An Ash Wednesday Reflection 2015

We just got back from taking our kids to their first Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time where we examine ourselves with a repentant heart, confessing our sins and reminding ourselves of God’s mercy. Many people give something up for lent and the practice of fasting during Lent is common, so that people can take their focus off their needs and pleasures and focus on being made right with God.

During the Ash Wednesday service, participants are marked on the forehead with a cross. Tonight the prayer just before the marking with ash really stood out to me:

Loving God, you created us from the dust of the earth; may these ashes be for us a sign of our penitence and mortality, and a reminder that only by the cross do we receive eternal life.

What a simple reality. The prayer wasn’t burdened down with the language that we sometimes use to describe these truths, terminology like “physicalism,” “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” One of the frustrating things (but of course not the only frustrating thing) when Christians deny these biblical truths and talk about the immortality of the soul or about everybody living forever (it’s just a question of where they live) is that we have to come up with terminology to describe these positions.

This prayer, though, is a perfect example of how something like “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality” is ideally expressed, with the straightforward, unadorned claims of the Bible. We are mortal, made from the earth (or from stardust as some scientists like to say), we are dust and to dust we will return. We should have no default expectation of living forever, and it is only through Christ that we can have eternal life. Call that “conditional immortality” if you like, but it’s just the Christian Gospel.

Glenn Peoples

Dualism and Gender Identity

Might it be true that the gender of some people’s souls doesn’t match the sex of their bodies?

In the ever-driven politics of the language of gender, the word “cisgender” has been forged. Without harping on too much about it, it’s a word that, in my view, has been created in part to destabilise the notion of “normal” as far as gender goes, so that what most of us took to be normal until now can be spoken about as simply one condition among the others. To be “cisgender” is to have physical makeup – including chromosomes but especially including sex organs – so that by examining your physical structure, a person can tell whether or not your gender is male or female. Continue reading “Dualism and Gender Identity”

Book announcement: Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology

I’m delighted to announce that in December 2014 the Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology will be published, featuring a chapter from me called “The Mortal God.” The chapter is about how a doctrine of the incarnation might look coupled with a materialist view of human beings. Theological anthropology is about coming up with a view of human persons from a decidedly theological point of view, although there is a natural overlap with philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, theology and biblical studies. Questions about bodies, minds, souls, spirits, life, death, eternity and more are tackled in this sizeable piece of scholarship.

Here’s the synopsis: Continue reading “Book announcement: Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology”

Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2

Does the Bible actually teach that souls live on when the body dies? Short story: no.

In part 1 of this series I looked at what the Bible does say about the mind-body question. You should read that before you read this post. In short, in Scripture there’s a fairly clear portrait of human beings as physical and mortal, returning to the earth when we die, and depending on the resurrection of the dead for any future life beyond the grave. The familiar view of human beings as immaterial souls that inhabit physical bodies and live on when the body dies is not one supported in the Bible.

But is it really that simple? The evidence we saw last time was surprisingly clear, but still, some Christian readers of Scripture are resistant to this message. There are some passages in the Bible – although not many – that seem to some Christians to suppose that actually human beings do not die when their bodies die, but they actually live on in non-material form. Their souls don’t die. Some passages of the Bible, some people think, teach dualism because they teach that the soul outlives the body.

Continue reading “Of proof texts and ghosts: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 2”

Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1

This might surprise some people, but embracing a biblical worldview gives us reasons to be mind-body materialists rather than dualists.

I first rejected mind-body dualism not because of any sort of scientific scepticism but because of what I started to see in the Bible when I started looking.1 For what it’s worth, I think other Christians should do the same. Continue reading “Dust ‘n Breath: The Bible and the mind-body question, part 1”

  1. Specifically, I mean substance dualism, a view most clearly represented by the French philosopher René Descartes, or in classical thought by Plato. Materialism as a view of human beings is compatible with property dualism, with emergentism or with hylemorphism (in which a human being, like any other creature, is a compound of matter and form), in spite of the fact that the word dualism is used to describe each. The key is that these are views where the only substance involved is a physical substance. []

Divine Timelessness and the Death of Jesus

If the doctrine of divine timelessness is true, then it turns out – perhaps surprisingly to some people – that materialist Christology – and in particular what it has to say about the death of Jesus – is given a helping hand.

