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A Review of Jim Wilder’s Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church That Transforms

A friend of mine, who pastors a large church, has referred favorably in his sermons to Jim Wilder’s book Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church That Transforms. He is impressed with what Wilder writes and arranged for me to receive a copy (along with the rest of his staff, and I suspect a few other friends). I had heard much about this book, including many favorable comments from a number of believers I know. So I was eager to see what Wilder had to say. Unfortunately, I was quite surprised by what I read.

After finishing the book, I scheduled a conversation with my friend and explained four ways in which I felt Wilder is promoting ideas that are not only wrong but potentially very harmful. He asked me to summarize our conversion in an email, so he could process my concerns in more detail. That forced me to think through these issues further.

Since I sent him my summary, this topic has come up in numerous other conversations. In each case I have been asked for a copy of the email containing my concerns (with the recipient’s name removed). I have been glad to do so. Again today this topic came up in a conversation and I was asked for a copy of my email outlining my concerns.

Given the interest in this topic I’m posting my redacted copy of that email here. Note it was written as an email, and not as an article. So it is a bit informal, certainly contains some grammatical errors, etc. But I am sharing it, word-for-word, in hopes that others might find these thoughts helpful.

By the way, in reading Renovated, I also became familiar with Curt Thompson, M.D., another Christian author who has written a number of books in the same vein (and who provided an endorsement for Renovated). Thompson is equally popular among many Christians. Much of my critique of Wilder applies to Thompson’s work as well (for instance, his Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships).



Before sharing the email I’ll offer a brief introduction to Renovated and what I consider its positive features. Jim Wilder is identified as a “neurotheologian” in his third decade of seeking to help others grow in Christ. He founded the Life Model Works ministry. According to the ministry’s website, its goal is to “link brain science with the Bible to create simple, practical tools for churches to build authentic community and transform lives.”

Renovated is published by NavPress, a very reputable Christian publishing house. The book is 220 pages long, including the notes. Its 10 chapters alternate between Wilder’s own writing and transcripts of talks that Dallas Willard gave at a conference at which Jim invited him to speak, shortly before Dallas passed away in 2013.

What I Appreciate about Renovated

A number of positive things can be said of Renovated. The talks given by Dallas Willard, presented in chapters 2, 4, 6, and 8, are outstanding. As a philosopher, Willard thought deeply about the nature of our souls, our bodies, and the relationship between the two. He wrote much about how the body-soul relationship affects our spiritual formation as Christians. Two of his best works along these lines are The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives and Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ.

After each chapter by Willard, Wilder attempts to connect Willard’s comments to neurophysiology. Wilder clearly has a pastor’s heart as well, and he works hard to provide care and direction for readers seeking to grow in Christ.

I also appreciate Wilder’s attempt to integrate biblical truth with the findings of other fields–in his case, neuroscience. Since all truth is God’s truth, truth accurately discovered in all other fields will ultimately be consistent with what God has revealed in Scripture. It is the role of believers with expertise in these various fields to identify and develop these connections.

As I began reading, my great hope was that Wilder would succeed in both these lofty and important goals. I am afraid he did not succeed in achieving either goal. Below, I explain why I have come to this conclusion.

My Email Summarizing My Concerns

Dear [pastor friend],

It was a pleasure to visit with you last Thursday and discuss Jim Wilder’s Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church That Transforms. Your engaging questions, insightful observations, and irenic spirit led to a delightful and engaging conversation!

As I mentioned as we began our conversation, I read his book with great interest. However, in reading it more questions arose than answers. I’m sure Wilder (and others articulating a similar anthropology, such as Curt Thompson) are good people, with good intentions. But that doesn’t make them right.

As one who has a favorable take on Wilder’s view, it was very helpful to hear more of your thinking, as well as share more of my concerns. Specifically, I shared four areas of concern with you, and said I’d send you them in an email so you have them in writing.

My four concerns about Wilder et al.’s views are scientific, theological, philosophical, and pastoral. I’ll first summarize my concerns and then unpack them further below (which I realize makes for a long email, but I don’t want to leave anything important out).


