Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1996
The Doctrine of Humanity is one of several theological books in the “Contours of Theology” series written at the end of the 20th century and edited by Gerald Bray. The assignment of the biblical doctrine of man, was given to Australian theologian Charles Sherlock. Sherlock has been a professor of theology, as well as the Executive Officer of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools. He is not only familiar with theology, church history, and biblical languages, but has a firm grasp of the social sciences.
The fact that Dr. Sherlock is Australian made the book more interesting to me because his perspective and many of his illustrations were somewhat different than I am used to. Sherlock is conservative theologically, but broader socially than many American evangelicals who might read this review.
The author prefers the term “doctrine of humanity” over the traditional term “doctrine of man” because the latter “betrays an assumption that normative humanity is male.” He adds that “it is a doctrine which has been dominated by individualist perspectives” and has rarely considered women and society as a whole.
Sherlock argues that the theological task demands a double focus. One is our view of humanity as formed by the Bible. The other is our life experience as formed by our family and culture. Only when we bring both into focus will we truly understand human nature.
The first focus Sherlock explores is the image of God as presented in the Bible. He looks at many scriptural passages that teach that we are created in the image of God and renewed by Christ. Then he traces these themes through church history. The second focus of the book, the more interesting of the two to me, is a broad look at humanity, which the author divides into two main sections – the human race collectively and the individual.
I found his treatment of both individual sin and structural sin interesting. For example, he writes, “Many Christians, including myself living in an affluent Australia city, need to repent and be converted with regard to our lifestyle. This is no simple matter, since our solidarity in sin means that our status as creature has been endemically affected, as has the whole created order within which we live.”
In writing about cultural pluralism and relativism the author states, “When a different way of life seems as valid and effective as our own, it can be highly threatening, in particular for Christians. If it appears to call into question central beliefs such as the sovereignty of God or the uniqueness of Christ. This is a significant example of the difficulty of distinguishing cultural pluralism from theological relativism. It is one thing to affirm enthusiastically that human cultures are varied and another to say that any cultural practice is as good as any other. This idea is prevalent in western societies, and at an extreme says that no belief can be held as true (not even the conviction that this is the case.)”
This 246 page book is probably not one you are familiar with, but it is well worth reading to help you think more biblically about human nature – individually and corporately.
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