Tag Archives: Theological Anthropology

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.)

Review of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective by Mark Cortez

Cortez, Mark. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 272, $27.99, paperback.

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Marc Cortez is currently associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His prior works include Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark, 2008). As the title of these previous monographs indicate, Cortez has an interest in theological anthropology. The recently published Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology represents his third full length contribution to this field.

What makes us human? This is a question upon which much ink has been spilled. Most studies attempting to answer this question have tended focus on one of several topics: 1) human origins, 2) ethics, and 3) the imago dei. What Cortez brings to this already oversaturated field is a rethinking of the methodology upon which so many of these studies are founded. Cortez’s approach to theological anthropology is strictly Christological.

You can read the rest of the review at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.

Two Types of Preaching – Cognitive and Affective

I read and write a lot while on planes, so when I knew I would be spending 30 or so hours going to Liberia and back I knew I was supposed to take some books I had planned on taking time to read and think deeply about but hadn’t had the time to do so yet. One of those books was James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.Desiring the Kingdom This book (along with Imagining the Kingdom) has become a sort of modern day classic. In it he argues for a reappropriation of Augustinian theological anthropology where the ultimate thing about human beings and their actions lies in “love.” As Smith says,

Human persons are defined by love – as desiring agents and liturgical animals whose primary mode of intending the world is love which in turn shapes the imagination.

The things we grow to love and desire are shaped and directed by material embodied practices. These practices – or what he calls liturgies – are fundamentally religious, but not necessarily spiritual. For instance he explains the liturgical practices of shopping at a mall, going to a university, or singing the national anthem at a football game. He rightly points out that “Friday Night Lights” (especially in Texas) are a sort of quasi-religious liturgical event.

Reading Smith’s while on the plane I was finally able to put my finger on why I don’t like certain sorts of preaching. I am not necessarily talking about exegetical depth or even winsomeness of the preacher. There are many preachers who believe the same things I do – yet I can’t stand their preaching – sorry….

There are at least two sorts of preaching: Cognitive and Affective.

Cognitive Preaching
Those who lean towards cognitive preaching tend to believe that being a disciple of Jesus is a matter of getting the right ideas into your head in order to guarantee proper behavior.

Here is what Smith has to say about merely Cognitive Christianity

The result is a talking-head version of Christianity that is fixated on doctrine and ideas, even if its also paradoxically allied with a certain kind of anti-intellectualism. (DTK 42)

This is the sort of preaching that devolves into lists of “practical steps” or “how to’s” of living and behaving “rightly.”

Affective Preaching
This sort of preaching doesn’t aim at the cognitive faculties, it aims at what Smith (following Biblical language) calls “the heart” or what Jonathan Edwards calls “the affections.” It is based of the conviction that we as human beings are:

A creature whose orientations and form of life is primordially shaped by what one loves as ultimate, which constitutes an affective, gut-like orientation to the world that is prior to reflection and even escapes articulation. (DTK 51)

This sort of preaching recognizes that our vision for the good life (the eudaimonistic life) is shaped and directed by aesthetic principles found in stories, legends, myths, novels and films rather than principles. Yet most importantly – our notion ultimate ends is affected by the truth and beauty (both aesthetic principles) of the gospel. Thus this sort of preaching centers itself around the gospel.

All this to say that “cognitive” preaching while not necessarily intellectual, could be emotionalistic, believes that change happens through the intellect. But the affective model while not necessarily emotional as the name might imply, could be highly intellectual (see Piper or Tim Keller) or it might be simplistic, believes that change happens when the affections are stirred.