There are two basic Christian visions of human destiny which originate from two fundamentally different views of human nature. The first is based on the belief of the immortality of the soul, and the second on the belief of the resurrection of the body. In his scholarly study The Nature and Destiny of Man, Reinhold Niebuhr suggests that the fundamentally different Christian beliefs about human nature and destiny derive from two basic views: (1) the Classical and (2) the Christian.2 The first derives from Greek philosophy and the second from the teaching of the Bible. The term "Christian" for the latter view may be misleading, because, as we shall learn, the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries have been greatly influenced by the classical view of human nature which consists of a mortal body and an immortal soul. Therefore, I prefer to call the second view "Biblical," because, as this study shows, it reflects the teachings of the Bible.
Classical Dualism. The classical view of human nature is largely derived from the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. The emphasis of these philosophies is on the distinction between the material and spiritual components of human nature. In Platonic thought, human nature has both a material and a spiritual component. The material component is the body, which is temporary and essentially evil; and the spiritual component is the soul (psyche) or the mind (nous), which are eternal and good. The human body is transient and mortal while the human soul is permanent and immortal. At death, the soul is released from the prison house of the body where it was entombed for a time. Historically popular Christian thought has been deeply influenced by this dualistic, un-Biblical understanding of human nature. The far-reaching implications of the classical view of human nature for Christian beliefs and practices is inestimable. We reflect upon them shortly.
Biblical Wholism. The Biblical view of human nature is essentially wholistic or monistic. The emphasis in the Bible is on the unity of body, soul, and spirit, each being part of an indivisible organism. Since this book as a whole is intended to articulate the Biblical wholistic view of human nature, I simply refer here to two significant differences with the classical view. The first is that the wholistic view of human nature is predicated on the belief that the material creation of this world, including that of the human body, is "very good" (Gen 1:31). There is no dualism or contradiction between the material and the spiritual, the body and the soul, the flesh and the spirit, because they are all part of Godís good creation. Redemption is the restoration of the whole person, body and soul, and not the salvation of the soul apart from the body.
A second contrast with the classical view is that human nature was not created innately immortal, but with the capacity of becoming immortal. Human beings do not possess a mortal body and an immortal soul; they have a wholistic mortal body and soul which can become immortal. Immortality or eternal life is Godís gift to those who accept His provision of salvation. Those who reject Godís plan for their salvation ultimately will experience eternal destruction, not eternal torment in an ever-burning hellfire. The reason is simple. Immortality is given as a recompense to the saved, not as a retribution to the unsaved.
Here is Godís Good News. Although Adam and Eve were created mortal (with the possibility of becoming immortal by partaking of the Tree of Life) and we today are born mortal, we can receive immortality if we accept Godís gift of eternal life. Immortality is a divine gift and not an innate human possession. It is conditional upon our willingness to accept Godís gracious provision for the salvation of our total nature, body and soul. Thus the Biblical view is also referred to as conditional immortality, because it is offered on Godís terms and conditions.
The Body-Soul Debate. Some readers may feel that the body-soul question is a dead issue which no one cares about any more. Writing a book about this topic may be seen as a waste of time. The truth of the matter is that the body-soul question is far from being an irrelevant, dead issue. The recent mass suicide at a mansion in San Diego of 39 persons who wanted to leave behind the "container" of their body in order to reach with their souls the Hale-Bopp comet reminds us of how much alive the soul-body question is. Interest in the afterlife appears to be greater today than ever before. During the Middle Ages belief in the afterlife was promoted through literary and artistic, superstitious representations of the bliss of the saints and the torments of the sinners. Today such a belief is propagated in a more sophisticated way through mediums, psychics, "scientific" research into near-death experiences, and New Age channeling with the spirits of the past. The outcome of all of this is that the body-soul question is attracting unprecedented attention even in the scholarly community. A survey of the scholarly literature produced in recent years clearly shows that this question is being hotly debated by leading scholars of different religious persuasions.
