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Soul origin: revisiting creationist and traducianist theological perspectives in light of current trends in developmental psychology.

Current trends in developmental psychology regarding the origin of the person and the roots of personality reflect a complex, interactive "nature and nurture" process. These contemporary portraits of human development challenge evangelicals committed to theological integration and biblical authority to carefully examine beliefs and assumptions regarding the origin of the soul and divine activity in relation to the developing person. In traditional theology, the Creationist position has each new human soul as the direct creative act of God, while the Traducianist perspective assumes primarily human contribution to soul origin. Here the classic theological positions regarding soul beginnings are reviewed in light of contemporary developmental bio-psycho-social models of personhood in an attempt to clarify this divine and/or human process. An integrative solution labeled creative convergence is offered as a blended explanation for soul origin that is intended to stimulate further theological reflection on the nature and development of human beings.


Christian mental health practitioners face soul-searching dilemmas in the contemporary climate of competing worldviews. Consider these scenarios:

1. Jim admits that psychiatric medication 'evens out' his 'highs and lows.' He also claims that the meds constrict his spiritual vitality and freedom to worship God. "Those meds crimp my style and cripple my soul."

2. A couple anxious for parenthood 'thank God' for fertility enhancing medical technology. The recommended procedure may necessitate selective reduction of any resulting pregnancy. Options are pondered. "As science poses possibilities, how will 'souls' be impacted?"

3. Beth is a Christian open to new ideas and creative experiences to reach the full potential of her personality. Fascinating readings rooted in 'lost' ancient texts promote practices that promise deep spiritual fulfillment. "Can these mysterious methods shape Beth's soul?"

In each client scenario, therapeutic conversations could explore the definition, origin, development, and care of the soul. How do bio-psycho-social forces interact with human agency and divine activity in soul formation? Such conversations will need to account for the systemic effects of sin in a creation groaning for redemption along with its more immediate impact on personal hopes, dreams, expectations and decisions. In each situation there are glimmers of the purposes and grace of God in drawing souls to himself (i.e. thirst for vital worship, Ps.42:12; procreation desire and creation dominion, Gen. 1:28; restlessness to encounter God, Ps. 63).

A sacred perspective of human development requires a biblically informed view of human beings created in God's image holistically as body and soul. Human beings are dependent upon God for life, purpose, fulfillment, and for their eternal dwelling. The creationist-traducianist debate regarding the origin of the soul has potential relevance in addressing certain integration issues within lifespan development. This topic might be deemed as a 'minor' theological matter with only historical significance. However, consideration of the tension between these two theological positions regarding formation of the human person as body and soul can shed light on factors critical to understanding ever-changing human beings. Unlike a television drama that investigates 'cold cases' to spectacularly solve a past 'whodunit' this review serves a modest purpose. Soul origin will remain an irresolvable mystery. Yet, thought-provoking exploration may sharpen one's portrayal of the human soul, its origin, and the forces that shape it.

The initial task will be to lay the groundwork for linking these distinct topics from their separate disciplines. The theological positions for soul origin will then be explored from a developmental perspective. In closing, a potential blended position for soul origin will be offered.


What is the relationship between the construct of personality as portrayed in the psychological literature and the soul as depicted in Scripture? The language of the developmental psychologist is not the language of the theologian (Beck, 2003; Boyd, 2001). Readers of this journal are aware that although psychology may literally imply 'knowledge of the soul,' the subject matter has been reduced to observable human experience in this lifetime or measurable personality characteristics. Secular psychology does not concern itself with God, life beyond this physical world, or the essential nature of the soul. Therefore, the preference is for more limited terms such as person, personality, and self, over the more metaphysical term soul. Reducing the human soul to personality dimensions alone limits one's perspective. The result can be distortions when data and phenomena are interpreted, particularly when value-based applications and interventions are being considered. A thorough treatment of psychology's 'soul' loss was provided in a special edition of this journal containing articles by authors such as Jeffrey Boyd, Nancy Duvall, Laura Haynes, Eric Johnson, & J.P. Moreland ("Self/Soul," 1998b). (1)

