ReSourcing Theological Anthropology

A Constructive Account of Humanity in the Light of Christ

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Marc Cortez
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , January
     2018.
     304 pages.
     $29.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780310516439.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

ReSourcing Theological Anthropology is Marc Cortez’s sequel to his earlier Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective (Zondervan, 2016). In the first book, Cortez offers eight case studies from the Christian tradition in which he descriptively explores a variety of historical-theological approaches to the fundamental intuition of a christological anthropology, that Jesus Christ reveals true humanity. Specifically, he engaged Gregory of Nyssa, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, John Zizioulas, and James Cone. ReSourcing Theological Anthropology argues for a comprehensive christological anthropology. For Cortez, the person of Jesus Christ does not simply inform but norms a Christian understanding of human nature and personhood. Jesus Christ is both the creational (protological) and eschatological (teleological) ground and goal of all humanity. Christ is not the fulfillment of the archetype of humanity; Christ is the archetype. 

Operating out of the shared, orthodox christological convictions of the Christian tradition, Cortez argues that christology does not merely provide additional insights into the nature of humanity. Rather, christology is “absolutely central” to any sufficient understanding of being human (19). However, Cortez is clear that a christological anthropology should not undermine, marginalize, or constrict the range of sources (such as experience, natural and social sciences, philosophy, and the arts) available for understanding humanity. In fact, christological anthropology welcomes and ought to rely upon these other sources “to provide the material upon which it can reflect christologically” (181). 

The book is divided into three parts. The largest of the three sections, chapters 1 through 4 attend to biblical arguments for the necessity of viewing the human person christologically. These four chapters are the core of the book. Specifically, Cortez explores Jesus as the true anthrōpos (the Gospel of John), Jesus as the true imago Dei and the second Adam (Paul), and Jesus as the revelation of true humanity (Hebrews). Each chapter also takes up what Cortez identifies as a corresponding theological question: what is the nature/grace distinction? (chapter 1); would the incarnation have taken place irrespective of human sin? (chapter 2); when Paul says that the Son is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), is this a statement about the Trinity or about anthropology? (chapter 3); and did Jesus have a fallen or unfallen human nature? (chapter 4). As Cortez reads biblical texts, he largely utilizes historical-critical methodologies; and the various theological questions he engages reflects the influence of analytic theology.

Chapter 5 is the hinge of the book. In light of the previous chapters, Cortez identifies eleven principles that provide methodological guidelines for christological anthropology. Chapters 6-8 constitute a set of case studies through which he explores sexuality (in fact, the issue of Jesus’s maleness), race and ethnicity, and death. While these are three significant anthropological issues, Cortez offers no clear statement regarding why he focuses on these three issues (and not human personhood, human consciousness, or animality). 

In many respects, Cortez does succeed in making a formal argument that Jesus Christ is normative for theological anthropology. He is to be commended for his analytical clarity on the issues he engages and for the solid case he puts forward. While he contends that Christology should also be materially central to theological anthropology, I submit he comes up short on this count. Cortez would likely say his attention to substantive theological questions in the second half of chapters 1 through 4 and his case studies in chapters 6 through 8 demonstrate the materiality of his argument. What is fundamentally missing is a narration of Jesus’s humanity as the revelation of true humanity. Cortez’s principle number seven states: “Christological anthropology must pay close attention to the concrete particularities of Jesus’s existence” (181). I wholeheartedly agree! Yet, in reality, Cortez does not pay close attention to the concrete particularities of Jesus’s existence. 

An example of my concern is in chapter 6, which takes up the question: how should we understand the claim that Jesus is normative for all humans in light of Jesus’s maleness? Cortez affirms that the New Testament does say that Jesus’s maleness does not have universal normative significance. He also acknowledges that Jesus challenged certain gender constructions of his first-century Jewish context. However, what is lacking in his argument are the prophetic, critical, and subversive gender dimensions of the christologies of the Gospel narratives: the new ways Jesus imagined God (Luke 15:8-10) and his own ministry (Luke 13:34), his praise of women’s wisdom (Mark 7:29; 14:6-9), as well as his friendship with women and their inclusion in his movement. In the end, Cortez fails to follow his own words: Jesus’s “historic existence must serve as a basic starting point for christological anthropology” (182). Missing from Cortez’s argument are the Gospels’ narration of the particular ways the full, true humanity of Jesus is revealed in his unconditional love of God, his scandalous forgiveness of sinners, his radical commensality with the marginalized and dispossessed, his solidarity with the poor and excluded, his challenge to the principalities and powers, and his teaching and embodiment of the reign of God. 

I was surprised by the overall lack of interaction with the case studies of Cortez’s previous book. He did not simply want to “stay-in-the-lanes” charted by those case studies. Nor did he attempt some creative synthesis of elements from those christological anthropologies. In charting what he called “a new path entirely,” Cortez signaled that figures from the previous study would make “appearances” as dialogue partners (17). Those appearances were less frequent than anticipated. None of those previous figures appears in the chapters 1 through 4, except for Karl Barth, briefly. In chapters 6 through 8 Cortez does engage Gregory of Nyssa on resurrection and gender, Julian of Norwich on imagery of Jesus and gender subversion, James Cone on race, and Karl Barth on the human experience of death. But other than Barth and to a lesser degree Cone, Cortez’s engagement with these figures is not vital to his primary conclusions. 

Cortez is clear that he is not attempting to address all of the issues and concerns associated with developing a christological anthropology. Consequently, more work is warranted. What Cortez helpfully establishes is a christologically interpretative framework within which to understand the sources, questions, and issues of theological anthropology. He is to be applauded for arguing that Christ is the key to understanding the human person. ReSourcing Theological Anthropology would make for a stimulating text in upper-level undergraduate or graduate courses in theological anthropology or christology.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mark S. Medley is Professor of Theology at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.

Date of Review: 
July 11, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Marc Cortez is Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School. He is author of Theological Anthropology and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies and has published articles in academic journals such as International Journal of Systematic TheologyScottish Journal of Theology, and Westminster Theological Journal. Marc blogs at Everyday Theology (marccortez.com), writes a monthly article for Christianity.com, and had articles featured on The Gospel Coalition and Christian Post.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments