The Christian Doctrine of Humanity

Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics

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Oliver D. Crisp, Fred Sanders
Proceedings of the Los Angeles Theology Conference
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    , November
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


If theology were a spider’s web, then the doctrine of humanity would be somewhere near the center, where the other doctrines connect. Theological anthropology is a broad-ranging, complex, and important doctrinal matter that requires careful consideration due to its implications for other doctrinal loci. The subject encompasses everything, from what it means for Adam to be created in the imago Dei to questions surrounding the afterlife and how human beings experience it, and therefore, theological anthropology remains an important focus of study for philosophical, biblical, historical, and systematic theologies. A thoroughgoing consideration of theological anthropology requires one to ably account for each of the various disciplines. 

The Christian Doctrine of Humanity, edited by Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, offers a rich consideration of the subject by providing papers focusing on the various disciplines which contribute to systematic theology. For instance, Frances Young, Gabrielle Thomas, and Faith Glavey Pawl’s essays all employ retrieval theology, while Matthew Emerson’s essay focuses directly upon the Biblical text and what can be deduced from the accounts of Christ’s descent to the dead. This work provides several examples of the ways in which the doing of theology is accomplished, but what must not be lost is that the diversity of disciplines represented in the work, illuminating the various perspectives from which the subject of theological anthropology must be considered. This is a real strength of this work; each essay contributes to a rewarding and detailed study of theological anthropology in its own unique manner.

In addition to this, the perspectives provided in the work also range between the functional, structural, and relational approaches to the divine image in humanity, rather than presenting only one view throughout the work (15-16). The functional account considers the divine image as something that is displayed through the function of humanity in the universe. This view focuses on humanity’s imaging of God by way of their responsibility to subdue and rule over creation. The structural view of the image of God distinguishes humanity from the rest of creation by virtue of it being set apart at Creation with the ability to reason, as well as mankind’s unique possession of a human soul. Finally, the relational view of the image of God focuses upon humanity’s unique capacity to cultivate meaningful relationships within a community of people. 

The strongest contributions to this work are those that bring together the various disciplines of biblical, systematic, and historical theology, and perhaps the most complete essay in this regard is that of Matthew Emerson. His chapter is a thoughtful, informative piece that brings together several of the major areas of theological anthropology: Christology, human life after death, and anthropological dualism. In his essay, Emerson argues that Christ’s descent to the dead is the grounding for a proper understanding of humanity. He accomplishes this by presenting the necessity of the descent of Christ to the dead as a body and soul descent. Along the way, Emerson provides a brief but helpful retracing of the historical development of the Church’s understanding of the descent to the dead, concluding that the church has traditionally argued for a descent that would require a dualistic understanding of the human person (205). Moreover, he communicates the necessity of anthropological dualism if we are to maintain the historical testimony of the resurrection of Christ by displaying how a monistic or physicalist understanding of the resurrection does not comport with the biblical evidence of the descent. Finally, Emerson presents a strong argument for an anthropological dualism by discussing the systematic-theological implications of adopting anthropological monism. 

A shorter but helpful piece, in a similar vein, is that of Richard Mouw. Mouw’s emphasis is placed upon how it is that the control beliefs of the Christian, in this case certain beliefs about the afterlife, contribute to or even necessitate a certain understanding of the composition of a human being. Mouw provides a helpful and necessary reminder that theology is done in the arena of real people with real human suffering, therefore, theologizing about the image of God, the composition of a human being, or the intermediate state must be done with real people in mind and not merely hypothetical abstractions. 

Overall, The Christian Doctrine of Humanity accomplishes its purpose by providing thoughtful engagements of the various discussions around the subject of theological anthropology through a diverse consideration of topics related to that subject. The breadth of this work is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. With such a broad and expansive subject, it is impossible to say everything in one volume, but this work certainly serves as an addition to the conversation around theological anthropology.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Adam Jacobs is a doctoral student in Systematic Theology at Southern Seminary.

Date of Review: 
May 15, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Oliver D. Crisp is Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Fred Sanders is Professor of Theology at Biola University.


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