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The Table Video

Bruce Hindmarsh

The Rise, Decline, and Recovery of the Human Soul - Bruce Hindmarsh

James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College
November 25, 2013

Bruce Hindmarsh (Regent College) comments on the need for developing a spiritual theology of the human person at CCT’s Fall 2013 Pastors’ Luncheon. We have Christian psychologists but we arguably do not yet have a Christian psychology. Such a psychology will require a Christian understanding of the personal to integrate the dimensions of the human psyche, but to appreciate this requires an archeological method, turning to history to see how the soul has been understood, past and present. This will allow us to recover a sense of the soul’s divine origin and destiny.


[upbeat guitar music] We want to get going with our speakers for today. But let me just say a little bit about the Center for Christian Thought here at Biola University. The Center for Christian Thought exists to connect Christian scholarship to the church and to the academy. Often times there’s good work being done by Christian scholars all over the world and it often times that scholarship doesn’t find its way into our local churches. And so one of the things we want to try to do is connect Christian scholars and the ideas percolating in the academy with what’s going on in the life of the church.

And that’s part of the purpose of this event today. So for those of you who have come from local churches and who work and serve in local congregations, thank you for coming and we hope that the thoughts that are shared in events like this will stir you and stimulate you and we want to be a resource to you. One of the things that you might want to check out is our website at the Biola Center for Christian Thought website because on that website we house a lot of videos and various other resources that are really intended to… try to… bring again… leading scholarly ideas and put them in formats that are accessible and understandable that would be of importance to you and your ministry work. Last year our theme was Neuroscience and the Soul.

So we have a whole slew of stuff up on our website about Neuroscience and the Soul and the role of the brain in change and various other topics like that. This year our theme is Psychology and Spiritual Formation. So we’re focusing together on what insights does psychological theory and practice have on the way of spiritual transformation in Christ. And so if you come up to the center space which you are welcome to do at some point in time, maybe later today if you can.

That wasn’t an official announcement so I probably wasn’t supposed to invite you up but you can. If you come up to the center space, what you’ll find is you’ll find a lot of nice offices and a big table in the middle and what we do is we bring visiting scholars from other universities to spend up to a semester, sometimes up to a year here at Biola University as scholars and residents.

And then we also release Biola faculty from some of their teaching so they join the group of fellows around the round table and we gather together on a weekly basis to discuss each other’s work and the topics under consideration. And again this semester and next semester our theme is Psychology and Spiritual Formation. Which leads me to our speakers for today who are two folks who are coming to visit with our fellows and we also wanted to bring them to you. Dr. James Houston and Dr. Bruce Hindmarsh.

Before I introduce them though, let me mention that if you haven’t heard already tonight Drs. Hindmarsh and Houston will be here on campus delivering a public lecture in Cavalry Chapel at 7:00 p.m. entitled, “Past Watchful Dragons: Learning Spiritual Formation” from C.S. Lewis and the interesting note about that is Dr. Houston knew C.S. Lewis so he’s going to be giving some anecdotes from his own experience with Lewis and Dr. Hindmarsh will be interviewing him largely in that time. So that should be a very informative and interesting event. So if you’re not able to make it, please pass the word onto others. Also just something to make note of is we do have a conference coming up on January 31st to February 1st.

This is what we call the Table Conference. And our theme is Mind Your Heart. Again working on the theme of Psychology and Spiritual Formation. Folks at that conference will be… Some of the folks at that conference, we have Dr. Everett Worthington from Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. John Coe from here at Talbot Biola, C. Stephen Evans from Baylor, Todd Hall, Jeffrey Schwartz and many others. So be looking for that conference. I think it’s going to be a very good one. So I think I will introduce Dr. Houston first and I was thinking of introducing him this way. And how it’s going to work.

So I want to introduce Dr. Houston and then Dr. Hindmarsh and then Dr. Hindmarsh will come up first and then he’ll bring up Dr. Houston. So before their… It’s very complex. [audience laughs] At the Center for Christian Thought we think about the complexities of this. [audience laughs] So I was going to say this about Dr. Houston so I think I will. Before there was Dallas Willard or Richard Foster, or Eugene Peterson, or Marva Dawn or Brennan Manning or numerous others, there was James Houston and that’s not just to say that Jim was born before all those people, that’s true I think as well.

But Jim has been talking about the need and nature of spiritual formation within the evangelical context for a long long time. And long before many others had picked up on that theme. And Bruce was mentioning that Jim has been a bit of a prophet in many categories or I think that was my term so I won’t put the prophet term on you. But a bit of a prophet in many categories and certainly he was seeing the need for a deeper spirituality particularly in the conservative Christian church many decades ago. When I was a student here at Talbot in the 1990’s, there was a group of us, some of them are here today, who got together and we decided we wanted to hear more about these new ideas in spiritual formation.

And so we put together a conference that we called the Journey, which in the early 1990’s that wasn’t an overused term yet. In fact it was… [audience laughs] It was a bit edgy, the Journey. [audience laughs] People didn’t think of Christianity as a journey, it was more a download of information or something like that. And so we put together this conference and we invited folks like Dallas Willard and Brennan Manning and we asked around and we said, so who’s kind of the grandfather of the spiritual formation kind of movement that was just coming to be? And time and time again people mentioned the name of Jim Houston.

