Sunday, May 31, 2015

Neo-Calvinism on the Soul

By Neo-Calvinism I mean the Reformational theology manifested in the Dutch tradition of Bavinck and Kuyper.  I do not mean the pop-resergence of the New Calvinists like Piper, Driscoll, and Mahaney, whatever merits these gentlemen might have.

The most notorious aspect of Neo-Calvinism is that they tend to eclipse the doctrine of the soul in favor of a biblical wholism.  I am sympathetic to that, but I also think the Biblical witness speaks of man's soul in distinction from his body.  Let's evaluate Neo-Calvinism as represented in Berkouwer's summary of the movement (Man the Image of God).

The main contention of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd whether there was a natural immortality based on an essence abstracted from its relation to God, from which we can draw further conclusions, such as the soul’s “indestructibility” (Berkouwer, Man the Image of God, 249). So far, this is fine. The Bible doesn't really posit an immaterial soul as the "real stuff" behind God's creation.

Per Van der Leuw, there is no continued existence of the soul as such after death, “but a continuation of the contact point by God even though death” (Onsterfelijkheid of Opstanding, 25 quoted in Berkouwer 252).  I am not entirely sure what this means. If he is saying the soul has no mental awareness after death, then it is false on both biblical and empirical grounds. I think there is something else, though. The problem of what happens when we die does not involve a purely spiritual salvation but can only be answered in the context of death and the Day of Judgment (Althaus). If all Althaus means is the goal of the soul's life isn't the soul itself but finds its ultimate grounding in the Resurrection, then well and good.

Michael Horton reads Berkouwer as denying the existence of an immaterial soul. I'm not so sure Berkouwer is doing that.

Is immortality of the soul correlative with the substantial dualism of mind-body?  This dichotomy raises substantial (pun?) problems and questions (255):
  • When the “soul” is separated from the body, what activities is it still able to carry out?
  • If the body is the organ of the soul (as in Aquinas), and the soul needs the body to carry out its functions, how can the soul know or do anything after death?
    • Dooyeweerd notes that the psychic functions are indissolubly connected with the total temporal-cosmic relationship of all modal functions and cannot be abstracted from this relationship.
    • Thus, we have a “living soul” which does not live.
    • Rather, with Dooyeweerd we should speak of a duality which is supra-temporal in the religious center of man (heart) and the whole temporal-functional complex.
    • Dooyeweerd does say that the soul continues as a form of existence with an individuality structure (Berkouwer 257n. 33).  

Does Dooyeweerd’s school give us a “psychology without a soul?” No, for Dooyeweerd says we cannot view man’s essence “in itself” and then tack it onto a relation with God.

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