The central issue is whether the soul can survive and function apart from the body. In other words, is human nature so constituted that at death the soul, that is, the conscious part, leaves the body and continues to exist while its "container" disintegrates? Traditionally, the vast majority of Christians have answered this question in the affirmative. They have believed that between death and the final resurrection of the body, God preserves the existence of their human disembodied souls. At the resurrection, their material bodies are reunited with their spiritual souls, thus intensifying the pleasure of paradise or the pain of hell.
This traditional and popular view has come under massive attack in recent years. An increasing number of leading evangelical scholars are abandoning the classical, dualistic view of human nature which sees the body as mortal, belonging to the lower world of nature, and the soul as immortal, belonging to the spiritual realm and surviving the death of the body. Instead, they are accepting the Biblical wholistic view of human nature in which the whole person, body and soul, experiences death and resurrection.
Several factors have contributed to the abandonment of the classical dualism on the part of many scholars. One of them is a renewed study of the Biblical view of human nature. A close examination of the basic Biblical terms used for man (body, soul, spirit, flesh, mind, and heart) has led many scholars to recognize that these do not indicate independent components, but the whole person seen from different view points. "Recent scholarship has recognized," writes Eldon Ladd, "that such terms as body, soul, and spirit are not different, separable faculties of man but different ways of viewing the whole man."3
Virtually any part of the body can be used in the Bible to represent the whole human being. There is no dichotomy between a mortal body and an immortal soul that survives and functions apart from the body. Both body and soul, flesh and spirit in the Bible are part of the same person and do not "come apart" at death.
Dualism under Attack. Numerous Biblical scholars in recent times have argued that Old and New Testament writers do not operate with a dualistic view of human nature, but with a monistic or wholistic one. Their studies are discussed in the following chapters. The outcome of these studies is that many today are questioning or even rejecting the notion that Scripture teaches the existence of souls apart from bodies after death.
Church historians support these conclusions by claiming that a dualistic view of human nature and the belief in the survival of disembodied souls were brought into the Christianity by Church Fathers who were influenced by Platoís dualistic philosophy. This explains why these beliefs became widely accepted in the Christian church even though they are foreign to the teachings of the Bible.
Philosophers and scientists also have contributed to the massive assault against the traditional dualistic view of human nature. Philosophers have attacked traditional arguments that the soul is an immortal substance that survives the death of the body. They have proposed alternative theories according to which the soul is an aspect of the human body and not a separate component.
Scientists, too, have challenged the belief in the independent existence of the soul by showing that human consciousness is dependent on and influenced by the brain. At death, the brain ceases to function and all forms of consciousness stop. To scientists the cessation of all mental functions at death suggests it is highly unlikely that the mental functions ascribed to the soul can be carried out after death.
These concerted attacks on dualism by Biblical scholars, church historians, philosophers, and scientists have led liberal and even some conservative Christians to reject the traditional dualistic view of human nature. In his book Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting, John W. Cooper summarizes the outcome of this development, saying: "Liberals rejected it [dualism] as old-fashioned and no longer intellectually tenable. And some conservatives Protestants argued that since we ought to follow the Scripture alone and not human traditions, if anthropological dualism is a human tradition not based on Scripture, we ought to reform our confessions and purge them of such accretions of the Greek mind. The soul-body distinction has come under attack from many directions."4
Dualists Are Concerned. These developments have raised serious concerns on the part of those who find their traditional dualistic understanding of human nature severely challenged and undermined. Cooperís book represents one of many attempts to reaffirm the traditional dualistic view by responding to the attacks on dualism. The reason for this response is well expressed by Cooper: "If what they [scholars] are saying is true, then two disturbing conclusions immediately follow. First, a doctrine affirmed by most of the Christian church since its beginning is false. A second consequence is more personal and existentialĖwhat millions of Christians believe will happen when they die is also a delusion."5
Cooper is deeply concerned about the cost of abandoning the traditional dualistic understanding of human nature. He writes: "The most obvious is that the beliefs virtually all ordinary Christians have about the afterlife must also be jettisoned. If souls are not the sort of thing which can be broken loose from bodies, then we do not actually exist between death and resurrection, either with Christ or somewhere else, either consciously or unconsciously. That conclusion will cause many Christians some level of existential anxiety. A more general cost is the loss of another plank in the platform of traditional Christian belief, pried loose and tossed into the shredder of modern scholarship."6
There is no question that modern Biblical scholarship is causing great "existential anxiety" to millions of sincere Christians who believe in their disembodied souls going to heaven at death. Any challenge to traditionally cherished beliefs can be devastating. Yet, Christians who are committed to the normative authority of Scripture must be willing to reexamine traditional beliefs, and change them if proven to be unbiblical.
