Review of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective by Mark Cortez

November 29, 2016

Cortez, Mark. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 272, $27.99, paperback.


Marc Cortez is currently associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His prior works include Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark, 2008). As the title of these previous monographs indicate, Cortez has an interest in theological anthropology. The recently published Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology represents his third full length contribution to this field.

What makes us human? This is a question upon which much ink has been spilled. Most studies attempting to answer this question have tended focus on one of several topics: 1) human origins, 2) ethics, and 3) the imago dei. What Cortez brings to this already oversaturated field is a rethinking of the methodology upon which so many of these studies are founded. Cortez’s approach to theological anthropology is strictly Christological. Although this book is not primarily a constructive proposal but a study of historical Christological anthropologies, Cortez reveals his constructive method which will be taken up in a future study.

Cortez begins by defining Christological anthropology. He defines this approach as “one in which (1) Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human and the scope of those claims goes beyond issues like the image of God and ethics” (p. 22). In order to make a case for what this approach looks like, he devotes seven of the eight chapters to exploring the Christological anthropology of five historic authors and two contemporary authors. Cortez begins by showing how Gregory of Nyssa’s Christological anthropology “requires that we bracket out biological sexuality as a nonessential feature of historical humanity” (p. 55). He then turns his attention to Julian of Norwich’s cruciform anthropology in which the cross reveals that to be human is to be a creature united to Christ and sheltered in God’s love. The chapter on Julian is followed by a chapter on Martin Luther’s understanding of how justification informs what it means to be human. Here Cortez argues that Luther’s theology of justification reveals not only the current fallenness of humanity but the eschatological telos of humanity in which God intends to bring about true humanity by redeeming it rather than replacing it (p. 95). The chapter on Luther is followed by a chapter on the reformed theologian, Schleiermacher, who in general is not well received by many conservative Christians. Cortez recognizes that including a chapter on Schleiermacher might seem unusual to some, and he attempts to defend his decision to devote a chapter to him. He argues that Schleiermacher’s anthropology is truly Christological. The subsequent chapter treats the theological anthropology of Karl Barth (a subject about which Cortez has previously written a full-length monograph). This chapter primarily focuses on Barth’s method and the difference it makes for the mind/body debate. The final two chapters address the work of two contemporary theologians: John Zizioulas and James Cone. Both chapters emphasize the communal nature of human beings. Zizioulas’s theology emphasizes the communal nature through his Trinitarian definition of personhood, and Cone emphasizes this by understanding humanity in light of liberation of the oppressed. All in all, these chapters serve as fitting introductions to the theological anthropology of the chosen figures. The chapters are concise and charitable, and the theological novice will quickly learn the prominent themes in the works of these theologians.

Despite the usefulness of Cortez’s case studies in Christological anthropology, the most interesting aspect of this book comes in his introduction and conclusion, since it is here that we see Cortez’s method on full display. First, we see that Cortez’s method expands discussions of theological anthropology beyond the overplayed themes of human origins, ethics, and the imago dei. His definition of a minimally Christological anthropology necessarily expands it beyond these themes. This ought to be welcomed in theological anthropology, which has so often been bogged down by these three issues. Second, his method captures and articulates an intuition that many Christians share but are unable to articulate well, namely, that Jesus’s humanity should make a difference when thinking about our own humanity. If in Christ we are presented not only with the fullness of Godhead but also with the fullness of humanity (p. 13), i.e. true humanity, then we would think that theological anthropology should turn to Christ in order to explain what it means to be human. In short, Christ is the epistemological key to theological anthropology.

Although Cortez argues for the epistemological priority of Christology for anthropology, he does not provide a normative method for making the move from Christ to what it means to be human. Some readers may see this as a fault in this book, but this is to misunderstand the purpose of the book, namely, to define Christological anthropology and provide some case studies in this method. Finally, his method provides ample logical space within which variations of this method may develop. He allows for a “minimally Christological anthropology” in which Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human and “comprehensively Christological anthropology” in which Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity (p. 225). Creating space within which variations can exist ensures the usefulness and applicability of Christological anthropology across a wide range of theological traditions.

Though this reader has found much to appreciate in Cortez’s volume, this does not mean it is without shortcomings. First, it should be noted that Cortez does not critically engage with the theologians in his case studies. These case studies are primarily summaries of a given theologian’s anthropology. Readers would have benefited if Cortez had given at least a few reasons for not accepting a given theologian’s claims. Second, Cortez fails to address, in any substantive way, potential critiques of Christological anthropology. As someone who finds affinity with Cortez’s methodology, I would have liked to see Cortez respond to some objections to this method. Given the lack of engagement with possible objections, one gets the impression that his method is simply the best way to do theological anthropology, but Cortez does not do enough to motivate this conclusion.

Despite these flaws, Cortez has provided his readers with an excellent introduction to the topic along with some interesting and varied case studies. This book will be valuable to upper division undergraduate and seminary students who are wrestling with various methodological approaches to anthropology. It will also serve those who are interested in anthropological issues beyond human origins and the imago dei. Perhaps some of those students will continue to build upon the solid foundation that Cortez has laid in this book.

Christopher Woznicki

Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA

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