Accurate view of man foundational for Christian worldview, new SBJT asserts

Communications Staff — August 7, 2009

Is human personhood defined by what one does or what one is? Is the human body merely a tent that houses the soul that will at last be set free in the next life? Can a person who has undergone “gender reassignment” surgery be saved?

Essayists in the latest edition of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology wrestle with these crucial questions in an issue devoted to theological anthropology-the doctrine of man. Contributors include Southern Seminary professors Gregg A. Allison, William R. Cutrer, Russell D. Moore and Bruce A. Ware.

Some might see anthropology as dull or unimportant, but in his opening editorial, journal editor Stephen J. Wellum argues that the need for a biblically sound doctrine of man is fundamental to a Christian worldview.

Wellum points out that there are many competing ideas about human nature in the present postmodern culture, ideas that, if lived out consistently, lead to dangerous consequences.

“In the end, it is a theological anthropology which we desperately need today, given the anthropological crisis of our day,” he writes. “Our world needs to be confronted afresh with the truth of who we are in light of God’s Word.”

The journal sets forth the foundational issues for the doctrine of man.

Allison, who serves as professor of theology, examines the body-soul dynamic that typifies every human being.

While some evangelicals unwittingly embrace a Gnostic notion that the body is less important than the soul, Allison argues that the Bible does not see it that way. Humans have bodies until death and will have bodies again into eternity following the resurrection of the dead. Thus, the body is an important element of personhood, he writes, one that must not be despised.

“Human beings are created holistically,” Allison writes, “so that in this earthly existence, soul and body are an inseparable unity. Indeed, being made in the image of God entails the embodiment of the image bearers. Human embodiment, then, is according to divine design. Accordingly, people should embrace embodiment as a gift from God.”

In an essay on human personhood, Ware argues that human beings are defined most fundamentally by their essence, according to their inherent nature as God’s image bearers, and not merely by their function.

The functionality model, he explains, defines personhood according to a set of “human functions” that one must be able to carry out. The two views-functional vs. essential-have critical consequences, he explains.

For example, pro abortionists argue that the human embryo is unable to perform those functions that define personhood; therefore, abortion is not the killing of a human being and is morally permissible. Christians argue that a person is defined according to their essence, “their humanness,” Ware points out; thus, they view abortion as murder.

“Because essential personhood is more basic and may stand independent of expressive personhood while expressive personhood is always dependent upon and extends out of essential personhood,” he writes, “one’s status as a human person must rightly attach ultimately and only, then, to whether or not one possesses essential personhood.”

In his compelling and provocative essay “Joan or John?,” Moore, who serves as dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration, poses an ethical dilemma, one that he gave as an assignment to his ethics class: as a pastor or Christian counselor how would you respond to a so-called “transgendered” person in your church who desires to be reconciled to God?

Moore unpacks his response and concludes by telling readers why the question has become so crucial in the 21st century.

“We’re going to have more so-called “transgendered” persons in American society, as the culture around us changes,” he writes. “Now, we could always bemoan this and talk about how American culture is slouching toward Gomorrah.

“We should hope, if there are transgendered persons in the cities and towns and villages around us, that we will see them in our church pews. And we should pray, feverishly, that they will hear the gospel we’re preaching as good news for them.”

Cutrer and his son, Robert M. Cutrer, contribute an article that includes some practical suggestions for a wellness lifestyle.

John W. Cooper makes a case for “dualistic holism” as an answer to the current body-soul debate. Cooper serves as professor of theology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. The journal also includes a panel discussion and a number of book reviews.

For more information or to subscribe to the journal, please write journaloffice@sbts.edu.

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