Duvall (1998a) focused on the confusion that arises when the terms 'self' and 'soul' are not carefully defined. 'Soul' refers to an essence that is ontological, objective, universal, encompasses basic potential and is nature-given. The 'self' is experiential, subjective, particular, reflects specific actualizations and is nature-developed. In contemporary personality theory, the terms 'person,' referring to a distinctive human being, and 'personality,' indicating the characteristics that make a human being distinctive, can be utilized in ways that correspond to the terms 'soul' and 'self'. Still, it is difficult to infuse transcendent and metaphysical meaning into the term 'person.' Human beings are not body and mind, body and self or body and person; rather, the most complete description of human beings is a living soul. Therefore, a Christian working with psychological material on development recognizes that only a component of the whole human being is addressed when the subject is 'personality.'

The Scripture portrays soul (OT nephesh/NT psyche) in various ways: living being, life, self, person, desire, appetite, emotion and passion (Orr, 1939/1957). A complete reference comes early in the Scriptures when God created man "in his image" by breathing life into the clay that he had shaped from the ground (Gen. 1: 26; 2:7, New International Version). Adam became a living being (nephesh hayyah). Delitzsch (1899/1966) noted the significance of the two sources of this new creation: earth (dust and mud) and heaven (breath of God). "And thus in that verse Moses impresses upon us all the causes of man. The efficient cause, the Lord God; the matter, earth; the form, the breath of lives; the object, that he might become a living soul" (p.28). The soul is perfectly united within the human body's physical-chemical structure; while the two sources mirror the dual nature of human beings (Moreland, 1993; Garrett, 1990).

There are essentially three distinct meanings when the word 'soul' is used in Scripture: (a) the inner self or one's psychological faculties (e.g. Luke 1:46; Matt. 26:38); (b) the life force or essential vitality that makes one alive (e.g. Gen. 35:18; Job 2:6; Jer. 15:2); and (c) the whole person in the sense of the body and soul as one being (e.g. Gen. 12:5; Ex. 1:5; Acts 2:41) (Beck, 2003; Boyd, 1998a; Demerest & Lewis, 1990).

For discussion purposes, the term personality is used here to reflect the developmental literature and refers to "the complexity of psychological systems that contribute to unity and continuity in the individual's conduct and experience, both as it is expressed and as it is perceived by that individual and others" (Caprara & Cervone, 2000, p.10). Soul is the broader biblical term that includes our modern psychological conceptualization of personality, but is more comprehensive because it implies the visible and invisible nature of human beings. Soul captures the sense of an inner life that extends beyond the natural lifespan and the solitary individual. It depicts accurately the human being created in the image of God as both person: having rights, responsibilities, and rational as well as relational capacities; and as creature: restless for and dependent on the Creator for sustaining resources and for life itself (Boyd, 1998b; Saucy, 1993).

Scripture does not exclusively use the word 'soul' to depict the capacities and yearnings within human beings (e.g. spirit, heart, mind, etc.). Jesus accented human intricacy with this Old Testament quote: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Deut. 6:5; Luke 10:27). The effort to infuse 'soul' into developmental thinking is an attempt to obtain a spiritually rich and more holistic picture of human beings. While beyond the scope of this paper, looking to other biblical terms would enrich the undertaking even further.


Creationism maintains that each time a new human being begins his or her life journey, the soul originates within as the unique, direct, and immediate act of God. At the time of conception or at least sometime prior to birth, God forms a soul in each individual person. The most well known biblical text associated with this position is Heb. 12:9 where human fathers are contrasted with our heavenly one who is the "Father of our spirits." There are numerous biblical passages that declare God to be the giver of life. By implication, God is viewed as the one who forms the soul-life within human beings (Ps. 127:3; Ps. 139:13; Isa. 42:5; Zech. 12:1). Grudem (1994) uses such verses to favor a creationist position but recognizes that they do not conclusively teach creationism. These passages could support the view that God is moving through secondary causes. As Grudem defends the creationist perspective, he states that children often do reflect their parents just as Adam and Eve's children were made in their image (Gen. 5:3). Rather than concede a traducianist view, he explains "that God gives an individually created soul to the child and that that soul is consistent with the hereditary traits and personality characteristics that God allowed the child to have through its descent from its parents" (p. 484). This version of creationism at least acknowledges human hereditary traits. Thus this modern view could bridge the theological doctrine as built from special revelation with the growing data from scientific investigations regarding human beginnings.

