Leading up to the release of my new book Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective next month, I thought it would be fun to release an excerpt from the book each week. To begin, here’s the excellent little forward that Alan Torrance wrote for the book. It introduces the basic question of a Christological anthropology and highlights some of the ways in which this book seeks to explore that question. Enjoy!
Alan Torrance, University of St. Andrews
When one surveys the plethora of theological books and articles on what it is to be human one cannot but be struck by what are treated as the critical controls on the task of theological anthropology. The defining sources and resources tend to be the following: a) studies of Adam in Genesis; b) accounts of what are perceived to be the key, universally discernible characteristics of ‘human nature’ with an orientation towards the religious or ‘spiritual’; c) analyses of the facets of human nature that are perceived to be presupposed by Christian thought, most notably, reason, moral responsibility and ‘transcendence’; and d) accounts of whatever capacity is deemed as defining the ‘imago dei’. What emerges is that our accounts of the ‘essentially human’ or, more specifically, the ‘image of God’ serve all too easily to attach a kind of authority (‘papal infallibility’, as Barth suggested) to the world-views we bring to bear on our interpretation of what it is to human. The result is that some particular facet or attribute (reason, the sensus moralis, the capacity for the transcendent or ‘spirituality’) is identified as the locus of the ‘image’ and as constituting, therefore, our true essence. The effect is to underwrite the particular cultural values and worldview within which the relevant account is conceived.
The unacknowledged “elephant in the room” in such approaches is the fact that Christian faith is defined by the recognition that the God responsible for the existence of the contingent order in its totality has himself become human. The obvious and incontrovertible implication of the doctrine of the incarnation is that, in him, we are presented not only with the fullness of the Godhead but also with the fullness of humanity, that is, all that humanity was intended both to be and (as Irenaeus would have it) to become. What we have in the Gospels and the Epistles, moreover, is a remarkably full and multifaceted witness of the nature, character and ends of the one who alone is both the true ‘image’ of the Father and the eschatos Adam. It is hard to see how any account which seeks to articulate the Creator’s purposes for humanity could contemplate beginning anywhere else than with an analysis of the one who is the eternal, creative dabar (logos) become human! In him we see God’s purposes for humanity presented in human form.
To put the point another way, if anthropologists from some planet in Alpha Centauri were to visit earth and discover that we believed that God had become a human beings, would they not find it counterintuitive to discover that, despite that fact, we did not look to this individual as the fullest expression of all that human beings were created to be? And if we were to argue that they had missed the point and that the incarnate one had simply come to repair what is better discerned by looking elsewhere (either to the earliest ancestor whom God had created or by engaging in some kind of general phenomenology of the human race), would they not find that somewhat puzzling?
Marc Cortez’s book is an impressive attempt to redress the imbalances and eccentricities that have characterised so much theological anthropology. He does this by encouraging us to ask what precisely is involved in rethinking anthropology in the light of the one who defines what it is to be human and what it is to be the image of God in truth. What begins to become clear is that to conceive theological anthropology from a Christological reference point, is to interpret it in the light of the one reconciles our alienated preconceptions of what it is to be human – transforming and reschematising them in and through Jesus Christ for the sake of discerning the truth of God’s purposes in creating us. (Rom 12;2) Not only does this volume explore and expose the diversity of the ways in which christology has served and may serve the task of theological anthropology, it does this by means of a profoundly constructive and creative form of theological retrieval.
Its effect is to encourage us to rethink the methodologies that constrain theological anthropology and the Procrustean beds into which we seek to fit our interpretation of God’s telos for humanity. As with all Cortez’s writing, this volume’s breadth and depth of scholarship, its fluency and conceptual clarity make it not only informative but easy to read. As such, it can only inspire those engaged in the whole field of theological anthropology to appreciate anew the profound significance of reconceiving the field in light of the one in whom our ‘chief end’ is not only exemplified but realised.