It was 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, when the Philosophy Club’s discussion about the relationship between the body and soul happened in Kresge 201. Students laden with homework and professors laden with papers to grade filed into the room for the Philosophy Club’s final event of the semester.
Jag Williams (‘19) welcomed people filing in and moderated the discussion between Dr. John Wingard, philosophy professor and Dean of the Humanities at Covenant College, and Dr. David Norman, former president of Erskine College and current Regional Director of Covenant’s Advancement department. Q&A from the audience followed.
Williams met Norman during Rock Creek Fellowship’s meet-and-greet portion of the service, and they quickly discovered that Norman had not only graduated with a degree in philosophy, which Williams is currently studying, but received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh in philosophical theology. They met for coffee where Williams found Norman’s view on the soul and body fascinating and asked him if he’d be willing to discuss his view with Wingard. He was curious how Wingard and Norman would engage in the discussion since they both come from different philosophical perspectives on the body and soul discussion. Thus, Williams met with Norman, Wingard, and Caroline McLeod—the philosophy club president—in the Great Hall. This lively conversation led to the discussion that took place in Kresge 201 on December 1.
The discussion held in Kresge 201 began with a passage of The Westminster Confession of Faith. Next, Williams defined a few philosophical terms for the gathered audience, and then he introduced Wingard and Norman, as well as their respective views on the topic. The discussion between Wingard and Norman began.
Although the discussion began because of the differences in their views about the body and soul, Wingard and Norman found that their views were not as different as they originally thought, but they did still have fundamental disagreements. Wingard believes, “I am fundamentally a soul that has a body,” meaning that humans are, at the very core, immaterial souls that possess a physical body. The mind can be, and is separated from our bodies upon death to unite with God in the intermediary state between death and bodily resurrection. Soul and mind are the same thing.
Norman, on the other hand, wants to incorporate more of a focus on the body. He explains his reasoning by saying, “Ultimately, I want to know who I am. This started when my Grandad had Alzheimer’s. I realized that if my faith was to be a soul set free from this body when I died, then I had no hope.”
Norman believes that God’s plan for redemption is rooted deeply, and inseparably in our future bodily resurrection. Our true hope is not in the separation of body and soul, but in their beautiful and perfect future resurrection, to which Wingard agrees. He holds that the mind and the soul are not equal, but that the soul is “our lives, in the deepest sense,” that can be both attached to our body in our life, and sustained by God in our death. However, our minds are inseparably bound to our bodies. God sustains our soul, but our mind is left until the final resurrection.
Both uphold that God himself is immaterial but became material in Christ incarnate. Both uphold the traditional beliefs of the Christian: that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that God will one day renew all things and will draw his children to himself. Since they agree on the fundamental of Christianity, they have room to discuss other questions that the Bible raises—such as substance dualism.
Williams wanted “to see how two godly Christian men who come from two different perspectives answer the question of ‘How I should think about my soul?’”
Questioning these side issues makes them stronger Christians because it helps them better understand both their own view, the view of their opponent, and what the Bible has to say that might be relevant to the issue. Williams said, “My hope for this event was for it to begin a dialogue on how to think about the soul in relation to the body in our current secular culture of materialism.”
The discussion ended with both Norman and Wingard turning to Scripture, saying that above all, Christ must be preeminent. If they found that the Bible contradicted their beliefs about our embodiment, they would drop their beliefs about embodiment for what the Bible says.
After the event had officially ended, students and professors lingered over chocolate pie, coffee cake, and zucchini bread, discussing the night’s conversation with Wingard, Norman, Williams, and each other.