Berkhof (1939) lists three arguments that move him to adopt this perspective even though he also states that the evidence is modest. First, he maintains that the weight of the overall biblical material leans towards creationism. Second, the creationist position is consistent with the invisible nature of the soul, meaning that human only soul propagation is too blatantly materialistic. Third, he offers an argument from Christology. Jesus Christ was born of a woman with a genuine human nature and body, but he was without sin. If human souls come into existence by secondary causes, the sinless nature of our Lord could be jeopardized. A few of the notable names associated with the creationist view are Irenaeus, Pelagius, Ambrose, Jerome, Aquinas, and Calvin.

Traducianism can still be fundamentally expressed using the early metaphor of Tertullian (c. 160-220 A.D.) who said: "The soul of man, like the shoot of a tree, is drawn out into a physical progeny from Adam, the parent stock" (Orr, 1939/1957, p. 2495). The frequently cited biblical passage is Heb. 7:9-10 where descendants are "in the loins" of their fathers in a literal and not simply figurative sense. God breathed that first soul into Adam. From then on, new souls are formed in human beings through natural human reproductive processes (Gen. 1:28; 2:7). God through Jesus Christ is sustaining and supporting life as he does with the rest of his creation using secondary means (Col. 1:17). The main arguments offered by proponents of this view are: (a) God did his creative work "in the beginning" and through the divine 'in-breathing' into Adam, he initiated the means through which souls are transmitted to all of the human race; (b) since human beings were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), there is a similarity to God in the human ability to create other human beings; (c) this procedure for passing along life is consistent with the way God works though other animal and plant life; (d) the obvious heritable characteristics in families and ethnic groups are addressed. Augustine may have leaned towards traducianism without committing (O'Connell, 1987; Preus, 1984). Luther held this view and he stands with evangelical scholars such as Edwards, Shedd, Strong, Buswell, and Theissen (Demerest & Lewis, 1990; Delitzsch, 1899/1966; Strong, 1907).

God breathed into Adam's physical body composed of earthy elements making the first human person in his own image (Gen. 1:27). When God created the perfect companion for Adam, material was taken from Adam himself and the possibility of soul begetting soul was initiated. These arguments favoring the traducianist explanation for soul origin using secondary means are consistent with the evidence for the beginning of persons as seen in the book of nature. These statements made sense long before the workings of gametes, chromosomes, and DNA was understood.

Boyd (1998c) makes a critical point when discussing DNA and its relationship to the origin of the soul. It is apparent that genetic material (DNA) is "... necessary as the form of the body and the first principle of life, and therefore meets some of the criteria of the Aristotelian soul" (p. 159). This statement could support a traducianist view. Yet, Boyd further asserts that it has not been established by science that the processes associated with DNA can explain "all God's ideas" about biological creation. The essence of his argument is that the biological processes associated with DNA are necessary, but not sufficient to produce a human being. There is ample room for nurture and interactive processes. Boyd reminds his readers that God is omnipresent: how he is at work in soul origin may remain a mystery; that he is at work cannot be ruled out. While this position is consistent with traducianism, it firmly rebuffs any trend to ignore divine action in the soul origin process.

