Anthropology in Poetry and Prose

Becoming Human by John Behr

Becoming Human

Becoming Human by John Behr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been doing some writing on the subject of Christian Anthropology, but after reading John Behr’s slim volume, I don’t know that I’m up to the task. I certainly can do no better than John Behr.

“The glory of God is a living human being.” This first quote alone, from St Irenaeus of Lyon, contains so much theology that one could spend a lifetime studying it. That simple sentence encompases everything we know and everything we cannot know about ourselves, our relationship with humanity, and the reciprocity between us and God.

But wait, there’s more!

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Why Humans Matter

An image of the cover for "The Lost World of Genesis One"

The Lost World of Genesis One

Embedded in the book “Why Mary Matters” is a long section on theological anthropology, or what it means to be human (Part III: Cosmology and Anthropology). Shortly after releasing the book I came across the book “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. This book is unique in that it looks at Genesis using the figurative literal, grammatical/historical hermeneutic so beloved by fundamentalists and evangelicals, and comes up with conclusions that are remarkably similar to those taught by the church fathers.

Of particular interest, because it fits so well with “Why Mary Matters”, is John Walton’s description of the creation of humans on the sixth day. He has already spent a great deal of time developing the idea that the Creation accounts in Genesis are functional rather than material, based on his understanding of ancient near eastern cosmology and world view. Regarding humanity, he writes:

“The difference when we get to the creation of people is that even as they function to populate the world (like fish, birds and animals), they also have a function relative to the rest of God’s creatures, to subdue and rule. Not only that, but they have a function relative to God as they are in his image. They also have a function relative to each other as they are designated male and female. All these show the functional orientation with no reference to the material at all. …All of the rest of creation functions in relationship to humankind, and humankind serves the rest of creation and God’s vice regent.”

What John Walton misses is that humans were created to be the priests of creation, to offer it up to God. This is likely because he, like most Protestants, is not sacramental himself, and so misses the sacramental elements in Sacred Scripture. Still, Walton does notice that the Genesis accounts are functional, in that they describe the building of God’s temple; when His temple was complete, he rested. However, resting doesn’t mean lazing about, but it means that God took up His rightful place ┬áin His temple, and began His rightful work of engaging with His creation. Walton describes humans being God’s “vice-regents”, when it would better suit his thesis if humanity were the priests of God’s temple.

I highly recommend John Walton’s book to anyone interesting in the origins debate. Walton provides a way to understand the creation accounts that should be palatable to the evangelical, and perhaps the fundamentalist, as it does not violate any of their principles of interpretation. Yet this way does not dictate any particular view regarding the creation of the material world, as that is not what the author of the text is concerned with.

Why do humans matter? Because they were created in the image and likeness of God to serve as priests in God’s temple. Why does Mary matter? Because she was the one through whom the Son of God was born after the flesh, so that He might conquer sin, death, and the devil, restoring us to our position as priests of His creation.