In the late 1960s a noted secular author and journalist, Arthur Koestler, coined the word “holon” which, like holism, comes from the Greek word “holos” meaning “whole.” A holon is simultaneously a whole and a part of a greater whole.
Jesus was getting at this when He said, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). Our bodies usually include two hands, but they are far more than that. Our bodies are holons. Hands, along with arms, legs, organs, a brain, etc., make up our bodies. At the same time, we are more than our bodies.
Bodies apart from the souls that animate them are corpses. And souls without bodies are ghosts. Corpses and ghosts are less than what we each are as persons. Each of us is soul and body woven together. In turn, each is part of a family, a community, a culture, a race and humanity. All these include each of us, but are more than each of us.
Jesus taught that the Father was greater than He (John 14:28), yet, at the same time He and the Father were one (John 10:30). In different passages, the New Testament refers to the Spirit as “the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:17) and as the “Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 3:16) and as the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Peter 1:11). The Father can’t be the Father apart from the Son and the Spirit. The Son can’t be the Son apart from the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit can’t be the Holy Spirit apart from the Father and the Son.
The Trinity and Biblical Holism
We can reverently say that the Trinity is holonic. The Trinity includes, but is more than, Father, Son and Holy Spirit individually. Each is inseparably woven together with each other forming a whole greater than the parts, but not existing apart from the parts. We are made in the image of God, therefore we are likewise holonic.
Further, and very importantly, all creation is holonic and takes its pattern from the Trinity who creates, sustains and is thoroughly present in it. Ephesians 4:6 says that God is “over all and through all and in all.” Creation, by its holonic nature, reflects a holonic God at the center of a reality that includes each of us and all of creation.
This truth is complicated, but it’s also practical and has huge implications. God who is holonic, redeeming a creation that is holonic, populated by people who are holonic, does so holistically. This is biblical holism.
God loves people, not just souls. It is a misguided theology that elevates the spiritual over the material and conceives of faith and ministry in primarily spiritual terms, just as it is wrong to elevate the material over the spiritual. It is also a misguided theology that separates the church from the hurting world, which needs it so desperately. In fact, when separated from the hurting world, the church and each of us cannot be what God calls us to be.
Responding Practically to Today’s Headlines
South Sudan, Syria, the Philippines … each has many Christians and many others in deep need and deep pain. Biblical holism calls for our compassionate, holistic response.
The Scripture (Hebrews 12:2) encourages us to “fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” The faith that Jesus lived and calls us to is holistic in every way. Will you join FH in responding?