Since 2013, I have taught the doctrine of humanity a half a dozen times. And in each class, I have put this question on the final exam: What is the most important doctrine for the twenty-first century?
I ask the question because in every era of the church there are unique theological challenges. For instance,
- In the second and third centuries, the church had to grapple with the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, as well as the errors of Gnosticism.
- In the fourth and fifth centuries, the church had to defend the deity and humanity of Christ, the proper understanding of the Trinity, and the divinity of Holy Spirit.
- During the Reformation, the church recovered the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Christ alone.
- And nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the doctrine of Scripture had to be clarified, because scientific claims and critical methods of interpretation sought to make the Bible a book like any other.
These are but a few doctrinal disputes that have arisen in church history. By identifying doctrines with decades (or centuries), I am not denying the perpetual need to declare and defend all doctrines, but there are certain pressures in culture that cause the church to reassert or reinforce biblical doctrines. And when it comes to the twenty-first century, there is no more important doctrine than the doctrine of humanity.
That’s why I ask that question on my theology exam, and here is the reason.
Humanity is Being Erased Today
As our nation, and its leading thinkers, have effectively barred the presence of God from access into the public square, it was only a matter of time before the image of God (humanity) would suffer and suffer greatly. Because this world was made to be God’s temple, if you remove (or try to remove), God from his world, the only ones who suffer are the creatures made to know God and enjoy him forever. Moreover, when God is denied by the men and women made in his image, all kinds of moral insanity results. Let me give just a few examples.
What happens when you take God out of the courtroom? Well, you have a 2013 court case in New York that attempted to give four chimpanzees human rights. The claim—made by humans not by the four plaintiffs mind you—was that these four quadrupeds were held against their will in various places in New York.
What’s going on here? Well, if you deny God as Creator, you will lose what it means to be human, such that you cannot adequately distinguish the difference between human life and animal life.
The same is true when you take God out of discussions about the environment. Right now, farmers are losing their livelihoods in the Netherlands as the government is seeking to reduce food production for the sake of climate change. Following suit, John Kerry, America’s climate czar is threatening the same thing. And why? Because the planet is more important than people.
Apparently, many world leaders are seeking to engineer a world in their own image, or according to their own wisdom. By keeping God out of our public debates, we have forgotten that humanity, not plants and the planet, are the pinnacle of creation. And thus to upend the food chain in our global economy, puts the environment over the people who depend upon the food produced by farms and farmers.
Or think about medicine. What happens when you remove God, his design for the human body, and his laws about the human morality? One result is that you get doctors who are willing to surgically remove healthy functioning organs, to meet the whims of confused teenagers or trans-abled persons (those who are healthy but wish to be handicapped). In gender reassignment surgery, you have one of many ways that medicine has gone mad today.
But it’s not just medicine. Television, movies, and YouTube influencers continue to invite people to reject the bodies they have received from God in order to augment, enlarge, or improve their shape. Whereas art used to reflect reality, now reality is aping art. Through plastic surgery people are become caricatures of themselves, and beauty is now determined by photoshop.
Rebuilding a Doctrine of Humanity
Still, this should not surprise us, even as should grieve us. In a world without God, humanity is now what we make of it. Our bodies are playgrounds to be remade. And even the bodies of others are not off-limits for personal expression. If we need an abortion or an untested experimental “vaccine” to accomplish our personal or political ends, then so be it. Humanity, in our secular age, is now whatever we make of it.
And for this reason, we need to go back to the Bible to see what God has said about humanity. In the Sunday’s sermon, that is what I did. As Psalm 8 directs to creation and the new creation, we found four truths about our shared humanity in Adam and four truths about our redeemed humanity in Christ. In total, we considered eight truths that we need today to rebuild a biblical view of humanity. Here are the eight truths.
- The Image of God are created to be living statutes in God’s cosmic temple.
- The Nature of Man is that of embodied souls.
- The Creation Mandate is to subdue and rule the earth.
- The Glory of Humanity is found in sonship and likeness to God the Son.
- The True Image of God is found in Christ’s Incarnation
- The True Work of Man is accomplished in Christ’s Crucifixion
- The True Glory of Man is revealed in Christ’s Resurrection
- The True Humanity is enjoyed by means of the Spirit of Adoption
You can hear more about each in the sermon (What is humanity?), which is part three of our series on ontology, The Business of Is-Ness. Indeed, if ever there was a time to study the doctrine of humanity, it is now. And I pray this sermon and this series may assist in rebuilding a biblical view of humanity and the world God has made.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
One thought on “Ontology 101: What is Humanity?”
I am curious – why do you use the term “cosmic temple” … ? Is it in/from the Bible?
In my quick online search, I see it only as a term Dr. John Walton coined. Is he your source for its use?