There is substantial risk in reducing these complex traditions into such bite size, simplistic composites. The controversy regarding the origin of the human soul is an unsettled, passionate, doctrinal dispute that has stood the test of time. The church fathers worked at these themes examining Scriptural and philosophical positions without coming to a united position. No creedal statement arose. No church council resolved the differences. The great reformers are not reported to have been in agreement. The lack of synthesis does not reflect a lack of willingness to confront the biblical data or to acknowledge the weaknesses of each view. Augustine, in his own reluctance to reach closure on this matter (Kelly, 1958; Teske, 1999), cautioned that the building blocks of a position on the origin of the soul could not be taken directly from Scripture passages because no "clear proof" is contained there (as cited in Delitzsch, 1899/1966, p.113). Since the facts certified throughout Scripture do not resolve this mystery, then we must refuse to resolve it in too simplistic a manner. Each view ultimately ties to other crucial theological matters such as the necessity for salvation, the transmission of sin, and the sinless nature of our embodied Savior Jesus Christ. Consider this well-formed summary of these conflicting views:</p> <pre> Whichever theory we accept, the difficulties are great either way. For if God creates a soul, that soul must be pure and sinless and stainless at birth. How then can it be said that man is "conceived" as well as "born in sin"? If the impure, sin-stained body contaminates the pure, unstained soul by contact, why cannot the stainless soul disinfect the contaminated body? And again, if every individual soul is a special creation by direct interposition of the Almighty, what becomes of the unity and solidarity of the race? Is its connection with Adam then purely one of physical or corporeal generation? Creationism cannot account for the birth of the soul. Nor can Traducianism. For it can account neither for the origin, nor for the hereditary taint of the soul. It lands us in a hopeless dilemma. In the one case we fall back upon Creationism with its difficulties; in the other, we plunge into a materialism which is equally fatal to the theory ... The problem is and remains insoluble. (Orr, 1939/1957, p. 2496) </pre> <p>Instead of recalling additional pro and con arguments for these positions, several summary points that appear to be generally common to evangelicals today will be offered (Berkhof, 1939; Demerest & Lewis, 1990; Garrett, 1990; Grudem, 1994; Strong, 1907).

1. Evangelicals on either side of this question take care to protect the view that body and soul are distinct but mysteriously united in holistic human beings. The post-fall phenomena of death necessitates that the soul and body separate until the final resurrection. An identifiable soul leaves the body at death, mandating that body and soul be separable (Luke 23:43) (Moreland, 1998).

2. Evangelicals taking either soul origin position acknowledge the fall and the effects of sin on the soul. Statements leading to the implication that material substance is inherently evil and the source of sin are cautiously avoided.

3. Evangelicals maintain that since Scripture does not offer enough definitive information on soul origin, either perspective may be adopted without high risk of leaving the boundaries of orthodox Christianity.

Despite agreement on these key points, the tension between these opposing views remains. It may be that as insight is gleaned in the 'book of nature,' Scriptural themes can be applied to the matter of soul origin with greater clarity (Ps. 19:1,2; Rom. 1:18-19).


Contemporary portraits of personality provide explanations for human commonality and individual differences from a multidimensional, multidirectional, multidisciplinary, and contextual perspective (Baltes, 1987; Caprara & Cervone, 2000; Cloninger, 1996; Newman & Newman, 2003; Santrock, 2002). The prevailing paradigm in developmental psychology views human beings as the product of both nature and nurture forces (Ceci & Williams, 1999; Steen, 1996; Wright, 1998). One prominent voice said it this way: "to ask what proportion of a personality is genetic rather than environmental is like asking what proportion of a blizzard is due to cold temperature rather than humidity" (Kagan as cited in Peele & DeGrandpre, 1995). The field has moved beyond the stale debates of the past and towards positions that emphasize the intricacies and variability in a lifetime of experience, while seeking to delineate ways to best 'nurture the nature of the individual.' It is evident that biology and culture, organism and environment, interact in a dynamic process. Current thought features constructivism or the view that the individual person contributes substantially to the blending of nature and nurture in self-development (Caprara & Cervone, 2000).

