My blog posts have been a tad sporadic recently because we’ve had to move our office again (and all the books!) to what we hope is a more permanent location. Along with working a part-time job I’m working on several articles for Dr. Reluctant and for TELOS, as well as editing lectures for the latter. I’d appreciate your prayers during the transition.
This is a transcript of a lecture taken from the course on “The Doctrine of Man and Sin” at Telos Biblical Institute
How do we get our souls? How are our souls transmitted to each of us?
Three Distinct Views of How the Soul has been Transmitted in the History of Christianity
· The Pre-Existence of the Soul
First – the Doctrine of the Pre-Existence of the Soul [Obviously, we know this is not taught by the Scriptures anywhere, but it has been taught in Christian history.]
The man who is most famous for bringing this doctrine into the church is the third century scholar Origen, who was born in Alexandria in Egypt, and died in Caesarea, Palestine in the year 254 A.D. Origen’s view of the pre-existence of the human soul begins with his rather confused doctrine of God. Origen believed that God created just as many spirits as he could handle, before he created the material world. Because he was shot through with platonic thinking, Origen believed that the realm of immaterial forms or ideas was where we sprang from and where we were headed to.
Therefore, it is unsurprising to learn that he did not believe in a physical resurrection of the body. In Origen’s view human spirits were originally disembodied before the world was formed, and they were created bodiless as free beings. This is their proper state according to him. In fact, their goodness was really situated in their freedom.
As Colin E. Gunton says in his book The Triune Creator, 58,
“These spirits, called to live in eternal contemplation of God, fell away from him and misused their freedom so that they could be restored to unity with the divine only through the redirection of that freedom.”
Basically, that redirection of the spirit’s freedom came about by the creation of the world, along with what we might call the ‘imprisonment’ of these spirits; preexistent souls put into human bodies. So, according to Origen, all the material creation really is, is a kind of training ground, so that we can learn how use our freedom again. And when we die we are again disembodied.
“Our world is created out of nothing, but for a purpose and its function is educational or pedagogic for the training of the fallen spirits in virtue so that they are qualified to return to unity with the One.” – Colin E. Gunton, Ibid, 59
There is Origen’s view. This view was condemned as heretical, and it certainly is heretical. Nevertheless, it has been taught in the history of the church, and Mormonism teaches something like this today. Moreover, the view of the Pre-Existence of the Soul needs to be kept in mind as a heretical view because it does have a lot in common with the Eastern religious view of reincarnation, where the soul just keeps coming back into new bodies as it tries to escape the wheel of karma.
Of course, this belief would have as its corollary the opinion that the material world is not part of God’s final eschatological plan. Everything is going to be realized in an immaterial future in glory. And so Origen is one of the sources for this pagan notion that heaven, somewhere in the by-and-by, is just purely a spiritual experience; where souls float around and enjoy spiritual communion with no material or bodily substance to mess things up.
Wayne Grudem writes,
“[In relation to the preexistence of the soul] There is no support for this view of Scripture; before we were conceived in the wombs of our mothers we simply did not exist, we were not. Of course God look forward into the future and knew that we would exist but that is far removed from saying that we actually did exist at some previous time. Such an idea would tend to make us view this present life as transitional or unimportant and make us think of life in the body as less desirable and the bearing and raising of children as less important.” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 484
(Actually, Grudem’s treatment of Creationism and Traducianism is very unsatisfactory and one of the more disappointing aspects of his book).
Second – The Doctrine of Creationism
There are two positions on this issue which are deemed orthodox: “Creationism,” and “Traducianism.”
By “Creationism” is not meant the creationism of the Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research or some similar agency, as valuable as their work is. We’re not dealing here with the origins of the world, or the origins of man, or the age of the earth or anything like that. Here we’re talking about the origin of the soul, and of the souls of individual people.
Where then do our souls come from? Creationism answers that God creates a new soul in each person at conception, sometimes even at birth. This view is held almost uniformly by reformed covenant theologians, though not by all of them. There are some exceptions: Jonathan Edwards, W.G.T. Shedd, Gordon Clark, Robert Reymond, and J. Oliver Buswell, come to mind; but for the most part, covenant theologians are creationists, and there is a reason for that which we will discuss as we continue.
It appears also that even though John Calvin did not express himself very much on this issue, there is a quotation from the Institutes which shows that he certainly veered toward it, (even as Augustine did – though Augustine refused to be completely drawn on the subject).
