Review of J.B. Green’s BODY, SOUL, AND HUMAN LIFE (BAKER)

Joel Green, professor of New Testament interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary, is known as an expert in biblical exegesis (especially in Luke and 1 Peter) as well as in his work on ‘theological interpretation’. One who has already shown breadth and depth of knowledge, he flexes his interdisciplinary muscles by exploring the way in which the study of neuroscience can shed light on discussions of biblical anthropology.

Too often scientists look at their own experimental findings and at traditional Christian theology and determine them to be incompatible. Green seeks to not only present an opportunity for scientists to try to understand their world in harmony with the Bible, but also to see how science (particularly neuroscience) might inform or even correct the way we interpret the Bible.

Green appears to be interested in two major issues. The first is a challenge, largely based on neuroscience, against a dualistic (soul + body) view of the person. Green states: ‘If the capacities constitutive of the human being traditionally allocated to the immaterial soul are identified with neuronal processes, then the need underlying the attribution of an immaterial soul to the human being vanishes’ (p. 27). He supports a form of monism which sees the whole self in the body as a unified form with no distinct entity called ‘soul’.

In terms of how neuroscience supports what is foundational in Christian anthropology, Green does not  find evidence that a person has a ‘soul’ that desires one thing and a body that acts against it.  Rather, ‘the construction of the self [is] deeply embedded in social relationships’ and life experiences such that ‘a person is one’s behavior’ (p. 50).  This emphasis on relationality and how that helps to define humanity identity is related by Green to the important passages in Genesis 1-2 that refer to the ‘image of God’.  This interpretation gravitates towards a focus on community in the search for human identity insofar as Christ makes possible a ‘transformation…fully embodied within a nest of relationships’ (p. 69).

Whereas philosophers in the past have made the free will debate about God’s ‘control’ or allowance of ‘freedom’, Green notes how important understanding the brain is for engaging in the discussion of morality, decision-making and volition.  We tend to think of ‘free will’ as an objective or neutral ability to make our own decision at any given moment.  However, Green makes important observations based on scientific studies:

‘A host of labratories in the past decade have demonstrated the tight link between neuronal processes and moral decision-making – including, but not limited to, reviewing past decisions and their consequences, weighing options, and potential rewards, and envisioning the future.  Indeed, the most basic and significant contribution of cognitive science is its irreducible emphasis on the somatic basis of human existence, including the exercise of the mind’ (p. 84).

If Green is correct in his theses here, a whole host of issues are drawn in to the discussion: if the soul is not ‘real’, what is being ‘saved’ (see ch. 4)?  What happens when we die (ch. 5)?  Put another way, ‘How can I be sure that the me that enjoys eternal life is really me (p. 142)?  Is there no ‘intermediate state’?

This book is a page-turner.  I read it at night just before bed and I found myself looking forward to each night’s reading as Green was challenging many things I took for granted in a cogent way.  One particularly significant argument for Green is the importance of narrative in memory and the formation of identity.  Confirmation of this from neuroscience accords well with people like N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, and others (including Green) who have argued this theologically for a long time.  Also, concerning the question of ‘conversion’, Green offers some very important insights about how it is to be understood – especially as many view it as a one-time ‘event’ rather than a process.  When someone enters the community of the people of God, the Biblical concept of conversion involves much more than an individualistic existential satisfaction that one is ‘saved’.  Green argues, based on scientific studies as well as Biblical data, that a narrative recodification takes place where he or she is written into the story of God’s people and God’s cosmic act of redemption and renewal. The Gospels, then, are not just historical recountings of the facts about Jesus so that you can ‘know’ what he did and said.  They were written in part to inform, but Green also highlights the epistemological and cognitive features of story-telling in the NT.

What the Gospels offer, Green urges, is a fresh perspective on the story of God’s salvific plan and activity: ‘For Luke, embracing this new conceptual scheme is a new way of seeing things, an opening of the mind to understand what was previously incomprehensible, that takes as its starting point the mission and message of Jesus, culminating in his death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost’ (p. 127).  Conversion, then, is not just a one-time choice to change from one religion to another.  To enter the people of God, conversion must be understood as ‘an ongoing process of socialization’ (p. 129).

We are in Joel Green’s debt for this captivating study and exercise in interdisciplinarity.  He is articulate, careful, and well-informed theologically and scientifically.  I confess that I was not convinced by everthing he argued for, but the kind of issues and questions he raises are important and need to be reckoned with by Biblical scholars, as well as Christian theologians and philosophers.  M0st theology-science dialogue that takes place focuses on miracles or creation.  Green has identified the nature of human-ness as another critical sphere for a meaningful conversation to take place.

