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Man-handling Man-centered Theology

(Lisa Robinson)

I often hear this distinction being made typically by Christians who hold the sovereignty of God and the Bible in high esteem, God-centered vs. man-centered. Whenever I see it articulated, I get the sense that it is often communicated to distinguish between Christian faith and practice that is shaped based on the desires of man vs. what God wants and has communicated to us.

Now I do affirm God-centered theology. I do hold God’s sovereignty in high esteem. I strenuously insist that God’s self-revelation though the Incarnate and written word must inform our theology. When deciphering the character and nature of God, his actions and requirements, his ultimate revelation through the Son, and redemptive history it behooves us to approach his Word with the greatest humility. Surely that will mean confronting some aspects that are uncomfortable. But it helps to remember that He is God; we are not.

So I sympathize with the decrying of man-centered theology if that means theology that is shaped by man to accommodate man’s creation of God and the Christian faith in his or her own image. However, I think we can go too far and cut man out of the picture all together. God-centeredness does not mean man nothingness.

A friend alerted me to this interview with Kelly Kapic, author of A Little Book for New Theologians. Kapic is a professor of theological studies at Covenant College. I had not heard of him before but I loved what he said in this interview.

This is partly behind what I mean by advocating for an “anthroposensitive theology.” Forgive me for being technical for a minute, but I define it as a refusal to divorce theological considerations from practical human application, since theological reflections are always interwoven with anthropological concerns. This combination of “anthropo-” (“human”; “relating to human beings”; from Greek anthropos) and “sensitive” is an attempt to avoid an overly simplistic classification of theology as either theocentric (God-centered) or anthropocentric (human-centered).

Clearly our theology must be God-centered, but this language can mask the reality that our theology is, at the same time, concerned with our relation to this God. While other terms such as “pastoral” or “experiential” could be used, these terms often carry either unnecessarily negative connotations or represent a notion of what is done only after theological reflection, as though we work to get our theology correct and then move on to practical concerns. Yet in the complex relationship between life and theology, we should admit that for good or ill our experience and practice not only grow out of our theology but also inform it.

It doesn’t take much for me to convince people that good or bad theology can influence how we live – people are quick to embrace this trickle down theory. But then when I argue that not only does our theology influence our lives, but our lives influence our theology, it is at that point people get nervous. They may agree that ‘liberals’ have allowed ‘cultural forces’ to influence them (e.g., ‘they just think that because they are reflecting radical feminism’ or something like that). But too often we fail to see that this applies to all of us, for good or ill. None of us escape ‘culture,’ and none of us escape the reality that our life experiences influence our theology. Our experiences often make certain things more or less believable (this is similar to an important insight by Wittgenstein). Thus, we need to watch our ‘lives and doctrine’ closely, for they are interwoven in ways we may never fully appreciate.

This is what I mean by man-handling man-centered theology by insisting it has nothing to do with us. As I wrote about in De-Humanizing Christianity, we can treat God-centered theology in a way that erases any traces of our humanity in the equation and reduce people to widgets who believe, say and do the right thing. Later in the interview Kapic also addresses this notion of pure objectivity as if our personality, experience, personal history or any kind of cultural influences (including Christian sub-cultures!) don’t contribute to our articulation of Christianity. This is delusional.

At the heart of Christian theology is God who came down to man. His condescension resulted in becoming man who sympathizes with all our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). In a sense man is at the center because theology is aimed at man and all the fallibility that comes with it. Again, I’m not saying we get to dictate the terms so don’t go there. What I am saying is that God-centered theology is man oriented. It is because God wants to be the God of man he created (see Exod. 6:7) that we must take into account the attributes of man as much as the attributes of God.

Swiping man out of the picture has ramifications for the personal transformation and contributions to the church as well as the world. If we don’t treat man in accordance with the image bearer he was meant to be, we are not doing Christian theology any justice. Theology is to be applied and lived, not just in our own personal Christian walks but also how we impact the world we live in. And that world contains people, hurting people, proud people, challenged people, abused people, fearful people, and so on. People whose ways of lives and thinking have been shaped by their environment and personality, who then go impact other people, individually and in collective ways, yes even in the church.

And there are also injustices perpetrated by man towards others. Personal injustices as well as systematic injustices. Injustice undermines, and in some cases, destroys human dignity. Human flourishing is as much a part of a Christian worldview as God-centered theology because the aim is for man to find his worth in the one true God and contribute to the world around him accordingly. Gen. 1-2 doesn’t go away because of Gen. 3. We cannot sweep injustices under the rug as if it is meaningless. Injustice impacts people’s lives. Even perceived injustice can shape how we think and respond.

Yes, transformation begins with union in Christ and the work of the Spirit in accordance with the Father’s will.  As Paul notes, being transformed in the renewing of our mind proves the good and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). But getting there takes dealing with man according to who he is and what has impacted him. I was reminded yesterday in a class on Hebrews, that the heart involves the thoughts and intentions (Heb. 4:12). How has this been shaped? That is a crucial question that we must deal with. It’s why the task of pastoral counseling should be handled with the utmost thoroughness and care. It’s why we have to consider the lens through which people view the world if any type of meaningful orientation towards Christian faith, practice and ethics is take place. Our humanity matters.

So let’s not man-handle man-centered theology by throwing man out of the equation.

14 Responses to “Man-handling Man-centered Theology”

  1. I kinda got the gist of what you were saying there. To many big words for me. But I think what you are saying is correct.
    So tell me if I am wrong.

    Jesus wants us restored to origianl value, like Adam. Thats why He died, He became sin so we could become the rightousness of God. Throw all theoligey ( My spelling needs some work) in the bin and because like Christ, setting them free,healing all. We are three parts Spirit,soul,and body. Soirirt is as right with God as Jesus is, when we recive Christ.
    Soul that jumps for the bodys requests and evey whim needs to be renewed and align with the Spirit, and the flesh needs to die.

