Theology Tuesday: The Soul


I had never read anything by John Ortberg until now. I picked up his book “Soul Keeping,” simply because I found it for next to nothing and knew that he had been friends with Dallas Willard. The book, as far as I’ve gotten anyhow, ranges in quality. He has a kind of mega-church pastor style of telling anecdotes and give lots of examples. For instance, in the beginning he spends several pages explaining how frequently the word soul is used in English.

But as the book goes on, he explains many important things about the human soul and this often happens, to my delight, in the form of anecdotes about Dallas Willard. Here is one such place:

When I think of that pastor and this businessman, I recall Jesus’ memorable words about the soul: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” I have always thought this verse meant that in the long run it won’t do you any good to acquire a lot of money and have a lot of sex and other sensual pleasures if you end up going to hell.

When I mentioned that to Dallas, he gently corrected me: “That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not talking here about people going to hell.”

He explained that Jesus is talking about a diagnosis, not a destination. If we think of hell as a torture chamber and heaven as a pleasure factory, we will never understand Jesus’ point. For the ruined soul — that is, where the will and the mind and the body are disintegrated, disconnected from God, and living at odds with the way God made life in the universe to run — acquiring the whole world could not even produce satisfaction, let alone meaning and goodness.

To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides my life. I am a car without a steering wheel. It doesn’t matter how fast I can go, because I am a crash waiting to happen.[1]

At first glance it appears that Willard’s interpretation of the parable in question is mistaken. But in the context of the gospels, namely, the parable of the sower, it is possible for a person through distraction and lack of focus to reject God and reality so totally that their life (belief in the gospel) is choked out. Having a lost soul is the reason that the man’s death is so tragic. His lostness lead him to live without reference to his inevitable death or God himself. This state, according to Willard, is a state of having no satisfaction, perhaps living like man in Ecclesiastes who finds no pleasure in wisdom, folly, life, riches, or even death.

It’s sad to think that we can lose our souls so thoroughly that we’re insensible to the peril in which we live.


[1] Ortberg, John (2014-04-22). Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You (pp. 44-45). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


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