Made in the Image
This is part three in a series looking at the question, what does it mean to be human. First, I explored the question itself and how complicated it is to ask today in our 21st Century, Western context; particularly for the church. Next, I considered an entry point back into the conversation. Today, I want to begin looking at the criteria necessary for engaging in a theological anthropology for the 21st century.
What makes anthropological claims Christianly theological is that the selection of their contents, and the way that they are framed, are normed by claims about God relating to us, when God is understood in a Trinitarian way. - David Kelsey
To ask what it means to be human, the Christian response begins with the confession that God somehow relates to us. So, uniquely, a theological anthropology begins with God rather than humanity.
The first criteria needed for a 21st century theological anthropology is that it must be framed within God’s own self-revelation. For Christianity, this means a God who has self-revealed as Triune.* This requires more than an abstract head nod towards a theological category that has no bearing on our life of faith; rather a proper Trinitarian framework is the necessary starting place for thinking theologically about what it means to be human.
So what does God’s triune self-revelation tell us about how God relates to us as human beings?
The three hypostases of God [that is, relations or actions of being] indwell one another in one divine nature… Each dynamically and interrelationally participates in the one work of divine love, creativity, justice, and righteousness through distinctive actions. - Karen Baker-Fletcher
God’s self-revelation as Triune reveals a God who is, in essence, a divine community of love. Moltmann calls this a "process of most perfect and intense empathy." God's self-revelation is relational and that divine community of love is turned outward towards the world. This is what we mean by the claim that God relates to us. This also offers an important addition to our opening premise that human beings are capable of self-reflection, namely that God relates to us uniquely because of that capacity for self-reflection; and perhaps requires a response.
Our (Christian) claim then is that to be human is to be uniquely capable of responding to divine love.
The triune God is a God who perfectly communicates the goodness of Godself among the three persons of the Trinity in perfect self unity. Expressing this dynamic life outward in a grace of beneficent love for what is not God, the triune God brings about a variety of different forms of connection or union with the non-divine, for the sake of perfecting what is united with God, in an effort to repeat the perfection of God’s own triune life. - Kathryn Tanner
This also has important implications for our confession that we are made in the image of this triune God. Not only are we uniquely capable of responding to divine love, we are also uniquely capable of expressing that love outward to others.
Trinitarian life is also our life… The doctrine of the Trinity is not ultimately a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other. It is the life of communion and indwelling, God in us, we in God, all of us in each other. - Catherine Mowry LaCugna
My point here, is that in order for us to maintain a distinctly Christian response of what it means to be human, it has to begin with God's own trinitarian self-revelation.** While there are other criteria that need to be explored, this is an essential piece for us if we hope to continue to ask the question of what it means to be human in our 21st century context.
Over the next few days I will continue to outline the other key criteria necessary and then wrap this up by tying it into Easter.
* I recognize that this may seem like an outdated way of talking about God and up until recently I would have agreed with you; however, I recently wrote a paper on one of the foundational theologians who shaped our trinitarian language and have come to more fully appreciate this.
** This post (as well as the paper it is based on) is not concerned with arguing the finer points of a trinitarian theology. Rather, it is making the appeal that for the church to engage in the anthropological conversation, we must remain distinctly Christian.