Debunking a C. S. Lewis Quote-Myth and its Implications for Worship

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought13 Comments

Thank God.  Matt Anderson over at Mere Orthodoxy has dismantled the quote-myth falsely attributed to C. S. Lewis.  I’ve always been uncomfortable with it, and I’ve wondered why he said it.  I’m glad he didn’t.  The quote goes:

You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.

Anderson says that the quote actually belongs to George MacDonald, one of the people Lewis appreciated.  Read the full post.

What’s the problem with this quote?  It swings the error-pendulum in the total opposite direction.  The quote is meant to debunk the naturalism-tinged idea that the human being is a body with a soul.  This downplays that the soul is essential to the human person.  The problem with MacDonald’s quote above is that he makes the same error on the other side: the human being is a soul with a body.  Neither is true.  The human being is a soul-body, and though they are divisible (think of the intermediate state when we will be “absent from flesh…present with the Lord” [2 Cor 5:8]), they are both essential to our humanity.  How do we know?  God will recreate us anew with souls and resurrected bodies in a re-created, material world (1 Cor 15; Rev 20-21).  

If this is true, then the call to be “whole offerings” in worship includes not only the soul, but the body as well. Paul employs explicit liturgical/worship language in his famous passage in Romans 12 where, in light of the gospel, he calls us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices.”  Those of us who engage worship in more traditional circles and forms sometimes encounter the notion that “I worship from my heart,” or, “God wants my worship to be reverential, so I don’t use my body much.”  While I’m all for heart-worship and reverence, something quite significant is missed with these approaches to participation in corporate worship–the body.  We are whole creatures.  If you’re interested in diving deeper into this topic, here are some other posts defending full-orbed, full-bodied, fully human worship:

13 Comments on “Debunking a C. S. Lewis Quote-Myth and its Implications for Worship”

  1. Zac,

    I like the balance here. Your emphasis on body-soul unity in worship makes me think of the Biblical view of the heart as an antidote to the head-heart division we westerners make. That is, the seat of worship is our heart where we do thinking, feeling and most of all desiring. This is also where our problems come from as expressed in James 4:1, 2. And the only person that can change what we want is the Holy Spirit. Propositions and ideas don't possess a rich enough vocabulary to change our desires.

    For more on this google David Powlison and Vanity Fair.

  2. I'm curious whether you think *you* will exist in the intermediate state. If not, and only *your soul* exists, there appears to be a gap in your existence, which is weird; but if so, you are your soul, even if there is a deep functional unity between soul and body.
    I'm still in process on this question, but this idea has some force with me. Thoughts?

  3. Ooh. That's a great point, Ryan. Here are my thoughts. I'm sure this has been hit hard in philosophy and theology books, but here's where I'm at. I will exist in the intermediate state, but I will exist an "incomplete self," awaiting the reunion with the "rest of me," which is unconscious, but is no less "me."–my decaying body and all the molecules which comprise it, where'er they may be. I am consciously with Christ, and while that is me it is not the whole me. Perhaps the rub is that we've made what is conscious the "better" part, when we shouldn't, simply because it is the conscious, thinking part of ourselves. I wonder if, in the intermediate state, I'll feel quite "unconsumated," longing for my soul to be realigned with my body, even as I'm experiencing ecstatic bliss in the presence of the Triune God. Hmm… Ryan, I'm sure you have some categories to help me with this!

  4. Insightful, as always, Zac. I secretly enjoy watching folks confront their own awkwardness with physicality in worship. Something helpful I do every chance I get is this… During rehearsals while the praise team and band is warming up or just jamming and I am checking sound or something, I will grab the tambourine and carry it around the room, playing it quite forcefully. Then I approach randomn people (often in the audience) and ask them to bang it. I actually say, "Bang it!" while holding it up to them. They ALWAYS bang it. (rarely in rhythm) and they always smile! I think it helps them experience the physicality of our music and moves them a little closer to being comfortable expressing themselves in public worship.
    Needless to say, I believe in the balance you are espousing. Thanks.

