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Reclaiming the SoulReview - Reclaiming the Soul
The Search for Meaning in a Self-Centered Culture
by Jeffrey H. Boyd, M.D.
Pilgrim Press, 1996
Review by Debbie Hill
Oct 31st 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 44)

According to psychiatrist and ordained minister Jeffrey Boyd, theologians have created the mental health institution. Not that they are the therapists who people the institution; rather, it fills a void that the Church has created by making Christianity soulless. The soul needs ministering to somehow, so the whole idea of mental health was concocted to do what Christianity was supposed to do in the first place. And psychotherapy does a lousy job of it besides!

Boyd’s conclusions are two-pronged about our contemporary culture. His perspective is admittedly idiosyncratic and dogmatic in the interpretation of Biblical texts and the way in which first century followers thought about the soul. The basic issues are: (1) What happens to someone after they die in Christianity? Is the soul immortalized or is there a wholesale reconstruction of the body at some later date, i.e., resurrection? Are the two mutually exclusive? What role does the soul have in life? What is its relationship to the body? (2) Where should we focus our attention concerning how to live?

Boyd defines "soul" as "the inner or subjective person in the natural state, whether saved or unsaved" and "life force." He further explains "natural state" as "the fallen human nature we observe in ourselves and around us." He gives ten "associated" definitions of soul in the fifth chapter and discusses other translations given for soul, e.g., spirit, self, I, etc. most of which are disagreeable to him.

Oscar Cullman is the classical apologist for the current philosophical and theological theory of Christian life after death. Simply stated, Christians have been unwittingly influenced by a Platonic perspective of the soul that is dualistic: the soul departs from the body at death and possesses immortality in some sense. It is asserted that this is not Biblical, that a bodily resurrection is the correct interpretation of Paul’s musings on the subject. Boyd examined the same texts and decided the word "soul" had been needlessly omitted from many translations, thereby contributing to the emphasis on the body at the expense of one’s soul. He particularly castigates Protestant and Jewish theologians for following this hypothesis but sees some hope for the Roman Catholics because they nuance their theology somewhat couching the soul and body as a "single nature."

The second but related point of his argument is that secular psychotherapy focuses on the wrong thing: the self. The way to reclaim the soul is to put God at the center of the universe. "Self-denial is central to Christian[ity], whereas self-fulfillment is central to the assumptions of secular psychotherapists." He asserts that healthcare providers avoid the mention of God and the discussion of religion and spirituality to the detriment of their clients. "The question, ‘Who am I?’ was a religious question a century ago. . . . Today that question is considered to be a psychological question." He also somewhat contradicts himself by stating that psychotherapists do treat the soul, but merely in a "bandaid" fashion: "self is the secularized soul." The soul can only be understood from the perspective of theocracy. The only hope for theocentric religions is for them to be soul-based, i.e., interpret the Bible and their lives vis-a-vis God as the omnipotent Creator who gave us souls.

Boyd makes some astute points in his assertion that therapists and other medical providers shy away from spiritual issues. A growing list of studies and polls support the theory that spirituality matters in a person’s health, e.g., religious community affiliation, prayer, etc. Furthermore, a belief in life after death provides great solace to many, many people. He recognizes, however, that caregivers are not trained to deal with spirituality. A few medical schools and therapy training programs are attempting to ameliorate this, but they are the minority. As he sees it, people are caught in a squeeze where no professionals are willing to discuss the critical matter of soul. Although the author cites a large number of studies and data to support his conclusions, his theological position has failed to attract many followers in academic and pastoral circles.
 

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