Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016
272 pp. | $27.99
To date, Marc Cortez (Associate Professor of Theology, Wheaton College) has released a number of significant works on the topic of theological anthropology. In 2008, there was Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies, which was the published version of his Ph.D. dissertation (completed at the University of St. Andrews). In that volume, Cortez approached theological anthropology vis-à-vis Christology, with Karl Barth as a primary conversation partner. Then, in 2010, Cortez supplied a helpful primer on the subject, Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (in T&T Clark’s ‘Guides for the Perplexed’ series). Forthcoming, but not yet published, is T&T Clark’s Reader in Theological Anthropology, which Cortez is co-editor of, and a contributor to.
Having previously published a systematic academic treatment, an introductory volume, and with a reader forthcoming, Christological Anthropology showcases Cortez engaging a topic he is no stranger to, yet from a fresh perspective, namely a largely descriptive exercise in historical theology. The book is organized around seven topics, with a single theologian assigned to each of these. Topics and conversation partners include: sexuality, suffering, vocation, ecclesiology, ontology, personhood, and race, in dialogue with (respectively) Gregory of Nyssa, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Barth, John Zizioulas, and James Cone.
What unifies these diverse pairings of theological locus and historical interlocutor is the way that each exemplifies how Christology ought to serve as a means of illuminating one’s construal of the human person. And, indeed, this is the central aim of Christological Anthropology: to engage the question of what it means theologically to be human, as viewed through a “Christ-centered lens,” and to do so as informed by the contributions of major Christian thinkers (20).
The above being said, Cortez’s work here addresses a genuine lacuna in theological anthropology. While there is a prevailing sentiment that Jesus most fully represents what it means to be human, this thesis is rarely interrogated in any depth, and the points of connection between Christology and anthropology are rarely made explicit. This monograph, then, advances the field: the expositions and explications within gesture toward and map out territory that has too often been left uncharted.
Each pairing of topic and theologian included herein is framed as a case study, with two central questions posed: “what does it mean to say that Christology somehow grounds anthropological claims?”, and “what issues in anthropology can such christologically oriented anthropologies meaningfully address?” (23). In proferring these questions, Cortez does not begin with a developed prescriptive stance regarding christological anthropology, nor, in synthesizing the results of the seven case studies presented here, does he aim for any precise prescriptive conclusions. Instead, Cortez simply offers a sampling of ways in which Christian thinkers, over the years, have handled the intersection of Christology and anthropology. Rather than being dogmatic, these studies function as methodological tutorials, demonstrating how we today can engage pressing questions concerning what it means to be human, as informed by Christology.
There are two main ways in which the strengths of this book may be perceived. On the one hand, Christological Anthropology represents a fine (though necessarily selective) overview of and introduction to key historical figures, along with a summary of their thought processes relative to the intersection of Christology and anthropology. In this sense, what is supplied here is a resource for interaction with historical theology. On the other hand, this book can be thought of as an extended meditation on a select number of important topics concerning the broader questions of what it means to be human. Considering these twin strengths, those drawn to this book due to interest in either its historical or topical dimensions will be equally rewarded.
While this book does excel at its intended task (the descriptive presentation of selected case studies), its limited scope must once again be stressed. If one is seeking a dogmatic or constructive systematic treatment of christological anthropology, it will not be found here. And yet, Christological Anthropology does, by means of theological retrieval, nicely sketch a number of potential avenues for future constructive work. Without commending any of these over another, Cortez nonetheless increases awareness regarding the range of possibilities. If I have a gripe with this book, it is not with its narrow scope, but the selection of dialogue partners. Glaringly absent are any contemporary female theologians. In my view, this book would have been better for the inclusion of, say, Kathryn Tanner or Sarah Coakley – both of whom have made important recent contributions to the field.
All in all (with the above quibble being noted), Cortez’s work here succeeds – and does so at more than one level. Cortez’s summaries of the subjects and personalities included in this volume are at once succinct and penetrating. And, whether wholesale agreement with the conversation partners provided in this book will ever be had, the reader’s thinking will be informed, challenged, and sharpened through dialogue with them. Stylistically, Cortez employs his trademark blend of concision, insight, depth, and humor, which only enhances the readability of this monograph. His combination of competence and levity lends a unique flavor to Christological Anthropology, one that, in my view, only broadens the appeal of this book.
About Tim Harmon
Timothy G. Harmon is Assistant Director of the Th.M. Program at Western Seminary, and lead pastor at Northeast Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate of Western Seminary (M.A.B.T.S. and Th.M.), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in systematic theology.