  5. Zac,
    Here's one philosophical category to consider: Identity. The question I'm asking about is: To what am *I* identical? Identity does not come in degrees; either x is identical to y (in which case there is really only one thing), or x is not y. So if *I* am identical to *my soul and body*, then in the intermediate state either *I* don't exist, or *I* exist as a scattered object. Your view sounds like a scattered object view, but I may be misreading it.
    I have trouble with the scattered object view. Consider a watch. You take it apart, put the hands in the drawer, the face upstairs, the band in your car. Does the watch still exist? I say no. Likewise, I have trouble seeing how a soul-body *unity* still exists when the soul and body are *not united*.
    Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, though.
    Also, sorry for all the asterisks. They always look pretentious to me, but they are also helpful in laying out technical ideas. 🙂

  6. Alright, Ryan. Without knowing much about all this, it seems that I'd be comfortable with the "scattered object view." It doesn't tickle my philosophical feathers to call a dismembered watch as still existing. It just exists in a dismembered state.

    To the bigger point, though…even if it's best to view my soul as "I" and my body as a shell, does not the shell still have value simply because God ascribes value to it? If so, maybe the issue as it relates to worship is not what constitutes the human being but what God values as important. Irrespective of the anthropological quandary, it still seems compelling to me that God values the physical world.

    But…I guess the quote-myth would make more sense under the scheme you're possibly suggesting….so we come full circle.

  7. You're on to the point I was hoping to make. There is much division in philosophical/theological circles about the identity question, and many in the I-am-my-body-and-soul camp claim that folks in the I-am-my-soul camp do not value the body properly. Not so. The value question is separate from the identity question. Plato devalued the body; Christian dualists (typically) don't. (Thus, I bristle at your body-as-shell language; that's Plato, not Christianity.)

    I lean toward the I-am-my-soul view, partially for the reasons I cited above. But this view is fully consistent with holding that the body is valuable, that body and soul form a deep functional unity (with all the implications for worship, formation, etc.), that the disembodied soul longs to be reunited with the body, that eternity is not a disembodied heaven but a resurrection existence, etc.

    So, whether Lewis or MacDonald (or Augustine or JP Moreland or…) said the quote above, we can all agree on a whole lot.

    (I'll leave arguments about scattered objects for another day.) 🙂

  8. Zac and Ryan,

    I'm swinging at what feels like a pitch. What if identity as body-soul unity is fractured and longing for completion now? My controlling idea is union with Christ. I think we would agree with the idea of the intermediate state – absent from the body, present with the Lord. I also really like the Westminster Shorter Catechism's language in Question 37.

    Q. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

    A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.

    The idea of our bodies themselves being united to Christ, not just our souls. So, we could say we are a scattered object but aren't we less of a scattered object even in the intermediate state if a part of us is with Christ?

    What I'm going for, I think, is the idea that union with Christ is what our identities long for and why we move toward idols and "go all the way with them" as substitute identities.

    So, in terms of time/space/dimensions I will be "fragmented" in the intermediate state but if my true location is all in union with Christ then I'm not really so scattered. In fact, I'm on my way to wholeness and closer than I've ever been.

    By the way, I'm so curious how time and space will work in glorified creation. Feel free to shoot down any heretical errors here. Just thinking out loud.

  9. I guess I would just say I'm not at all drawn to the scattered object view, and that the union with Christ stuff is interesting but doesn't give the view more plausibility for me. (As a side note, do either of you know of any mainstream body-soul-unity types who officially hold a scattered-object view? I don't. Those I've seen tend to try to solve the problem of intermediate state identity other ways.)

    I'm more inclined to say that my identity lies in my soul alone, though the mode of my soul's life is incomplete/unnatural while disembodied.

  10. I agree with George MacDonald. Absent from the body, present with the Lord. When Jesus descended after death, his body remained. It did not undergo decay, but was resurrected to an incorruptible form at a later time. The human disembodied soul clothed in the divine essence of Christ went and preached to the spirits in bondage. Two natures distinct without separation.

    Check out the theory of substantival monism.

    " The soul is in the body, but not as contained by it, but rather containing it."
    – St Thomas Aquinas

  11. Great thoughts, all. After this dialogue, I'm inclined to agree with you all, and therefore swing back a little bit more toward MacDonald. Perhaps it is an undue consequence (as opposed to a necessary outworking) of emphasizing this dualism that the body has been downplayed. That's my main concern. Once we parachute down from the important high-level philosophical discussion here (yes, it is important), the realities are (and I think we all agree): (1) God values the body and the physical, material world; (2) Our future will be decidedly physical and material; (3) Our worship should reflect (1) and (2). I'm concerned with (3) because I think, at least in my context, we are "anthropologically and eschatologically under-realized."

    I appreciate the check, Ryan and Mark (though yours was more of a statement than an argument, Mark, but I know you…and you never DON'T think through things). In future posts on the subject, I'll try to continue to be careful in my language and word-choice. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *