Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible
Green (Joel B.)
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Amazon Book Description

  1. Are humans composed of a material body and an immaterial soul? This view is commonly held by Christians, yet it has been undermined by recent developments in neuroscience. Exploring what Scripture and theology teach about issues such as being in the divine image, the importance of community, sin, free will, salvation, and the afterlife, Joel Green argues that a dualistic view of the human person is inconsistent with both science and Scripture.
  2. This wide-ranging discussion is sure to provoke much thought and debate. Bestselling books have explored the relationship between body, mind, and soul. Now Joel Green provides us with a biblical perspective on these issues.
  3. "Few biblical interpreters have delved as deeply into the science of the human brain as Joel Green. Here he draws upon that learning in conversation with Scripture to put forth a fresh picture of human existence, one that makes sense from both perspectives. He does not shy away from hard questions, especially those about life and death, body and soul."
    → Patrick D. Miller, Princeton Theological Seminary
  4. "If you think nothing new ever happens in theology or biblical studies, you need to read this book, an essay in 'neuro-hermeneutics.' Green shows not only that a physicalist (as opposed to a dualist) anthropology is consistent with biblical teaching but also that contemporary neuroscience sheds light on significant hermeneutical and theological questions."
    Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary
  5. "Joel Green serves as the vanguard of interdisciplinary research on this topic. No one combines the requisite background in theology, biblical studies, and the natural sciences as adeptly as Green, and with the critical thinking needed to move along the interstices of these disciplines. Indeed, he succeeds at closing the gaps between these disciplines. This 'progress report' is another timely and welcome contribution from Professor Green."
    → Bill T. Arnold, Asbury Theological Seminary
  6. "In this outstanding work, the author provides a scholarly and thoroughly biblical analysis of human personhood in dialogue with the neurosciences. This book is likely to provide the definitive overview of this topic for many years to come."
    Denis Alexander, director, The Faraday Institute, St. Edmund's College
  7. "Some are students of the Bible. Others are students of neuroscience. Joel Green is both and more. In Body, Soul, and Human Life, he helps us listen more attentively both to the Bible and to the unfolding music of the neurosciences. What you hear may surprise you. Far from telling different and irreconcilable stories about human nature, Joel Green helps us to see that these two sources – the Bible and the neurosciences – actually tell mutually enriching and complementary stories about what it means to be fully human and fully alive. I heartily recommend it!"
    Kevin Corcoran, Calvin College
  8. Joel B. Green: (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Prior to moving to Fuller, he taught at Asbury Theological Seminary for ten years, serving as vice president of academic affairs and provost in recent years. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Introducing the New Testament, and commentaries on Luke and 1 Peter.

Amazon Customer Review 11
  1. This book addresses the knotty issue of the relationship between brain, mind and soul. It seeks to present the Bible's teaching on `what a human being is' in the light of the neurosciences (brain biology, psychology etc.) Is the `real me' my soul? Green rightly rejects this popular approach as incompatible with both science and Scripture.
  2. On the one hand, thinking and behaviour is inextricably tied to brain state, which is undeniably physical. On the other hand, Scripture presents human persons as a unified whole - demonstrated climactically in God's commitment to bodily resurrection, rather than `souls going to heaven'. Along the way Green considers the issues of
    1. humankind in God's image - in terms of role/relationship rather than `we have a soul, animals don't';
    2. sin, freedom and moral responsibility - given that physical/brain factors at the subconscious level profoundly influence our choices and actions;
    3. conversion - not something that happens to our souls, but a new framework of understanding, vitally tied to integration into the community of God's people; and
    4. the intermediate state - where Green denies personal independent existence after death, claiming rather that God recreates us at the final resurrection.
  3. Green locates personal identity in the `embodiedness' of our lives, in our relationships (primarily with God, but also vitally with others), and in the overarching story by which we understand ourselves and our world. This rightly critiques the modern tendency to locate personhood in the `inner person's independent, self-contained autonomy. Green intermingles neuroscientific research conclusions with philosophical reflection and exegesis of key Biblical passages.
  4. Green describes fascinating science, raises good questions, and makes a number of helpful or thought provoking points, e.g. on `nature vs. nurture', and on Sin as a shaping power rather than simply individual misdeeds. Undoubtedly we underestimate the `embodiedness' of our existence, with its impact on our thought, behaviour, and even `spiritual experience'.
  5. Ultimately though, the book was unsatisfying - not because the issues are `out of bounds', but because Green cites the biblical conclusions of others without giving their evidence, and never really grapples with certain key objections.
    1. He has the irritating academic habit of dismissing alternative views as `insufficiently nuanced' and of disguising vague/simplistic statements with fine-sounding language; he also resorts to false "either-or"s, and eloquently restates his position as if that constituted proof. For example he dismisses one study of afterlife in the Old Testament by observing that this is not a primary OT concern (which may be true, but hardly proves his point);
    2. Similarly, he seems to assume that because `soul/body/spirit' words are used in various ways, the study of such terminology is irrelevant.
    3. Some pertinent passages were conspicuously absent (Matt.10v28, Hebr.12v23, Rev.6v9-11, Luke 20v38, 1Thes.5v23), or dealt with summarily (Philipp.1v23, 2Cor.5v8).
    4. His decision to postpone discussion of post-death survival to the final chapter was based on the logic: "the Greeks/Romans had various views; so did the Jews; the Biblical writers had no firsthand knowledge of the subject". Hardly reassuring from a Christian point of view.