Biological heredity explains how parents transmit characteristics to their children but it does not tell the entire story of personality formation. Heritability is the portion of an observed trait (phenotype) explained by the underlying genetic code embedded in the DNA (genotype). Parents through human reproductive processes provide the offspring's essential genotype. The eventual phenotype or the observable characteristic in the organism's physical structure, physiological mechanisms, and psychological functions are limited and/or guided by the underlying genotype but not determined by it. The term 'reaction range' is used to describe these genetic boundaries with the embedded understanding that there are many possibilities open for phenotypic expression. When it comes to psychological tendencies, there is polygenic inheritance. This means that multiple individual genes each make a contribution to the eventual phenotype. Since there are thousands of genes interfacing in a very complex system, the eventual result is not predictable with any precision. In addition, there is evidence that development does not run a course mapped out precisely by genetic material. Rather, person-to-person interactions and other environmental conditions influence which genetic material is activated and becomes prominently expressed in the personality (Begley, 2000; Reiss, Neiderhiser, Hetherington, & Plomin, 2000).

Erikson's (1998) explanation and expansion of the epigenetic principle is that human beings develop out of an inner plan that drives the human organism's readiness to engage with ever widening interpersonal relationships and social institutions. His bio-psycho-social explanation of personality development places considerable emphasis on the relational contribution. Social bonds are perhaps the most critical component of nurture and thus contribute significantly to human development.

Investigations are ongoing into how nature-nurture interactions may shed light on the inheritance of disease, intelligence, mental disorders, personality traits, sexual orientation, addictions, and even criminal behavior (Plomin, DeFries, Craig, & McGuffin, 2003; Steen, 1996). Caution is required as the world-view pendulum swings in the direction of 'nature' with its heritability principles and pervasive biological bias for all traits and behavior. It would be irresponsible to suggest that the behavioral genetic research has produced formulas to predict phenotypic personality features from genotype. It is misleading to argue that heritability is so powerful that individual or social responsibility for actual behavior is negligent (Peele & DeGrandpre, 1995). Such inexcusable leaps from the evidence could promote new versions of the tragic eugenic experiments of the past, stimulate outrageous parental endeavors to achieve 'designer' genotype, or rationalize ridiculous excuses for immoral behavior. A balanced perspective will keep nurture factors prominent with an appropriate emphasis on the social-emotional factors. Lastly, the person is considered to be an active agent seeking, selecting, provoking, and promoting interaction between these forces. Nature, nurture, and individual join together as the formative forces of the human person.


A human person begins the journey of life amidst extraordinary and nearly infinite possibilities as reproductive cells merge and a new neurophysicochemical entity takes shape. As the structure for the body is forming and the 'path' for the boundaries of development is becoming set, a simultaneous process is at work. For as nature is composing itself into what it will become, nurture is making its presence known in such a way as to stimulate and support the onset of a life presence within the new being. The human reproductive sequence proceeds as a series of unions and divisions, mergers and separations. The new human being begins as egg and sperm nuclei unite, cells divide, migrate, connect and differentiate. The person as physical being begins and grows in ways that can be observed and charted. The invisible, primitive, and yet essential relational forces are also present as the new life 'bonds' to the nurturing maternal environment. The developing person originates from both material and immaterial sources as it begins and grows under the joint influences of both nature and nurture. From its inception, the life beginning appears to display both autonomous capacities and the need for connection. This contemporary paradigm views the person developing and functioning through "reciprocal influence processes." The unique person is a complex, "dynamic system" that is best conceptualized as emerging from multiple elements of physical and psychological systems (Caprara & Cervone, 2000, p. 390).

As a Christian grappling with this contemporary, interactive, system dependent, multidimensional and complex developmental paradigm, there is both anticipation and apprehension. On the one hand, this depiction of the emerging human allows for much complexity, transcendence, and mystery. There is greater concordance with the Christian evangelical perspective on human beings as material and immaterial, physical and psychological (mind-heart-volition). On the other hand, this model does not and cannot address the more comprehensive matter of the beginning and formation of the soul in its rich theological and biblical perspective. The human person is depicted as autonomous, finite, and as fully the product of natural forces. In the biblical narrative, human beings are eternal souls destined to relate to an infinite Creator. To consider this developmental formulation further, the soul origin metaphors are now revisited.


