Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 11

Loss of the Soul

In this lesson, you explore the concept of the loss of the soul, delving into its cultural, philosophical, and historical context. You will understand how societal changes, scientific advancements, and shifts in worldview have contributed to the diminishing importance of the soul in modern life. Furthermore, you'll examine the consequences of the loss of the soul, including its spiritual, psychological, and communal effects. Ultimately, you'll discover ways to integrate science and spirituality, fostering a holistic view of the self and cultivating a transcendent vision of life.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 11
Watching Now
Loss of the Soul

TH730-11: Loss of the Soul

I. Introduction to the Loss of the Soul

A. Cultural and Philosophical Context

B. Defining the Soul and its Importance

II. Historical Perspectives on the Soul

A. Ancient Philosophies

B. Religious Views

III. Factors Contributing to the Loss of the Soul

A. Societal Changes

B. Scientific Advancements

C. Shifts in Worldview

IV. Consequences of the Loss of the Soul

A. Spiritual Implications

B. Psychological Effects

C. Impacts on Relationships and Communities

V. Rediscovering the Soul and its Significance

A. Integrating Science and Spirituality

B. Fostering a Holistic View of the Self

C. Cultivating a Transcendent Vision of Life

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

Our loving Father, we thank you that you have given us minds by which to understand something of the depth of the meaning of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we just pray this morning that you will give us clarity of understanding and of expression and pray that you will give us a deeper sense of the holiness of our calling, that you have given us truly a divine calling to be the children of God. So we pray for your Spirit to be with us as we communicate and receive your Word. And this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We were mentioning in a previous lecture that New York correspondent of the New York Times has written a book called Bad Religion. Ross Douthat has written this book. And there is a form of transcendence that is also bad religion, so although we’re deploring deeply the loss of transcendence, there are some forms of bogus transcendence that can be sometimes quite comical. I remember reading the story in the earl memoirs of Harry Ironside, who was one of the early founders of Moody Bible College. He was a big, tall fellow and he tells the story that as a small boy from a poor family he always received the hand-me-downs of his older brother. And so some kind friend provided him with other clothes, but the clothes were too big for him. But he was very proud of arriving in church with this new pair of trousers. But one of the ladies in the church said oh, but my boy Harry, your mother wasn’t expecting the soon return of the Lord when she gave you those trousers. Because obviously, he had to expand significantly to wear them properly.

And there are so many other insights that I remember of my childhood that we were scared as small children to come down to breakfast. And if mother wasn’t there, had the Lord taken her up in the rapture during the night and left us behind? And of course, you know some of the bumper stickers that even now are still rather wacky in the Bible Belt: look out because the driver may be caught up in the rapture. So there’s obviously a lot of foolishness about some of the ways in which the soon coming return of the Lord has been interpreted in the past. So for children’s nightmares, which I grew up with, this was a very serious problem.


Another thing that we also have had in our past heritage as evangelicals is the importance of saving our souls. And this morning we’re going to speak about the loss of the soul. And this is a subject too that has had very false interpretations of it. I remember even as a small teenager really thinking that the salvation of the soul was more Platonic than it really was the Gospel. And the abuse of soul saving was another issue that was bad religion in the early ’30s, or indeed later. Because I remember having a girlfriend who invited me to her brother’s wedding and her father, who was a very wealthy man, was living a double life. Her mother was a godly woman, but the father, to my shock, suggested that we went off to let his wife go back home and that he was going to take us to a nightclub. And he saw my shock at the idea that we should go to a nightclub and his apology for it was to say well, I thank God that when I was a teenager, my soul was saved. Because his soul was saved, he could then, of course, frolic around and do all sorts of immoral things because the insurance for Heaven had already been paid. And as far as he was concerned, that made his illicit behaviour possible.

The tragedy of that story is that he had a younger daughter who was like her mother, unlike the older one that was like her father. But the younger daughter was a devout Christian. She was only 17 years old. And so after this event, she came to see me and in her perplexity she said you know, I do want to get baptised. I do want to commit my life to the Lord. Can you tell me what I should do about the procedure of getting baptised? It was tragic that she should ask me because she should have had confidence in her pastor. So I shared with her, as limited as I could at that stage in my graduate early days at Oxford, about baptism. And two months later, she went on a cruise with her parents and I suspect that she had suddenly discovered the appalling immorality of her father and it was too much for her. And although she was a strong swimmer, she dived off the cruiser in the Baltic and had her tragic baptism. She committed suicide. So there are emotional complexities that bad religion and a bad understanding of transcendence can have. And by God’s mercy, most of us as Christians today are far more educated than to go back to that era of soul saving. And, of course, there’s a sense in which we do want our souls to be profoundly saved, but that generation has gone.


