theological anthropology

What Is Theological Anthropology?

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“What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4a)

King David’s question so many centuries ago continues to echo in our hearts to this very day. It confronts us throughout our lives. While we may have periods of unawareness, we are all arrested at some point with thoughts of our origin and purpose. We begin to wonder: How did God create me? Why did God create me? Does God care about me? Did he make a mistake? And so on.

These become burning questions for us as humans. These questions aren’t confined to the ivory tower. Ask any teenager for proof. They are confronted daily about what it means to be human.

For example, Carl Trueman opens his wildly popular book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self with an illustration about the intelligibility of the phrase: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” He argues that such a sentence would’ve made no sense to his grandfather a mere thirty years ago. And yet today this statement is nearly ubiquitous and apparently quite understandable.[1] No doubt, understanding what it means to be human is of paramount importance.

In the world of theology these topics are categorized by the terminology of theological anthropology.

Theological anthropology is theological because it seeks to understand the nature of the human person in light of divine revelation. It is anthropology because it seeks to understand the human person. Such an approach is contrasted with anthropology more generally since that merely looks at man without God.

Discerning what it means to be made in the image of God has huge consequences.

Topics in theological anthropology are numerous as can be seen from the range of questions included in it. You’ll find topics like sex, gender, race, family, society, virtue, culture, sin, free will, human origins, mind and body, and more. It’s a sprawling discipline that covers everything you can imagine about us as humans. But the image of God remains center stage for any properly theological anthropology. Discerning what it means to be made in the image of God has huge consequences for how we think about every other aspect of our humanity. For example, if the image of God is revocable or designated only for a select few, then issues of human rights and ethics will quickly come to the fore. It’s imperative that we understand it aright.

Defining each of the sub-disciplines in theological anthropology is impossible in a short essay such as this.But suffice to say each of them are fascinating and worthy of deep reflection. That’s why we at the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture are currently in the midst of a three-year project funded by the John Templeton Foundation. We want to explore and understand these very issues for the benefit of the church. We’ve categorized our research broadly in three segments: defining the human, forming the human, and challenges to the human.

But humans by their very nature are curious and seek to know these topics, so it’s not just the seminary student or Pastor that should spend time thinking about the human person. However, Pastors especially ought to devote themselves to studying and understanding all aspects of the human person to better serve their ministries and the care of their flock. What Shepherd doesn’t know the patterns of their sheep to best care for them?

Naturally, given the expansive range of topics in theological anthropology, you may be left wondering where to start. I’m glad you asked. We’ve got a wealth of resources available right here at the CFC that you can peruse but I’ve also recommended twenty resources here. Tolle Lege!

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[1] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 19.

  • theological anthropology
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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