And that was over 20 years ago and even then Jim, you were thought to be the grandfather of the spiritual formation movement. Jim was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1922. Was a university lecturer in cultural and historical geography at the University of Oxford from 1947 into the 1970’s. Jim immigrated with his wife Rita to North America and their four children in 1969 and he was one of the founders of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia where he has held the positions of Principal, Chancellor, Professor of Spiritual Theology and then he was endowed in 1991 as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Spiritual Theology.

Jim’s published numerous books and articles in Christian spirituality. He’s edited numerous classics of Christian spiritualities. Some of the recent books that Jim has offered are the “Mentored Life,” “Joyful Exiles.” Most recently I think a book he co-authored, “A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry “for and by Seniors.” Jim and his wife Rita have four children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren? Is that up to date? Six great-grandchildren.

So Jim is a very wise figure as you’ll soon see. Bruce Hindmarsh has… big shoes to fill because Bruce now inhabits the James M. Houston Professorship of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Bruce was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba sometime after 1922. I’m not quite sure when but it was more recent than that. He too took his training at Oxford University getting a D.Phil degree. From 1995 to 1997 he was research fellow at Christ’s Church Oxford… inhabiting the same stones as John Locke and the Wesleys and others. He has since published and spoken widely to international audiences on the history of British evangelicalism and spiritual theology more generally.

His articles appeared in respected journals such as Church History and Journal of Ecclesiastical History. He’s the author of two books, I think one of which is outside as well as some of Dr. Houston’s books. One of Bruce’s titles is “John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition.” The other title is the “Evangelical Conversion Narrative.” Bruce has received numerous teaching awards, research grants, fellowships. He’s been the Mayor’s research fellow at the Huntington Library and holder of the Henry Luce Theological Fellowship.

And he currently researches in evangelical spirituality. Bruce and his wife have three children and I bet you don’t have any grandchildren or great-grandchildren quite yet but, it’s a pleasure to have these gentlemen with us. They just got done speaking to our fellows up at the Center for Christian Thought. And it was just a rich, deep time, and so I’m excited to kind of carry on that conversation with you all. So Bruce I’ll ask you to come first. [audience clapping]

Thank you. Yes I did. [audience laughs] Thank you. It’s a privilege to be with you and to talk to Christian leaders and to pastors. And our topic for the luncheon today is the Rise, Decline and Recovery of the Human Soul. And just as by way of introduction I get the middle bit to do with the decline of the human soul. That’s the story. I get to tell the bad news. And how could we get from the sacred Christian soul to the modern self? What are some of the implications of that? And then Jim will talk more about the recovery of the human soul.

As you and I go about our daily lives, participating in the modern world, driving a car, checking our email or posting a status update on Facebook, warming up coffee in the microwave, reading a newspaper online, buying our groceries, voting in the election for the local school board, or attending a pastor’s luncheon. As we do these everyday things, we are receiving maybe all unawares, a kind of catechism about what it is to be a human being. There’s an implied anthropology. An implied anthropology in these very ordinary conditions of modern life. And it is written in letters almost too large to read. Rapid transportation, long-distance communication, powerful technology, a ubiquitous media, the consumer economy, urban diversity, and anonymity, democratic politics.

These and other taken-for-granted features of modern life on the ground speak to us of the human being as mobile, capable, resourceful, self-contained, sovereign, rational and a gentle, that is the maker of choices perhaps above all. These are some of the forms of modern life that shape the way we think about what is it to be human as we engage in ministry, and in leadership. This can all unawares shape us. But in addition to these forms, there’s also the messages of modern life that speak to us all the time.

And more overtly about the nature of human beings. The combined effect of the form and the messages of the modern world is I think to drain anthropology of any sense of transcendence. What is the nature of the human person? As he’s being drained of a sense of transcendence? If we are not reflective as Christian leaders and pastors, this will be the anthropology subtly at work in our sermons, our counseling, our planning, our leadership, our enterprise. We may find ourselves that is to say unconsciously addressing compact modern selves rather than infinitely sacred souls. This is a tragedy.

The modern self is a shrunken, shriveled version of the Christian soul. Eugene Peterson says with characteristic simplicity, “The self is the soul without God.” How did we arrive here? What’s the kind of genealogy? How did we get from the soul to the self? It’s a long story. And it involves both the emergence of these modern social conditions and the history of ideas. And it’s helpful I think sometimes to get the genealogy, it helps you see the things which are otherwise invisible.

One could trace a longer history of the naturalization of the soul but I would begin the story in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the early modern west. The social conditions changed gradually. It was not the internet then, but the periodical press that was the powerful, first powerful modern media. It was not travel by car, in jet airplane that made us mobile, but turnpike roads and the merchant marine.

