Pastor, Is Your Theology Well?
Pastor is your theology well? Is your understanding and application of the physical and the spiritual holistic, and thus, biblical?1
The Relationship of Physical and Spiritual Wellness
Noted Christian author, college professor, and former Southern Baptist pastor Dallas Willard agrees that there is a connection between physical wellness and spiritual wellness. “Given our history and cultural context, it is all too easy to believe that the spiritual life may be a life opposed to the body or even, at its „best,‟ a totally disembodied mode of existence.”2 To counter such aberrant thinking, he states, “The spiritual and the bodily are by no means opposed in human life--they are complementary” and “it is the spiritual life alone that makes possible fulfillment of bodily existence--and hence human existence.”3
Willard notes elsewhere that there are “six basic aspects of a human life”:
- social context;
Herein, he articulates a philosophy to counter the unknown “mysterious” thread that is often said to be woven through the tapestry of life. Willard believes that “God has created all things in such a way that they are inherently intelligible” and that “human nature” is comprised of these six aspects, making them non-negotiable parts of every individual life, thus defining the “whole person” concept.5 Such an articulation flows from Jesus‟ own quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 18:5 in response to a question concerning the inheritance of eternal life: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Clearly, the vital aspects are seen: heart, soul, strength (body), mind, and neighbor (social dimension).6
Willard‟s elaboration of the six basic aspects provides an understanding of his approach.7 The following is a summary of his work:
- Thought, such as images, concepts, judgments, inferences, are brought before the mind in various ways (including perception and imagination) and enables one to
consider them in various respects and trace out their relationships with one another.
- Feelings, such as sensation and emotion, incline humans toward or away from things that come before the mind in thought.
- Choices, such as will, decision, character, give the capacity of the person to originate, i.e., freedom and creativity, things and events that would not otherwise
- Body, such as action and interaction with the physical world, is the focal point of a human being‟s presence in the physical and social world. While the body is
infected with evil, it is not essentially evil.
- Social context, such as personal and structural relations to others, is the power of personal relations to others is what gives humanity the incalculable importance for
the formation of spirit and life; it is inseparable from inner thoughts, feelings, choice, and actions.
- Soul, the factor that integrates all of the above to form one life, interrelates all of the other dimensions so that they form one life.
Willard maintains that these six aspects are found in every human being, even those who are not “Christians.” He calls them “the essential factors,” noting that “nothing essential to human life falls outside of them,” making them the non-negotiable components of the spiritual life. “The ideal of the spiritual life in the Christian understanding is one where all of the essential parts of the human life are effectively organized around God, as they are restored and sustained by Him.”8
Willard teaches that there are two orders of the basic aspects. One is termed “away from God,” while the second is called “under God.” The “order of dominance” for a life that is “away from God” reveals a life of idolatry, including the worship of what is often called “The Good Life.” He describes this as having life‟s components in the following order: body, soul, mind (thought/feeling), spirit, and God.9
Conversely, a life that is “under God” is ordered by another dominance that clearly indicates the need for the spirit to “first come alive to and through God” or every human will remain in the summary statement of Ephesians 2:1—“dead in trespasses and sin.” He describes this as having life‟s components in the following order: God, spirit, mind (thought/feeling), soul, and body.10
In a very helpful manner, Willard shares his understanding of godly (Christian) spiritual transformation:
[It] only happens as each essential dimension of the human being is transformed to Christlikeness under the direction of a regenerate will interacting with constant
overtures of grace from God. Such transformation is not the result of mere human effort and cannot be accomplished by putting pressure on the will (heart, spirit)
In his well-known work Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem elaborates upon the doctrine of sanctification and its connection to the human body:
Sanctification affects our physical bodies. Paul says, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound
and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Moreover, Paul encourages the Corinthians, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement
of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. 1 Cor. 7:34). As we become more sanctified in our bodies, our bodies become more
and more useful servants of God, more and more responsive to the will of God and the desires of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27). We will not let sin reign in our
bodies (Rom. 6:12) nor allow our bodies to participate in any way in immorality (1 Cor. 6:13), but will treat our bodies with care and will recognize that they are the
means by which the Holy Spirit works through us in this life. Therefore they are not to be recklessly abused or mistreated, but are to be made useful and able to
respond to God‟s will: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were
bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).12
Pondering. Are you willing to prayerfully ponder your theology of interconnectedness? A fresh view may lengthen your life and ministry.
Process. Will you seek assistance in making any needed changes? Consulting others can provide the necessary fortification.
Plan. Do you have a trusted accountability brother? Sharing goals can help you stay on the right itinerary.
Produce. Are you excited to see what the alterations may bring? Your “fruit” will be a blessing to self, family, and friends for years to come.
© Jim Fisher, Ph.D.
Christian Education and Leadership Concepts, LLC.
Fit for the Fight, June 2010
1 Much of the information is taken from the author‟s dissertation: The Relationship between Selected Disciplines of Physical Wellness and Spiritual Wellness among Southern Baptist Pastors, 2006.
2 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1988), 75.
4 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 30.
5 Ibid, 31
6 Dallas Willard and Randy Frazee, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), 33.
7 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 32- 38.
8 Ibid, 31.
9 Ibid, 40
10 Ibid, 40-41
11 Ibid, 42-43
12 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 757.