Adventist theology and the new anthropology

Adventist theology and the new anthropology: Challenges and opportunities

What does the process of dehellenization do to theology and how does it relate to Adventist theology?

Marcos Blanco, MAR, is editorial vice president at South American Spanish Publishing House, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and studying toward a PhD in religion at Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines

Editors’note: This manuscript merited the grand prize in the most recent Ministry Student Writing Contest.

Ever since Adolf von Harnack launched the thesis that almost everything considered Christian orthodoxy (“the Catholic element”) is, in fact, the result of “acute hellenization of Christianity,”1 classic theology’s very foundation was shaken. As if to confirm this, Jürgen Moltmann coined the phrase “the Fathers baptized Aristotle.”2

Since then, Protestants, particularly Evangelicals, have begun a process of “dehellenizing” theology. What does this process of dehellenization do to theology? How is it related to Adventist theology? This article will outline the history of the process of dehellenization in Protestant and Evangelical theology in order to show how history affected the understanding of the idea of God and, consequently, the understanding of human nature. In addition, this article will attempt to demonstrate that this change in paradigm places the Seventh- day Adventist Church in an ideal position to present its doctrinal system.

The dehellenization of God

Beginning with the understanding that theology had been built on the philosophical presuppositions of ancient Greek Hellenism, one of the first elements to be reformulated by a minority of scholars was the fundamental presupposition of the being of God. If God’s timelessness had formerly been the starting point of classic theology, it would now be radically reinterpreted by a new philosophical paradigm.

As philosophers became more familiar with the underlying temporal nature of reality, they acknowledged that temporal things could be conjectured as being real. Thus, history ceased to be an illusory copy of eternal—timeless— realities, such as the one conceived by Platonic philosophy and classic theism. In his masterpiece Sein und Zeit (Being and Time), Martin Heidegger rejected timelessness as set forth by Aristotle, Parmenides, and Thomas Aquinas and proposed: “Our provisional aim is the interpretation of time as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of Being.”3 Reality was interpreted in terms of temporality.4

Following the same line of reasoning, God is not seen as a Being in which there is an absence of time but rather as a God who includes time in His Being. Oscar Cullmann rejected the presupposition of the timelessness of God’s Being because it belonged to ancient Greek philosophy. Cullmann argued that the Hebrew mind clearly conceives that God lives in a time without limits and not in an abstract way, as if He were beyond time. In his exegetical analysis of the use of aiônin the New Testament, Cullmann concludes that the biblical concept of eternity is not necessarily a timeless reality but rather an unlimited experience of time. Thus, eternity is not timelessness but rather time without end—linear time shared by both God and human beings.5 According to Norman Gulley, Fernando Canale was really able to solve the issue of God’s relationship to time. Canale suggested “that biblical ontology calls for an understanding of time as a primordial presupposition.”6 Thus, he stated that, based on the biblical presupposition of God’s Being, “a new theological system will arise, which, for the first time, will be free from extra-theological conditioning.”7

Doctrine of man: The next step

The doctrine of man was next to be challenged and reformulated by some mainstream theologians. Following Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas had taught that human beings were rational animals. However, in contrast to the Greek philosopher, Aquinas held that the soul is separated from the body at death. He considered that the soul was a nonbodily, lasting entity that could exist without the body during the time between the death of a person and the general resurrection.8

One of the pioneers who attempted a reformulation of the Greek philosophical influence on anthropology was Oscar Cullmann. In an essay that was originally presented in the 1955 Ingersoll lecture at Harvard University, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? The Witness of the New Testament,” Cullmann stated that the concept of the immortality of the soul is one of the “greatest misunderstandings of Christianity.”9 He also expressed that the resurrection of the dead was anchored in the teachings of Christ and that it is “incompatible with the Greek belief in immortality.”10 In this sense, early Christians did not consider that the soul was intrinsically immortal but rather that the soul was immortal only through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and by faith in Him. In addition, Cullmann also denied the duality between body and soul—a concept that comes from Greek Platonism.