This developmental paradigm portrays the origin and formation progression as co-action between genetic and environmental forces. The emphasis is on the interaction and unity of the process of life producing distinctive new life. If the formation of a new person involves the intricate interaction between tangible physical and more elusive environmental/relational inputs, then the conceptualization of the origin of the more comprehensive soul will necessarily involve even more layers of interaction. In order to reach a more holistic perspective regarding human persons, the theological literature emphasizing where the soul comes from will be considered along with the developmental literature concerned with the forces that form persons or living souls. (3) The assumption of this writer is that the explanation for the "where" is tied with the "forces that form" and vice versa. Persons as souls develop in a continuous process that proceeds from conception through birth to death and into eternity.

As I look to the classic theological positions regarding soul onset, I find myself not wishing to remove the distinctive of each but rather to focus on the tension that keeps pulling the first cause for the onset of the soul from Creator to creature and back again. A theological composite would capture not only the strengths of both views, but would encapsulate the 'tension of the distinctions' into the solution. Such a synthesis would go beyond accounting for the nature, nurture, interactive, and agentic forces as depicted in the personality literature and utilize the spiritual aspect of human nature as captured in the theological picture of the soul destined to relate to the ultimate Creator-God.

Reviewing the creationist/traducianist positions utilizing the insights found in the developmental literature yield the following observations.

1. Creationists place emphasis on God's direct intervention in creating and fusing a soul into the newly formed person (Col. 1:15-17). The beginning of a human being is certainly miraculous, yet this supernatural explanation for soul origin seems to bypass the inner workings of human reproduction. As critics have long expressed, this view is weak in accounting for the correlation between off-spring traits and their ancestry. This theological view diminishes the nature element so prominent in the developmental literature.

2. Traducianists see God active in soul generation through secondary means. This could potentially lead to a mechanistic process that minimizes the contribution of nurture. In particular, it may minimize divine nurture.

3. Creationism highlights external divine action as the fresh source of each soul. Traducianism accents the parental-human role in soul origin. Neither reflects ideally the reciprocal interactive features of the developmental paradigm.

4. The material and immaterial have distinct beginnings in each theological position. The prominence of the separate sources raises questions regarding a holistic human being as a united body and soul.

Thus, as expressed in their classic formulations, these theological positions fall short of a thoroughly integrated theological and psychological developmental model.


A Generationist Position

John Yates (1989) reviewed the two major theological positions on soul origin and evaluated both as lacking on philosophical and theological grounds. Yates proposes a distinct soul origin explanation that he labels minimal emergent dualism. Emergentism is the philosophical premise that structures can organize in ways that produce higher-level entities with distinct properties (Hasker, 1982, 1974). His argument preserves the body-soul dualism that he views as essential to explain the ongoing existence of the soul beyond physical death. He also seeks to avoid the position that the soul arises purely out of matter. Yates' solution is to describe the origin of the soul as having both "physical and interpersonal" sources. Complex "organic molecules" generate a "soul field" (p. 137). This seemingly spiritual force may rise out of the physical organism but it does so only through the sovereignty of God who empowers what appears to be the self-transcendence of mind from matter. The human person becomes a soul by interaction with God who remains the efficient cause though not the creative source of the new human soul.

There are two appealing points in his presentation. First, the interaction between the physical, relational, and spiritual within the organism speaks neatly to the dynamic developmental forces of nature, nurture, and active agency all working under God's direct attention. Second, the soul origin is dependent upon the Creator without resorting to an immediate ex nihilo implantation. The downside to this explanation is its reliance on the "emergent" concept that is nearly synonymous with materialism, physicalism, and evolutionary theory. Even though what 'emerges' is 'minimal,' the emphasis remains on the natural generation of the soul. Despite this shortcoming, there is a deliberate effort to articulate a more interactive, God-dependent process.

Creative Convergence

Building on Yates' effort, this proposal blends the traditional soul origin theological positions with the contemporary nuances with a developmental perspective. This is an integrated position that moves the spotlight of activity in an explicit direction, namely, towards the intersection of divine/human and nature/nurture forces. Convergence is defined as a meeting point or common center. The origin of the soul can be depicted as the end result of a creative convergence involving several forces. The origin of the human soul is the focal point of human-divine, physical-relational, eternal-temporal, and material-immaterial forces.

