One of the most difficult problems any theological tradition faces is that there are often fundamental differences at critical points between the "official doctrine" affirmed by the divines and academics of that tradition, and those doctrines actually believed and practiced on a popular level by the rank and file. There is, perhaps, no greater illustration of this than the popular notion of trichotomy. Rejected by virtually all major theologians in all streams of the Christian tradition as a speculative Greek philosophical notion rather than a Biblical conception, trichotomy is very likely the reigning notion of human nature in American Evangelical circles today. With few exceptions, the Christian church has affirmed, with one voice, that human nature is two-fold. As men and women, we are necessarily a body--the physical element of our nature--and we are also a soul-spirit--an immaterial aspect described in the Bible as either soul or spirit. These two are united together as one person; as a psychosomatic unity. This is simply known as dichotomy. Trichotomists, however, contend that human nature is tri-partite, that is, as men and women we are body, soul and spirit. But while the theologians of Evangelicalism, following the historic precedence, overwhelmingly reject the notion of trichotomy, the popular teaching and literature of Evangelicalism abounds with trichotomistic views of human nature in one form or another.
Kim Riddlebarger is pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast. He is author of A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times and Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist (Baker, 2006). Kim blogs at www.kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com.
Issue: "Gnosticism" July/August 1995 Vol. 4 No. 4 Page number(s): 22-26
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