My scientific concern has to do with the accuracy of the “left-brain/right brain” motif. As I’ve consulted with PhDs in neuroscience, who also have graduate degrees in philosophy of mind (and are therefore most qualified to speak of the mind/brain relation), I’m hearing the notion of left brain/right brain as causally related to decisions, etc. is false.

My theological concern has to do with Wilder’s anthropology. From what he writes in the book, he seems to be a physicalist, or at best an epiphenomenalist [the mind is different from, but wholly caused by the brain, similar to the relationship of smoke and fire]. Both views seem contrary to several clear biblical teachings, such as the fact that we have a substantial soul and that we live beyond the death of our bodies. It is also contrary to Dallas’s view, as recently as a month before his passing. This also raises the concern that Wilder et al. seem to be embracing Scientism, a view [that science is the only, or at least the best way to know truth] given to us by the Enlightenment and contrary to biblical thinking.

My philosophical concerns are numerous. One revolves around how Wilder can make a number of philosophical claims he makes, given his anthropology. Specifically, it is hard to make sense of how personal identity can be caused by the brain. Historically this has been a result of sameness of soul, an argument often used to convince others that we are more than material beings.

A second concern is that Wilder is constantly referring to a “self” via indexicals [references such as “I,” “we,” “he,” “she,” “now,” and “then”] which are inconsistent with physicalism or epiphenomenalism. A third concern is Wilder’s apparent confusion between the constant conjunction of mental events and brain events, with the identity of mental events and brain events. A fourth concern is Wilder’s apparent unfamiliarity with Thomistic Substance Dualism, the view Dallas is articulating.

My pastoral concern is that the views of Wilder, Thompson, and others endorse and promote are Enlightenment Scientism and reductionism. Yet what believers and non-believers need most is for us to help them develop a better understanding of the immaterial realm, including the existence and nature of our souls.

These concerns led to the specific questions I asked you when we talked. Now, for the “deeper dive” to unpack all this a bit more…


My first question is why you believe Wilder’s understanding of neuroscience is correct. (This equally applies to Thompson, McGilchrist, and all others espousing this “left-brain/right-brain” view). I ask because I know a number of neurophysiologists who are also believers, and have done graduate degrees in both neuroscience and philosophy of mind. As such, they understand the science well (having Ph.D.s in neuroscience). But they understand the philosophical issues at stake as well.

I emailed one of them, asking him to read your blog post and my reply, to see if I was missing something. This was his reply:

“In the third paragraph, he says for centuries that western culture has emphasized certain parts of the brain.  I don’t think this is true on the face of it.  I think he might be right that rationality was emphasized.  But I don’t think that was taken (for centuries) to be about the brain, but about the rational faculty of the soul.

As he goes on, he talks left brain-right brain. If he’s going to go into science, he should get it right.  This is just poor neuroscience.  He is referring more to the frontal/prefrontal cortex vs the limbic system handled in the temporal lobes and basal ganglia.  …[The] frontal cortex is the substrate for our rational thought, temporal lobes and basal ganglia for emotion.  … Fundamentally, his claim about the right brain handling integration is false.  The two hemispheres are fairly symmetric except language processing is on the left side generally and generally motor and sensory cortices handle the opposite side of the body.  However, kids who have a hemispherectomy–where one of the sides of their brain is removed–can do language processing anyway regardless of the side removed and can move and feel both sides of their bodies.  … it is off-putting to have someone bring science in as if to add authority to what they are saying, but be wrong about it.”

[Also see information on the Dandy-Walker Syndrome, cases in which the person has very little brain, yet the mind compensates and the person is still able to think.] 


Secondly, even if neuroscience does turn out to endorse the “left-brain/right-brain” motif, from a theological/philosophical perspective this seems to be at odds with biblical teaching. So my second question is, if the two are in conflict, why [reject the data from] theology/philosophy? To do so, it seems to me, is to acquiesce to Scientism: the Enlightenment view that knowledge is only obtained through Science. If Science and any other discipline are in conflict, Science must be right, and the other disciplines must be modified accordingly. (I capitalize “Science” intentionally for this reason. I also am describing strong Scientism here–Science is the ONLY source of knowledge–all other fields give us only opinions or beliefs. Related is Weak Scientism…while other fields can provide limited knowledge, Science is the best means of discovering truth. So again, if there is a conflict, Science, by definition, wins.)