In constructing this blended position it is essential to maintain a balance between the imminence and transcendence of God. On this point, the integrative arguments of Fraser Watts (2002) have been influential. Watts addresses the benefits and problems with theological dichotomies. Specifically he mentions issues that arise when a theological position places extraordinary emphasis on either God as immanent or God as transcendent (pp. 151-156). Applied to the present discussion, Creationism may represent a strong emphasis on God's otherness while traducianism rests fully on God's immanence. The human soul has its beginnings within the general life forces found in organic matter as originally created and thereafter consistently maintained by God through his Son (immanence). The relational quality of the soul and its eternal destiny reflect interaction with an infinite Creator (transcendence). God is as involved in the origin of souls as he is in their transition into eternity (Ps. 139:13-16). Jesus Christ is the mediator of all Creation, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 21:6). When a soul begins, the Lord God is an involved participant because as his creatures, human souls are ever dependent upon him for a place in eternity (Ps. 139; Ecc. 12:1-8).

In the midst of the biological plan for generating proteins that form and unfold in a human physical and relational environment, there is an epigenetic plan for the human person as both body and soul. The plan for soul origin is fulfilled not merely out of nature or matter itself for there is divine personal and immediate involvement in relating to the potentially rising person. This is an invisible but essential developmental layer that 'nurtures' the soul into existence. The eternal, immutable, divine Creator greets a nearly indistinguishable cell cluster and in the exchange, the temporal, in-process life force becomes a living soul. Within this divine-human relational context the individual soul is begun, shaped, and sustained. Parents through the natural genetic processes provide the raw ingredients that launch a vital life force that moves toward becoming a new person. This is evident in the constructive force that is exhibited by reproductive cells. Human nurture is supplied in the womb environment to accompany what the parental nature has already contributed. Thus, the human soul is not the sole product of human reproduction or direct divine intervention. The origin of the human soul is a creative convergence of nature, nurture, and interactive forces that operate within both the human and divine, visible and invisible realms.

It may be useful to explicitly state how creative convergence draws upon, yet differs from both theological traditions. From creationism, God is active in the person-soul origin process. Yet, similar to the Yates' position, the soul is not created ex nihilo. It is drawn forth from organic material. Unlike traditional creationism, the nurturance or interaction with the maternal environment is depicted here as also making a contribution to person-soul formation. This is distinct from traducianism since the soul is not simply passed along from parents via sexual reproduction; it is also dynamically nurtured. The effects of heredity are accounted for as they are in traducianism.

This proposal of converging forces does not diminish God's creative involvement. Scripture is clear that God can make a human being out of "mud" if God so chooses (Gen. 2:7). The convergence process is dependent on God's grace as demonstrated in his initial creation, ongoing engagement in human affairs, and personal connection to each unique human life. God's immanence is apparent in nature and his transcendence in nurture. The choice of the term 'convergence' moves the point of action in the traditional human/divine polarity away from linear references to primary/secondary causes. The emphasis is on the comprehensive, holistic interaction itself as responsible for soul origin.


Soul origin is traditionally explained by theological metaphors that depict divine and human activity (i.e. God 'infuses' or 'implants' the soul or the soul is 'transmitted' from parental 'root stock'). In light of contemporary theoretical, ethical, and clinical challenges, these historical theological positions have been reviewed using the framework of developmental psychology to look for alternative phrases to capture the critical aspects of soul origin. The early church fathers addressed the philosophical concerns of their times. Here theological concepts and biblical themes are utilized with developmental descriptors to meet the ideological challenges of our day.

Every person as living body and soul had humble origins within a creative convergence of interactive forces in a marvelous divine-human drama. Returning to the opening clinical scenarios, therapeutic conversations might unfold around the following themes. First, Jim's passion for worship may be encouraged by an appreciation for how the only worthy object of worship was indeed involved in knitting him together holistically as body and soul. The current state of his 'soul' must not be reduced to a purely affective experience. The remarkable God-developed soul is subject to the effects of the fall via nature, nurture and Jim's whole being. The God who was active in Jim's earliest moments is still engaged in his development. Medication may alter emotional intensity, yet it may enhance other relational and soul formation activities.

