The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case For Dualistic Holism -- By: John W. Cooper

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:2 (Summer 2009)
Article: The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case For Dualistic Holism
Author: John W. Cooper

The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case For Dualistic Holism

John W. Cooper

John W. Cooper is Professor of Philosophical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Cooper served in the United States Army as a Chaplain’s Assistant. From there he continued his studies at the University of Toronto and then at Calvin Theological Seminary. He taught Philosophy at Calvin College from 1978 to 1985, when he joined the seminary faculty. Dr. Cooper has written many articles and is the author of Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (2d. ed.; Eerdmans, 2000).


The title of a recent anthology, In Search of the Soul, reflects the current diversity of opinion and occasional confusion among Christian scholars about the constitution of humans as body and soul. Four evangelical philosophers each present different theories of body and soul, only some of which are consistent with historic doctrine, and the book’s introduction raises more questions about the traditional view than about recent alternatives.1 It may surprise ordinary church members to learn that, for a generation, Christian academics have vigorously debated which theory of body and soul best reflects proper exegesis of Scripture, sound philosophy, and cutting-edge science. The traditional view that our souls are separable from our bodies has been challenged by many scholars, including evangelicals.

This article attempts to make sense of this situation for those who are not professional academics. It surveys why the debate about the body and soul developed, introduces the current positions, and identifies the important biblical, theological, philosophical, scientific, ethical, and practical-pastoral issues involved. It argues that dualistic holism—the existential unity but temporary separation of body and soul—remains the most tenable view.2

Historical Background Of The Current Positions

Traditional Positions

Throughout history, the ecumenical Christian tradition—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most historic Protestant churches—has affirmed that God created humans as unities of body and soul but that disembodied souls exist in an intermediate state between death and resurrection.3 In other words, body and soul are distinct and normally integrated, but the soul can exist separately, sustained by God. They are unified in creation, redemption, and eternal life, whereas separation is a temporary consequence of sin and death. An appropriate term for this view is dualistic holism,...

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