Strong emotional reactions are to be expected from those whose beliefs are challenged by Biblical scholarship. Oscar Cullmann, for example, found himself bitterly attacked by many who strongly objected to his book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? He wrote: "No other publication of mine has provoked such enthusiasm or such violent hostility."7 In fact, the criticism became so intense and so many took offense at his statements that he deliberately decided to keep silent for a time. I should add that Cullmann was not impressed by the attacks against his book because he claims they were based not on exegetical arguments, but on emotional, psychological, and sentimental considerations.
Tactics of Harassment. In some cases, the reaction has taken the form of harassment. Respected Canadian theologian Clark Pinnock mentions some of the "tactics of harassment" used to discredit those evangelical scholars who have abandoned the traditional dualistic view of human nature and its related doctrine of eternal torment in a fiery hell. One of the tactics has been to associate such scholars with liberals or sectarians like the Adventists. Pinnock writes: "It seems that a new criterion for truth has been discovered which says that if Adventists or liberals hold any view, that view must be wrong. Apparently a truth claim can be decided by its association and does not need to be tested by public criteria in open debate. Such an argument, though useless in intelligent discussion, can be effective with the ignorant who are fooled by such rhetoric."8
Despite the tactics of harassment, the Biblical wholistic view of human nature which negates the natural immortality of the soul and, consequently, the eternal torment of the unsaved in hell, is gaining ground among evangelicals. Its public endorsement by John R. W. Stott, a highly respected British theologian and popular preacher, is certainly encouraging the trend. "In a delicious piece of irony," writes Pinnock, "this is creating a measure of accreditation by association, countering the same tactics used against it. It has become all but impossible to claim that only heretics and near-heretics [like Seventh-day Adventists] hold the position, though I am sure some will dismiss Stottís orthodoxy precisely on this ground."9
Stott himself expresses anxiety over the divisive consequences of his new views in the evangelical community where he is a renowned leader. He writes: "I am hesitant to have written these things, partly because I have great respect for longstanding tradition which claims to be a true interpretation of Scripture, and do not lightly set it aside, and partly because the unity of the worldwide evangelical community has always meant much to me. But the issue is too important to be suppressed, and I am grateful to you (David Edwards) for challenging me to declare my present mind. I do not dogmatize about the position to which I have come. I hold it tentatively. But I do plead for frank dialogue among evangelicals on the basis of Scripture."10
Stottís plea for a "frank dialogue among evangelicals on the basis of Scripture" may be very difficult if not impossible, to realize. The reason is simple. Evangelicals are conditioned by their denominational traditional teachings, just as much as the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. In theory, they appeal to Sola Scriptura, but in practice, Evangelicals often interpret Scripture in accordance with their traditional denominational teachings. If new Biblical research challenges traditional doctrines, in most cases, Evangelical churches will choose to stand for tradition rather than for Sola Scriptura. The real difference between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics is that the latter are at least honest about the normative authority of their ecclesiastical tradition.
To be an "Evangelical" means to uphold certain fundamental traditional doctrines without questioning. Anyone who dares to question the Biblical validity of a traditional doctrine can become suspect as a "heretic." In a major conference held in 1989 to discuss what it means to be an evangelical, serious questions were raised as to whether such persons like John Stott or Philip Hughes should be considered evangelical, since they had adopted the view of conditional immortality and the annihilation of the unsaved. The vote to exclude such theologians failed only narrowly.11
Why evangelicals are so adamant in refusing to reconsider the Biblical teachings on human nature and destiny? After all, they have taken the liberty of changing other old traditional teachings. Perhaps one reason for their insistence on holding to the dualistic view is that it impacts on so many other doctrines. We noted at the beginning of this chapter that what Christians believe about the make-up of human nature largely determines what they believe about human destiny. To abandon dualism, also entails abandoning a whole cluster of doctrines resulting from it. This may be called "the domino effect." If one doctrine falls, several others fall as well. To clarify this point, we briefly consider some of the doctrinal and practical implications of classical dualism. This should alert the reader to its complex ramifications.
