…let us rejoice in Dr. Norman’s transparent articulation of his views, which has afforded us this opportunity to explore important matters, and let us strive to be both faithful and rigorous in our analysis, all with the goal of glorifying God and edifying the Church.
Dr. John Basie, a member of the Erskine Board of Trustees, has written a brief postregarding the anthropological monism of Erskine President Dr. David Norman. Dr. Basie’s position is that, while he personally disagrees with Dr. Norman’s view, nevertheless he finds it to be “biblically faithful and within the bounds of the Westminster Confession of Faith.”
Here I should probably note that John Basie was an undergraduate student of mine at Erskine College. I have followed his subsequent career with keen interest, and have deep affection for him and his family. My purpose in this post is to raise a question, to express hearty agreement with one of Dr. Basie’s central points, and to issue a point of clarification about my earlier article.
In his post Dr. Basie rightly notes David Norman’s rejection of “substance dualism” (the notion that the human being consists of two distinct elements–a material body and a spiritual soul that can have conscious existence apart from the body). As some are aware, the Westminster Confession everywhere assumes and at points expressly teaches just this sort of substance dualism (see, e.g., WCF IV.2, XXXII.1-2), and thus I am perplexed when Dr. Basie maintains, without further explanation, that Dr. Norman’s rejection of substance dualism is “within the bounds of the Westminster Confession of Faith.” More needs to be said, and my question here is whether Dr. Basie is correct in his assertion that anthropological monism does indeed exist within Confessional bounds.
Of course, more can be said. For example, Dr. Basie could argue that a denial of substance dualism and attending doctrines like the intermediate state, despite the fact that these are taught in the Confession, does not strike at the “system of doctrine” found in the Confession. That is a reasonable question to explore, and it illustrates the complexity of this issue. It is precisely at this point of theological anthropology that questions of biblical exegesis, theology, medical science, and philosophy come together in fascinating and exceedingly complicated ways. This is one of those “teachable moments” that college professors relish and that a Christian liberal arts college is in a unique position to address!
Consequently I want to express my agreement with Dr. Basie’s penultimate point: “The point here is to say that there is freedom of inquiry at a Christian liberal arts institution in the Reformed tradition, so long as we take seriously the commitment that our views remain within the boundaries of biblical inerrancy and are built on the framework of all truth being God’s truth.” Amen. I too believe that this is a discussion that needs to take place and that it needs to take place within the context of an affirmation of the full authority of Scripture as God’s written Word. Further, Erskine College can be the ideal place for this discussion. And as I said in the article, “not only are these important matters that deserve to be explored in the context of a liberal-arts college, but the broader church stands to benefit from a careful discussion as well.”
One point of clarification, however: Some have taken my discussion of Dr. Norman’s monism in an article about the meeting of the General Synod as a suggestion that the ARP Synod should do something about this particular issue. My stated point in the article was not that Synod should do something about it, but rather that this issue raises severe questions about what Synod can do with respect to Erskine.
Here I want to be very clear: let us neither vilify Dr. Norman, a brother in Christ, for his views, nor derail this useful discussion with the hasty politics of exclusion. Instead, let us rejoice in Dr. Norman’s transparent articulation of his views, which has afforded us this opportunity to explore important matters, and let us strive to be both faithful and rigorous in our analysis, all with the goal of glorifying God and edifying the Church.
William B. ‘Bill’ Evans is the Younts Professor of Bible and Religion and Department Chair at Erskine College. He holds degrees from Taylor University (BA) Westminster Seminary (MAR, ThM), and Vanderbilt (PhD). This article first appeared on the Reformation 21 blog and is used with permission