Today is the official release date for my book Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective! Try to contain your enthusiasm. I know it’s difficult, but self-control is a virtue. (By the way, I’ve heard that if you buy the book today, it comes with a free iguana. That may not actually be true, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was? Just think of all the fun you could have with my book and an iguana!)
For the last few weeks, I’ve been releasing excerpts from the book to give you an idea of what I was hoping to accomplish. The first was Alan Torrance’s forward to the book, in which he wrestles with the question “Why Do We Need ‘Christological’ Anthropologies?” The second excerpt came from the introduction and tried to explain “What is a Christological Anthropology?” What makes this approach to understanding humanity different from other kinds of theological anthropologies? Today’s excerpt will be the last of our snippets, and it will focus on how I decided on the people I would invite to this theological party. A survey like this always has to make difficult decisions about who to include, knowing that each decision requires you to miss out on opportunities to learn from so many other voices. So here are some of the criteria I used to guide the process.
In this study, then, we are exploring two basic questions. First, what does it mean to say that Christology somehow grounds anthropological claims? And second, what issues in anthropology can such christologically oriented anthropologies meaningfully address? The first queries the method of a christological anthropology, the second its scope.
Whenever we face broad methodological questions like these, we have two options. On the one hand, we could take a “top-down” approach, seeking to understand what it means to develop a christological anthropology by identifying the relevant parameters, distinguishing characteristics, and ultimate desiderata of a christological anthropology. This would be an interesting exercise in its own right, and one that I hope to develop in a future work. In this book, however, I have opted for an alternate approach, one that tries to understand the method by analyzing representative figures and the anthropologies they have produced. From there, it becomes possible to draw some conclusions about how people have developed christological approaches to anthropology. Such a “bottom-up” perspective adopts a more descriptive posture, avoiding the prescriptive stance necessary to the top-down approach. This means that the various studies in this book will focus on describing and understanding these representative approaches, trying to avoid evaluative comments whenever possible. Thus, the goal of the book is not to craft an argument for any particular way of approaching anthropology from a christological perspective; instead, we will explore a variety of possible approaches in order to generate a better understanding of how Christology has been used to inform anthropology. This will be particularly important to keep in mind as we look at how each theologian used Christology to address a specific issue in anthropology. Even there our task will not be to evaluate their specific proposals but to understand the ways in which Christology informed those proposals.
The challenge of any such bottom-up approach, of course, is identifying the relevant figures and determining which to include in the study. If we were to establish in advance the criteria by which a work qualified as a christological anthropology, we would first need to engage in the kind of top-down study mentioned above. So we cannot expect the kind of precise criteria that would be generated by such an approach. Instead, I selected figures based on a fairly loose set of criteria.
First, they need to meet the basic requirements of a christological anthropology outlined above. In other words, they need to have articulated anthropological conclusions that are informed in some way by their Christology, and they need to have applied those christological insights to issues other than the imago Dei, soteriology, and ethics.
Second, I also chose to exclude from the study theologians with the kinds of “low” Christologies in which there appears to be little to ground the uniqueness of Jesus among other humans. If the basic contention of a christological anthropology is that our view of Christ should shape our view of humanity, it seems necessary that we have some way of establishing the claim that Jesus alone fills this role. Although it might be possible for a theologian with a low Christology to address this issue—in this study, the chapter on Friedrich Schleiermacher comes the closest to exploring this possibility—I chose to restrict our dialog partners to those with generally higher Christologies and, consequently, more resources for grounding Jesus’s unique significance for anthropology. (I would hypothesize that a low christological starting point would be even more likely to generate the kinds of christological anthropologies that limit their focus to just a few aspects of humanity (esp. ethics). But that is a question for another time.)
Third, I intentionally selected figures from various periods in church history to demonstrate the historical breadth of christological anthropology. Nonetheless, only half of the figures chosen for the study come from the pre-modern eras of the church. This was not done in order to privilege modern conversations about the human person, but it does reflect the fact that theological anthropology as a distinct area of theological inquiry is a relatively recent development in the history of theology. Thus, although I strove for historical balance in selecting our dialog partners, I also wanted to represent the significant growth of anthropological reflection in modern theology.
Fourth, as I mentioned in the prior section, I also selected theologians who would help us discern the ways in which Christology might inform anthropology across a range of anthropological issues. Thus, for example, I selected Julian of Norwich specifically because she applies Christology to issues of human pain and suffering in a unique way. Similarly, Gregory of Nyssa’s view of gender and sexuality, Martin Luther’s understanding of vocation, and James Cone’s christological analysis of oppression all demonstrate how Christology can inform anthropology on a broad range of issues.
Finally, I selected figures who offered diverse examples of how anthropological insights can be grounded in Christology. As you work through the case studies, you will notice that each of the case studies offers a distinct vision of how Christology and anthropology should be related to one another. Indeed, some of the case studies differ enough in method and content that it might be easy to lose sight of the thread that holds them all together. That was intentional. Since this study does not utilize a top-down approach that determines in advance what qualifies as a legitimate christological anthropology, I thought it would be most helpful to consider theologians who exemplify a broad range of approaches to the subject.
Thus, the various studies were selected for the purpose of exploring the historical, methodological, and thematic diversity of christological anthropology. Given the necessarily selective nature of a project like this, then, I have no illusions that these studies somehow represent all of the ways in which we might develop christological anthropologies. Indeed, one could easily argue that some of the individuals not chosen have an equal, if not greater, commitment to developing christologically shaped anthropologies (e.g., Irenaeus, Maximus, Calvin, Owen, Kierkegaard, Balthasar). Nor have I attempted to use these studies to develop any kind of taxonomic framework within which to categorize christological anthropologies. In the final chapter, I will attempt to bring all of the studies into dialog with each other, and there I will highlight some similarities and dissimilarities between the various case studies, seeking to generate insights for developing christological anthropologies in general. But the individual chapters are intended merely as case studies in how Christology has been used to inform our understanding of the human person.