2. Implications of Dualism
Doctrinal Implications. The classical dualistic view of human nature has enormous doctrinal and practical implications. Doctrinally, a host of beliefs derive from or are largely dependent upon classical dualism. For example, the belief in the transition of the soul at the moment of death to paradise, hell, or purgatory rests on the belief that the soul is immortal by nature and survives the body at death. This means that, if inherent immortality of the soul should prove to be an unbiblical conception, then popular beliefs about paradise, purgatory, and hell have to be radically modified or even rejected.
The belief that at death the souls of the saints ascend to the beatitude of Paradise has fostered the Catholic and Orthodox belief in the intercessory role of Mary and of the saints. If the souls of the saints are in heaven, it is feasible to assume that they can intercede on behalf of needy sinners on this earth. Thus, devout Christians pray to Mary and the saints to intercede on their behalf. Such a practice runs contrary to the Biblical teaching that "there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim 2:5). More important still, if the soul does not survive and cannot function apart from the body, then the whole teaching of the intercessory role of Mary and the saints must be rejected as an ecclesiastical fabrication. Truly, a re-examination of the Biblical view of human nature can have frightening consequences for long-cherished Christian beliefs.
Similarly, the belief that at death the souls of those who are pardonable transit to purgatory has led to the teaching that the church on earth has the jurisdiction to apply the merits of Christ and of the saints to souls suffering in purgatory. This is accomplished through the granting of indulgences, that is, the remission of the temporal punishment due to forgiven sin. Such a belief led to the scandalous sale of indulgences which sparked the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformers eliminated the doctrine of purgatory as unbiblical, but they retained the doctrine of the immediate transit after death of individual souls to a state of perfect blessedness (heaven) or to a state of continuous punishment (hell). Again, if the belief in the survival and functioning of the soul apart from the body is proven to be unbiblical, then popular beliefs about purgatory, indulgences, and transit of the souls to heaven or to hell must be rejected also as ecclesiastical fabrications.
The work that the Reformers began by eliminating purgatory now would have to be completed by redefining paradise and hell according to Scripture and not ecclesiastical traditions. It is unlikely that such a monumental task can be undertaken by any Protestant church today. Any attempt to modify or reject traditional doctrines is often interpreted as a betrayal of the faith and can cause division and fragmentation. This is a very high price that most churches are not willing to pay.
Immortality of the Soul Weakens Second Advent. Traditional dualism also has contributed to weakening the Advent Hope. The belief in the ascension of souls to heaven can obscure and eclipse the expectation of the Second Advent. If at death the soul of the believer goes up immediately to the beatitude of Paradise to be with the Lord, one hardly can have any real sense of expectation for Christ to come down to resurrect the sleeping saints. The primary concern of these Christians is to reach paradise immediately, albeit as a disembodied soul. This concern leaves barely any interest in the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the body.
To believe in the immortality of the soul means one regards at least part of oneself as immortal in the sense of being incapable of passing out of existence. Such a belief encourages confidence in oneself and in the possibility of oneís soul going up to the Lord. On the other hand, to believe in the resurrection of the body means that one does not believe in self or in disembodied souls going to the Lord; rather one believes in Christ who will return to raise the dead and transform the living. This means believing in the coming down of the Lord to this earth to meet embodied believers instead of in the going up of disembodied souls to heaven to meet the Lord.
In the New Testament the Parousia stresses a final consummation realized by a movement of Christís coming down to mankind rather than individual souls going up to Him. The Advent Hope is not "a pie in the sky when you die" but a real meeting upon this earth between embodied believers and Christ on the glorious day of His return. Out of that real meeting will come a transformation affecting humanity and nature. This great expectation is obscured and erased by the belief in individual immortality and heavenly bliss immediately after death.