Now, the creationists derive their support from a number of passages. These passages are, I think, inconclusive:
And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. – Ecclesiastes 12:7
The idea here is that God gives the spirit to the human body, the body goes to the dust, and the spirit goes to God. Soul Creationism uses some reverse logic here which says that the body is propagated by the human genes but the soul is given by God to each individual body that is created. Of course the verse doesn’t say this, but it is sometimes inferred. The inference does not seem to be very sound. The verse is just a statement of the fact that material things turn back into the dust that they are from. As spirit is immaterial, then obviously it does not decay like the body does. It goes to God. But there is nothing here that says that God implants the spirit in each individual that is born. Read more »
As I’m too busy to finish anything I thought I’d re-post this article from 2008:
Scientism, the belief that science provides the epistemological framework upon which reality can be known, enjoyed its heyday in the first part of the Twentieth Century, until roughly the early 1960’s when it started to come under increasing scrutiny.During that time it was widely believed within academia that “science was the answer.”The very word “scientist” was enough to make people expect “the facts.”Science in this atmosphere did not need to give theology a second thought. Science, indeed, especially since Darwin, had gleefully pushed theology and religion off the intellectual map.Together with some creative rewriting of history (e.g. the Galileo affair; the Scopes trial) the scientist (a name coined only in 1834), had become mankind’s savior.
Certainly, scientism has not gone away.It is still promoted in numerous textbooks and TV specials as the voice of calm reason.It still has its superstars: the late Carl Sagan, who famously began his book (and TV series) Cosmos with the words, “The cosmos is all that is, or was, or ever shall be.”The late Stephen Jay Gould, whose NOMA attempted forever to separate the realm of facts (occupied, of course, by science), and the realm of private spiritual metaphor (occupied by theology and religion).And, of course, Richard Dawkins, author of The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion, who calls religion “a virus of the mind,”and the source of such one-liners as, “Nothing in the mind exists except as neural activity.”Their creed is summed up accurately by Phillip Johnson:
Science may not be able to answer all questions, at least for the time being, but some of the most visionary scientists already speak of a “theory of everything,” or “final theory,” which will in principle explain all of nature and hence all of reality.Because (in this view) science is by far the most reliable source of knowledge, whatever is in principle closed to scientific investigation is effectively unreal. Read more »
As previously noted, I was asked to represent Traditional Dispensationalism for a set of interviews conducted by Lindsay Kennedy. Two far more noteworthy contributors; Darrell Bock (Progressive Dispensationalism), and James Hamilton (Historic Premillennialism), were also interviewed.
After the interviews were completed, each man was given the opportunity to ask one of the others a question. Darrell Bock asked me about Acts 2 and the Throne of David. I drew Jim Hamilton and promptly snuck-in two questions. The second was deliberately “open” to see what Hamilton would do with it. I intend to say a bit more on his answers, both to myself and to Bock, in another post.
Anyway, Brother Kennedy has posted the Q & A under the enticing title “3 Premillennialists Duke It Out.” Click on the link, have a gander and see what you make of it. I should say that I was the most verbose. The only excuse I can come up with is that Dr Bock asked me a question particularly germane to the Trad. Disp/PD debate which I felt required the sort of response I gave.
“Give us this day our daily bread…” (Matthew 6:11)
Many of God’s people have known what it is to go without. Many have known extremity. Without any doubt when bills cannot be paid with the resources on-hand tensions grow, tempers blow, and faith can take a pounding. Paul admonishes the comfort-softened westerner, “having food and clothing let us therewith be content.” We may well believe that he takes shelter for granted. Still, one wonders exactly what the Lord considers “our daily bread” and how different that might be from what we think?
At its most fundamental level “give us this day our daily bread” (or, even “our bread for the morrow”) is a plea for God to give us enough food and drink. But as God is Yahweh-Jireh (“the Lord who will provide”) we can be confident that by “bread” what is meant is “that which we need.” Luther believed, quite sensibly it seems to me, that “daily bread” comprehended not just food but also all those things which God has willed for men, women and children. Certainly, this does not extend to the luxuries of life, which in no way can be equated with necessities, nor with the main tenor of the prayer. But we may take confidence that this is the correct interpretation from Jesus’ words against undue anxiety in 6:25-34. There the Lord is referring directly to “your life.”
From this we may deduce that Jesus wants His people to pray every day for God to provide that which we need to live in this world. And this would include the particulars needed to pay the bills in the economies we live in. God is gracious and kind, and our acknowledgement of this fact should be present in our praying to Him, for otherwise it is difficult to be truly thankful.