    So when the soul which is heart thoughts mind etc. Need to think newly for want of a better word. Its the soul that need renewed and needs to think spiritualy. Who do we do that? How do we renew the mind? how do we die to self? Read the bible New covanant believe the NC and do what Christ told you to do. Heal the sick raise the dead and set every one free from every work of the devil/satan. he is under our foot. Christ came to destroy the works of satan. And now we are to finnish it. Adam had full authority of the earth, He bowed the knee to satan and gave it to him. Jeus rose again and full power was restored to Christ. Christ gave us the Holy Spirirt who dwells in the believer. Jesus Is in the Father and they make there dwelling in us. So we having the full God head in us. So we though Christ retore the kingdom as manifest sons of God.

    Hope I never over simplified it.
    But it really is simple.
    And so magnificent I love being a Christian today.

    • @vegeta
      Is it not enough to read a Bible word, getting the meaning and understanding the thought and midatate, with out changing and adding SELF employed reasoning to persuade others to your thinking (example) God is Love. Then add except sinners. You error why is God mercyful?
      Christ’s blood was in the soul shew to buy back the life of living for ever in a gardens of earth
      A life for a life what is hard about this message to comprehend the opposed of living is it not death
      The breath of life leaves the body (soul), returned to creator who gave it Was not Lazures raised after being in a tomb for week?
      What did Jesus Christ say later don’t add words or remove some. Why did Mary wash and anointed his feet with oil? Did you get it?
      She knew his spiritual self would not die but give the spirit back to mankind because of Adams Disobedience (The Sin) inherented to all humanity What’s her tier’s about. His blood was the cost for redemption the price of salvation.
      The dogmatic changes to word document of Bible words is done by writer’s of many books so they lead you to following them

    • @vegeta
      Is it not enough to read a Bible word, getting the meaning and understanding the thought and midatate, with out changing and adding SELF employed reasoning to persuade others to your thinking (example) God is Love. Then add except sinners. You error why is God mercyful?
      Christ’s blood was in the soul shew to buy back the life of living for ever in a gardens of earth
      A life for a life what is hard about this message to comprehend the opposed of living is it not death
      The breath of life leaves the body (soul), returned to creator who gave it Was not Lazures raised after being in a tomb for week?
      What did Jesus Christ say later don’t add words or remove some. Why did Mary wash and anointed his feet with oil? Did you get it?
      She knew his spiritual self would not die but give the spirit back to mankind because of Adams Disobedience (The Sin) inherented to all humanity What’s her tier’s about. His blood was the cost for redemption the price of salvation.
      The dogmatic changes to word document of Bible words is done by writer’s of many books so they lead you to following them

      Josef

    • Your theology is OVER 9,000!!!!!!

  2. “Human flourishing is as much a part of the Christian worldview as God centered theology…” Really? Then you have made man centered theology equal to God centered theology. Human flourishing is the current buzzword of liberals such as ++Katharine Schorie and ++Justin Welby. It is nothing more than a nuanced version of the prosperity gospel.

  3. Dale, I would beg to differ; flourishing encompasses so much more than economics that to equate it with the prosperity gospel is oversimplification. I believe (and Lisa may correct me here) that the point is that it’s not an either or, but a both and situation and both must be in view whether contemplating practice or abstract principles.

  4. Vegeta, you said

    “Adam had full authority of the earth, He bowed the knee to satan and gave it to him. Jeus rose again and full power was restored to Christ. Christ gave us the Holy Spirirt who dwells in the believer. Jesus Is in the Father and they make there dwelling in us. So we having the full God head in us. So we though Christ retore the kingdom as manifest sons of God.”

    Yes, Christ restores what was lost in Adam. I would say that includes our dignity and worth. That is why Dale’s comment about human flourishing misses the mark in what I’m addressing. But your last sentence is a stretch and not what I’m saying at all. Certainly, our contributions to this earth matter but God is the one who will ultimately restore his kingdom, which won’t happen until the new heavens and new earth.

  5. Dale, that’s quite the leap from liberal to advocating prosperity theology. Not my position at all or what I’m advocating here. The way I’m defining human flourishing is in context of a God-centered theology as noted in the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs, which is far from being liberal.

  6. Lisa and Ray
    I did not equate human flourishing with the prosperity gospel. You are misrepresenting what I wrote. I said it was a nuanced version of it. Human flourishing for KJS is about more than justice. It is primarily about a material world, especially environmental sustainability.That is her Kingdom of God. It is not a spiritual understanding of stewardship of the earth at all unless you consider Gaia a spiritual entity. Look more closely at how that term is used and in what context. It is the new missiology of ++Justin Welby and it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  7. Jesus told us that we would do even greater things than He did. The manifest sons of God are the ones who walk and fully represent Christ on earth.
    Why is it that Jesus said, He will not return until all His enemys are under His footstool? This is not a stretch This is Kingdom walking.
    What do you concider kingdom to be/mean?

  8. Romans 9:20
    Do you tell God what man should do

  9. Great verse there josef. Do you have a point your trying to make. One verse and nothing guiding us to your point. Little more please?

    • Why ? You cant understand milk meant for a babe
      How will you determine a sacred secret
      God is Love Hates Sin
      Explained where …. 1st book of bible 1st chapter
      The Sin and the Ransom

  10. Mentioned before keep it simple
    Impunity is a useful word that describes wordy writer’s self esteem to lend what weight to us less data about a subject
    what is of more value of sewing needle the point or the eye….. neather it the thread that holds the product together
    The wisdoms to the Bible teaches knowledge so the heart speaks
    The house not build on rock mass will fall to destruction
    Josef

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