Suppose: A friend of the family (who was a Christian) has just died, and this young man has been asked to officiate the funeral and needs your advice. What would you tell him to say to the family members when they ask what has become of their loved one? What happens until the resurrection?
I read with interest a recent Reformation21 article, “2012 ARP General Synod Faces Tough Decisions.” As the title suggests, the article outlines some of the main issues facing Synod this year.
However, I was surprised to read about your anthropology: namely, your commitment to anthropological monism. An inspectional reading of your published doctoral dissertation confirms that your position has not been misrepresented. Your stated position, in writing, is that you think the classic Christian view of man—that God created man as a physical body and a spiritual, non-corporeal soul—is misguided, and that human consciousness is possible only as a part of physical existence.
Dr. Norman, a rejection of the biblical understanding of man’s twofold nature goes to the heart of the faith, and affects many cardinal doctrines. Our view of man’s nature determines our view of man’s life after death and before the resurrection (“the intermediate state”). It affects our doctrine of man and creation. If affects our doctrine of the church, and our eschatology. Perhaps most important of all, our anthropology necessarily influences our Christology. We confess that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man by taking to Himself “a true body and reasonable soul” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 21 and 22). But Dr. Norman, how can you affirm that statement? It appears that you cannot; and if you deny that short statement, a host of exegetical, theological, and practical questions appear.
Given the public status of your anthropological view and your position as the head of both Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary, I request that you publicly clarify your beliefs for those of us who are concerned about the theological and pastoral implications of your view of man.
1) If there is no soul that can exist apart from the body, what is your view of the intermediate state?
2) If there is no soul that can exist apart from the body, what did our Lord mean when he said to the dying thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)?
3) If there is no soul or spirit that can exist apart from the body, what was Christ saying when He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46)?
4) When Christ died, what happened to Christ in the three days leading up to His resurrection? Did He cease to be both God and man in death?
5) Does your view of man require you to reject the Definition of Chalcedon? It states:
“So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity…”
6) If your Christology is in agreement with the Chalcedonian Definition, how can you reconcile your anthropology and your Christology?
7) As to the doctrine of the church, do you affirm that there is presently a “church triumphant” made up of those believers who have departed this life to be with Christ?
Do you affirm the doctrine of the communion of saints in glory, “which members of the invisible Church have with Christ, is in this life, immediately after death, and at last perfected at the resurrection and day of judgment (Westminster Larger Catechism Question 82)?
9) Do you affirm the biblical doctrine of creation as reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to which, “After God made all other creatures he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls . . .” (Westminster Confession of Faith, IV.2)?
10) Imagine a young seminary student catches you on campus as you are leaving your office. A friend of the family (who was a Christian) has just died, and this young man has been asked to officiate the funeral and needs your advice. What would you tell him to say to the family members when they ask what has become of their loved one? What happens until the resurrection? Can your anthropological position offer them any comfort?
Eagerly awaiting your reply,
Scott Cook is a 2010 graduate of Erskine College alum. He is a candidate for the ministry under care of the ARP Second Presbytery and is a student at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The article first appeared on the ARPTalk blog and is used with permission.