But what does all this come to? What is this petition really about? The answer is as simple as the switch from the focus upon God’s causes and kingdom in the first three petitions, on to the creature in this petition. When we ask and keep on asking for our daily bread we are showing our daily dependence upon our good Creator. I make bold to assert that dependence is the foundation of true prayer. In point of fact, expressing our utter dependence on God is the epitome of proper creature-hood. It is us coming to ourselves; realizing who and what we are in the grand scheme of things. For what are we in this world if not utterly dependent on the Divine Benevolence? We can so easily be sideswiped by illness or tragedy or some other kind of trouble, and then our vaunted self-sufficiency comes to nothing. It is the purest sort of sanity to ask God to help through every day.
Recently I was interviewed by an Australian brother ministering in England, where I’m from. Lindsay Kennedy, who teaches at the Calvary Chapel College in York, asked me some questions as part of a series he is running on differing perspectives within Premillennialism. I tried to represent Traditional Dispensationalism; Darrell Bock was interviewed about Progressive Dispensationalism, and James Hamilton was asked to write on Historic Premillennialism. As you will see, my answers were longer than those given by the other two men.
Here are the links:
Progressive Dispensationalism (Darrell Bock)
Historic Premillennialism (James Hamilton)
One thing these interviews show is how different these positions are. Especially Hamilton makes it plain that he interprets much of Scripture typologically.
I trust you will be benefited by each interview. Lindsay also asked each one of us to answer a question from one of the other interviewees. I addressed one from Darrell Bock centering on Acts 2 and the reign of Christ. That piece will be linked to once it appears on Lindsay’s blog.
In the first part of this series I referenced some things to which I should now like to return. Even before getting into what is meant when the two words “progressive revelation” are brought together, I said that we needed to settle on what revelation is. At bottom revelation is communication from God to man. The next question up is, how accessible a communication is it? Is it both constant and consistent? That is to say, does the revelation crop up repeatedly, and/or unequivocally? Does it have a character which is traceable backwards and forwards?
What Did You Expect?
I gave the examples of the Trinity and the Messianic prophecies to do with the first coming. I illustrated it by imagining tracking leopard tracks in the snow. One would expect the tracks to lead to a leopard. In the same way, a reliable progressive communication about a subject through time would produce an expectation based on the data contained in the words being revealed (unless the words were incompetent or else deliberately misleading), Just as one would not expect leopard tracks to lead to a bear, one would not expect OT predictions of Christ to be fulfilled in someone born in Jerusalem, from the tribe of Asher, begotten through an earthly father. Why? Because the those things were not part of what was communicated! And any “transformation” in the subject’s identity along the line of progression would manifestly terminate said progression!
Yet this is precisely what many evangelicals teach when they refer to “progressive revelation.” I provided some examples. One more is found in Michael Lawrence’s book, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church. In his book, Lawrence makes a case for progressive revelation early on. He puts forth four features of progressive revelation as he understands it. The first is that Scripture was revealed at different points in history. This says nothing about the content of revelation or the nature of its progression other than it wasn’t given all at once. However, he does seem to say that the progression is fulfilled at “the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (27). That is to say, the progression is fulfilled at the first coming.
Lawrence’s second feature highlights a common view among many evangelicals that revelation is all about redemptive history. Again, once this is noted we can move on to the next feature. Before we do, I shall just note that the fourth feature is about practicality, so we need not be detained by it. In fact, of the four characteristics of progressive revelation Lawrence supplies, only the third one touches on what progressive revelation actually is.
Lawrence’s third characteristic refers to the “organic nature” of progressive revelation. This term is commonly used by those with supercessionist tendencies. It is the lead-in to a brand of typological hermeneutics and the theology based upon it. He writes,
It doesn’t simply proceed like a construction site, which moves progressively from blueprint to finished building. Rather it unfolds and develops from seed-form to full-grown tree. In seed form, the minimum and beginning of saving revelation is given. By the end, that simple truth has revealed itself as complex and rich, multilayered and profoundly beautiful. It’s this character of revelation that’s going to help us understand the typological character if Scripture, the dynamic of promise and fulfillment, and the presence of both continuity and discontinuity across redemptive history. – Ibid, 27-28.