Another significant implication of the individualistic hope for immediate immortality is that it overrides the Biblical corporate hope for an ultimate restoration of this creation and its creatures (Rom 8:19-23; 1 Cor 15:24-28). When the only future that really counts is the individual soulís survival after death, the anguish of mankind can have only a peripheral interest and the value of Godís redemption for this whole world is largely ignored. The ultimate result of this belief is, as noted by Abraham Kuyper, that "by far the majority of Christians do not think much beyond their own death."12
Misconceptions About the World to Come. Classical dualism also has fostered wrpng ideas about the world to come. The popular concept of paradise as a spiritual retreat center somewhere up in space, where glorified souls will spend eternity in everlasting contemplation and meditation, has been inspired more by Platonic dualism than by Biblical realism. For Plato, the material components of this world were evil and, consequently, not worthy of survival. The aim was to reach the spiritual realm where souls liberated from the prison-house of a material body enjoy eternal bliss.
During the course of our study, we shall see that both the Old and New Testaments reject the dualism between the material world below and the spiritual realm above. The final salvation inaugurated by the coming of the Lord is regarded in Scripture not an escape from but a transformation of this earth. The Biblical view of the world to come is not a spiritual heavenly retreat inhabited by glorified souls, but this physical earthly planet populated by resurrected saints (Is 66:22; Rev 21:1).
Practical Implications. At a more practical level, the classical dualistic view of human nature has fostered the cultivation of the soul in detachment from the body and the suppression of physical appetites and healthy natural impulses. Contrary to the Biblical view of the goodness of Godís creation, including the physical pleasures of the body, medieval spirituality promoted the mortification of the flesh as a way to achieve the divine goal of holiness. The saints were ascetic persons who devoted themselves primarily to vita contemplativa, detaching themselves from the vita activa. Since the salvation of the soul was seen as more important than the preservation of the body, the physical needs of the body often intentionally were neglected or even suppressed.
The dichotomy between body and soul, the physical and the spiritual, is still present in the thinking of many Christians today. Many still associate redemption with the human soul rather than the human body. We describe the missionary work of the church as that of "saving souls." The implication seems to be that the souls are more important than the bodies. Conrad Bergendoff rightly notes that "The Gospels give no basis for a theory of redemption which saves souls apart from the bodies to which they belong. What God has joined together, philosophers and theologians should not put apart. But they have been guilty of divorcing the bodies and souls of men which God made one at creation, and their guilt is not diminished by their plea that thus salvation would be facilitated. Until we have a theory of redemption which meets the whole need of man we have failed to understand the purpose of Him who became incarnate that He might be able to save humanity."13
Rise of Modern Secularism. Some scholars maintain that classical dualism has been instrumental in the rise of modern secularism and the progressive erosion of Christian influence on society and culture.14 They find a correlation between modern secularism which excludes religion from life, and the body-soul distinction of traditional Christianity. They also see a connection between secularism and the nature-grace distinction articulated especially by Thomas Aquinas. According to the latter natural reason is sufficient for living the natural life of this world, while grace is needed for living the spiritual life and attaining the goal of salvation. Thus, the scholastic body-soul distinction allowed for life to be divided into two different compartments: vita activa and vita contemplativa, or we might say secular life and spiritual life.
This distinction eventually led to the belief that Christianity should be concerned primarily with the salvation of the souls of people, while the state should be responsible for the care of the body. This means that the state, and not the church, should be concerned about education, science, technology, economic systems, social and political issues, or general culture and public values.
The outcome of the body-soul distinction is that Christians have surrendered vast areas of life, moral values, and knowledge to the forces of secularism and humanism. Teaching methods and textbooks, even in the nationís Christian schools, reflect more humanistic philosophies than Biblical views. The total impact of the body-soul dualism is impossible to estimate. Dividing humans into body and soul has promoted all sorts of false dichotomies in human life.
Dualism in Liturgy. The influence of dualism can be seen even more often in many Christian hymns, prayers, and poems. The opening sentence of the burial prayer found in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England is starkly dualistic: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground."15 A phrase in another prayer in the same Office betrays a clear dualistic contempt for physical existence: "With whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity."