It was not democratic politics but the slow expansion of the franchise of the vote and more and more people. It was not the advanced religious pluralism of today. But it was the first constitutional guarantees of limited religious toleration that began to shape how people think. It was not multiculturalism and globalization but the beginning of large scale people migrations at a transatlantic exchange of people and goods.

It was not Coca-Cola but Wedgwood pottery and on the story goes. Slowly the modern world was built from the bottom up. And the conditions that shape our imagination of what it is to be a human being changed along with it. One example of how this cashes out is what Jurgen Habermas… said. He argued that the periodical press and long distance trade fostered what he called I think nicely, a new audience oriented subjectivity. Audience oriented subjectivity. I understand myself that is to say not fundamentally as a person in relationship with other persons. In face-to-face communion of persons of trust and intimacy and so on. But I understand myself more routinely as someone displaying myself to an audience. If that was true in the 18th century with newspapers and more communication at a distance, how much more so today with the rise of an all encompassing social media?

Think of the phrase audience oriented subjectivity and Facebook and you’ll know what I mean. So social conditions changed on the ground and created what G.K. Chesterton has called, “The modern heresy.” “The huge modern heresy,” said Chesterton, “is to alter the human soul to fit modern social conditions “instead of altering modern social conditions to fit the human soul.” So as this is taking place on the ground, there’s a set of parallel reductions going on in the world of ideas.

So we can go from below or from above. Let me suggest five of these reductions that appear just at the beginning of early modern thought that are still dominant messages that we hear in various ways today. First there’s the reduction of the sacred, infinitely sacred human soul to the thinking self. I’m the person fundamentally who is rational in thinking. You see this in the philosophy of Rene Descartes, who’s method of radical dote led him to the one indubitable rock of certainty that he could not doubt that he was doubting. “I judged,” he said, “that nothing could, “that I could unhesitatingly accept.” Sorry, “I judged that I could unhesitatingly accept “that as the first principle of the philosophy “I was seeking.” The first principle. This is the reduction. This is the bedrock. I’m a thinking self.

Is that still operating in our world today? I think in many spheres it is. Do we address people in our pews as fundamentally heads on the stick, rational thinkers? Secondly there’s the reduction of the sacred human soul to the sovereign self. We see this in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes who made each individual being a kind of sovereign state over which he or she had the rights of an absolute ruler. The human being is fundamentally the bearer of legal rights. “The right of nature,” he said, “is the liberty each man hath to use his own power “as he will himself “for the preservation of his own nature; “of doing anything which in his own judgment and reason, “he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.”

Primarily I am a person who is the bearer of rights beginning with my body. The thinking self, the sovereign self. Thirdly there’s the reduction of the sacred human soul, the infinitely sacred human soul to the empirical self. The self that may be observed in any given moment. You see this in the philosophy of John Locke and David Hume who could only regard the human person as the sum of our conscious perceptions in the present moment.

It’s just like cutting of ourselves in present observation. So Hume wrote that the person is nothing quote, “But a bundle or collection of different perceptions “which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, “and are in perpetual flux and movement.” It’s like the later philosopher William James talking about perception is a blooming, buzzing confusion.

Just a bundled self and empirical self. Fourthly there’s the reduction of the sacred human soul, the infinitely sacred human soul to the choosing self. You see this in the philosophy of Francis Hutcheson and the third Earl of Shaftesbury who conceived of the human person as fundamentally the one who makes moral choices, who acts on the world through the power of individual choice and private judgment. Hutcheson said, “He acts reasonably who considers various actions “in his power, “forms true opinions of their tendency and chooses “to do that which will obtain the highest degree “of that to which the instincts of his nature incline him.”

I’m fundamentally an agent. Fundamentally the one who makes choices. And fifthly related to this is the last reduction of the sacred human soul to the economic self. In the philosophy of Adam Smith, for whom the human person was fundamentally self-interested, seeking to advance his or her material condition through rational economic calculation. Just in preparation for Black Friday. [audience laughs] “It is not,” he says, “from the benevolence of the butcher, “the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner.”

It’s not because they’re fundamentally gifting us with something but we get our dinner from their regard to their own interest in trade. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love. The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition. When suffered to exert itself with freedom and security as so powerful a principle that it is alone capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity. There’s just five little cuttings from intellectual history, that give you a sense of this reduction of the soul to the self. Five reductions in early modern thought. And we could carry the story on into our own times.

In particular Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, the so called Masters of Suspicion of the 19th century have done much to intensify the alienation of the self and later modern and postmodern thought. But just think for a moment how dangerous for pastoral ministry and Christian leadership it is today if we succumb to any of these reductions. Viewing the people around us merely as compact, self-contained, resourceful, rational agents, rather than as they are, creatures made in God’s image and intended for his likeness. Able to commune with the God of the universe. Capable of God and meant to share in his eternal glory.

To stand forever upright in the presence of eternal glory. These are some of the reductions that have led from the soul to the self. Feel a bit like a warm-up act. I turn things over now to Jim who will point us to the deeper resources and scripture and in the Christian tradition for the recovery of the human soul today. Jim. [audience clapping] [upbeat guitar music]