He will state that the discontinuity is that indicated in the Book of Hebrews between the temporary Old Covenant and the eternal New Covenant in Christ. The movement of progression is “the movement between shadow and reality” (80). To describe it in terms of our illustration: this translates into following leopard tracks and discovering that they lead to something utterly unexpected. The tracks, if literally interpreted as belonging to a leopard, would mislead the tracker.
But allow me to make some observations on the larger quote:
First, you will notice that in the opening sentence Lawrence uses the adjective “progressive” in the way we have been recommending in these posts. When you look at the blueprint you can follow the building process till you see what you expected to see – a building. But he rejects this meaning.
Second then, he says the progression is akin to a simple seed which grows into a complex tree. The idea seems to be that because a seed is very different looking than the tree it grows into, so the words revealed progressively in the OT “grow” into a fulfillment which looks very different than what the prophecies would lead a person to expect. Of course, everyone knows what an acorn will grow into – and it isn’t a gooseberry bush (I might also point out that leopard prints don’t look like leopards).
Third, this “tree” illustration helps us understand “the typological character of Scripture.” That is, the revelation of God in the OT Scriptures communicated only shadows, not anything real. As we pointed out previously, the reality could not be known from the line of progression, but only in its “fulfillment” when it became something different than was expected.
This brings us to a fourth observation: the “progression” was merely that of historical pronouncements couched in types and shadows, not in plain language. All that is meant by “progressive” is “communication at different times.” Meanwhile, all “revelation” turns out to be is “obtuse disclosure” which would remain unclear and misleading until the “fulfillment” was announced!” Read more »
Reformed scholars often tend to give unaided reason the final say when it comes to the Bible and prophecy. They use the same sorts of arguments to argue against another biblical teaching many of them don’t like: the literal six day creation. John Byl has written a delightful response to Scott Clark’s scholarly snubbing of the words of Genesis 1. Byl is himself Reformed and a young-earth creationist (as were the Westminster Divines). His article (as most always), is worth your time:
Revelation Cannot Be Divorced From the Character of the Revealer
Plain-speaking is usually thought to be a virtue. One should say what one means. On the other hand, it is not a virtue to use words which one knows beforehand may lead another person to conclude we mean one thing, when, in actuality, we mean something more obscure and inscrutable, or even utterly different.
To show how impactful this truth is, I’ll pick an example from another sphere. In his recent book against the false claims of Richard Dawkins, Jonathan Sarfati writes this:
It is…disingenuous for an ardent antitheist like Dawkins to profess concern about a creator’s alleged deception. However, biblical creationists respond that the real deception would be for a creator to use evolution then tell us in the Bible something diametrically opposed in every respect – the time frame, the method, the order of events, and the origin of death and suffering. – The Greatest Hoax On Earth?, 26
The complaint against Dawkins stems from his blindness to his own presuppositions. However, the thrust of this statement is not against Dawkins, but against any “creator” who would employ language to beguile his creatures. Like a person who deceives a dog into running after a stick which she only pretends to throw, the kind of god who would “reveal” the creative work in the words of Genesis 1 and 2 when, as a matter of fact, he did it by evolution, would deserve to be labelled, as Sarfati says, “disingenuous.”
As I have said more than once before, our definition of “revelation” requires that we say something about the character of God. As one OT scholar puts it, “Revelation as an act of God reveals our God, with all of his goodness and perfections.” - Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption, (Paternoster), 446. It also requires of us that we don’t forget this link between revelation and God’s character. Our doctrine of revelation is the bedrock of what ever else we as Christians might want to say. Revelation entails clarity of intention. In speaking about “progressive revelation” we are always talking about the character and consistency of the Revelator. For God to lead us into thinking He did X when He in fact did Y would be, as the example above declares, a disingenuous thing to do.
In light of this let us consider what someone like Willem VanGemeren says about progressive revelation.
VanGemeren says that God’s Name “I Am who I am” may communicate the fact that,
Yahweh declares that he is free in the progression of fulfillment of his promises…Further, no one can predict how or when he will work out the full redemption of his people (cf. Acts 1:7). – Ibid, 149
Using Acts 1:7 to support his statement is a bit of a stretch. There the Lord Jesus was simply telling the disciples that it wasn’t for them to know the times or seasons when the kingdom would be restored to Israel (see v.6). Hence, Acts 1:7 in its context supports the idea of “progression” I have commended in these articles: that of supplemental revelation which can be traced backwards and forwards through all the others in the set. The revelation cannot undergo transformation in any sense which would affect that understanding of “progression”, otherwise the term itself becomes equivocal (that is to say, “progressive revelation” would mean different things depending on whether one is talking from an OT or a NT perspective).