The Platonic notion of the release of the soul from the prison-house of the body is clearly set forth in the lines of the Christian poet, John Donne: "When bodies to their grave, souls from the graves remove."16 Many of our hymns are thinly disguised dualistic poems. How often we are asked to view this present life as a "weary pilgrimage" and to look for the eventual escape to heaven, "up above the sky."
Examples of hymns that manifest hostility toward this earthly life, religious escapism, and other-worldliness easily can be found in the hymnals of most Christian denominations. Some hymns portray this earth as a prison from which the believer is released to ascend to the heavenly home: "My Fatherís house is built on high, Far, far above the starry sky; When from this earthly prison free, That heavínly mansion mine shall be." Other hymns describes the Christian as a stranger who can hardly wait to leave this world: "Here in this country so dark and dreary, I long have wandered forlorn and weary." "Iím but a stranger here, Heaven is my home; Earth is a desert drear, Heaven is my home." "I want to live above the world . . . on heavenís tableland."
Christians who believe the words of such hymns may be disappointed one day to discover that their eternal home is not "above the world . . . on heavenís tableland," but down here on this earth. This is the planet that God has created, redeemed, and ultimately will restore for our eternal habitation. The Biblical vision of the world to come is explored in chapter 7.
The far-reaching doctrinal and practical implications of the dualistic view of human nature that we have just considered should serve to impress the reader with the importance of the subject under consideration. What we address in this book is not a mere academic question but a fundamental Biblical teaching that impacts directly or indirectly a host of Christian beliefs and practices.
3. Implications of Biblical Wholism
Positive View of Physical and Spiritual. Like classical dualism, Biblical wholism affects our understanding of ourselves, this present world, redemption, and our ultimate destiny. Since during the course of this study we examine at some length various doctrinal and practical implications of Biblical wholism, I only allude to some of them here.
The Biblical wholistic view of human nature, according to which our body and soul are an indissoluble unit, created and redeemed by God, challenges us to view positively both the physical and spiritual aspects of life. We honor God not only with our mind but also with our body, because our body is "a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19). Scripture admonishes us to present our "bodies as a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1). This means that the way we treat our bodies reflects the spiritual condition of our souls. If we pollute our bodies with tobacco, drugs, or unhealthy food, we cause not only the physical pollution of our bodies, but also the spiritual pollution of our souls.
Henlee H. Barnette notes that "what people do to, for, and with others and their environment depends largely upon what they think of God, nature, themselves, and their destiny."17 When Christians view themselves and the present world wholistically as the object of Godís good creation and redemption, they will be both convinced and compelled to act as Godís stewards of their bodies as well as of the created order.
Concern for the Whole Person. Biblical wholism challenges us to be concerned about the whole person. In its preaching and teaching, the church must meet not only the spiritual needs of the soul but also the physical needs of the body. This means teaching people how to maintain emotional and physical health. It means that church programs should not neglect the needs of the body. Proper diet, exercise, and outdoor activities should be encouraged as an important part of Christian living.
Accepting the Biblical wholistic view of human nature means to opt for a wholistic approach in our evangelistic and missionary endeavors. This approach consists not only in saving the "souls" of people but also in improving their living conditions by working in such areas as health, diet, education. The aim should be to serve the world and not to avoid it. The issues of social justice, war, racism, poverty, and economic imbalance should be of concern to those who believe that God is working to restore the whole person and the whole world.
Christian education should promote the development of the whole person. This means that the schoolís program should aim at the development of the mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of life. A good physical-education program should be considered as important as its academic and religious programs. Parents and teachers should be concerned about teaching good eating habits, the proper care of the body, and a regular program of physical exercise.
The Biblical concept of the whole person also has implications for medicine. Medical science recently has developed what is known as holistic medicine. Holistic health practitioners "emphasize the necessity for looking at the whole person, including physical condition, nutrition, emotional make up, spiritual state, life-style values, and environment."18 At the 1975 graduating exercise of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Dr. Jerome D. Frank told the graduates: "Any treatment of an illness that does not also minister to the human spirit is grossly deficient."19 Healing and the maintenance of physical health must always involve the total person.
