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What Does It Mean for Anthropology to Be “Christological”? - An Excerpt from Christological Anthropology

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We often hear humanity was and is perfected in Christ, but what do we mean by that? How did Christ's divinity affect his, and our, humanity? To answer those questions, Marc Cortez looks to thinkers the likes of Martin Luther and Karl Barth and asks how they used Christology to inform their understanding of the human person.

In this excerpt today we watch Cortez set up the focus of the book. He says many agree that it is only through Christ that we understand who we are. Then Cortez calls for an "unpacking" of that statement, to discover specifically what and how that should be done.

Enjoy this excerpt from Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective, which is available to order from Zondervan Academic now.


Christian understanding of what it is to be human unfolds through shared engagement and meditation in the community of faith . . . A fuller theological account of who and what we are as humans emerges from the Church’s prayerful engagement with each of these realms, as we keep the person of Jesus

World Council of Churches, Christian Perspectives on Theological Anthropology

9780310516415In 2005, the World Council of Churches produced a Faith and Order Study Document on theological anthropology. In response to modern crises like increasing violence, worldwide poverty, and the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as the questions raised by a growing awareness of people with disabilities and the rapid development of new technologies, they felt the time had come for a cooperative document that would “articulate what the churches can say together about what it means to be a human being.” Consequently, the document offers an interesting reflection on what its authors thought about (1) the most important things we can say about what it means to be human in light of these modern difficulties that (2) we can all agree on. As anyone who knows theology can attest, that second criterion is a beast.

So it was with great interest that I read through the “Ten Common Affirmations” that serve as the theological backbone of the work — the ten core truths about the human person that we need to hear in the midst of these modern challenges and on which there is sufficient consensus to qualify as “common” Christian truths. And embedded in the very first affirmation we find the claim that “Jesus Christ is the one in whom true humanity is perfectly realized.” According to the document, at the heart of Christian anthropology lies a christological claim. And this Christological claim is of such importance that it must be a key aspect of a properly Christian response to all of these difficult modern issues.

As important as this christological claim is, however, it needs a little unpacking if it is going to have any real significance for contemporary anthropology. After all, it is entirely possible to claim that Jesus is fully and truly human, a central claim of orthodox Christology, without making the further claim that his humanity somehow reveals or determines something about the nature of humanity in general. Indeed, some theologians explicitly reject this latter conclusion, arguing that it is not possible for a single individual, limited by the particular circumstances of his lived existence, to reveal the full reality of something as complex as the human person.

How can a Jewish male living in first-century Palestine reveal what it means to be human for those of us whose human lives are shaped by entirely different circumstances? Or, as a thirteen-year-old girl once asked after I had just explained that Jesus understands and empathizes with all of us because he is human just like us, “How can Jesus understand me when he’s never gone through puberty as a teenage girl?” Without realizing it, my teenage interlocutor was asking about the relationship between Christology and anthropology entailed in the WCC statement. Is it merely claiming that Jesus is fully human, or does it have something more in mind?

The latter is clearly the case. According to the document, since Jesus is “the true image . . . of our humanity,” we will only understand “what we are as humans” if we “keep the person of Jesus in focus.” This is the“Christ-centered lens” through which we must look if we want to see what it really means to be human. Consequently, “the Christian understanding of true humanity is rooted in reflection on the person of Jesus Christ.”

According to the authors of this statement, the fundamental intuition of Christian anthropology that we must affirm in our modern context is not merely the important truth that Jesus is human, but the corresponding epistemological affirmation that Jesus reveals true humanity. Whether or not this latter claim is one with which most Christian theologians would agree is a question that we will not pursue here. But the claim does find strong support among modern theologians. In recent theological anthropologies, it is not difficult to find statements about Jesus as “the mystery of man,” “true humanity,” the “archetype” of humanity, and the revelation of “what human nature is intended to be,” exemplifying what may be described as a widespread consensus among theologians that Jesus Christ lies at the heart of theological anthropology. Thus, at the beginning of his magisterial work on theological anthropology, David Kelsey claims that the way in which Christians understand anthropological issues “is shaped in some way by their beliefs about Jesus Christ and God’s relation to him” and that this “is ultimately what qualifies theological answers to proposed anthropological questions as authentically Christian theological anthropology.”

At this point, however, an obvious question lurks. Given this widespread consensus about the importance of Christology for understanding humanity, do we really need an entire book on the subject? After all there are still plenty of debated issues that deserve our attention. Can we not just celebrate the fact that the theologians have actually agreed on something and move on? We must give a negative response to this last question for one simple reason. It is one thing to claim that Jesus is the perfect realization of true humanity in whom we see the revelation of what it means to be human; it is something else entirely to explain what that means and how it should be done. As David Kelsey recognizes, claiming that our beliefs about human persons are “in some way” related to Jesus Christ is different from being able to stipulate how this “in some way” actually works. Important questions remain about the nature of the Christology/anthropology relationship, the aspects of Jesus’ person and work that are involved, the method for deriving anthropological truths from our christological vantage point, and the role of other doctrinal loci (e.g., soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology) in developing a Christological account of humanity. Simply claiming that Jesus is important “in some way” for a Christian vision of the human person does nothing to address these other important questions. As we will see through the course of this study, once we move beyond the claim that Jesus reveals humanity and begin to explore how people have developed that claim in their theological anthropologies, considerable diversity arises. (Pgs 17-20)


Marc Cortez continues by approaching the topic from the perspective of some notable voices through Church history. Now that he has explained the need for a full-length work on Christolgical Anthropology, we hope you get your copy of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective today.

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