08 January 2009

body, soul, and human life

Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).

With this post I will have given report on my annual end-of-year book blitz for 2008 (the two or three weeks after administering exams), in which I make an attempt to go through books of interest which are typically outside of my immediate range of research and reading.  (This also explains why so many reviews as of late.)  I read this one first, thinking I might not find it the most fascinating and would perhaps want an escape.  In reality, however, it was one of my favorite reads of the entire year.

This book is excellent.

Joel Green offers here not only an examination into the biblical portrait of humanity which explores research in the neurosciences (an area he is interacting with on post-graduate levels), but demonstrates how theological interpretation ought to be conducted in light of the world which surrounds the academic community.  Not apologizing for his stance on biblical commitment, Green is unafraid to engage the sciences and show how both can benefit from the other.

Chapter One: For many, this chapter alone will prove to be worth the price of the book.  Green addresses the natural quest of humanity to find itself, to discover its own story, and to place itself within the created order.  In setting up this discussion, he rightly asserts that this requires a humbling of humanity by both the journey itself and the discoveries which are made.  This is especially true for journeys of faith, ". . . namely, the realization that the Bible is about God, first and foremost, and only derivatively about us" (3).  As to why one should engage science, Green rightly comments, ". . . that science already informs exegesis; it is only a question of which science or whose, good science or bad" (21, emphasis in original).

Chapter Two: Here the author takes on the question, "What does it mean to be human?"  Exploring both scientific and biblical data, Green does not allow the historian to enter in with the assumption that the ancients already had a singular and complete view of the person (cf. 49f.).  What is found in the Bible is more of an eschatological dualism rather than an anthropological one (cf. 59).  Though Green makes more solid points than I can point out here, one particular emphasis which comes to the fore is the understanding that relationship is a key component to the nature of humanity.

Chapter Three: Sin and freedom are given attention in this chapter, with Green's response to various scientific challenges to the nature of Christian ethics and a portion of the biblical discussion of how sin and freedom affect the nature of humanity.  On the latter he keeps to the writings of Peter, James and Paul.  Summarizing by way of his conclusion on the Pauline perspective: "Required, rather, is human change, a theological transformation - a deep-seated conversion of one's conception of God and, thus, in one's commitments, attitudes, and everyday practices" (103).  Simply: this is about who we are and what we do.

Chapter Four: What then of salvation?  Green turns to this topic here by focussing on the Lukan material of the NT (and the concept of "embodied conversion" (109)).  What is especially interesting here - keeping in mind the neurosciences - is the summons repeatedly found in Luke-Acts of acting out one's conversion commitment.  There is a sense (and one might easily think of some of the church fathers and early monastic writers) that doing solidifies theological commitment on this: ". . . in order to make life-events meaningful, we must conceptualize them and we do so in terms of well-worn paths in our brains . . ." (118).  The outlook would thus turn to prayer and witness.

Chapter Five: The final chapter appropriately considers the resurrection of the body, a view of what it means to be truly human (at least for the Christian).  I appreciate Green's interaction with Hasker's emergent dualism in this section but would like to have seen more conclusive statements guiding me along with his own thought in comparison (142-143).  Setting the NT data for resurrection among the restoration of Israel (he is correct in doing so), Green explores statements regarding an intermediate state as well as the final outcome for the people of God.  One specific mark of humanity worth mentioning here is that the conception in the mind of the ancient Israelites does not always match up with our ethereal understandings of the afterlife: "The Israelite has a sense of self above all in relation to the people of God, and this in relation to the covenant and promises of the God of Israel" (169).

The hope for humanity being fully alive is well understood through the conclusions which Green draws from the Pauline perspective.  In the Corinthian correspondence the apostle speaks of the person being clothed in Christ which will replace the nakedness of our existence.  Since the concept of nakedness meant certain public and moral shame, there is great meaning here for the hope of all humanity to come and put on the fullness of their being as found in the resurrection of the Messiah.

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