Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One Important Difference Between the Spirit and the Intellect

As much as I have made practical epistemological observations, I have not much delved into Biblical anthropology. Many very good theologians conclude that the human construct consists of two parts: body and spirit. They define the spirit loosely as anything bearing no physical presence. Given that the Bible mentions that humans also have a soul, or mind, then such would fall within this definition.

I consider that any word used in the Bible by one author may not perfectly comport with another author. I would also observe that typically many words carry multiple meanings even when used by the same author. The word translated "spirit" from the Greek texts is "pneuma", also translated by such words as "breath" or "air". It's the root word of modern English words such as pneumatic. It is representative of our source of life. Inasmuch as we might say "he breathed his last", we would associate breath with physical life. But even ancient people recognized an aspect of our life that is substantial rather than merely existential from which our life comes.

The word translated "soul" in the same Greek texts is the word "psyche". It's the word we use in modern English to refer to our mind and is the root word for such as psychiatry or psychology. It likewise refers to the essence of our existence, particularly manifested in the machinations of our thoughts.

The similarity between the two words results in statements in the Bible where the two appear to be used interchangeably. I don't like this argument as a hermeneutical principle. As an example, I could say, "That ball is red." I could say, "That ball is round." Then I could argue that "red" and "round" means the same thing because they are used interchangeably. This is why I'm wary of this hermeneutical argument.

I observe that Paul uses the two words side by side in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in stating the human construct:

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

I also observe that he possibly uses them in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as a distinction between Adam and Christ:

"Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit."

(The word translated "being" here in the ESV is the word "psyche".)

Finally, Paul indicates in Hebrews 4:12 that there is a division between them while indicating a very close link between them:

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

Given this, I tend to separate them in my understanding but I understand how they can be nearly synonymous. So, while I lean toward trichotomism I'm not dogmatically against dichotomism.

That said, I want to draw a distinction between the two for the purposes of drawing out the difference between theology pursued for cognitive ends and theology apprehended for spiritual ends, for there is fruit in this.

It is good to contemplate the things of God whether these thoughts are simple or complex. My children from a young age asked questions about God that came to their mind. The simplest among us are capable of thinking about God. Our considerations attain greater complexity and sophistication with greater intellect and education.

Between revelation and depraved perceptions we hold all kinds of true and false beliefs about our Creator but it is good to struggle with the knowledge of God. This is why we debate one another over theology and why we must address any blindness we have with regard to the sin of our hearts. But the sin of our hearts is a spiritual matter that affects our cogitations.

Spiritual gifts are abilities that we are given according to the provision of God to build the Church in the name of Christ and edify it. But the fruit of the Spirit is a set of attitudes that are evident in the faithful:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5: 19-24)

Thinking about theology and debating it, while it is a good pursuit, involves the handling of information - the use of the mind. We may have many reasons for pursuing theology. A good reason for pursuing theology is because we love God and desire to know him better. A bad reason for pursuing theology is to justify our sin before God and before men who hold the revelation of God as a high standard for discerning sin. Whether one reason or another is in play is a spiritual matter. So, the activity of our mind is driven by the activity of our spirit.

But I observe those who argue as though they were competing for truth rather than love. While I would say that there is no love without truth and the truth is true whether there is love or not, I would also observe that we cannot understand the truth unless we have love. Therefore, when contending for the truth against unbelievers or those who are weak in the faith, it is imperative that the goal be to draw out spiritual fruit first understanding that not all knowledge is fruitful for this.

As it is, revelation is given to us in the scriptures not for the purpose not of arriving at a perfect understanding of the truth, for we cannot know it perfectly in this sinful world. The purpose of God's revelation to us in the scriptures is to inform our capacity to bear spiritual fruit. Therefore, it can be said that while we apprehend the truth with a spiritual desire to do so, we also gain the spiritual desire to do so by the revelation of God through both the scriptures as well as the Holy Spirit.

I'd like to offer an example of how we are to be informed spiritually by the information from the scriptures we apprehend with our minds and often debate.

One common debate in western culture since the reformation has been with regard to reformed theology. The United States was founded on the hinge of western sociological thought using the Romantic considerations of personal freedom, the Christian considerations of personal responsibility and in reaction to the tyrannical tendencies of the European monarchies that take these personal freedoms and responsibilities away. The problem in western thought is that we have taken the concept of civil freedom and responsibility, infused them into popular philosophies, and allowed them to influence our theological sensibilities.

As a result, theology among western Protestants has become increasingly Arminian-ish. Considering this, the recent resurgence of reformed theology among Southern Baptists has been met with much resistance. The debate often becomes passionate. While I suspect most are motivated by a desire to uphold what they believe is the truth, what has suffered is the way the elements of the debate ought to inform our spiritual fruit-bearing.

I've made this observation before and it's a logical conundrum. However, our attitudes need not follow principles of logic. Is there anything good that should not be attributed to God? Therefore if we do anything good, including come to faith in Christ, then should we not give all the glory to God? Can we say that God does any evil? I know some become angry with God and would claim that he has done some wrong to them, but we should not say that any evil comes from God for he only does good things. Therefore, if we sin, who are we to blame but ourselves? So if we do good, we attribute it to God and if we do evil we assume the blame ourselves.

If we give God the glory for the good we do, then if we follow the strictures of logic, we should likewise blame him for the evil we do. If we assume responsibility for the evil we do, then if we follow the strictures of logic, we must also take credit for the good that we do. However, to follow the strictures of logic as such is to fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit. We do evil against God either way and distort the truth with a false sense of logic by justifying ourselves.

But there actually is no illogic to have the paradox in our attitudes where we credit God for good and assume the blame for evil; for truth, while not illogical, transcends logic. Logic is merely inadequate to fully encompass the truth. So understand as much as you can of God with your mind, but approach him with the fruits of the Spirit.

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Blogger carrol said...

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Sat May 23, 07:08:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger charles said...

Read the article concerning the transformation of John Macarthur's church at the link following this excerpt:
Of interest, Grace Community Church elder and executive director of Grace to You, Phil Johnson, is a Baptistic Calvinist. This statement appears on his website: “Theologically, Phil is a committed Calvinist—with a decidedly Baptistic bent.” (Who is Phillip R. Johnson?) Even more interesting is this statement: “ a member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (FIRE).” The slogan of FIRE is “In essentials Unity, In non-essentials Liberty, in all things Charity.” (FIRE) Why is this interesting? FIRE’s slogan is nearly identical to the slogan of Phoenix Freemasonry! “It is the glory of Masonry to teach Unity in essentials, Liberty in details, Charity in all things; and by this sign its spirit must at last prevail.”

Mon Jun 01, 06:27:00 AM GMT-5  

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