TH 526: SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY II
Erickson: Christian Theology, Second Edition
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the Degree
Masters of Divinity
Justin Z. DuBose
5218 Happy Hollow Court
Lula, GA 30554
I.D.# GC6831 / Phone: (678) 707-1491
June 13, 2013
Professor: Dr. Mapes
Hours Completed: 54 -- Hours Remaining: 18
Presented to Dr. David Mapes
Luther Rice Seminary
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
TH 526: SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY II
Justin Z. DuBose
In the section entitled, “The Constitutional Nature of the Human”, Erickson presents his theory of Conditional Unity. Within the context of Systematic Theology, this theory falls underneath the umbrella of “The Nature of Man”. This theory is presented as “An Alternative Model” to other philosophical models presented in the text about the complexity of the nature of man.  Erickson forms the basis of his theory from the line of thinking that the “concept of an intermediate state is not inconsistent with the doctrine of resurrection. For the intermediate (i.e., immaterial or disembodied) state is clearly incomplete or abnormal (2 Cor. 5:2-4). In the coming resurrection (1 Cor. 15) the person will receive a new or perfected body.”  Therefore, what Erickson presents is an intermediate state of the humanity between the earthly body and the resurrected body. In his own words, Erickson describes what this theory of conditional unity is not. It is not “a matter of so sharply distinguishing the components of a human, as did some varieties of liberalism, as to result in the teaching that the immortal soul survives and consequently there is no need for a future resurrection. It is not the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the body. In keeping with what has been the orthodox tradition within the church, it is both/and.” 
Why does Erickson feel the need to develop his own theory on this issue? Why not accept other positions such as monism, dichotomy, or trichotomy? His most emphatic refutation of all of the above positions is that they do not have any place for an intermediate state between death and resurrection. He points to the Scripture in Luke 23:43 where Jesus says to the thief on the cross that “today you will be with me in paradise.” In addition, Erickson points to Luke 16 where Lazarus is said to be in Abraham’s bosom. He uses these passages to highlight the implied intermediate state between death and resurrection. This best highlights his basis for rejection of monism, but what about dichotomy? Erickson, in his own words, acknowledges that this is “the most widely held view throughout most of the history of Christian thought.”  The basis for his rejection of dichotomy, and trichotomy for that matter, seems to be the same rationale as his advocacy for conditional unity. It is simply the fact that these theories have no position for this “intermediate state” that Erickson is such a strong proponent of. Additionally, he has several philosophical objections to the theories of dichotomy and trichotomy. Firstly, he argues, that the body – the material aspect of humanity – cannot be separated from the soul, or the soul and spirit – the immaterial aspect(s) of the human body. He raises several objections based upon this point. It is also on this point that he rests his theory of conditional unity. For the basis of everything in his theory is that it is precisely they body – the material – that is not done away with. Rather, it is conditionally unified with soul, or soul and spirit, until death. When this condition is met, the soul and spirit are given a new body – a resurrected body, which is unconditional and resembles the old body in some ways. It seems to be his treatment of the material aspect of dichotomy and trichotomy that constitute the devising of his own theory which fits his understanding of Scriptural teaching on the subject of the nature of man.
Conditional unity as a theory holds for us several implications. Firstly, humans are extremely complex and not reducible to a single principle. This principle underlies every other implication. Because humans are complex and irreducible, their well-being is wholistic and cannot be treated or improved by improving individual parts, and these parts are not to be subjugated one to another. So, at this point the inevitable question must be asked: is this theory better or more biblical than the other theories presented? If so, then it would be reasonable and beneficial to adopt. If not, however, then it can simply be added to the list of theories – like monism, dichotomy, and trichotomy – that all may be equally defensible from Scripture.
The easiest of all of these theories to rule out is monism. From early in Scripture the principle of the nature of man being multi-faceted is present at taught as doctrine. Genesis 2:7 talks about the dualism (at a minimum) of man. God formed (material) man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him life (immaterial). This dualism (again, at a minimum) is present through the entire corpus of Scripture (Proverbs 20:27, Isaiah 42:5, Matthew 16:26, Luke 12:4, 1 Corinthians 15:50).
This presence of dualism certainly does not rule out conditional unity, but only monism. So, now, the question remains of dichotomy or trichotomy, and additionally the necessity of conditional unity with either of these theories. The main question of trichotomy arises from the Pauline benediction found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 where the “body, soul, and spirit” are addressed. This trichotomy is also found in 1 Corinthians 2-3. However, when a word study is done on “soul” (psyche) and “spirit” (pneuma) we find that the definitions are strikingly similar. In both definitions we find this principle of “that which animates the body”. This definition would certainly align with the biblical principles of God breathing life – immaterial animation – into man. So, what is the distinction? Is there actually any distinction at all? When the corpus at large is examined, we find a great many references to the soul (psyche) but very few to the spirit (pneuma) being separate and distinct from the soul – certainly not enough to necessitate the spirit being a third and separate element of the nature of man. In this regard, it is not my opinion that trichotomy is necessarily wrong or bad theology, but dichotomy seems to be more aligned with biblical principles. So now, does conditional unity fit in with dichotomy, or is it in opposition?
If dichotomy is the best choice, conditional unity should align, and I believe it does. There is nothing within Scripture that puts these two theories at odds. Therefore, a better question might be: is this theory of conditional unity distinct enough to warrant status as a separate theory about the nature of man? Dichotomy teaches a dual nature of man, as does conditional unity. However, the main point of difference, in my opinion, is that conditional unity teaches a reunification of a “body” with the soul, or spirit. Dichotomy can be understood to be that when the body dies, that is the end of that body while the soul journeys to heaven.
I believe the two are not actually in opposition to one another at all. Both teach that the soul, or spirit, is eternal and that the body is not. Conditional unity purports a reunification of the body, but is this not the case in dichotomy? The Scripture certainly teaches that once the body is dead, we will receive glorified, or resurrected bodies (Philippians 3:21). However, whereas conditional unity teaches an “intermediate state” between earthly bodies and resurrected bodies, I do not see this to be the case in Scripture. The language in 1 Corinthians 5 does not lend itself to an “intermediate state”. Paul presents us being either “at home in the body or away from it” (v.9). He also says that he prefers “to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). Most emphatically is verse six, which states, “We are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord”. Again, the language here is very much “black and white” – one is either in the body or with the Lord. So, does the doctrine of glorified bodies and this chapter in 1 Corinthians necessitate conditional unity? This is not necessarily the case. The earthly body is constituted as the “material” aspect of our nature. One should not believe that our glorified bodies will be “material” – they would most certainly be “immaterial” as they will not be created of the dust of the Earth. So, I think that dichotomy is the best fit and that, while conditional unity does not necessarily disagree with this theory, it seems to be, at best, redundant and unnecessary.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1998), 554.
 Ibid, 555.
 Ibid, 555.
 Ibid, 540.
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