Email Interchange Between John Piper and Kevin Corcoran

November 29-30, 2006

John Piper and Kevin Corcoran exchanged the following emails regarding Piper's response to Corcoran’s article in Books and Culture, “A New Way to Be Human: A Christian materialist alternative to the soul.”

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11-29-06, Wednesday, 10:40 AM

Dear John (Wilson) and Kevin,

I thought you might be interested in the response I wrote to the article, "A New Way to Be Human: A Christian materialist alternative to the soul," in the Nov./Dec. issue of Books and Culture. We posted it today at the Desiring God web site.

You will see that I am responding to the puzzling decision of B and C to publish the article (instead of having a review of Kevin's book) and to the way the case was made without reference to the most problematic scriptures.

I find B and C one of the most stimulating journals out there and have been befuddled as to why from time to time a platform is given for promoting biblically problematic (eccentric?) views instead of sticking with the more useful practice of serious critical engagement between reviewer and book.

For the supremacy of God in all things,

John Piper

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11-29-06, Wednesday, 11:04 AM

Dear John,

This is, I think, my first "Dear John" letter!

First, thanks for thinking enough of my article to believe it warrants a response. In the final chapter of the book, "The Constitution View and the Bible: Some Final Thoughts", I do what you wish I had done in the article. If I were a betting man, however, I'd bet you won't be satisfied w/ my handling of many of the relevant texts. But, I don't ignore them.

Second, you are mistaken when you claim that I do not believe that we exist b/w physical death and physical resurrection. You are also mistaken when you claim that the passage you quote from the article argues for that claim. I do believe we exist b/w death and a physical resurrection. I just believe that it is not a disembodied state of existence. In my view we exist in physical but not yet glorified bodies.

Again, I appreciate you taking the time to respond and also alerting me to your response.

Yours Sincerely,

Kevin

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11-29-06, Wednesday, 1:33 PM

Dear Kevin,

This really piques my interest. Can you put in a sentence or two how this can be. I thought the point of your opening illustration, "My father was lying lifeless before me," was that he was NOT now "with God in heaven." I know this is frustrating to deal with a person who has not read your book. But a sentence or two how the body can be in the grave and yet conscious and with the Lord would be helpful and I would try to set the record straight.

If you want to just say, "Read the book," I would understand.

John

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11-29-06, Wednesday 1:50 PM

Hi John,

Well, it might not hurt to read the book! (Though it might also frustrate.) But, let me try to explain here. I don't believe that what goes into the ground after a normal death is a body. Bodies are essentially living things, physical organisms. What goes into the ground after a normal death is a heap of dead cell-stuff, it's the stuff that used to constitute a human body and, thus, a human person. In my view, if I am going to exist after death, then my body must exist after death. And I believe that after death my body continues to exist in an intermediate but not yet glorified state. The reason I believe this has a lot to do w/ the doctrine of the communion of saints.

I hope you'll read the book! Here's what I say in the introduction, near its end:

Considering things like the doctrine of the resurrection and the metaphysical nature of human persons is difficult business. Despite what some may claim, whatever the truth regarding these issues it is not transparent and obvious. Even so, some philosophers are prepared to speak in bold and authoritative terms. I myself am hesitant to speak so. I have thought long and hard about these matters and am committed to the truth of the views I hold. However, it is conceivable to me that I should one day learn, perhaps in heaven, and certainly to my chagrin, that it is not my view but one of the views I reject that is the truth about our nature. Well, then I should be like the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy, who did his level best to seek the truth and weigh the evidence about the heavenly bodies, but whom, for all of that, was nevertheless mistaken in his geocentric view of the universe.

This book, therefore, is not offered in the hope of providing the final word on the issues it entertains. It’s not even offered as the final thoughts of its author. It is, rather, offered in the hope of stimulating further debate and reflection on the age old question of human nature and the important, contemporary ethical issues of stem cell research and human cloning. Like all views on issues of fundamental human concern, what I say in these pages is open to criticism, correction and revision.

That you have seen fit to engage my view–a view you disagree with–means that at least one of the many things I hope for is not a hope deferred, but a hope realized!!!!

Peace to you, my friend,

Kevin

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11-29-06, Wednesday, 4:27 PM

Kevin

I promise not to bother you anymore. Last question. (I love your brevity, and the tentativeness of the intro was winsome).

So you are saying that the "body" that is conscious and with Christ after death has a separate existence from the "copper" that constituted the statue before death? Why am I so dense as to not be able to comprehend what that means?

I won't push anymore.

Let me know if I would have permission to post this correspondence on the web near my article so as to be fair to you.

That's it. You have work to do.

John

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11-29-06, Wednesday, 8:08 PM

John,

It's my pleasure. Really.

You say:

"So you are saying that the "body" that is conscious and with Christ after death has a separate existence from the "copper" that constituted the statue before death? "

You kind of lost me here. The statue analogy breaks down. It works well in terms of drawing out the nature of the relation I claim holds b/w a human person and a biological body. But there are disanalogies as well b/w human person/body and statue/copper.

So let me try this. What I am saying is that there are bodies and there are persons and the latter are constituted by the former. There are also atoms (say) and bodies, and the latter are constituted by the former. So, the body that exists after death but before the general resurrection has a separate existence from the stuff that once composed it. (Think about it this way. The body you have now is the same as the body you had twenty years ago even though none of the matter that composes your body now composed your body twenty years ago. Same with the intermediate state body and the resurrection body. My intermediate state body (and my resurrection body) will be the same body as this one even though they will not be made out of any of the same matter as this body is made out of. See what I mean?)

While the resurrection body will be (if my view is correct) the same body as this one it will, of course, be glorified and vastly "different" in important ways. (I like to say that the resurrection body will be the same in terms of number but different in other important respects.)

Hope that helps! If I've been unclear or confusing don't be shy about emailing me!

Kevin

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11-30-06, Thursday, 9:08 AM

Dear John,

I forgot to mention that you do indeed have permission to publish our correspondence.

Under The Life Giving Mercy,

Kevin

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Final comment from Piper: I ordered Kevin’s book. I still don’t understand what the body without the molecules is. And I still think the New Testament texts cited in my response won’t fit with Kevin’s conception of material personhood. By the way, I added one more text (2 Corinthians 4:16) since I first wrote the article.

Thanks, Kevin, for the gracious interchange. Your view is more complex and nuanced than I discerned from the article.

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