Amazon Customer Review 22
  1. Without question, Green's book is a key source when considering a robust biblical anthropology. Although one may not align with the thesis of Christian physicalism (that humans are made up of one integrated whole), readers will surely be informed by the depth of analysis and the even-handed treatment he offers in relation to the alternative view of Christian dualism – the notion that humans are made up of two ontologically distinct parts, material and immaterial or body and soul.
  2. One section in the book that especially intrigued me involved the mechanics and nature of change or personal transformation; namely, "persons and not parts of persons" are transformed (p 115). Green would likely put forth that when persons experience change, the brain changes and vice versa. This is not to reduce persons to mere brain states, neurons, or what have you, but it is to say that brains are involved and indeed impacted by behavior and vice versa. Persons are units or one integrated whole, not merely a composite of blended though distinct parts, thus change or transformation affects and effects the whole person.
  3. Illustrating that "neural transformation in response to environmental factors" intersect, he appeals to the now famous and fascinating study of the London taxi-drivers to show that "day-to-day activities induce changes in the morphology of the brain" (p 116). This factor alone has been teased out in relation to spiritual transformation by the formidable N.T. Wright (see my "Adams - Habituation and Life in the Spirit").
  4. Not only does the brain participate in our transformation but so also does our social conditioning have a significant impact. Green states that our genetic makeup biases our dispositions and character so that "the neuronal systems and pathways responsible for much of what we think, feel, believe, and do are shaped by learning," in which he takes "learning" to be social in nature. He writes: "If [or rather "Since] the neurobiological systems that shape how we think, feel, believe, and behave are forever being sculpted in the context of our social experiences, then in a profound sense we must speak of personal (trans)formation in relational terms. Our autobiographical selves are formed within a nest of relationships, a community (p 116).
  5. Because of this ebb and flow of incoming information via social interaction and experiences and the continual evolving of the brain in response to these stimuli, we seem unable to "unambiguously interpret" the world-an-sich (world as it is). Our interpretive capacity continually changes and is handicapped, as it were, causing a "deficit" of all the necessary information we need to see the world as it is. Consequently, our "cortical networks fill in. They make their best guess, given incomplete information." And so, we "find a human face in the full moon, recognize Beethoven playing his piano in a cloud formation...or prejudicially categorize people by any number of criteria" (p 117). This process is what is known as imagination formation whereby a conceptual schema is constructed from which we interpret our world and our experiences.
  6. As a result, the mechanics of worldview formation are born. Green states: "Our hermeneutical equipment, then, is formed at the synaptic level, is capable of reformation, and is even now providing the conceptual schemes or imaginative structures by which we make sense of the world around us. My "perception" of the world is based in a network of ever-forming assumptions about my environment, and in a series of well-tested assumptions, shared by others with whom I associate, about "the way the world works." Ambiguous data may present different hypotheses, but my mind disambiguates that data according to what I have learned to expect. That is, embodied human life performs like a cultural, neuro-hermeneutic system, locating (and, thus, making sense of) current realities in relation to our grasp of the past and expectations of the future (p 118).
  7. This is large on so many levels. But without spending more time on unpacking implications (the book adequately puts forth some), one other most important agency is utilized in personal transformation and in our identity construction. This agency Green labels "narrative formation." Where "lesions to the neural network responsible for the generation of narrative" is found on a human brain, persons appear to "suffer a loss in their grasp of their own identities." In fact, "so pivotal is narrative to the formation of identity, including the formation and articulation of beliefs, that in the absence of memory humans will create stories by which to make sense of their present situation" (p 120). Coordinately, "brain lesion studies have demonstrated that damage to the emotion-processing center of the brain impedes real-life rationality and decision-making" (p 121).
  8. If my take approximates Green's findings, then we can say that conversion to the Christian faith is not an intellectual enterprise alone nor an emotional one. It does not just happen inside me. Instead, conversion is a physiological, relational, emotional, intellectual, moral, and environmental event as well as an ongoing process that affects and effects who I am as a whole person. Moreover, my worldview, that interpretive lens whereby I make sense of myself and the environment, is continually being shaped and reshaped by the social nexus in which I find myself, by those pathways carved in my neuro-biological correlates, and by a narrative that I and others write to define who I am in relation to myself and in relation to the world-as-it-is. Put differently, worldview is not merely a conceptual construct filled with presuppositions isolated from the entire existential experience of the human who holds it.
  9. This is a fine read, raises important questions not typical of tradition, dualist views. Tolle lege!
    → Paul D. Adams

In-Page Footnotes ("Green (Joel B.) - Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:
Book Comment

Baker Academic (1 July 2008), Paperback

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