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"What Does it Mean to Be Human?" Christological Anthropology Offers 7 Insights

Categories Theology

9780310516415What does it mean to be human? This question may be as old as humanity itself.

King David dabbled in anthropological reflection when he penned Psalm 8. So did Paul, who answered our opening question christologically.

Marc Cortez traces the historical development of such thought in his new book Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective. As Cortez defines it:

The fundamental intuition of christological anthropology is that beliefs about the human person (anthropology) must be warranted in some way by beliefs about Jesus (christological). (20)

The scope of Cortez’s work is far more robust than typical treatments, going well beyond the pivot points of ethics and the imago Dei. Cortez offers seven insights into our beliefs about humanity in light of our beliefs about Jesus.

1) Gender and Sexuality

Gregory of Nyssa, who is the earliest voice in this book, offers a radical vision of human sexuality and gender. “Gregory argues that at each step we see humanity reshaped and transformed through union with Christ,” (54) where biological sexuality is ultimately “nonessential” and eschatologically oriented.

2) Pain and Suffering

Julian of Norwich’s contribution to this project centers on her visionary experiences of the cross, where “the resulting christological anthropology does not focus exclusively, or even primarily, on issues related to the doctrine of salvation." In Julian's christological vision of humanity, "the very ontology of the human person is grounded in a crucicentric vision of divine love.” (26)

Consequently, “the cross directs her attention to a God who powerfully displays his love in the midst of life’s most brutal realities.” (81)

3) Calling and Vocation

Rooting his anthropology in the doctrine of justification, Martin Luther “developed a whole range of anthropological insights based on the idea that we are always and only justified before God through Jesus by faith.” (26)

His justification-centered anthropology reveals not only what we are, but what we are called to be. His theology of vocation flows from his christological vision of the human person, in which “all Christians are called to live justification-shaped lives wherever they are.” (104)

4) Redemption and Action

“[Friedrich] Schleiermacher’s distinctive Christology, generated by his experiential-redemptive starting point and his understanding of the religious self-consciousness, offers a unique perspective on how to develop a christological anthropology and its significance for understanding the role of the church and the community in shaping human identity.” (27)

For Schleiermacher, “Christian action in the church and in the world follows inevitably from the experience of redemption, extending the sphere of redemption and mediating Jesus’ influence” to the rest of humanity. (127)

5) Mind and Body

According to Barth, we must ground anthropology in Christology because, “God has decided in Jesus both the kind of God that he will be (God for us in Christ) and the kind of creatures that humanity will be (God’s covenantal copartners in Christ).” (27) Barth’s rigorous example shapes our view of relationality, ontology, and temporality.

Specifically, Barth’s christological anthropology develops the mind/body relationship, asking, “What is the ontological constitution of the human person in light of who Jesus has revealed the human person to be?” (149)

6) Personhood and Community

John Zizioulas believes that personhood has been hijacked by modernity. He offers an ancient understanding instead, rooted in the Trinity. “According to Zizioulas, the Trinity alone defines what it means to be a person: a unique being living in and shaped by free communion with other persons.” (27)

Christologically, “For Zizioulas…it is in Jesus that we see the truth of what personhood means for human persons,” which “will also lead us into Zizioulas’s ecclesiological, and hence eucharistic, vision of true humanity.” (28)

7) Liberation and Race

Finally, James Cone sharpens our Western anthropological lens with his focus on liberation, oppression, freedom, and race. “Cone’s christological anthropology begins with the conviction that in Jesus we see and experience the truth that God is the great Liberator who seeks to liberate people from oppression and free them for full human flourishing.” (28)

What we find in his treatment is “a complex interplay between Jesus as exemplar of right human living and Jesus as the one who constitutes true humanity in freedom.” (217)


“Throughout the ages, Christians have thought that Jesus somehow informs our understanding of what it means to be human.” Cortez has assembled a cast of historical voices to “develop that intuition into a specific anthropological proposal.” (29)

Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective is sure to catalyze a broader conversation about the nature of humanity. Engage it yourself to better understand what it means to be human in light of Christ.

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