From an Old Testament perspective, Hans Walter Wolff also came to the conclusion that no anthropological dualism exists in the Scriptures. He stated that an erroneous translation of the anthropological terminology of the Bible had “led in the false direction of a dichotomic or trichotomic anthropology, in which body, soul and spirit are in opposition to one another.” 11 According to Wolff, “the question still has to be investigated of how, with the Greek language, a Greek philosophy has here supplanted Semitic biblical views, overwhelming them with foreign influence.”12

Current developments in the doctine of man

This denial of Platonic dualism in favor of an integrated vision of humans has been further developed recently. Currently, many voices from different theological lines of thought are proclaiming a similar message. Clark Pinnock—former president of the Evangelical Theological Society—for example, affirms that the “Hellenistic belief about human nature that has dominated Christian thinking” is “an unbiblical anthropology.”13 For him, “the Bible does not teach the natural immortality of the soul; it points instead to the resurrection of the body as God’s gift to believers.”14 G. C. Berkouwer argues that there is no anthropological “division” in humans15 but maintains that the human exists in an intermediate state with Christ after death.16 Likewise, while Helmut Thielicke states that there is “no division of the I into body and soul,” he also leans toward an intermediate state.17

Based on Luke 24:36–49, Marilyn McCord Adams states that the ideal state is not that of the disincarnate soul independent from the body, but the final objective is the resurrection of the body.18 From a psychological perspective, David Myers advocates for a wholistic vision of the person. He states that the biblical vision of knowledge is based on its vision of the person as an integral entity, not as a dichotomy of mind and body.19 And from a philosophy of religion perspective, based on logic as a discipline, Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann have also attempted to argue against the dualistic Cartesian view of the human.20

One of the latest developments is the so-called constitutional view; it states that human beings are constituted by a body but are not identical to the body that constitutes them, in the same way that a statue is constituted by bronze but is not identical to the bronze that constitutes it.21 Similar to this view of the human is what is known as “emergent dualism.”22 This position accepts that human beings, as well as other organisms, initially consist of nothing more than common physical matter; however, the idea of emergence is added. The idea of emergence means that when elements of a certain type are organized in the right way, something new comes into existence, something that did not exist before.

William Hasker, one of the proponents of this position, draws a parallel with an electromagnet. In essence, it is only a coil of wire. But when an electric current goes through the wire, something new appears: a magnetic field. This field exerts causal powers that were not there before it was created, enabling it to activate a motor or lift something. “As a magnet generates its magnetic field, so an organism generates its field of consciousness.”23 However, since Hasker does not want to be confused with Platonic dualism, he clarifies: “So, for emergent dualism, eternal life is entirely possible, but it will come about through an amazing and miraculous act of God, not as a natural attribute of our ‘immortal souls.’ ”24

And the list could go on. Everything seems to indicate that the Greek dualistic view will continue to be challenged from multiple perspectives.25

Adventists' dehellenization

Adventist theology started as a process of deconstructing traditional theology. This process came about as a consequence of Adventism moving itself from philosophical conditionings in order to read the Bible based on its own presuppositions. Adventist pioneers’ change also began with the doctrine of God. For example, both James and Ellen White emphasized the concept of “two distinct, literal, tangible persons”26 of the Godhead, in contrast to the abstract, theoretical, and impersonal God of the Greek philosophy. Jerry Moon stresses this departure of the classical understanding of God: “She [Ellen G. White] rejected at least three of the philosophical presuppositions undergirding traditional trinitarianism: (a) the radical dualism of spirit and matter, which concluded that God could not have a visible form; (b) the notion of impassibility, which held that God had no passions, feelings, or emotions, hence could have no interest in, or sympathy with, humans; and (c) the dualism of time and timelessness, which led to the notions of ‘eternal generation’ and ‘eternal procession. Her rejection of all these concepts constitutes a radical departure from the medieval dogma of the Trinity.”27 The Seventh-day Adventist Church, from its very beginning, has also held to a monistic view of human.28 In their defense of the biblical monistic view of human beings, Adventist pioneers condemned dualistic anthropology as having its origin in Plato’s philosophy.29 For them, one “element in the falling away out of which came the Beast [Rev. 13], and which was a mighty impulse in the making of the Beast, was the adoption of pagan philosophy,” and one of the results was the belief in “the immortality of the soul.”30 A. T. Jones, for example, quoting the historian Edward Gibbon, argued that the idea of the immortality of the soul came to Christianity through Plato’s dualism.31 And Uriah Smith considered that the idea of an “immaterial, ever-conscious, never-dying” soul came from “the uncertain speculations of Socrates and Plato.”32

Making a difference in the theological arena

A growing number of modern Protestants and Evangelicals have come to embrace the traditional Adventist position on biblical monism: “the position according to which all expressions of the inner life depend on the whole of human nature, including the organic system.”33 However, when Protestants and Evangelicals arrived at this anthropological understanding, Adventists had been there for a long time. The current theological outlook makes room for Adventist theology to play an effective theological role. Although Protestantism, in its orthodox form, has been built over Greek ontological presuppositions, some scholars disagree with Platonic dualism. Thomas Kuhn, American physicist and philosopher, indicated that these are anomalies that eventually would require a paradigm shift.34 This paradigm shift already occurred in Adventist theology. As the people of the Book, we need to enter into the Christian theological arena and show that Adventism has a biblical, sound theology.


