Making Sense of Spirit-Soul-Heart Part 1

By Fred Pruitt

My dear brother ______,

Let’s see if I can get started here on this heart/will issue. I guess I better barrel on in, especially since tomorrow John Bunting is coming and we are leaving Wednesday for Texas, and I won’t have any time probably for the next week or so.

I have to admit that I have dragged my feet on this one; it is a tedious exercise for me, though I know necessary. And I am not leveling that at you, dear friend, not at all, just my frustration a little bit about this topic.

What is at bottom of it (the frustration) for me, is I naturally shrink from too much “defining” in these realms which are to me quite ethereal, when juxtaposed with hard-edged facts and the solidness of the physical universe. (I don’t have problems with the “realms” themselves, just the ability to communicate them in an articulate manner.)

I don’t know higher mathematics but I know basic math and our world works because those things are always true, 2+2=4 and so on. I can even relate on the macro-cosmic level with Einstein or the microcosmic world with quantum mechanics, and though those laws are more fluid, we have found a way to use them that makes our modern technology possible.

So I see, in that realm, that definitions and specialties and organizations are absolutely necessary to keep it all going. Somebody has to know how to mine the stuff’; somebody has to know how to take the stuff mined and turn into useful material; somebody has to know how to combine all those useful materials to make things for our world, and somebody has to be there to receive and use all the stuff that comes from that system. Even though it looks quite chaotic sometimes, still it all seems to hold together pretty well and go on day by day by day.

When I drive on the freeways, especially in big cities – Atlanta is 70 miles from here and is like this – every time I go there I am convinced that the world is running on unseen miracles every day on the freeway. I don’t know why there aren’t a thousand accidents and fatalities a day just in the city of Atlanta. Cars speeding inches side by side with each other, little front-back distance, racing, changing lanes, everybody trying to get a leg up and get wherever they’re going in a mad hurry, most people far exceeding the inner city 55 mph speed limit, usually 80+ if they can, near-misses constantly, the occasional crackup and bad accident, but the vast majority do it day by day by day, and get through.

My dad paid for private driving lessons for me (after he tried teaching me and I hit a car) when I was 16, and after a few practice days around the lot, the first place the instructor took me to drive on public streets was the inner city freeway of Atlanta. He said, “Turn right here,” and I said, “But, it’s the freeway!”, and he said, “Yes, I know!” He had nerves of steel I think. Well, I made it and have been driving on those freeways for 46 years or so, and I have nerves of steel, too, but these days only have to exercise them for that occasionally.

Why did I stray there? I wondered that myself, too, and then it occurred to me that this little freeway “parable” is exactly what I am talking about. Funny God!

First the world of definitions. Like I said, they are, or can be, important. To “define” something is not necessarily to limit it, as in “put borders around,” but rather to give it particularity in my consciousness, in my understanding. You know I’m kind of rebellious and in the past I have probably railed against “defining” more from that “put borders around” way of looking, but now I am seeing it a little differently. It’s alright. We’re allowed!

However, there is a little hitch when we get into things that are essentially, pretty intangible, i.e., soul and spirit. As you said, scripture is not particularly consistent in the usage of the words. And then there’s “heart,” another rather intangible word, because we all know it is not talking about our physical heart, and no one has ever seen or detected the intangible one. It is used “in the world” in the same way. It means something different in the context, but everyone knows the “heart” of a lover is something poetic, intangible, in the realm of feeling or sense, known only to the one experiencing it. How do we describe it? (Now, I may be speaking in ignorance here, because Dutch may have different words that have more clarity than the English word “heart’s” different meanings. Those nasty English! We’ve just got this one word that has to mean so many things, and we’re all supposed to know the difference!

As a young Christian the spirit/soul issue didn’t come up that I remember. I know it was mentioned in the charismatic church but I don’t remember it being in the forefront of my consciousness. Though I do remember there was a whiff of curiosity about it, because I had seen, again in pastor’s office, Watchman Nee’s ‘The Spiritual Man,’ and I think that’s where Nee expounds somewhat on that realm. So I WAS interested, but it was not the soul/spirit issue that intrigued me as I remember, but rather “becoming the spiritual man.” It was a moot point anyway, since I never got to read it, and haven’t until this day, other than excerpts.

So my first real “teaching” on the subject was Norman’s. You have probably read it yourself in your reading of Norman’s books, but I want to comment on it. Before that, however, I wanted to talk a little bit about what Norman did, I think, as the Spirit brought these truths through him.

As I’m sure you know, Norman had many influences, though he consistently said Jacob Boehme and William Law were his main lights after the Bible, but there was also Kierkegaard, many of the mystics, the classical Christian writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and a few odd ones which are surprising.

What I think Norman did with all that stuff, rather than focusing on any one of those influences particularly, and putting all his sharings in the strict interpretations of their particular “doctrine,” was to filter a lot of that stuff down to a great simplicity. The simplicity of “what works.”

With that in mind, here is NPG’s model of spirit, soul and body.

Spirit is will (spirit will), love (or heart or desire), and knowing (inner consciousness, inner mind).

Soul is emotion or feelings, and rational mind or intellect.

We don’t need to define “body,” really, since it is obvious, but it is important to know that the “soul” (speaking in NPG’s model) is “tied” to the body and its functions and needs especially.

There is another common model of spirit, soul and body in evangelical churches, and I call it the Nee model. Though I’ve never read it from Nee myself, others have explained it to me. It seems the main difference, and maybe it is not a difference, is that the Nee model puts some of those faculties NPG described as spirit, in soul.

The first time I encountered that (the Lord likes throwing some curve balls my way sometimes), was at a brother’s house in Louisiana. We were holding a little session, and one of the people there started talking about his different “wills,” a “spirit” will and a “soul” will, that one must work to align, etc. In a sense I was not really prepared for that encounter, because had I begun to answer him on that level, I had no ammunition really, except, “Norman said it.” He was speaking out of Nee’s model, and told us that he was. So it would have ended up with a little battle between, “what my ‘teacher’ says,” vs. “what your ‘teacher’ says.”

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