VanGemeren himself restricts this “freedom” of God by making it clear that God’s acts “in fulfillment of his promises are intended to instill…confidence that he is faithful and able to deliver them.” (150). This is an important point for him. Earlier he writes,
The purpose of the revelatory Word of God is to prepare individuals to respond to that Word when it is addressed to them. – Ibid, 55.
Saying What We Mean
Nevertheless, in reading VanGemeren one senses that the underlying reason for the “freedom” and unpredictability of how God will work it all out, (and his use of Acts 1:7), is because he believes in wholesale alterations to what was to be expected based on earlier revelations in the set. This would involve tinkering with the word “progressive” to make it mean something like “modified.” The modification usually involves the substitution of one thing for another, and this significant alteration of specified content within the promises becomes not terribly unlike the homologous “adaptations” we’re all familiar with in evolutionary dogma. Read more »
This is a response to comments left for me in the combox at this post about Sam Storms’s views on eschatology. I appreciate the brother bringing them to my attention. I am responding mainly to this:
Thanks for the post. I am not sure the last section really represents Sam’s view. He would say that Paul and Peter leave no room for a milennium since Paul has the last enemy death defeated at the parousia in 1Cor 15:24ff, 50 therefore death will not exist after Jesus returns and Peter has Jesus returning and then begins the renovation of heaven and earth by fire without a milennium. Since the thrones in Revelation are always in heaven and when they are setup for those who reign on them it could be that their reign is in heaven. He does admit difficulty with anastasis so he defaults to the fact that Paul and Peter are clearer than Revelation therefore he is inclined to be amillennial. This is Storms’ view summarized.
Comment by Rick Tatina | July 7, 2013 |
Just in case, the passage concerning Peter was from 2 Peter 3:9-12.
Here’s a brief response.
Let me address these texts 1 Cor. 15:20-28 first:
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”
Okay, let’s examine this, beginning in v.23:
This passage is dealing with physical resurrection (anastasis). Christ is raised first, in expectation of more to come. V.24 then speaks of “the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to the Father.” Is that it? No. V.25 says “He must reign until He has put all enemies under his feet.” So the question is, “Is Christ reigning now?” “Yes” says Storms. Does the Bible say He is? No! Not unless He reigns over the “principalities and powers” of Eph. 6:10ff. Not unless He is reigning over the countless tragedies and acts of wickedness which continue day in day out since He rose again. If so, He would be the worse ruler imaginable. The buck would stop at Him.
In Matt. 19:28 Jesus looks forward to sitting “on the throne of his glory” at “the regeneration” (palingenesia). This coincides with the “times of refreshing” and “times of restoration” of Acts 3:19 & 21, which Acts 3:20 tells us occur when Jesus returns. In Lk. 19:12-15 Jesus makes it clear that He (the nobleman) would go away and only reign once He returned. In Rev. 3:21 we’re told that Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne. 1 Cor. 15:20ff. could support amillennialism, but only if we are prepared to spiritualize a whole bunch of other verses.
Here I should like to quote from my “Parameters of Meaning” series (which I have neglected):
“Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context.”
Well, is Christ subduing all things now? Look around. Of course not. Does the Bible say He is? No. Romans 8:19-23 places this at the time of our resurrection (“the redemption of our body”). When will that happen? 1 John 3:2 & Phil 3:20-21 answer, at the Second Coming. So at Christ’s second advent this world will be “regenerated” or “delivered” or “refreshed” or “subdued” and not before. Christ shall reign (Lk. 1:31-33; cf. Rev. 20:4 & 6) just as the Prophets said He would. He will rule with a rod of iron after the second coming as Rev. 19:15 makes quite clear (see also Rev. 2:27; 12:3 which make it future). Psalm 2:6-9 refer to this subduing when Christ reigns. See also this: http://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/christ-at-the-center-pt-6a/
I really don’t know what Storms is thinking with 1 Cor. 15:50. But it seems He is just equating the kingdom of God with heaven. And, as I said above, this thinking of New Heavens and Earth after the coming of Christ is a big problem for amillennialism, because it discards THIS earth as useless after the Second Advent. No dominion for the second Adam on this earth in successful completion of Adam’s failed dominion! It is easy to fit the literal Millennium in 1 Cor. 15 without having to revise our reading of all the plain verses which speak of an actual reign of Christ on this earth after the second advent. Read more »