As we speak this morning now about the loss of the soul as an element of the loss of transcendence, we are going to start by looking at a book that was written by Thomas Moore called Care of the Soul, an Anglican priest that published this book in 1992. and there he states, ‘The great malady of the 20th century, implicated in all our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is “loss of soul.” When the soul is neglected, it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions and loss of meaning.’ Our temptation, he adds, is to isolate these symptoms or try to eradicate them one by one, but the root problem is that we’ve lost the wisdom about the soul, or indeed even our interest in the soul.

So when we talk about being soulful, we’re really talking about the fact that deep within us there are deep longings of the heart. There are yearnings. And what isolates us in our loneliness is that we don’t have enough confidence to trust anyone in telling them the deep aspirations that we have in our own heart. In other words, can I expect a friend to be a soul companion, or indeed be a custodian of my confidence about my soul? So of course, I think Moore is right, that what has happened is that there has been a loss of understanding of this element of transcendence, of the deep longing desires, or indeed the deep fears that we may have, which lead us to a drug culture. In fact, we cannot separate the profound emotion of fear in our lives from the instability that so many people have in the loss of a soul. It’s as if we’re constantly living superficially in the upper part of the house, but we’ve never explored the basement of our lives, never been able to understand why it is that we have compulsive behaviours or compensatory behaviours the way we do.

When I was a small boy, my birthday was the end of November where Christmas was round the corner. So it was an intense time for a double desire: a birthday present and a Christmas present. But I learnt as a small child to be streetwise about my desire and to say don’t articulate what your desire is because then, as if by magic, black magic, what you articulate you want, you’ll never get, so keep it vague and then you may be surprised that you got the gift you wanted. In other words, one of the deep emotions that a child has is steeling oneself against disappointment that others won’t understand you. They won’t know what your desire is. And so many of us go through life with lots of frustrations and disappointments because we’re not able to communicate soulfully one with the other. Instead, we live with alienation and loneliness in our culture. And perhaps the deepest loneliness that we all suffer is the loneliness of being unique, that I’m not you, so how can you understand me. And so Julia Kristeva, who is a brilliant contemporary French litterateur and therapist, has written a book in which she says do you know who you are yourself? And in doing so, do you know that you have a soul? And so she’s right that we need to explore this far more deeply this morning.


On the other hand, we find that being soulful, from black music to the superficial way in which we talk about appealing to the soul, can be so superficial. We’ve recently had a fundraising drive for our beautiful botanical gardens and the appeal for another $20 million was for their improvement. But the purpose of it according to the advert was to put heart and soul into the garden. In other words, does the soul really belong to the plants rather than to ourselves. So we can be so flippant and so misunderstanding of what we’re going to talk about this morning. But once we get into the subject of how the Classical world viewed the soul, we’re going to find how very complex the labyrinth is about the soul, its immortality, its identity and many other problems about it.

Originally, clearly the soul was associated with primitive man, or indeed in more sophisticated Greek and Roman culture with the essence of life. Yes, the animating principle is described in Genesis 2:7 that when God breathed into mankind the breath of life, he became a living soul. So the Hebrew nephesh is like the Greek psyche. It refers to that inner self, a self that is complete with emotions and appetites and volition. So that when death comes and the breath ceases, the nephesh departs, as we read in Genesis 35:18. And likewise, when Elijah is praying over the dead son of the widow of Zarepath in 1 Kings 17:21, he prays that the nephesh, the soul, the breath of life, will return to the dead son.


And clearly, there’s no part of the scripture that is more soulful than the richness and the density of the Psalms. There we find expressing all the needs of the soul: the needs of deliverance, the needs from Sheol, the need of salvation, of health, above all the need of communion and righteousness with God. It’s all there. But when we come to the New Testament, psyche carries out most of the Old Testament usages of the word. It’s referring to your inner life, of being able to communicate with oneself, of being united in a deep sense within a community. It’s referring to the souls of the martyrs under the altar. And Jesus sees that the human soul is priceless, and yet those who lose their soul for Christ’s sake will find it and those who try to save it will lose it, as we read in Matthew 16:26. And Peter speaks in 1 Peter 1:22 of Christian souls being purified by obedience to the truth of the Gospel. John is delighted in 3 John 2 that Gaius knows well the truth in his soul. The most famous, perhaps, scripture of all is 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul prays that his reader’s spirit, soul and body will be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Likewise, the mandate among the Early Fathers was that they should be the shepherd of the souls of others. But throughout all of the scripture, soul and spirit are used interchangeably. So when in Hebrews 4 it appears to distinguish them in verse 12, the Word of God is piercing to the division of soul and spirit, it’s really a kind of allegorical use of saying that the Word of God reaches into the innermost recesses of the whole human being. It’s not trying to do anatomy dissection. It’s just simply figurative language for saying nothing can be more intimate than the access and the presence of God’s Word within our being.

Well, perhaps we can break there for a pause.