My only wish, after reading Green’s book, was for more (as it is an appetizing but unsatisfying 180 pp.).  Thus, Prof. Green has agreed to do an interview with me on my blog – stay tuned for a stimulating after-discussion that probes, explains, and clarifies.  Respectful comments and questions will be accepted, but I cannot guarantee  a response.

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7 thoughts on “Review of J.B. Green’s BODY, SOUL, AND HUMAN LIFE (BAKER)

  1. It all sounds very interesting and encouraging. I would say that his thesis is both biblical and scientific. It’s great to see more and more theologians daringly go “back to the Bible” on such important subjects.

  2. Life and Soul (Neuroscience Research)

    PERSONAL VIEW G .K. PRADHAN

    Message- Life is dedicated for the search of supreme truth of life.
    Introduction: -

    Scientific view, According to scientists, Life is formed through the fusion of different combination of elements in the appropriate conditions and acquired a large amount of energy from lightning strike or the heat from a volcano, gave rise to somewhat complicated chemical species. These then reacted in similar conditions and formed even more complicated chemicals. Fast forward a while and these chemicals combine in ways that result in replication and growth. After further development, they become living cells that can grow, respire, consume and reproduce.

    (Fig: Soul our conscious – Richard Hubal)

    Hence, scientific view revealed that life is nothing but only the combination of biochemical molecules that may be carbohydrates, protein or fat. For experimental purpose, if we made a small cut in any animal’s neck it will die after some time. By the help of an expert surgeon if we recover the wound as it is, what happened to the animal? Would the animal get back its life again or it sleeps forever? But it cannot get back its life. Why? As all the biochemical molecules as it is present in the dead entity. If the life is only the combination of chemicals and reactions, why the animal did not get back its life again?
    So, from the above experiment we concluded that bio-molecules are only the structural unit of life. Life is not only simple combination of chemicals and reactions and also it is something else. May be the functional unit of life is the soul as we studied in various Scriptures. Soul is not visible to naked eyes, because it is a form of energy.
    According to Albert Einstein, energy cannot be created and cannot be destroyed. But the energy can be transferred from one form to another form. Since soul is a form of energy according to various scriptures, it may not have destroyed or natural death. According to Hinduism, if an animal died the dead body has been burnt in fire where as in Christianity and Islamism the dead body has been buried under soil. According to various scriptures, soul is a part of the body and it will function like an enzyme as it remained after a biochemical reaction. Like that, soul might be functioning in live body and it transfers from dead body to new body in mother’s womb. It transfers from one body to other by the processes of birth and death. It remains unchanged for several live and only the consciousness which is transfer from one life to the next life.

    Place of soul in the body:-
    To find the soul we have to spend lot of time and hard work, definitely we get successes in the soul research. Animal like dog, cow can see the Spirit (The death form of life). There is a probability of soul sustained either in brain or in heart in the body. The soul is only a form of energy and it is not an organ so that we cannot recognize its position. It may be transfer one part to other part of the organism’s body.

    Energy:-
    The Cosmos is running by the virtue of attraction and repulsion force (Energy) it may be between the sun with other planets or in molecular level between nucleus and electron. If we rub our two palms for some time it generates heat energy, from where it came? It came from our internal energy. If we rub a comb on our hair immediately it gets charged. These are all examples of energy. Sun is the source of energy for our solar system. Directly or indirectly we are getting energy from sun.

    (Healing energy, qualteam.tripod.com)

    Soul:-
    The Functional unit of life is the soul and it is a form of energy. It neither be created nor destroyed, it can be transferred from one form to other. Position of soul in the living body is difficult to find, but probability of finding is more in brain and heart .There is no natural death of soul but only it changes the body by the process of birth and death.
    Forms of soul:-
    It has two forms of energy level. I. Soul II. Sprit.
    i) Soul present only in the living organism’s body. We can feel the presence of the soul in the body when dreams will come during sleep and when a person in subconscious stage. During such time brain has no function and the soul only play major role. The soul only controls the life.
    ii) Sprit is the form of energy it has no body and shape, it is the excited state of soul which is trying to get a body. How long it will not find a suitable body and environment it will be the in the form of excited state.
    Evidences in my life:-
    I was born on 17th April 1978 in a small village name Billipada, Orissa (India). When I was six year old boy, I have seen Lord Santosi Mata (One among the Hindu goddesses) in my house. This incident was happened in my child hood. When I was sitting with my grandmother around 5° clock in the evening in front of our house and I felt thirsty. I went into house to get some water; suddenly I was seen a woman standing in front of me at a distance of 20 feet. She was wearing a white cloth and she holds a Sword in one hand and a Trisul (Three headed and long pointed equipment used for war in olden ages) in the other hand. Because of very much thirsty, I requested her to go away, but she was standing in front of me. Even though, I scolded her, she was standing there only. I called loudly my grandmother to come inside home. My grandmother came near to me and I told her ‘’ see this lady is stopping my way and not allowing me to get water’’. Before I have completed my words, I pointed my finger towards the goddesses, but she was not there. This was really happened first time in my childhood.

    After six months, another incident was occurred in my childhood. I had wake up in early morning around 4:30 A.M, and I went to outside the house for passing urine. My mother was also with me. At village normally; I used to pass urine outside the house in childhood days. While I was passing urine, I had seen a woman again. She was wearing a red saree and riding on a white horse. She was going towards the end side of our village. My mother also witnessed for this incident. When I had asked about that woman, she told me that “she is goddess Lankeshwari “
    When I was studying 4th class, I had seen a skeleton of human being. When I had returned from school to my home afternoon for lunch, suddenly I felt uneasy and went for toilet near to a lake stayed in the way. After I finished toilet, I went to near lake for wash. Suddenly my eyes recognized someone was sitting on the tree. I had seen that person who is sitting on the tree is a skeleton of a human being, without skin and muscle. While I was observing the skeleton, it was felt into the lake. But I had finished washing of my legs and hands in the lake and I went to my home. I went to school after had lunch. After I returned from school to home around 4° clock I felt uneasy and I went to bed for rest for three days. My eyes became reddened and unable to open my eyes. My mother cared me for food. After three days a person came to my home and he had done some Pooja (prayer) at the home. Then my health was recovered normally.

    Experimental needs:-

    From these experiences in my life it has proved that there are two stages of life. It can live with a body and also without body (Soul) and death is not the end of the life. To prove this, we need some experiment to be conducted. It can prove that “soul is the functional unit of life”. It can be proved in two ways either scientific experiment or by spiritualism by doing meditation (The processes of controlling soul).
    Scientific Experiment:-

    The following experiment can be carried out to prove the presence of soul
    I. Placing an animal in a close transparent container with arrangement of all the physical parameter reading equipments (Energy detector etc…)
    II. Biophysical study of light and energy.(Biophysics)
    III. Study of eye components of animals such as dogs and cows which can see the sprit (Molecular Research)
    IV. Beginning of life in the womb of mother (Time of Heart beat)
    V. Study of sperm and ovum. (Biophysics and Molecular Biology)
    Spiritualism by doing meditation: –
    There are scriptures (Spiritual books) and spiritual masters in the world who can help us to find the soul. In India some places of Himalayas (Mountain chain) and Utter Pradesh (State) where several saints living more than 200 years. They might be known the power and function of the soul. According to scriptures, saints might have the control of soul and they may not have the sudden death. Some saints might be predicting their time of death. And some saints might be invisible to human beings and they do the meditation in Himalayas and other mountains. If we try to find such people with latest cameras having laser beam technology or with meditation, we get some basic information regarding this. This process is difficult and I will try to get such a meditation according to the scriptures and a suitable teacher. For this, I am searching a suitable teacher of meditation. And also we will try to find them with latest cameras.
    In scriptures there are some rules are mentioned how to control the soul. If anybody does the meditation according to rules and regulations, he/she can get successes. Major rules and regulations are given bellow.
    I. Food control.
    II. Sleep control.
    III. Sex control
    IV. Meditation (Control of Mind).
    Conclusion:-
    Brain acts as a hub and it coordinates the internal environment to the external environment, by the process of neuron networking and all stimuli and impulses are controlled by brain. When brain is in sub conscious stage, heart beat continues and we can see dreams rarely in sleeping condition. In sub conscious stage brain has no autonomous function but soul plays the major role. Therefore, soul is the functional unit of life. It neither be created nor destroyed, it can transfer one form to another. It changes the body by the process of birth and death. Whoever does the meditation for long time with peace mind, he/she get the understanding of the soul and its power. Hence, I am requesting the suggestions and supervision from experienced teacher for doing the research in soul science in both the ways.

    To,

    Subject : – Application for requesting to do soul research in your team reg.

    Respected sir,

    I have much interested in research regarding life and soul (functional unit of life), and looking for a suitable platform and supervisor, where I can prove the soul is the functional unit of life. Hence I am requested you to help me in the soul research. I need yours supervision to prove soul is the functional unit of life.

    I would be most grateful if you will offer me to join in your research team and supervise me in this regard.

    Thanking you sir,
    Yours Sincerely

    Mr. GOPAL KRISHNA PRADHAN (M.Sc)
    C/O- Dr. Anita Jagota.
    Department of Animal Sciences
    University of Hyderabad
    Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh)
    INDIA, Pin-500046
    Email: gopalkrishna2012@gmail.com

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