The approach of this pastor is very compatible with my Christianity and if I lived in the area I would definitely be going to his church – way better than anything I have found near where I live in Salt Lake City.
The discussion begins with the question of “what is a soul?” And… it seems to me that Ortberg describes this much as I would the spirit. I don’t like the word “soul” because I think it is more connected with pagan ideas of transubstantiation, immortality of the soul, and NeoPlatonsism. I prefer basing my understanding on Paul’s teaching of the spiritual body in 1 Cor 15, which I think is unusually clear.
The word “psychen” translated as “soul” in only a few translation is translated more often as “life” even in those translations. And it is usually understood as referring to the animating force which moves living organisms. But in science we no longer have reason to believe in any such thing. There is no life stuff which can be added to objects in order to make them alive or transferred to give more life to other living organisms. So while it is a nice attempt by Ortberg to shift this to the idea of a “capacity to integrate separate functions into a single organism,” I am still not buying this interpretation of the word in the Bible as something supernatural or the use of this word “soul.”
The focus on the idea of personhood and habits is very much in line with my own way of thinking. Personhood I would associate with the memetic inheritance given by God speaking to Adam and Eve, giving birth to the mind and making us human beings. And I specifically identify “sin” with self-destructive habits.
What was new to me was the word “anti-nomianism” which is apparently an extreme form of anti-legalism, though it seems to turn on some fine points, so my stand would depend on the actual definition used. I certainly wouldn’t support the idea that moral law and moral constraints no longer applies to Christians, and would totally agree with the Methodist declaration that Christianity frees us from ceremonial law rather than moral law. However, I think Jesus made it crystal clear in the sermon on the mount and elsewhere that this is not obedience to the letter of some set of laws. I object to the mentioned idea that salvific faith produces obedience. On the contrary faith produces a much more creative effort to serve God because it is about a change of heart rather just an effort to appease.
I also don’t much like this idea of equating new life with being Jesus disciple, for it frankly suggest that scientist, artists, and athletes cannot be good Christians. I do not think being conformed to the image of Christ means we have to be carbon copies, though perhaps I am being oversensitive to some of the definitions of the word “disciple,” for it can mean being an admirer or believer and doesn’t have to mean living the same life.
Of course, I agree with the disapproval of this idea of minimum entrance requirements and think this was the whole point of exchange between Jesus and the so called rich man in Matt 19. Salvation by grace does not mean that we don’t have to do anything, but only that there is no enough that we can finish in order to claim salvation as one of our accomplishments.
I go beyond Ortberg’s claim that habits eat willpower for breakfast to say that bad habits actually destroy human free will. But I certainly take his very good point about trying versus training. And his strong emphasis upon our uniqueness and the consequent inability for any of us to judge another is right up my alley.