Continue reading “Divine Timelessness and the Death of Jesus”

Poisoning the well, dualist style

Is Christian physicalism really the child of naturalism that gives essentialism the heave-ho?

I really wish that evangelical institutions would pick the right fights to get into. A couple of days ago I got an email advertisement from that great bastion of substance dualism (or more importantly, that good and faithful opponent of Christian physicalism) in the modern Evangelical world, Biola University. The advertisement reads as follows:

Continue reading “Poisoning the well, dualist style”

Brian Leftow on “One Person Christology”

How can a Chalcedonian Christology avoid ending up with Christ being two people? If the divine logos (the second person of the Trinity) combined with a fully functioning human body and soul (which some people take to be the ingredients of a human being), that is surely two people and not one, right?

Continue reading “Brian Leftow on “One Person Christology””

Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep

He’s right about a lot of things, but soul sleep isn’t one of them.

Tom Wright’s scholarly writing on the biblical teaching on the resurrection of the dead is praiseworthy for a number of reasons. He has alerted the evangelical community to the unfortunate way in which popular theologies of “going to heaven” are eclipsing the biblical hope of the resurrection to eternal life. But he does have one major weak spot, in my view, and that is the rather poor treatment of the doctrine of “soul sleep.” Soul sleep is the view that people do not experience any conscious intermediate state of waiting between death and resurrection. They are wholly dead until God steps in and raises them back to life. Continue reading “Tom Wright: Wrong about Soul Sleep”

Luke 23:43 and Soul Sleep

If soul sleep is true, then why did Jesus tell the criminal on the cross that he would be with him that day in Paradise?

As I’ve indicated numerous times, I’m a materialist about human beings. I don’t think that I’m an immortal ghost/soul living inside a body. I think that I’m a physical creature. Long before I encountered philosophy of mind or neuroscience, I became convinced that this is what the Bible teaches, making its teaching on human nature stand out like a sore thumb against the pagan Hellenistic theology of the first century.

I also become convinced that since I am not an immortal ghost living inside a body, when my body dies I will not escape death and live on in heaven, or the underworld, or the astral plane or anything of that sort. I think the Bible teaches that death is very real and it puts an end to our life. There is no conscious state of any sort immediately following death. There is noting at all. Of course, I am a Christian and I do believe in the resurrection of the dead, but that obviously doesn’t happen when a person dies, or I think somebody would have noticed by now. The view I hold has sometimes been called “soul sleep” because it views death as a state of “sleep” or unconsciousness. It’s not an ideal term because it can be taken to imply dualism and maybe “person sleep” would be a better alternative, but it’s too late for that. The term has been coined.

Holding and expressing these views rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way, but for the most part there’s really no disputing that the Bible presents human nature and death this way literally dozens of times in fairly clear language. Affirming dualism and the view that we live on as immaterial spirits after death and go somewhere is a point of view held in the teeth of the biblical evidence. This fact too, I suspect, rubs some of my fellow conservative evangelicals the wrong way.

In spite of the fairly clear overall teaching of the Bible, there is a very small handful of biblical passages (no more than four, in my view) that might be used (and have been used) to suggest that actually the general impression given by most of what the Bible teaches is false, and that really we do survive our bodily deaths and travel to heaven, or hell, or some other place and live consciously there. This should not be surprising. Whether you’re doing surveying, earth science or biblical interpretation, when formulating a theory you’re always going to be confronted with recalcitrant evidence, that is, evidence that at first glance seems to go against the flow of the well-established facts and is in need of an explanation. The existence of such evidence in science or in Scripture does not falsify a theory.

One of those texts is Luke 23:43. Continue reading “Luke 23:43 and Soul Sleep”