John Ortberg: Soul Keeping

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This is the “Zondervan popular” version of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart.  In fact, much of this book is about Dallas Willard.

What the Soul is

 Thesis: The soul is that aspect of your life that integrates, correlates, “runs” everything else.  It is the outer layer of a set of concentric circles, with the “heart/spirit” at the center, then the will.  The will is good at making (generally) very large and simple decisions. It’s not as good at overriding habits.

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The next circle is the mind. It is where the thoughts and feelings flow around us.  Beyond that, strangely enough, is the body. After the body is the soul. Does this mean that the body is “in” the soul? I don’t think so.  I don’t think the metaphor is meant to be spatial. I think the outer layer, the soul layer, is also porous. Perhaps that’s what lets us connect on a communal basis.  It might also explain the “soul-tie/one flesh” relation in sexual intercourse.

Your soul integrates the various faculties: will, mind, heart (Ortberg 39).  A dis-integrated soul is one where these faculties are at war. Sin causes this disintegration. Today we have replaced “soul” with “self,” with predictable results. The self is a stand-alone unit.  The soul is not. It points beyond itself (per desires, etc).

Biblical Terminology

Nephesh: life or soul (Deut. 4:9a; Ps. 49.8).

Psyche: life or soul (Matt. 16:25-26).

These two words are words that refer to an integrated life.

Key idea: coming to grips with your soul is tough, because soul-language involves sin-language.


A soul is not a self.  People in the Bible talk to their souls, but not to themselves.  Ortberg suggests that the difference is that our souls are in the presence of God.  I get what he is saying but I don’t know why someone can’t rejoin, “But aren’t our ‘selves’ also in God’s presence?”  Maybe he is saying that God is present to the soul in a way he is not to the overall body-complex.

Our soul is a stream. To make it flow freely we must clear it of anything that obstructs God.


“The velcro of the soul is called ‘desire.’”



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