The Soul of Theological Anthropology

A Cartesian Theology of Human Persons

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Joshua Ryan Farris
New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies
  • New York, NY: 
    , December
     210 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The analysis of the ontological status of human persons is one of the central tasks of theological anthropology. It has had a profound impact on both the development of and our interpretation of the doctrines of the church that, amongst other things, aim to propose the proper understanding of the origin, nature, and eschatological future of ourselves. A successful theological anthropology is of necessity based on several pillars, including philosophy, the tradition of the Church, and the Holy Bible. Amongst these, philosophy is supposed to be the maiden of theology and scripture is considered as the norm of faith. Farris’s The Soul of Theological Anthropology firmly stands on each of these pillars. It deploys the tools and methods of analytic philosophy to analyse different theses and arguments concerning the ontological status of human beings, shows how these different positions relate to the tradition of the church, and provides support for Farris’s overall position by way of exegetical reflections. The Soul of Theological Anthropology can thus rightly be considered as “a contribution to the growing body of literature called analytic theology” (4).

The position Farris argues for is a kind of Cartesian substance dualism that he refers to as emergent creationism. In emergent creationism, persons are identical with immaterial souls, where immaterial souls “are created by God but…only come into existence in conjunction with their bodies in time” (76) and depend “on the body for sensual access to the physical world and [do] not function properly without the body” (175). That is, although according to Farris, persons are immaterial entities that are ontologically irreducible to their bodies, and although each soul is directly created by God, a necessary condition for God’s creation of a particular soul is the existence of a particular human body that is fitting to receive that particular human soul. Although it is not identical with it, the human soul needs a human body in order to fully realize its potential as a human being.

To show the plausibility of emergent creationism, Farris begins by arguing that from a purely philosophical point of view, there are sound arguments against a materialistic understanding of human persons (in which they are identical to their bodies, or parts of it), and also against a dualist account of human beings in which human persons are immaterial substances. In a next step, Farris turns to the question of the origin of the soul and argues that the most promising theological account is committed to the assumption that souls are directly created by God, since the existence of material objects as such cannot be a sufficient condition for the existence of immaterial objects. However, since the material world of living beings evolves, and since empirical evidence suggests that the human brain is not superfluous when it comes to the existence and proper function of human minds, Farris argues that the human body is a necessary condition for God to create a fitting human soul in order to constitute a complete human nature. In this way, emergent creationism accounts “for evolutionary development, the neural similarities between the higher-level animals and the tight connection between mind and brain because of the dynamic structure in which souls and/or a complete human nature comes to exists, which gives a picture of continuity between souls and the natural order” (85).

Once emergent creationism is justified as a promising philosophical and theological thesis, Farris turns to its implications for particular theological topics dealing with questions concerning the proper understanding of some of the essential dogmatic assumptions concerning original sin, Christology, the interim state, and the beatific vision. By taking into account the history of the church and exegetical interpretations of scripture, Farris is able to show that his developed thesis of emergent creationism is fully consistent with the teachings of the church and with scripture.

Farris’s The Soul of Theological Anthropology is highly recommended, even as a standard textbook to anyone interested in substantial theological discourse about the origin, nature, and eschatological future of human beings. In light of Farris’s arguments, it will not be easy for anyone to continue arguing that theological anthropology is best engaged in from a materialistic point of view.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Benedikt Paul Göcke is on the faculty of theology and religion at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at the University of Oxford.

Date of Review: 
October 3, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joshua R. Farris is assistant professor of theology at Houston Baptist University, School of Humanities, The Academy and The Honors College, USA. He is also a member of the Department of Theology. He is Director over Trinity School of Theology. Presently, he is a fellow at Heythrop College, UK. His scholarly work has appeared in Religious Studies, Philosophia Christi, Philosophy and Theology, Heythrop Journal, and Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie (forthcoming). He is the co-editor of the Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology and the co-editor of Idealism and Christian Theology. Presently, he is finishing A Brief Introduction to Theological Anthropology and a co-edited project entitled Being Saved: Explorations in Soteriology and Human Ontology.


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