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Parts is Parts: Compartmentalization & Holistic Christianity

yawning sxc hu small“You are attempting the impossible,” the Dean said to me in 1992. “You can’t get a PhD, be a husband, father, and employee. If you manage to get the degree, you will not be human when it’s over.”

That was the best advice I ever ignored.

I got the PhD, alright and, during that hell ride, I raised four children whom I took primary responsibility to home-school. I bought a house that fell apart like its sole purpose was to devour me… I was forced to remodeled the whole thing with my own hands to protect my investment… top to bottom, inside and out, plumbing to electrical, roof, attic and basement… oh… and the garage too.

At any given time, during the PhD process, I worked either two part-time jobs or one full-time job. I drove over 30 hours a week to fulfill all my responsibilities. During one two year stint, I worked seven days a week and only saw my wife awake for 4 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday. Crossing work schedules kept us passing like ships in the night. I suffered from sleep apnea for the first three years of my work and had to undergo major throat reconstruction to cure it while preparing for my comprehensive exams.

I was barely human when I finished, like I was promised, but I doubt even the Dean imagined the half of it.

My PhD hurt me physically, mentally and spiritually.

Why? Because academics are anti-spiritual? No.

It was only the substance of my study, the chapels, the worship, the prayer and the Christian fellowship that held me in check during a time when I wanted to let myself crumble. My PhD hurt me in every area because I stretched my physical being to the breaking point and such a strain does not show respect for artificially drawn lines of body, soul and spirit.

Our beings and our faith demand a holistic approach.[1]

In my church growing up, I was taught that man is a trichotomy, being divided into three parts—a body, a soul & a Spirit. When I started attending Bible college, I learned that some people held that man was a dichotomy, being divided into two parts—body, and soul/spirit. Nobody told me that there was another option… what I understand to be the more ancient Jewish notion… that man is a conditional unity.[2]

Indeed, biblical terms used to define Man do not represent parts, but aspects. A woman may be a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, an employer and an employee, even a creature, but we would not regard these as parts, but as aspects of her nature and function in relation to other things.

The important question in my own mind was always, “What’s the difference?” This wasn’t a “Who cares?” exactly, neither was it a confusion over the meaning of the terms. This was a question of practical importance. How does a person declaring man a dichotomy live differently than a person declaring man to be a trichotomy? How do each of these live differently than a person believing man to be a conditional unity?

Most of these differences are, it seems, subtle variations on the idea that we are made up of PARTS. A parts mentality shapes many aspects of our lives… it is part of the human need to compartmentalize everything for psychological convenience.

Reminds me of this old Wendy’s Commercial.

Imagine saying that people need medical doctors for the body, psychologists for the mind/soul, and Scripture and ministers for the spirit… or that one’s relationship with God has nothing to do with his or her business practices… business is business. Sounds like a God Father film… “It’s not personal… It’s just business.”

Does not the mind involve the brain and is not the brain a physical organ? Cannot one’s choices and attitudes influence one’s physical being? Don’t some physical maladies in turn impact the mind, shape personality, warp persona? One doctor friend of mine once insisted that many people spend their entire lives trying to counsel away problems rooted in physiology. My father, for one, was cured of depression by starting to run. (I’m telling his story, not selling a cure all.)

It is quite popular to believe that Ministers should never discuss politics… I’m sorry, is there some barrier in our lives that makes our lifestyle, religious convictions, and our vision of government and society separate entities? Can I really divide my atheistic visions of government and society from my supposed Christian beliefs about God and man?

In systematic theology, we divide theology proper (doctrines of God) from Christology and pneumatology (Holy Spirit) and soteriology (salvation) from anthropology (doctrines of man)and harmartiology (doctrines of sin)… and yet… are these independent? Are there clear lines of division? No.

A friend who was starting to go through menopause  said to her gynecologist, “I’ve been suffering from migraines of late.” The doctor grew mocking and said, “I am tired of people trying to deal with neurology through gynecology.” I was taken aback. Is a doctor worth anything if he or she does not know that our divisions of specialization in medical practice are artificial? It’s not that no imaginable separations exist, but those separations are not actual… Thank you Doctor House for teaching us this basic lesson.

What’s my point?

My point is that our psychological need to deal with things in parts, to compartmentalize the elements of our life and world in order to deal with them more cleanly, must never be confused with actual division and parts. To mistake convenient categories for real separations deceives the mind and prevents us from seeing the vital interrelations of things.

We need holistic Christianity.



[1] Holistic: “Characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” In Medicine, holistic is “Characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.” http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/holistic

[2] Conditional unity is the notion that man is an interconnected whole and that while some part of man lives on after death, (the only condition for “separation”) man is not in death what he is in the body. The eternal state of man will, therefore, be in the resurrected body, whether resurrected until eternal life or eternal death.

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