theological anthropology

Twenty Resources on Theological Anthropology

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Christians find themselves increasingly in dire need of resources on anthropology. It is the issue of our age. This is why everyone should invest in reading and understanding what it means to be human.

But given both the breadth of the subject area and the acute challenges faced in nearly every area it’s not easy getting a quick handle on the landscape. In fact, it can be so daunting that you become discouraged and give up.

But take heart. There are great resources available to help get you started and dig deeper. I’m going to give twenty of these in what follows, but there are numerous others that could be mentioned.

Everyone should invest in reading and understanding what it means to be human.

Level 1: Theological Anthropology for Pastors and Parishioners

I want to start with two introductory books that both pastors and church members ought to read. You could easily use these books for study groups or other discipleship venues:

Both are designed to be introductory texts to the main topics in anthropology. But my reasoning for recommending them is different. Cortez is likely the easiest entryway into the conversation. His book covers most of the main areas in under 200 pages. Unfortunately, the scholarship is dated, as the conversation has moved at lightspeed. Farris’ work is much newer and thus avoids this problem. Farris is also longer, covering a far greater amount of material which can be helpful for those looking to have a more comprehensive resource. I’ve reviewed his book elsewhere if you are curious in a fuller explanation of its virtues and vices.

Now, two more books that pastors should read but may be too challenging for a lay audience:

Persons: Human and Divine contains some of the best essays on anthropology you’ll find. It doesn’t engage hot-button issues like gender and transhumanism, but it has some of the world’s leading scholars covering dualism, materialism, and even idealism. And while these topics may sound less enticing than the popular areas, they are fundamental to a well-formed anthropology. Second, the late Sir Roger Scruton’s little book is worth including because he covers different ground than the others, writes from a different perspective, and does so in 150 pages. I don’t include his on the broader church list because he isn’t writing for a church member audience and may be too technical.

Now, two new books might fit on this list, but I haven’t read them yet so I can’t give a full-throated endorsement. However, knowing the authors and their previous content and the table of contents from these books, I think you should give them a look. Here they are:

A really great entry level book on character that I can’t fail to mention in passing is Christian Miller’s The Character Gap. It’s short, interesting, and packed with relevant statistics. He has several other works on honesty that would be worth reading for pastors and church leaders as well.

We need more informed pastors and congregants who understand the issues of the day.

Level 2: Theological Anthropology for the Informed

Okay, so you’ve read these and are ready for the next level of books to really test your chops? You should consider giving these a shot. I’ll try to segment them out into sub-disciplinary areas. I’ll start with anthropology more generally:

These books are academic and technical introductions to various views on human nature. They consider what humans are made up of. For example, do we have souls or are we just bodies? I could list many books here, but I think these four cover the main areas the best. The Ashgate Companion volume is unique in that it has far more chapters on theological aspects than the others. But if you had to pick just one to read, I’d go with The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism because it engages in a point-counter-point sort of style with chapters for and against nearly every possible view on the nature of human persons. I’ve reviewed it in the past here. But all are highly recommended reading.

The next segment of works are all related to resurrection and the afterlife:

Cooper’s book is one of the most influential and powerful books on theological anthropology over the last several decades. He covers a massive amount of ground and is required reading for anyone wanting to think seriously about these topics. Turner’s book is the most academic of this bunch and has some abnormal explanations for how the resurrection takes place, but it is helpful on understanding the motivation for the resurrection and some of the background information. I’ve reviewed it here as well.

Next are two books that are more historical in nature:

Helm’s book covers much of the Reformation and Post-Reformation period and can make sense of a lot of the more technical theological literature, whereas Marmodoro and Cartwright’s book is for the Patristic and surrounding period. Their book has essays that can be very technical, but I think it is required reading to understand the trajectory of anthropology. I’ve reviewed it here if you want to weigh whether it’s worth pursuing.

Finally, these books are an assortment of more ethically inclined books—at least matters of ethical questioning today like gender:

I realize this list is woefully short for the anthropological challenges that pastors are confronted with on a daily basis, but these are good starting points. To be clear, some of these books are mostly inconsistent with traditional conservative evangelical beliefs. I’m not recommending these because they are always right but because they explain the topics well. For example, Mikkola is a feminist, and I disagree with her diagnosis and solution to the problems she works to solve. However, her summary of the issues and debates is marvelous. You’ll benefit from her ability to orient the questions that surround gender, enabling you to understand the language others are using when discussing the topic. So, even where you disagree (which may be most of it!) you’ll be better equipped to engage the ongoing debates. Consider also McKenney who also lands in a place that I think has its own challenges. Despite this, his survey of the possible responses to transhumanism is excellent. You don’t have to agree with his thesis to benefit from his summary of the varying solutions to the challenges. I’ve reviewed his book here.

Wherever you choose to start, don’t quit. We need more informed pastors and congregants who understand the issues of the day and how to apply the gospel to every situation.

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Jordan Steffaniak

Jordan L. Steffaniak (ThM, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is married with two sons. He is co-founder of the London Lyceum, a weekly podcast and online center for analytic, baptist, and confessional theology. He has published in academic journals such as Journal of Reformed Theology, TheoLogica, The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, and Jonathan Edwards Studies. He works full-time in the finance industry, constantly pursuing his curiosity for all things.

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