It does seem to me that Wilder embraces at least Weak Scientism. He seems to say as much when offering his modification of Dallas’ “VIM” model of spiritual formation. For Dallas, the “I” stands for Intention. This is a mental property — minds have intentions, not atoms (or that which atoms structured in certain ways make, such as brains). Understanding this, Wilder says, due to what we know of neurophysiology, we must substitute “Intention” with “impetus”–which is a function of the brain ( p. 127).

So whereas Dallas was speaking of mental events, Wilder has reduced these to brain events. He tells us why he believes he must “modify” Dallas throughout the book, but perhaps most clearly on p. 108–because of the “neuroscience of attachment.” In other words, neuroscience tells us it is the brain that is the active agent, whereas theology and philosophy tell us it is the self/soul/mind that is the active agent. Given this difference, Wilder assumes we must accept the “view” of Science. This is Scientism–overturning centuries of biblical and philosophical anthropology in light of what some take to be the recent findings of neuroscience. As such this seems to me to be an egregious case of cultural accommodationism, precisely what we as believers should stand against.

My third question (already hinted at above), is what you take Wilder et al.’s anthropology to be, and whether you think I am mistaken, for it seems to me he is at least an epiphenomenalist, if not a full-blown Christian physicalist. Here’s how I came to that conclusion as I read Wilder’s book.

First, he draws heavily on Ian McGilchrist. It is clear that McGilchrist is a physicalist. For him there is no soul (in philosophical terms, a “mind”–referring to the totality of our immaterial dimension), only a body (or, more importantly, only a “brain”).

It is certainly possible that Wilder is a Christian physicalist. His academic pedigree supports this possibility. He did his M.A. and Ph.D. at Fuller Seminary, where Nancy Murphy teaches. Murphy is a very vocal Christian physicalist. She believes and strongly proclaims we have no soul, based on what we have discovered through neuroscience. We are fully, completely, and exclusively material beings. But we can have eternal life, for when we die, though we cease to exist, God remembers us, and recreates us (a body) at the final resurrection.

I know many who have studied at Fuller and been influenced by Murphy. Wilder may be one more of this growing tribe. This would explain many of his statements about the human person throughout the book. On almost every page he conflates the mind and the brain, using the two interchangeably. For instance:

-p. 33 – he refers to a number of mental events (thoughts, feelings, desires, choices) and identifies them (reduces them, indicates they are the same as) brain events.

-p. 34: “The brain system that creates mindsight and mutual mind…relational energy.” (again on p. 37, 39)

-p. 70: “Our will is logically connected to our mind and physically part of our brain. Will and choice operate in the vulnerable, cortical gray matter of the body.”

-p. 85, 89 – he quotes Dallas saying the soul integrates all, and then reinterprets by saying the brain integrates all (p. 89: “The soul integrates…The brain can create this integration…”)

-p. 86 – the faculty of intuition is the brain (right hemisphere) “is usually what we mean by ‘mind’.”

-p. 149: “We are so accustomed to thinking only about the conscious mind that we fail to notice other brain activities.”

However, if he is not a physicalist, he is at least an epiphenomenalist. For the physicalist a mental property (such as a thought, desire, intention, belief, pain, etc.) is reducible to/nothing but/identical to a brain event (a neural event, such as a C-fiber firing in the case of a pain). For the epiphenomenalist a mental event is not reducible to a brain event. They are two seperate things. However, it is the physical event that causes (or “stands under”) the mental event (the “epiphenomenon”), similar to the relationship between smoke and fire. They are two different things, but fire causes smoke, which is only an inert side-effect (smoke can’t in turn cause fire).

Wilder may be an epiphenomenalist. On page 24 he states, “I am an unceasing spiritual being…” (though he then goes on to equate “I” with the brain throughout the book). But even if Wilder is an epiphenomenalist, it doesn’t help his anthropology be any more biblical. For both the physicalist and epiphenomenalist the soul is not who we are (either because it doesn’t exist for the physicalist, or it doesn’t have any causal powers (smoke can’t cause fire, and beliefs can’t cause behavior, as these would be cases of the causal direction going from the epiphenomena to the underlying realities). Furthermore, if the brain causes the immaterial reality (a mind, or soul), then the soul cannot survive the death of the body for the epiphenomenalist, for when the cause is gone, the effect is gone (by analogy, when the fire goes out, the smoke disappears). This seems to clearly be contrary to biblical teaching and philosophical reasoning.

