Issues relating to body and soul are being discussed throughout society and the church today. Questions about gender, identity, and sexuality are fiercely debated in various forums with wildly different conclusions. Of particular import in these discussions are the underlying presuppositions of anthropology. Anthropologies derived from social construct theories support conclusions about, say, gender and identity that more traditional, substance-based anthropologies find unthinkable. That is, if my identity is nothing more than what emerges from discourse with other people, that identity is dynamic and malleable, open to redefinition as it is divorced from the physical realities of my body. This kind of social construct theory underlies arguments that seek to open up possibilities for new genders. These identities, however, are more difficult to posit in a metaphysical view of a person as body and soul whose identity stems from this substance. In this view, gender is defined by the physical reality of the body—though there is clearly room in this perspective to allow that different societies understand genders differently, and these differences shape the way people think about being male or female.
In the midst of these questions, a turn to theological anthropology proves helpful for making sense of debates and speaking for the truth. This issue of LOGIA is organized around this kind of study, looking at questions of body and soul from a confessional Lutheran perspective. Taken together, the articles that follow address questions of body and soul from diverse but complementary angles, allowing the reader to reflect on theological anthropology from different perspectives.
Shifting philosophical understandings of what it means to be human are not unique to the twenty-first century. Charles Cortright’s article surveys anthropological shifts from the early church to the end of the Middle Ages, with a particular focus on the body. As thought in the West shifted from a Platonic to an Aristotelian view of human beings, theologians construed theological anthropology in different terms, bringing theological truths from Scripture into the discussion and view of mankind. The body played a different role at different times, yet Cortright shows a continuity in concern for the body as an integral part of being human.
Love and marriage have always been part of being human, and the Song of Songs speaks in the vocabulary of love. In a study of this oft-neglected book of the Bible, Brian German draws out truths about love as it appears in Old Testament wisdom. Reading the book as a picture of the marriage of Christ and the church, German examines aspects of love as an estate. He looks at how words play a large role in this love, the sacrificial character of love, and the support offered to those entering the estate of love. The book illuminates the paradox of continually dying to live with Christ in a relationship described in terms of love.
As human beings live together, Christians are members of two kingdoms, both under God, yet with different aims and different governments. Scott Murray’s article surveys the doctrine of the two kingdoms with an eye on how church and state ought to relate in the contemporary world. Beyond presenting this as a doctrine to learn, Murray shows how the two kingdoms are a way of thinking, and demonstrates the usefulness of the doctrine as a way of considering how the church and state should relate, calling for ongoing conversation between the two. The clarity on the two kingdoms provided in the article is essential for thinking through the church’s role in broader debates over issues of body and soul.
While the church has an institutional side that addresses the state, Larry Rinehart argues that the church is, at heart, a spiritual body. Its unity comes from faith in Christ rather than shared experience or social bonds. Such a reminder is critical in a world that too often reduces churches to gatherings of like-minded individuals, with nothing more than shared goals holding them together. Even Lutherans can elevate institutions and social bonds over the foundational spiritual unity of the church, weakening the various institutions they aim to uphold in the process. Reading Bonhoeffer with Rinehart is a useful way of thinking about the primacy of the spiritual unity of the church.
Finally, questions of conscience are common in the ongoing realities of living as a confessional Lutheran in the modern world. While pastors are rightly concerned with the conscience of the sheep under their care, they may lose sight of the vital importance of a clean conscience for themselves. Paul Schlueter’s article reminds pastors that they also should be concerned with their own conscience, and that a clean conscience will assist them in their ministry to their sheep. Pastor and members alike, as people with body and soul, are blessed to know the clean conscience provided by the baptismal grace of Christ.
Wherever you may be, and whatever issues of body and soul are present in your life, it is our hope that this issue will provide perspectives and approaches to theological anthropology that help to bring clarity and understanding, as well as functional tools to work for the good of God’s kingdom in this world. May the Lord who has created us body and soul, and redeemed us by his blood, bless and preserve us in body and soul until he brings our redeemed bodies into his eternal kingdom on the last day!