1 Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. Buchanan, vol. 1 (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co., 1902), 48–60.

2 See Jürgen Moltmann, TheTrinity and the Kingdom of God (London: SCM, 1982), 20–22.

3 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarie, Edward Robinson (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1962), 1. For an account of Heidegger’s position, see Marcos Blanco,“Change of Paradigm inTheology and the New Anthropology,”Journal of Asia Adventist Seminary 15, no. 1 (2012): 106, 107.

4 Heidegger also explains time as the transcendental horizon of the question of being. For a defition of Dasein, see Martin Heidegger, Being and Time,65.

5 Oscar Cullmann, Christ andTime: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History, trans. Floyd V. Filson, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1964), 49.

6 Norman R. Gulley, SystematicTheology: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2003), 10.

7 Fernando Canale, A Criticism of Theological Reason: Time andTimelessness as Primordial Presuppositions (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1983), 399.

8 See Marilyn McCord Adams,“The Resurrection of the Body According toThree Medieval Aristotelians: Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William Ockham,” Philosophical Topics 20, no. 1 (1992): 1–33.

9 Oscar Cullmann,“Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead:TheWitness of the New Testament,”in Immortality and Resurrection, ed. Krister Stendahl (NewYork: Macmillan, 1965), 9.

10 Ibid.

11 Hans Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament (London: SCM, 1974), 7.

12 Ibid.

13 Clark H. Pinnock,“The Conditional View,”in Four Views on Hell, ed. William Crockett (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 147.

14 Ibid., 147, 148.

15 G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 265.

16 Ibid.

17 Helmut Thielicke, Living With Death(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 173. For more examples, see John W. Cooper, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 173–195.

18 Marilyn McCord Adams,“The Resurrection of the Body: Luke 24:36- 49,”The Expository Times 117, no. 6 (2006): 252.

19 David Myers, TheHumanPuzzle(San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1978), 125.

20 Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann,“An Objection to Swinburne’s Argument for Dualism,”Faith and Philosophy13, no. 3 (1996): 405–412.

21 Kevin J. Corcoran, Rethinking Human Nature: Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 65.

22 Here the word dualism must not be understood in a Platonic or Cartesian way but rather as opposed to merely material monism, which presents human beings as only animals.

23 William Hasker,“Philosophical ContributionsTheological Anthropology,”in For Faith and Clarity : Philosophical Contributions to ChristianTheology, ed. James K. Beilby (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 257.

24 Ibid., 258.

25 For a more comprehensive list of current anthropological positions, see Blanco,“Change of Paradigm,”108–112.

26 James White, Day-Star, January 24, 1846, 25; Ellen G.White, Early Writings (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), 54,

77. Ellen and James White did not doubt that“God is spirit”(John 4:24), but they insisted that God has a“literal, tangible”existence; He is neither unreal nor imaginary.

27 Jerry Moon,“The Quest for a BiblicalTrinity: Ellen White’s‘ Heavenly Trio’Compared to theTraditional Doctrine,”Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 17, no. 1 (2006): 156, 157.

28 Leroy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1966) 646–740.

29 Stephen Nelson Haskell, The Story of Daniel the Prophet (South Lancaster, MA: BibleTraining School, 1901), 229.

30 “The Making of the Beast,”The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, vol. 77, no. 17 (1900): 264. See also AlonzoTrevier Jones, Ecclesiastical Empire(Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, 1901), 97.

31 A.T. Jones,“TheThird Angel’s Message—No. 12,”Daily Bulletin of the General Conference, vol. 5, no. 10 (February 13, 14, 1893): 261.

32 Uriah Smith, Here and Hereafter,or Man in Life and Death:The Reward of the Righteous and the Destiny of the Wicked(Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald, 1897), 173.

33 Aecio Caïrus,“The Doctrine of Man,”in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), 212.

34 “Paradigm shift,”Wikipedia,accessed April 6, 2015,

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Marcos Blanco, MAR, is editorial vice president at South American Spanish Publishing House, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and studying toward a PhD in religion at Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines

May 2015

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