Biblically we are a soul that has a body. Jesus warns us to “ afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body…” (Matt 10:28). Jesus tells the  thief on the cross that, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Neither of their bodies/brains will be together later that day, but they will still be together. This implies their souls are who they are, and what will live after their bodies/brains stop functioning. (Furthermore, the implication is that the thief will be aware of being with Jesus after death and rejoicing in this, indicating he will have thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, all without a brain. So thoughts, beliefs, and emotions can not be reduced to brain states [physicalism] or based on brain states [epiphenomenalism].)

Further, it is clear that we use our bodies to live in the world, either glorifying God or dishonoring Him, as Paul unpacks in Romans 6. For instance, we use our eyes to look at that which is edifying to us and honoring to God, or the opposite. But it is not our eyes which are holy or sinful in the looking, but it is us, using our eyes, which honor or dishonor God. The same can be said for all other parts of our bodies, including our brains. It is I (self, soul, mind, most precisely this “individuated human nature”) that uses my bodily parts, including my brain, to act (including to think, choose, believe, feel, connect, etc.) At the end of this note I’ve linked to a blog post I wrote on the soul as an individuated human nature below.

This relation of soul to body is what Willard is referring to, for instance, when he speaks of the body being our powerpack (page 13), allowing us (a soul) to engage the world. He summarizes this clearly on page 64 when speaking of spiritual disciplines: “You engage your body in it.” (italics added) He also illustrates this relation on pages 59-60 with a driver and an earthmover: it is the driver who uses the earthmover to engage the world (move the earth), in the same way it is the person who uses his or her brain/body to engage the world.

The context is Dallas’ explanation of the diagram on page 57, which illustrates how we are a deep unity of soul and body, but ultimately it is our soul (the outermost circle) which is more fundamental and all-encompassing, unifying all else (including our bodies, as long as we live embodied).

Technically, this is Thomistic Substance Dualism, which sees a deep and two-way causal relationship between soul and body, while the soul is still more fundamental and thus the unifying factor. This view is grounded in Aristotle’s work, and given fullest expression by Thomas Aquinas, hence the name. I believe it is also assumed in the biblical texts, which Dallas is tying to Thomistic Substance Dualism as the basis of why physical disciplines, such as fasting, shape the soul. What we do in the body affects the soul, and vice-versa.

Wilder talks about this causal relationship between soul and body in his discussions of neuroplasticity. We can truly “rewire” our brains by repeatedly thinking or believing certain things. But we have known this since the time of Aristotle and Paul. Wilder seems to believe this is new knowledge provided by neuroscience, such that we now understand more about the soul and its workings. It is not new knowledge.

Furthermore, claiming a better understanding of the brain is the same as better understanding of the soul is another example of his reductionism of soul to body (mind to brain).

In fact, it seems a better understanding of the brain is not helpful at all in understanding our mental (and spiritual) life. A parallel example is our understanding of people’s ability to recognize a friend, see beauty, or see a collision is about to happen. These are all abilities our minds/souls have. Of course, we use our eyes in this process. But–and this is the important point–knowing more about optics doesn’t help us understand better how we know something is beautiful. Optics are not related to this ability to comprehend beauty, beyond simply delivering the visual image. Similarly, knowing more about how the brain works does not help us know anything more about how or why we think, feel, desire, act, relate, and so on.

Finally, it is only possible for the brain to be “rewired” if there is an immaterial substance (a soul, contra Wilder) that is the active agent causing the rewiring of the brain. So I do wonder why Wilder makes this point about neuroplasticity in favor of his view.

Interestingly, Wilder believes he is “adding, not subtracting” (p. 149) from Dallas’ anthropology, rather than contradicting it. But throughout he seems to clearly contradict Dallas, saying exactly the opposite of what Dallas is articulating!

