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Are Emergents Rejecting the Soul's Existence?

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One of the important shifts among Christians has been the rise of the “emergent church.”1 A number of pastors, authors, and bloggers, such as Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and many more, have written extensively about the shifts the church in the west is undergoing as we transition from the influences of the period called “modernity” to “postmodernity.” 2 For example, McLaren makes a number of observations of how the church has been influenced in largely negative ways by modernity, but now Christians need to learn how to live faithfully in postmodern times, which McLaren calls being a “new kind” of Christian.3

When people discuss the emergent church, they typically focus upon emergents’ views of knowledge, ethics, the gospel, salvation, and other doctrinal issues. But, as I keep reading emergents, or academics that are influencing them, I see another pattern that might be at the root of these other topics: the rejection of modern dualisms. This includes a wide range of dichotomies, such as heaven or hell; orthodoxy versus orthopraxis; evangelism or social action. But, according to Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, often the rejection of modern dualisms includes a tendency to reject the traditional Christian dualism between body and soul in favor of a “holistic,” “relational” anthropology. This new view often takes the form that humans do not have souls as their essence (i.e., their essential nature, and what makes us the same person through time) or substance (what has and unifies all our parts and qualities).4. . .

R. Scott Smith

R. Scott Smith is associate professor of Ethics and Christian Apologetics at Biola University. He has a B.A. in Political Science/Public Affairs and Administration from California State University at Hayward (now Cal State East Bay), an M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology at Biola and earned his Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics. He is the author of several books including Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church and Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge: Philosophy of Language After MacIntyre and Hauerwas, Exposing the Roots of Constructivism: Nominalism and the Ontology of Knowledge as well as many articles and essays. Dr. Smith has lectured and presented numerous times on his specialty, postmodernism.


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