Tag Archives: Descartes

Book Note: Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies

In the last several decades, theological anthropology has witnessed a Christocentric turn. Whether it was Ray Anderson’s claim that “only the humanity of Christ… discloses the radical form of true humanity” (1982), John Zizioulas’s understanding that “the mystery of man reveals itself fully only in the light of Christ” (1975), or Millard Erickson’s belief that “Jesus reveals what human nature is intended to be” (1998) it seems as though the Christocentric turn in theological anthropology has made for a truly Christological anthropology. But what does it mean to say that one is doing Christological anthropology? Does it simply mean that Jesus sheds some light on our anthropology, maybe on our concept of imago dei or ethics? Or does it mean something more robust?

In Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, a book which is now almost ten years old, Marc Cortez begins to give shape to the project of constructing a more robust Christological anthropology which moves beyond issues of the imago dei and ethics. A few years later, in 2016 Cortez went on to claim that a robust Christological Anthropology is one in which “Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data.” (2016) However, in Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, Cortez doesn’t yet have that definition fully developed yet. Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies is something like a case study in which the method of doing Christological anthropology begins to get fleshed out.

So how does Cortez go about developing his robust Christological anthropology? He turns to the theology of Karl Barth. Cortez spends the first few chapters of Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies explaining why Barth believed that human nature must be explained in reference to Jesus. Cortez concludes that for Barth, Christ’s significance for anthropology is primarily grounded in (1) the election of Jesus Christ in which other humans are included and (2) the covenantal faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Building on these insights Cortez draws out eight features that he takes to be Barth’s anthropological commitments. At minimum, any Barthian Christological anthropology must include the following eight features:

  1. A strong concept of selfhood emphasizing humans as subjects constituted by particular relationships
  2. An inner life comprised of self-conscious experiences
  3. An understating of continuous personal identity that involves the body and the soul but is ultimately dependent on divine faithfulness
  4. An appreciation of humans as capable of initiating intentional actions
  5. Some view of mentality that allows a causal relationship with extra-mental realities
  6. An awareness of humanity’s determination and freedom
  7. A strong appreciation for the role of the body in every facet of human experience
  8. A recognition that all aspects of human life and nature are contingent realities

With these eight features in place, Cortez turns his attention toward the mind-body debate in contemporary philosophy. Cortez suggests that Barth’s eight Christological criteria for theological anthropology might help to evaluate contemporary proposals about the mind’s relation to the body. In chapter five he evaluates several physicalist options about human constitution. He concludes that for Barth, given his eight criteria, reductive physicalism is off the table. However, non-reductive physicalisms may have some promise if they can account for mental causation, consciousness, and the continuity of personal identity through death and resurrection. In chapter six Cortez turns to several dualist accounts of human constitution. He concludes, that a strong Cartesian dualism is a non-starter for Barth. However, some forms of what Cortez calls Holistic Dualism, might be promising if they can account for mental causation, personal embodiment, and the utter dependence of the soul on God for its existence.

Cortez’s evaluation of recent proposals regarding the mind-body relationship are quite helpful for several reasons. First, chapters five and six provide excellent summaries of various physicalisms and dualisms. These chapters help those not at home in these debates get a grasp on the issues being discussed. Second, and more importantly, Cortez makes a convincing case that given the eight minimalist Christological criteria some forms of physicalism or dualism might be legitimate options for Christians. This is something that people on both sides of the mind-body debate need to hear. In recent years I have encountered numerous theologians who claim that any form of dualism is sub-Christian because it doesn’t take seriously our embodiment. This might be true of some dualisms, but Cortez shows that this is not necessarily true of all dualisms. For example, emergent dualism gives a very robust role to the body; after all the mind “emerges” from a properly organized physical system, i.e. the body. Perhaps these theologians are simply unaware of the variety of dualist options and hastily assume that any talk of “dualism” must mean a form of strong Cartesian dualism.

Besides providing us with the conclusion that Christology can give us minimalist criteria for reflecting upon the relationship between the mind and body, Cortez makes several other important contributions to the field of theological anthropology. First he shows us that Christology’s contribution to theological anthropology need not be limited to ethics or discussions about the imago dei; it can be applied to other aspects of human existence. Second, he shows us that applying Christological insights to our anthropological understanding is no easy task. In all honesty, I wish he would have devoted more attention to the challenge of deriving anthropology from Christology. However, I can’t blame him for not doing this. I understand that this book was something of a first pass at a more robust Christological anthropology. Even still, I hope he addresses these challenges in his forthcoming book on Christological anthropology.

(Note: This was originally posted on Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.)

Advertisements