As strong as Wilder’s claims are that we are (only or ultimately) a brain, Dallas strongly states we are a soul that has and uses a body. He…states this most forcefully on page 63, as he begins discussion of the body, by saying, “your mind is not the same thing as your brain”…to make crystal clear he doesn’t reduce the immaterial to the material. Just before this he explains that the intellect, emotion, and will are central to who you are, but are not material.

The only evidence that Dallas’ view is similar to that of Wilder is Wilder’s claim that this is so. But the text tells a different story. I double checked this with someone who knows Dallas extremely well, and has discussed with Dallas his anthropology as recently as a month before Dallas’ passing. Dallas was explicit that his view had not changed on the nature of a person. 

In fact, Dallas would have been appalled by the way Wilder (and others) are misrepresenting his position, reducing it in ways he fundamentally disagreed with. His hope (and why he did the conference, which is the basis of the book) was that other disciplines would take the implications of Thomistic Substance Dualism that Dallas was articulating, and tease out implications in their fields (Thomistic Substance Dualism has made a comeback in philosophy, again viewed as a viable option. But other fields still think any form of dualism is a non-starter. Dallas’ hope was that Christians in other fields would help to turn the tide in their fields as well.) Wilder et al. are doing just the opposite!

Wilder takes this further on page 108, where he states Dallas endorsed his method. I also asked the individual I contacted who knows Dallas extremely well about this endorsement. He confirmed that Dallas often endorsed books while disagreeing with much of what the author said, as for instance a book on postmodernism that Dallas once endorsed (though he was diametrically opposed to postmodern thought). Dallas was gracious and tried to encourage others to engage important issues, as Wilder is doing in his field. According to the person I talked to, “I know for a fact that Dallas did not agree with Wilder’s view due to its extreme and premiere emphasis on the brain. He did, however, like the attempt to integrate brain studies with classic spiritual formation and I believe he is endorsing that effort and by saying Wilder’s was the best we have, he is implying that we have done little work on this and Wilder’s is a start. He would not endorse his view tout court, and I know that to be a fact. He is being gracious and encouraging the effort.”

So, to summarize, biblically it seems we can embrace either Wilder’s anthropology or Willard’s anthropology, and my money’s on Willard!


Granted, much philosophy was involved in the theological issue above (it always is), but there is another purely philosophical question: How do you make sense of Wilder’s claims of personal identity based on the brain?

Wilder says on page 68, that our brain “creates and maintains a human’s identity.” How can this be, if our brains are constantly changing? Our brains are material, and the matter changes  (and at least every seven years is completely different matter). But identity requires sameness (the “Law of Identity” in logic shows that two things that are identical share all the same properties). So how can the brain create our identity?

This is the problem physicalists have had since the beginning, and Aristotle pointed it out very well. It is one of the strongest philosophical arguments available to Christians that we are more than matter–that people have souls (and therefore that the gospel is relevant). Briefly stated, I know that I endure through time: I was born, I went to first grade…I will retire, etc. However, no material part of me continues throughout all these events. Therefore I must be something immaterial that is present every moment of my life–in other words, I am a soul that has a body.

Beyond this, there are a number of related philosophical problems for Wilder et al. One is their use of “indexicals”–words that refer to me as a self/soul/I. Indexicals only make sense if I am an immaterial soul which has a body. This is not Wilder’s view, yet he can’t avoid using indexicals. For one of many examples, on page 49 he writes,

“If we do not think about God, we will have great difficulty recognizing that (1) God’s thoughts are not like our thoughts, (2) God’s character is not like our character, and (3) God’s ways are different from our ways. We will not even notice that (4) our loving attachment to God is making us more like him.” (Italics added to identify indexicals. Also note the references to mental events that he elsewhere reduces to brain events: “think about,” “recognize,” “thoughts,” “character,” “notice,” “attachment”).

Note that Thompson faces similar issues. He uses indexicals throughout his writings. But he then says (following Daniel Siegel) that the soul is “relationships among people…” But this can’t be. A relationship requires (at least) two things to be in relation. So the thing is (ontologically) prior to the relationship. So a person must already exist to be in a relationship. This is just bad philosophy of mind (technically it is an error of logic known as a Category Fallacy).

