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Book Review by Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg operates the website CultureWatch, devoted to exploring the major cultural, social and political issues of the day.
This book review was originally posted on the CultureWatch website.
This new book on biblical anthropology is excellent, covering modern matters such as transgenderism:
Over the years many good books on biblical anthropology have appeared. One thinks of works such as Meredith Kline’s 1980 book, Images of the Spirit, and Anthony Hoekema’s 1986 volume, Created in God’s Image. This brand-new work is a welcome addition to this topic.
In this book the American theology professor offers us 400 pages on the subject, looking at not just the traditional aspects, such as what the image of God entails, but dealing with plenty of contemporary issues, such as work, justice, sexuality and technology. Thus both the theological and the practical are covered here in some detail.
Strachan begins by noting that modern man is in a state of disenchantment: “We have been told that we people are the chance result of impersonal chaos working its dark magic on the universe; we have no divine origin, there is no design or telos to our bodies and identities, and – this last part is taken almost for granted today – there is no God. The outcome of such thinking? Humanity is disenchanted.”
All the more reason why we need to recover the biblical worldview, including what it means to be human. The Scriptural account of mankind is the much-needed remedy to all the chaos and confusion engulfing us now in the West.
Over the past few centuries we have declared war on God, then on the Bible, and now on man. Simply think of the mess we are creating with the transgender ideology. Says Strachan: “Does the human person live in an ordered cosmos and have an appointed identity, or does he make his own identity in a world without God?”
The biblical view is that God exists, we are made in his image, we are the highpoint of his creation, and we have eternal worth, dignity and significance. But also included is the reality of the Fall: while God made everything good, his creation rebelled and rejected the creator. “The fall is not only a conscious choosing of evil and a sampling of prohibited goods. It is a thorough breakdown of creational order and divine design.”
The image of God still remains in all of us, but it is now greatly tarnished. The gospel (good news), is that Jesus, the true image of God, came to undo the results of the Fall, deal with the sin question, and restore us to God. It is within this storyline that we see who we are, why we are here, and where we are going.
Biblical anthropology gives us the complete and true picture of mankind. On the one hand, because we are made in God’s image, we are majestic and wonderful. But on the other hand, because we are all fallen, we can readily produce Hitlers and Stalins in abundance.
It is out of this one, true view of who we are that we can approach life, assess the situation we are in, and be a force for good. Thus we have a solid answer to the problem of suffering and evil, while secular worldviews do not. They can only say, ‘stuff happens – get used to it.’ Christians can provide much better answers.
A Theology of Mankind
Consider the issue of human sexuality and all the problems we now find associated with it – everything from broken marriages, porn addiction, and gender bender delusions. The world is normalising the promotion of neopagan sexual identity and practices which is causing all sorts of damage and misery.
Says Strachan: “In the twenty-first century, we have witnessed the rise of ideology that seeks to replace divine order with a counterfeit – with what we may call neopaganism. This movement spiritualises sexuality in a design-denying way while rendering sexual practice nothing more than a momentary phenomenon. Sex is both everything and nothing at once.”
The attempt to now mainstream and normalise transgenderism is simply the most recent and most bizarre outworking of all this. A post-biblical age leads to a post-body culture. The great good of the human body as designed by God (consider not just creation but the Incarnation) has been discarded by the sexual radicals.
The lie spoken by Satan to our first parents (‘you can be like God’) has now fully come around: ‘you can now (re)create your own body, and your own sexual identity.’ We can now somehow transcend biology and reality as we choose for ourselves who we are and what we are to become. So now even children are having their bodies horribly mutilated in the vain attempt to become something they are not – and never can be.
In addition to the transgender revolution, there are three other major sexual challenges that the church faces today: feminism, postmarital sexual libertinism, and homosexuality. “Each of these four ideologies is the reversal of biblical teaching and divine design.”
Feminism overturns the biblical ideal of the woman; sexual libertinism severs sex from marriage and encourages men and women to act sexually without respect to morality; transgenderism rebels against the very concept of divine design in terms of identity and appearance; homosexuality revolts against sacred order in terms of sexual identity and practice. These four ideologies represent an antiorder, a worldview that is in truth no worldview at all.
Commenting on Romans 1 and what Paul says about homosexuality, Strachan says this: “Every sin separates us from God by an infinite gap; every sin draws the just wrath of God. But we need to see this clearly: committing adultery with a member of the opposite sex is against God’s will. But committing a homosexual act is not only against God’s will, but against God’s design. It is as thorough a repudiation of the goodness of God as humanity can offer.”
And consider his chapter on technology. Christians should neither fully embrace nor fully reject technology. But as with everything, when it is divorced from biblical anthropology and biblical theology, it has great potential to be used for evil. Indeed, things like transhumanism and posthumanism become all-encompassing worldviews, and rivals to the biblical view.
He writes: “Many transhumanists do not merely wish for humans to enjoy a slightly better diet or walk a little faster. They hold a secular anthropology, they believe in a secular hamartiology, they quest after a secular soteriology, and they live in thrall to a paranoid and deeply secular eschatology.”
As for their secular soteriology, Strachan states: “Salvation does not come by gracious renewal; salvation comes by genetic reengineering. Our problem is not inherently spiritual but physical, so scientists should have a free hand to rewire human instincts, thus shrinking human appetite, forgoing procreation, and reducing testosterone. Each of these ideological commitments flies in the face of biblical teaching.”
Genetic engineering, human cloning and abortion – among other things – are all favoured activities of those pushing these anti-biblical worldviews. We see once again this core truth: ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences.
In this case, bad ideas about God always lead to bad ideas about mankind. And that always leads to really bad outcomes, whether that of the eugenicists, or Hitler’s Final Solution, or Communism’s New Man and the death of millions.
That is why this book is so beneficial. It undertakes two very important tasks: it lays out the biblical worldview in some detail as it relates to the creation of the cosmos and the creation of mankind, offering us a full-orbed look at biblical anthropology.
But it also contains a number of meaty chapters which examine how all this gets teased out in contemporary issues. The outworking of such a biblical anthropology in so many areas of contemporary concern makes this volume very practical and eminently useful.
And the book is rounded off with an important chapter on the Last Adam and the True Man, Jesus. Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. These two figures explain the nature of the human race. As Strachan says in his final paragraphs:
“The doctrine of man, understood in proper theological perspective as one part of the greater whole, is enchanting. It is rigorously personal; it restores humanity to our God-given purpose and design, but more than this, it remakes us in the image of Christ, the true man.”
Well done Owen Strachan for a terrific and much-needed volume.
A Theology of Mankind