Man

The Doctrine Most Under Fire: Anthropology

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When Joab prepared for battle with Ammonites, he realized he was now to face conflict from behind and before: from the city walls of Rabbah, and from a hoard of arriving mercenaries (2 Sam 10:9–12). He told Abishai to be ready to run to wherever the battle was hottest. It did not make sense to simply divide their forces evenly, for they did not yet know from where the fiercest opposition would come. Furthermore, enemies attack more fiercely where they sense the defenses are weakest.

Believers who earnestly contend for the faith must mimic that approach: run to where the battle is. Practicing swift sword-strokes in the air while on the battlements facing south when you can hear a real battle raging to the north is willful ignorance, and probably cowardice. The quote attributed to Luther (which is a very dynamic paraphrase of his original words) runs thus:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

Similarly, the spiritual forces of wickedness are likely to assail that point of doctrine which has been neglected, poorly guarded, or merely taken for granted. 

In our day, the theological battle is on many fronts, but none rages so hotly as the battle over anthropology. Anthropology—the doctrine of man—is one of those doctrines that usually gets short shrift in Systematic Theology 101. Along with hamartiology (sin) and angelology (fallen and unfallen spiritual beings), these doctrines have usually been seen as auxiliary to the grandly developed doctrines of Christology, soteriology, and even bibliology. 

The spiritual forces of wickedness are likely to assail that point of doctrine which has been neglected, poorly guarded, or merely taken for granted.

But today we see the painful consequence of neglecting any area of doctrine, for many of the false ideas of social justice, intersectionality, critical race theory, and the LGBTQ+ are simply heretical ideas of the doctrine of man. 

At the top of this list of errors is a distortion of sex. Feminism began the attacks in the twentieth century, and the church slowly responded by articulating a biblical vision of manhood and womanhood, using the newly-coined term “complementarianism.” The term was novel, but the doctrine was not, representing ancient and biblical ideas of how the two halves of God’s image in humankind relate to each other.

Close on its heels was the distortion of sexuality. Once the idea of covenantal love and the biblical family as normative was defeated through no-fault divorce, normalization of cohabitation, and the mainstreaming of pornography, it was not long before sexualities once regarded as taboo and shameful would seek out not just cultural acceptance but legal recognition and protection. Again, the church has been scrambling in the last decade or so to articulate responses to homosexuality and transgenderism, and it is still playing catch-up with those defending monogamous homosexuality, or homosexual desire that is not acted upon, and the like. 

The question of race is likewise part of the doctrine of man. A few scattered voices had written on race in the last fifty years, but they had often been liberation theologians, tainted by Marxism and revolutionary paradigms. Again, the doctrine of man deals with the questions of ethnicity, nations, languages, as well as racism, partiality, oppression, and slavery. Because Christians were reluctant (or merely slow) to speak cogently and clearly on race, ground was conceded to critical race theorists who have completely redefined words such as whitebiasracismprivilege, and systemic racism. Now the church faces a Trojan horse of those inside its own walls fighting for the biblical idea of racial harmony by tearing away at biblical doctrine.

Perhaps most neglected of all anthropological doctrines has been the idea of culture. Culture fits squarely into the doctrine of humanity (with overlaps into the doctrines of revelation and bibliology). It examines the question of how humans are shaped by religion, how meaning is transmitted and represented, and how God’s providence and revelation has used and interacted with cultures over the centuries. Yes, certainly there were a slew of evangelical books in the late nineties and early millennium on Christianity and culture, but many of their definitions of culture were either novel (ignoring the work of men like Matthew Arnold, Jacques Barzun, T. S. Eliot, Max Weber, Russell Kirk, or Richard Weaver), somewhat equivocatory (as in Niebuhr), or so everythingist that they included everything and excluded nothing, rendering their definitions practically useless.

It is time for Christian pastors, leaders, and scholars to rush to the battle over anthropology, to be of good courage, to be strong for our people and for the churches of our God.

By leaving the meaning of this important word to be defined by unbelievers, evangelicals have come to be at the mercy of those who equate their Darwinian concepts of race with culture. They are nearly defenseless on questions of colonialism, Western “cultural forms,” “Western cultural hermeneutics,” or claims of missionary impositions of “Western culture.” Once the question of culture seemed merely a speculative question for aesthetes and those dubbed “elitists” for their insistence upon excellence in corporate worship. Now the vandals have reached the gates. Matters of worship, hermeneutics, tradition, and even of Christian heritage and patrimony are now at stake because of Christian agnosticism or neglect over this idea.

It is time for Christian pastors, leaders, and scholars to rush to the battle over anthropology, to be of good courage, to be strong for our people and for the churches of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in his sight.

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David de Bruyn

Pastor New Covenant Baptist Church, Johannesburg, South Africa

David de Bruyn was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he now pastors New Covenant Baptist Church and resides with his wife and three children. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). David hosts a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa, serves as a frequent conference speaker, and is a lecturer at Shepherds Seminary Africa.