So why is there so much bad philosophy in the works of these authors? I think there are at least four reasons. First, I mentioned above the allure of Scientism.

Second, Wilder (and the others) are engaging in a sub-field of philosophy known as Philosophy of Mind. However, Wilder admits that he has studied very little philosophy. This becomes apparent throughout the book. (This is just as it would become quickly apparent that I have studied very little chemistry if I wrote a book talking about how chemistry is related to cooking, for instance.)

Furthermore, Wilder states that he was planning on studying these issues in philosophy of mind with Dallas, but didn’t get the chance to do so before Dallas passed away (page 111). Had he done so, I’m sure much of these confusions would have been cleared up. Dallas has a Ph.D. in the field, and Wilder has never studied it, and so when the difference between their anthropologies became clear, I’m certain Wilder would have modified his views.

A third reason for Wilder’s (and the other’s) errors seems to be confusion between constant conjunction and identity. Briefly, there is a constant conjunction between a certain brain event and a certain mental event (say neural activity in region X of the brain, and mental activity Y, such as a memory). Wilder offers such a “map” on page 87. However, simply because there is constant conjunction between the two (the mental event and the brain event) doesn’t mean they are identical (the mental event is/is nothing but/is reducible to) the brain event. This is a logical error, based on not understanding the nature of identity–specifically, Leibniz’ Law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals: (a) (b) [(a=b) -> P (Pa if-and-only-if Pb)]  *”if and only if” is symbolized by  three horizontal lines, but I don’t have one on my keyboard 🙁  Without studying philosophy of mind, of which the nature of identity is a central issue (as physicalists claim mental events are identical to brain events), Wilder et al. will easily confuse constant conjunction with identity.

Fourth, also as a result of not having an understanding of philosophical issues, while doing philosophy of mind, is confusing Thomistic Substance Dualism with Cartesian Substance Dualism (from Plato through Descartes). On the Cartesian view, the soul and body are only superficially related, and the body is the “prisonhouse of the soul” to quote Plato. My guess is that they are not familiar with the Thomistic alternative (as it has only made a resurgence recently), and therefore assume Dualism cannot be a possible explanation. This is very common, appearing in the literature often.


Finally, my pastoral question. I know you desire to minister to the congregation through teaching, and do it very well. However, how does emphasizing the view of Wilder, Thompson, and others taking this anthropology help congregants? (Thompson goes as far as to imply neuroscience studies the soul in his Anatomy of the Soul!) In our culture captivated by Scientism/Enlightenment thinking, most are less and less inclined to believe in the soul. However, if there is no soul, then other central theological truths are no longer plausible or relevant (such as sin, salvation, and eternal life). It seems quite harmful to congregants when this Enlightenment reductionism is perpetuated.

Rather, it seems we need to do everything we can to help them reason well and understand biblical truth about this issue–that we have a soul, and have/use our bodies. And then if it is helpful to bring in neuroscience, we can do so, while constantly reminding them that they are not their brains, but they are a soul that has a brain (and uses the brain to do soul-type activities, like thinking, believing, feeling, understanding, choosing, relating to others, including God, and so on).

If we don’t I fear we are fulfilling the prediction made by Os Guniess: the church is becoming its own gravedigger. In fact, Romans 12:2 addresses this–by calling believers to engage their minds (not their brains) in order to test and approve what God’s will is.

A part of this is being careful in what we teach–to be sure we, as far as we are able, get it right. I’ve argued Wilder fails at this in his anthropology, and thus the implications he draws out. He also fails in tying in intellectual history, starting on page 71. For instance, on page 74 he speaks of education becoming the solution to problems offered through the Enlightenment. Actually, this is central to Plato’s thought, and so predates the Enlightenment by many millenia!

Finally, as I mentioned when we talked, I’ve attached the article** I was asked to write for the local church-planting movement “KC Underground.”  They are training their church planters in issues of spiritual formation, and wanted a short piece on the soul, body, and their relations. I just finished it for them, and thought you might find the summary helpful as well (it touches on what we talked a bit about, viz. how “spirit” fits in).

