Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspectives

Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology

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Marc Cortez
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    , February
     272 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Inquiries into the humanity of Jesus Christ is not a recent development in Christian thought.  Mark Cortez's Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology demonstrates that this reflection, in its most basic form, is grounded in the notion that beliefs concerning the human being must be warranted in some way by beliefs about Christ’s person in specific periods in the church’s history (20). The work assumes that a minimal definition of Christological anthropology will be one that not only makes important claims about how Jesus informs what it means to be human, but also that those claims will exceed the narrow scope of the image of God and ethics (22). In order to do so, the author offers respective case studies of the Christological anthropologies of Gregory of Nyssa, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, John Zizioulas, and James Cone. Although each theologian offers a distinct theological vision pertaining to the doctrine, it does not represent all the ways the subject might be developed (25).

Gregory’s model is unique in that Christology informs the nature of human sexuality. Gregory asserts that a “refashioning” of humanity is necessary and possible because the incarnation brings the real union of the divine and human. According to Cortez, in being united to Christ, resurrected Christians in the eschaton will be transformed in such a way where male and female sexual differentiation is no longer essential to humanity.

Cortez writes that for Julian, the true essence of humanity can only be understood by contemplating the humanity of Christ revealed on the cross where the reality of sin and suffering is taken seriously. Julian views the cross as the supreme demonstration of divine love in the triune life of God and the very being of humanity is grounded in this eternal love. The incarnate Christ on the cross shows us what it means to be human: creatures united to Christ and sheltered in God’s love (81) in a broken and sin-ravaged world.

The starting point for Luther’s theological anthropology is the doctrine of justification. He sees the essence of what it means to be human is to be righteous in union with Christ in faith. Justification offers a perspective on the eschatological telos of humanity. Cortez writes that we see God’s intent to bring about true humanity by redeeming, rather than replacing, fallen humanity (95).

Schleiermacher emphasizes the Christian experience of redemption where it is only possible to become truly human through participating in Jesus’ perfect “God-consciousness.” It is in Jesus that perfect humanity is realized since he alone achieved sinlessness through the “constant potency” of his God-consciousness, which marked the union of the divine and human in his person. For Schleiermacher, this seed of God-consciousness operates in every human but cannot be perfected and restored without the work of the Redeemer, according to Cortez.

Barth asserts that Christ, the eternally elected one to be God-for-us, is the ontological determination of humanity specifically because his election includes our election. Jesus is a person who is “wholly and simultaneously” soul and body, but also one where the relationship of Christ’s soul and body includes a genuine distinction. Viewing the unity and duality of Christ’s person, we see in the gospel narratives how the soul of Jesus took priority in guiding and directing his life in the body (an ordered relationship). Cortez’s insight informs Barth’s discussion of the mind/body relationship in light of our election in Christ.

Zizioulas offers an understanding of personhood that is Trinitarian. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share genuine communion and establish the ontologically fundamental nature of personhood where person and being coincide perfectly (169). Although the Trinitarian persons are a revelation of true personhood, Christology constitutes the starting point for the shape and origin of personhood in humanity. The incarnation is the true ground of personhood. If personhood is constituted in free communion with other persons, then God has made that possible by joining the divine and human in the person of the Son who summons all persons to participate in his life. We are most fully human when we are drawn into Jesus’ hypostatic existence and, consequently, turn to the other so that all creation comes to participate in this personal existence (189).

The “Black Messiah” in Cone’s thought is the Jesus who identifies with the weak and helpless in the world. We only receive the self-revelation of God in the context of oppression which will develop into a situation of liberation. Cortez writes that Cone defines the human person in terms of a specific notion of freedom. It is a humanity that is discovered as we participate in Jesus’ liberating activity by working for the liberation of our fellow human beings from all forms of social oppression.

Cortez notes that one can benefit from comparative studies of this nature because it provides the opportunity for encounter new approaches and insights from interacting with diverse theologians from the past. He appears to have a solid comprehension of each theologian’s approach to the subject and fleshes out their thought in a competent fashion. In the last chapter of the book, the author offers some suggestions as to how the definition of Christological anthropology might be justified so that such a definition explains how Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity (224).

Some readers might find it disappointing that the author did not critically engage the strengths and shortcomings of each model presented. He states in the introduction, however, that his only intent is to understand and not evaluate the ways in which Christology informs each proposal (23). This book serves as a precursor to a second work by Cortez in which he intends to give in-depth attention to the questions that arise from these studies.

This is a beneficial work for graduate students and scholars who desire a greater knowledge of various Christological anthropologies developed in Christian history and how those these past works contribute to the ongoing discussion of how the person of Christ informs what it means to be human.

About the Reviewer(s): 

William T. Chandler is a Pastor and former Adjunct Professor of Theology for Liberty University Online.

Date of Review: 
February 27, 2020
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 (, writes a monthly article for, and had articles featured on The Gospel Coalition and Christian Post.


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