ‘beyond’ the areas that you have cared so deeply about?

I hope that laypersons, especially young Christians who getting ready to go to college or are already there (or who have just graduated) will read The Soul as a way of resisting cultural incorporation into views antithetical to Christianity and common sense.  If we can establish dualism as the biblical and most defensible view throughout the Christian community, then the cream will rise to the top:  some Christians who go into various fields will use the notion of the soul to integrate what they do with the Christian faith.  Such integration keeps Christianity from being marginalized and it shows the important intellectual work the central concepts in Christianity do when employed in the right way.  And the notion of the soul is one of the most important concept for that work.

More about J.P. Moreland can be found at his website. Readers might also be interested in the recent collection of essays by some of J.P.’s friends, which reflect upon and advance some major themes in his writings, entitled, Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland, edited by Paul Gould and Richard Davis (Moody Publishers, 2013).

2012-2013: Center For Christian Thought (Request for Proposals)

Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought (“the Center”) will grant multiple semester- and year-long residential research fellowships: roughly half of these will be awarded as external fellowships (for scholars from institutions other than Biola University), and the other half as internal fellowships (for Biola University faculty). Fellowship recipients will comprise an interdisciplinary group of approximately eight researchers per semester focused on the theme Contemporary Neuroscience and the Soul.

Fellowship Description

This RFP is aimed at work on the implications of contemporary neuroscience for the
existence and nature of the soul. Questions to be addressed include:

  • Does the difficulty of solving the so-called “binding problem,” where this is a matter of explaining the phenomenon of the unity of consciousness, suggest an argument for the existence of the soul?
  • Does recent evidence that various “mindfulness” techniques can affect neuroarchitecture suggest anything about (a) which views of soul are most plausible, and (b) how the soul might causally interact with the brain?
  • What further can be said about claims by Libet and others that there is tension between recent findings in neuroscience and the existence of freedom of the will?
  • What philosophical theories of soul best accommodate the deliverances of recent neuroscience?
  • What are the most promising strategies for integrating the findings of contemporary neuroscience with Christian theological anthropology?
  • Proposal requests from non-Biola-affiliated scholars will be for $70,000 to $90,000 (plus a $6,000 per semester housing stipend and relocation expenses) for projects lasting the full 2012-13 academic year and $35,000 to $45,000 (plus a $6,000 per semester housing stipend and relocation expenses) for projects lasting one semester that academic year.

Proposal requests from Biola faculty will be for half-time course releases. We anticipate hosting a total of 8 fellows per semester (some of whom will stay for only a semester, others for the entire academic year), about half of which will be non-Biola scholars and the other half, Biola faculty. Fellows will be in residence at Biola University for either the fall term (August 25, 2012 to December 18, 2012) or the spring term (January 28, 2013, to May 20, 2013) or both.


November 1, 2011 – Deadline for completed applications
March 1, 2012 – Awards announced
August 25, 2012– Program start date (Fall)
December 18, 2012– Program end date (Fall)
January 28, 2013 – Program start date (Spring)
May 20, 2013 – Program end date (Spring)

For more information, see: