Spiritual Interview

For my assignment I conducted a Zoom interview with a friend who used to work in ministry.  He used to be a youth and children’s ministry leader for a church, but now him and his wife volunteer leading a young adult group.  I have found him to be a deep and faithful follower of Jesus, as well as an intelligent and critical thinker.  We talked for a little over an hour and covered a range of topics.  We discussed spirituality, the soul, spiritual practices, and the church.

            To start off our conversation, I asked my interview partner “What is spirituality”?  His response was that spirituality is anything that has to do with who we are that’s non-physical.  When I asked what he meant by that, he pointed to things like thoughts, feelings, and personality.  From our study so far, I immediately thought about how things like thoughts, feelings, and personality are tied to physical process and chemicals in our brains and bodies.[1]  However, he mentioned he was having a difficult time answering the question about what spirituality was, so I decided not to push too much further on definitions of what thoughts, feelings, and personality are, and exactly how he understood them to be “non-physical”. 

            This led me to ask him what he thought about the soul.  He answered that he thought the soul was everything he is outside of who he is physically.  Given his thoughts about spirituality this seemed like a reasonable response.  He was also clear to point out that he didn’t think the soul was a separate entity though.  It was clear that he is a monist.  Although he did not specifically state this, and I would not have used this sort of technical terminology with him during our conversation, it was apparent that he is some sort of irreducible physicalist.  His view reminded me of Timothy O’Connor.[2]  He thinks that the soul essentially emerges from the brain, yet it does not become an ontologically distinct entity. 

After figuring out where he tentatively stood with human composition and the soul, I asked him what happens with the soul before judgement day when someone dies.  He mentioned that he essentially thinks the soul goes into some sort of sleep.  So, although time may pass once one dies before judgement day, it will feel as though no time passed once judgement day comes as we all awake from our slumber.  He mentioned that he has come to this conclusion from his reading of the bible, though he did not provide any specific references.  At this point, I chimed in and divulged that as of now, I myself tend to lean toward a monistic view of the soul.  However, I did mention the ways this class has been challenging me and how I’ve found there is a much stronger case for dualism than I had recognized before.

I brought up the story in 1 Samuel 28 when Saul summons Samuel.  We talked about how this story can be used as biblical support for dualism.[3]  Once we looked at the details of the story, we both agreed that at least prima facia, this story gives support for a dualistic understanding of the soul.  This did not immediately change his position, but he said that this will cause him to have to think about the topic in more depth. 

Again, this is about as far as we took the conversation on this topic as he admitted that he needed to do more thinking on this topic and was not entirely sure how to formulate his views, or really what his views were once we began to scrutinize them.  Before we switched topics, he did suggest that the composition of human nature is truly a mystery.  We talked about how human faculties and capabilities are limited and fallible and that at some level, some ideas may just be beyond our grasp.  He cited the trinity as something that seems to be beyond reason and suggested that the soul may also be in that category to some extent. 

Next, we turned to the topic of spiritual practice and the purpose or goal of spirituality.  He said that the main way he feels he practices spirituality is by witnessing, being a light and a vessel for God, spending time with Jesus, and reading the bible.  As for the goal of spirituality, he said the goal is to grow closer to God.   We then talked about the four spiritual perspectives that we started the class looking at.  I gave a brief synopsis of what I felt was central to each perspective. 

After my brief summary, he said he identifies mostly with mainline Protestant and the Evangelical traditions.  He mentioned that he grew up Pentecostal and thinks this may be part of the reason for why he feels this way.  He said he would not say that the Catholic or Orthodox perspectives were necessarily wrong though, and he even thinks there is great value he could attain from their perspective. 

Growing up, he saw all the varying ways people engaged with spirituality.  He said in seeing this diversity of spiritual practice and expression, he has been deeply moved and challenged by the sincerity of those who practice spirituality different than himself.  It has been a motivator for him to be disciplined in his spirituality and also has broaden his perspective of what is “appropriate” spiritual practice or expression.

As I reflected on his view of the soul and his view of spirituality, it felt like they did not have any direct impact on his spiritual practices.  I saw a clear connection between his view of spirituality and his view of the soul, but it was almost as if his understanding of spiritual practices were unaffected by whether he was a monist or a dualist.  I think his mainline Protestant and Evangelical leanings that have informed his understanding of spiritual practices could actually be pulling him in different directions in terms of the soul and has resulted in this ambivalent connection between his view of the soul and his spiritual practices. 

In very simple terms, to me, the mainline Protestant perspective of spirituality being centered on how you are loving God and loving others leans towards more of a focus on morality.[4]  This creates a greater emphasis on life in this world right now, which would be supported well by a monistic view of humans that saw us as fundamentally material beings.[5]  On the flip side, the Evangelical perspective of personal piety and holiness,[6] would seem to be best supported by a dualistic perspective which would warrant and require direct attention and focus on the “purifying the soul”. 

Lastly, we talked about spirituality on the individual and communal level.  He said that God did not make us to live on our own but to live in community.  For him, community and accountability are a huge source for his spiritual growth and development.  In fact, a key moment in his spiritual growth happened at a conference when he was 18.  The conference was formidable for him not because of the content that was discussed, but the community and relationships he formed there and that he was able to take home with him.  This focus on community made me interested in his views about church and Sunday gatherings.  Unlike our discussions on spirituality or the soul, he had pretty strong opinions and feelings about church and had much more passion when talking about this.

Having formally been in ministry, I think he has in some ways become disillusioned with church.  He still is a part of a church and attends Sunday gatherings, but is quite critical of the way Sunday gatherings happen and the function they play in Christian lives.  In short, he feels we need to go back to the Acts house churches and have smaller tight knit communities rather than these large congregations churches seem to be striving to create.  He was quite suspicious of a church’s goal of growing numerically.  This culminated in his deepest frustration with the church which was the way it has been wielded for power.

The power people have gained from the church have caused many to conflate, whether intentionally or unintentionally, self-righteousness with genuine righteousness.  This infection in many of our leaders has trickled down into congregations where people are unable to be vulnerable and honest about their sins, but constantly put on the face of a “good Christian”.  I could see his mainline Protestant leanings coming in here with his critique of power and his Evangelical background with his desire for Christians to confront their sin honestly and openly.  I think he makes a powerful point about the condition of churches if we cannot publicly announce and bear our sins. 

As we began to close our conversation, he made a point to mention that out of all the topics we covered, he felt like none of them were “take to the cross” issues.  To him, none of the answers to any of the questions were a matter of salvation or not.  This did not make them topics unworthy of discussion, but just something that we need to have in mind. I fully agree with him.  The ranging debates surrounding these topics are quite exciting and am so glad I’m able to participate in them.  That being said, we need to remember that ultimately, they are not definitive for the gospel and is an area we can and should tolerate a diversity of understandings. 

Bibliography

Crisp, Thomas M., Steve L. Porter, Gregg A. Ten. Elshof, Corcoran Kevin, and Sharpe Kevin. “Neuroscience and the Human Person.” Essay. In Neuroscience and the Soul. The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2017.

Crisp, Thomas M., Steve L. Porter, Gregg A. Ten. Elshof, Cooper, John. “Whose Interpretation?  Which Anthropology?” Essay. In Neuroscience and the Soul. The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2017.

Crisp, Thomas M., Steve L. Porter, Gregg A. Ten. Elshof, William, O’Connor Timothy. “Materially-Composed Persons and the Unity of Consciousness.” Essay. In Neuroscience and the Soul. The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2017.

Nassif, Bradley, Bruce A. Demarest, Driskill Joseph.  “The Progressive Face of Mainline Protestant Spirituality”. Essay. In Four Views on Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Scorgie, Glen G., Simon Chan, Gordon T. Smith, James D. Smith, Hindmarsh Bruce. “Contours of Evangelical Spirituality.” Essay. In Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 2011.


[1] Crisp, Thomas M., Steve L. Porter, Gregg A. Ten. Elshof, Corcoran Kevin, and Sharpe Kevin. “Neuroscience and the Human Person.” Essay. In Neuroscience and the Soul. The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2017. 122.

[2] Crisp, Thomas M., Steve L. Porter, Gregg A. Ten. Elshof, William, O’Connor Timothy. “Materially-Composed Persons and the Unity of Consciousness.” Essay. In Neuroscience and the Soul. The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2017. 45.

[3] Crisp, Thomas M., Steve L. Porter, Gregg A. Ten. Elshof, Cooper, John. “Whose Interpretation?  Which Anthropology?” Essay. In Neuroscience and the Soul. The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publ., 2017. 244.

[4] Nassif, Bradley, Bruce A. Demarest, Driskill Joseph.  “The Progressive Face of Mainline Protestant Spirituality”. Essay. In Four Views on Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.136.

[5] Driskill Joseph.  “The Progressive Face of Mainline Protestant Spirituality”. 129.

[6] Scorgie, Glen G., Simon Chan, Gordon T. Smith, James D. Smith, Hindmarsh Bruce. “Contours of Evangelical Spirituality.” Essay. In Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 2011. 147.

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