I’ll end here (and if you made it this far, I’m impressed!)  I tried to capture all I shared when we met for coffee, and unpack it a bit more than we could do during the conversation. I hope you find it helpful. I’d love to hear your…comments, questions, pushbacks, or critiques, for “iron sharpens iron.”

Grace and peace,


P.S. Here’s a link to my blog on what the soul is (an individuated human nature).

**Reprinted on my site as “Spiritual Growth and our Bodies


It has now been almost a year since I sent this email. I am very interested in how my pastor friend will respond to the five questions I ask him. I am fully aware that I may be wrong on some, most, or even all of this! But I have not received his reply yet. I will share what I can (while preserving his anonymity) if I do receive his reply.

Furthermore, if you want to share your answers to the five questions I raise, I would love to hear your thoughts. These are important issues for Christians to think about and understand. In doing so we are following Paul’s charge to “examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22).

Much more is written on each of these topics. I offer a briefer summary in my article entitled “Succumbing to a Very Unchristian Idea.” Furthermore, here are the three books I recommend in on my website, along with brief descriptions:

Body, Soul & Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate by John Cooper (I)

It has become popular among some Christian thinkers to acquiesce to the contemporary intellectual climate and agree we are essential material beings, and even that Scripture teaches this. Cooper masterfully outlines and develops the robust biblical teaching on Anthropology and shows Scripture clearly teaches that we are a duality of body and soul (substance dualism).

Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics by J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae (I)

Many contemporary academics completely reject the idea that we have souls, or are a duality of soul and body (substance dualism). This is a wonderful primer and defense of substance dualism. This is then applied to a wide range of issues in biomedical ethics that hinge on the existence and nature of the soul and the soul-body relation.

The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism by J.P. Moreland (A)

Moreland provides a sophisticated argument that the soul exists (as an immaterial, irreducible entity—a “substance”) and therefore Naturalism (the view that only material things exist) cannot be true. It is a very sophisticated argument against Naturalism.


  1. Succumbing To A Very Unchristian Idea (Post 2 of 2) – Dr. Stan W. Wallace
    Succumbing To A Very Unchristian Idea (Post 2 of 2) – Dr. Stan W. Wallace October 29, 2021

    […] (For a longer treatment see my review of Jim Wilder’s book Renovated. […]

  2. Rob Decker
    Rob Decker December 9, 2021

    Thank you for the article that is SO much more than I could have imagined–not only well grounded and thoughtful, but also gracious and humble. I finished the article with the response, “Who IS this guy?” So I have been reviewing your website and have found many helpful articles, etc.

    So I have a question that I hope you may be able to point to some resources which can help me. I am reading Renovation of the Heart, and find it very helpful. At the same time, Willard often only uses English translations to give Biblical foundations to the six basic aspects of human nature. Do you know of resources that give a more systematic or comprehensive biblical basis for Willard’s framework, especially in relating to how Paul or John or the Old Testament, etc. describe these things? Thanks again.

    • Stan Wallace
      Stan Wallace December 9, 2021

      Rob, thanks for your kind words. So glad some of what I’ve written is helpful to you! Per your question, the best book I can point you to is John Cooper’s Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.

  3. Jon
    Jon July 13, 2023

    Far be it for me to trump the neuroscientists that you quote, however, there is a broad school of neuroscientists that do emphasize these differences between the left and right hemispheres, and McGilchrist outlines great reasons for believing these ideas.

    Neuroscience is problematic to discuss for many reasons, some of which you have outlined, but there are other reasons as well. All discussion about neuroscience is a metaphor that only functions under certain conditions.

    Anyone who has been in the field of psychology for more than a decade knows that the complexity in the field makes it very difficult to explain concepts in a popular manner, and there are always downsides to anyway these things are described. However, the standard models for topological explanations of the brain’s functioning split the hemispheres along these lines.

    • Stan Wallace
      Stan Wallace July 13, 2023


      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I continue to look into this, moreso now that I have a book contract to address the ideas of neurotheology in more depth. Your comments are a great help in this.