Cosmic Redemption. The Biblical wholistic view of human nature presupposes also a cosmic view of redemption that encompasses the body and the soul, the material and the spiritual world. The separation between body and soul or spirit has often paralleled the division between the realm of creation and the realm of redemption. The latter has been associated to a large extent in both Catholicism and Protestantism with the salvation of individual souls at the expense of the physical and cosmic dimensions of redemption. The saints often are portrayed as pilgrims who live on earth but detached from the world and whose souls at death immediately leave their material bodies to ascend to an abstract place called "heaven." This view reflects classical dualism but fails, as we shall see during the course of this study, to represent the wholistic Biblical view of the human and subhuman creation.
Previously we noted that traditional dualism has produced an attitude of contempt toward the body and the natural world. This other-worldliness reflected in such hymns as "This World Is Not My Home," "Iím a stranger here, Heaven is my home; Earth is a desert drear, Heaven is my home." Such an attitude of disdain toward our planet is absent from the Psalms, the Hebrew hymnal, where the central theme is the praise of God for His magnificent works. In Psalm 139:14, David says: "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth very well." Here the Psalmist praises God for his wonderful body, a fact well known to his soul (mind). This is a good example of wholistic thinking, where body and soul are part of Godís marvellous creation.
In Psalm 92, the Psalmist urges one to praise God with musical instruments, because, he says, "Thou, O Lord, hast made me glad by thy work; at the work of thy hands I sing for joy. How great are thy works, O Lord!" (Ps 92:4-5). The Psalmistís rejoicing over his wonderful body and marvelous creation is based upon his wholistic conception of the created world as an integral part of the whole drama of creation and redemption.
Biblical Realism. The Biblical wholistic view of human nature also impacts on our view of the world to come. In chapter 7 we learn that the Bible does not envision the world to come as an ethereal paradise where glorified souls will spend eternity wearing white robes, singing, plucking harps, praying, chasing clouds, and drinking milk of ambrosia. Instead, the Bible speaks of the resurrected saints inhabiting this planet earth, which will be purified, transformed, and perfected at and through the coming of the Lord (2 Pet 3:11-13; Rom 8:19-25; Rev 21:1). The "new heavens and a new earth" (Is 65:17) are not a remote and inconsequential spiritual retreat somewhere off in space; rather, they are the present heaven and earth renewed to their original perfection.
Believers enter the new earth not as disembodied souls but as resurrected bodily persons (Rev 20:4; John 5:28-29; 1 Thess 4:14-17). Though nothing unclean shall enter the New Jerusalem, we are told that "the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, . . . they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations" (Rev 21:24, 26). These verses suggest that everything of real value in the old heaven and earth, including the achievements of manís inventive, artistic, and intellectual prowess, will find a place in the eternal order. The very image of "the city" conveys the idea of activity, vitality, creativity, and real relationships.
It is regrettable that this fundamentally concrete, earthly view of Godís new world portrayed in the Scripture has largely been lost and replaced in popular piety with an ethereal, spiritualized concept of heaven. The latter has been influenced by Platonic dualism rather than by Biblical realism.
Conclusion. Historically, two major, radically different views of human nature have been held. One is designated as classical dualism and the other as Biblical wholism. The dualistic view maintains that human nature consists of a material, mortal body and a spiritual, immortal soul. The latter survives the death of the body and transits to heaven, or purgatory, or hell. At the resurrection, the soul is reunited with the body. This dualistic conception has had an enormous impact on Christian life and thought, affecting peopleís view of human life, this present world, redemption, and the world to come.
In modern times, classical dualism has come under attack from Biblical scholars, church historians, philosophers, and scientists. Biblical scholars have examined the anthropological terms and texts and have concluded that the Biblical view of human nature is not dualistic at all; it is clearly wholistic. Many voices from different directions are affirming today that dualism is out and wholism is in.
The preceding survey of the ongoing debate over the Biblical view of human nature has shown the fundamental importance of this subject for the whole structure of Christian beliefs and practices. It is imperative, therefore, for us to diligently examine what the Bible actually teaches on this vital subject.