Second, God invites human creative participation in populating the earth. This honor and human capability contains the inherent responsibility to respect God as active participant in the process. Medical technology may create the impression that human autonomy controls the natural forces surrounding the beginning of new life. Nonetheless, the web of interactive soul generative forces must be acknowledged. This means being ever mindful of divine and human nurture of new persons as body and soul.

Lastly, dialogue with Beth can increase her awareness that there is no fast track to soul maturity via secret knowledge or mysterious high-energy food for soul nurture. Her spiritual pilgrimage joins her developmental journey by fostering a relational encounter with the Creator responsible for how she is fearfully and wonderfully made. Just as the living soul is the product of bio-psycho-social-spiritual forces, its development and formation encompasses these very same components. Attempts to elevate human autonomy or manipulate our heavenly Father only yield evidence of the destructiveness of sin. God is pleased to guide soul growth and formation through his revealed Word and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

In summary, compassionate clinical care within each scenario may be enriched with the increased awareness that persons as living souls are formed by a creative convergence of both human and divine nature and nurture. Thus, the maturation and destiny of the soul remains dependent upon an ongoing, active connection with God.

In this basic overview of the origin of the soul significant areas remain open for further theological, scientific, philosophical, and psychological work. For example, how is it possible to address doctrine related to soul origin and not discuss original sin? The theological view of 'deprivation of original righteousness' could be linked to a restricted reaction range in our inherited nature that diminishes moral and relational capacities. The Reformed view of original sin as 'depravity' could be tied to a flaw in the agency of the individual that detracts from attachment quality and produces self-destructive autonomy. Either way, the blended position offered here on soul origin does not represent any radical break with the core features of Creationism or Traducianism, thus the exploration of original sin could follow the explanations found in those views.

There is integrative work yet to do. This truth is sure: it is possible for a human person to pursue life earnestly in this visible, material world using all the resources that the interaction of nature, nurture, and personal agency provide and still forfeit his soul (Mt. 16:25). May our souls seek rest in God alone (Ps. 42:1-5; Mt. 11:28-30).


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GREGGO, STEPHEN P.: Address: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Dcerfield, IL 60015. Title: Associate Professor and Chair, Pastoral Counseling and Psychology. Degrees: BA; MA, Theology, Denver Seminary; Psy.D., State University of New York at Albany. Specializations: Clinical Practice, Christian Counseling, Managed Care, Brief Groups, Development, and Integration.


Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

I wish to acknowledge and thank my teaching assistants, Liza Feilner and Karen Suppes, for tracking down needed materials and supporting this project in numerous ways. I would also thank the Center for Theological Understanding for hosting a discussion forum where faculty colleagues provided helpful feedback. The article was first presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, November, 2001. Correspondence concerning this article may be sent to Stephen P. Greggo, Psy.D., Department of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, Illinois 60015. Email:

(1) A different viewpoint on the trends and theory cited here is found in Whatever Happened to the Human Soul? (Brown, Murphy, Malony, 1998). These writers reject dualism in favor of "nonreductive physicalism" (p.2) based upon scientific evidence that complex persons emerge from a unified physical nature. In this view, 'soul' is defined as a human capacity and not as a distinct entity or substance. The focus in this article on the origin of the soul is an intentional attempt to maintain a dualistic view of persons and still acknowledge contemporary scientific trends.

(2) A third position of the 'pre-existence' of the soul would typically be mentioned in this context because of its historical significance. It proposed that souls were created in eternity past and awaited placement in human bodies. This viewpoint was consistent with certain Greek philosophy and some extra-canonical writings. It was rejected early in the origin of the soul controversy because it lacked any Scriptural basis and too closely resembled heretical views regarding emanations (Berkhof, 1939). It is not addressed here because it lacks representation within evangelicalism today.

(3) I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer whose critique assisted me in crystallizing these thoughts.
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Title Annotation:psychological research
Author:Greggo, Stephen P.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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