  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous August 11, 2023

    Stan, I greatly appreciate your scholarly critique of Renovated.
    As a long-time student of Dallas Willard, I was deeply disturbed by Wilder’s poorly conceived attempt to deconstruct VIM, not to mention his misrepresentation of Dallas’ teachings at nearly every juncture. So your comments are very affirming.
    Please see my own critique of the book at I would be interested in your thoughts about that.
    I must apologize for remaining anonymous at this time, but my reasons are quite substantial.

  5. Stan Wallace
    Stan Wallace August 11, 2023

    Thanks. I look forward to seeing what you wrote. I did just get a contract to publish a book responding to Wilder and Thompson (and neurotheology in general). MSS is due the end of Jan, so hope it is out by early summer 2024.

    • Caleb Lewis
      Caleb Lewis October 20, 2023

      Hello, Dr. Wallace,

      I greatly look forward to the release of your book on neurotheology.

      I have friends who are proponents of Wilder’s Life Model, his teachings on joy-bonds, and other topics derived from his position on neurotheology. My friends put some stock in Wilder’s teachings in these areas, and believe they are helpful for overcoming trauma and building strong relationships.

      I am examining Wilder’s teachings for myself, and attempting to discern with the Lord’s help what is true and helpful and what is false and harmful. And I believe your upcoming book on neurotheology will prove beneficial in this regard. Have you written or spoken elsewhere on Wilder’s teachings? If so, I would love to draw on those resources as I strive to engage my friends in a loving, Christlike way on this subject.

      Thank you!

      In Christ,

      • Stan Wallace
        Stan Wallace November 12, 2023

        Dear Caleb,

        Thanks for your note, and I certainly hope my book is of some value to you and others wrestling with this. As of yet I’ve not done much more on this, outside the articles I’ve written and posted on this site.


  6. Stan Wallace
    Stan Wallace November 12, 2023

    Dear Anonymous,

    Writing the book critiquing Wilder’s anthropology is coming along well. I am now writing the section on how he misinterprets and misrepresents Dallas’ view. You have some insightful comments on your website concerning this. I would love to quote you, but only if I may use your name, as an anonymous quote won’t be of value. If this may be possible, please contact me via the Contact page here. Thanks so much. (By the way, the MSS is due to the publisher by Jan 31, 2024, so please reach out as soon as you can.)


  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 13, 2023

    Dear Stan,
    I appreciate your desire to use material from the website.
    Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to disclose my identity here, nor the reasons why that is the case. Personally, I have no objections to your use of the material on the website. If you agree with those assessments, feel free to make them your own.
    I hope your work is well received.
    By the way, I know Curt Thompson personally, and I hope you check with him regarding the points you plan to make regarding his position on the soul.
    Prayerfully submitted, Anonymous

  8. Jennifer
    Jennifer April 24, 2024

    Have you communicated with Jim Wilder or Curt Thompson? It seems that a dialogue with them would be useful.

    Also what is your opinion on this concept of the tripartite nature of humans? It would seem that the brain influences the development of the soul, by this post’s definition of the soul, and the human spirit is something entirely different than the soul.

    • Stan Wallace
      Stan Wallace April 26, 2024

      Dear Jennifer,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, a dialogue with these brothers would be useful. At least concerning Thompson, I know of another who is concerned with the direction he is heading and has engaged him on this topic personally. As a number of us are concerned with the direction they are heading, I suspect others have done so with Wilder as well. But, since Thompson and Wilder have made their views public in their books, my role has been to engage the ideas in their published works. I do hope that my book stimulates more healthy conversation.

      As to the tripartite issue, I do discuss this briefly in the book. But in sum I stand with the vast majority of biblical scholars who maintain we are ultimately two, not three things – a body and a soul (which contains the spirit as a faculty). Tripartitism also runs into a philosophical problem I discuss as well (the binding problem).

      I just returned edits to the typeset manuscript, so I look for it to be out in early summer, Lord willing!


  9. Stan Wallace
    Stan Wallace June 21, 2024

    My book on this topic was just published: Have We Lost Our Minds? Neuroscience, Neurotheology, the Soul, and Human Flourishing. In it, I develop these ideas in much greater detail. Here’s my author’s page, where you can read more about the book, see a few endorsements, and order a copy:

    I pray it is helpful to further the conversation on this important issue!

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