Studies in Free Will Baptist Theology: Anthropology

by Ben Campbell

According to The American Anthropological Association, anthropology is simply the act of studying that which makes people human.[1] Anthropological studies focus on archaeology, biblical anthropology, cultural anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. Anthropology, comprised of these four components, focuses on how humans think and act in the different categories that make life life.

Biblical anthropology is distinct from other approaches to human nature, even though there are anthropological contributions in psychology, sociology, and other disciplines. Biblical anthropology benefits humans and provides a framework through which humans can thrive. While the American anthropology approach which prioritizes archaeology and culture is helpful, it is not all inclusive. American anthropology misses an important component of Biblical anthropology. Biblical anthropology considers what it means to be human and is all inclusive to the total personality, whereas American anthropology is limited to observing the past and making probabilities based on past behaviors. One major problem with the American anthropological approach is that it attempts to look backward and forward simultaneously. Before I consider how classical Arminianism contributes to the development of a biblical anthropology, I need to explain why it matters for everyday believers like us.

Why Anthropology?

Biblical anthropology, on the other hand, sees human beings in a completely different light. Instead of making educated guesses at what humans were in years past, students of the Bible can know from where humanity has its origin. Biblical anthropology entertains a few understood realities making the journey of anthropology all the more worthwhile. First, we understand humans as image bearers of Creator God. Being an image bearer of Creator God, the Almighty One, does not mean there is a Supreme Being who looks like a human somewhere in the great beyond. Instead, bearing God’s image is, as Leroy Forlines so eloquently states, “linked to rationality.”[2]  Forlines means that human beings are not silhouettes of God Almighty, but instead reflect God’s person through our rationality. Genesis 1:27 affirms this when God says, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness” (emphasis mine). 

Second, human beings are fallen creatures. Though humanity is created after the image and likeness of Creator God, our natures are fallen. Often, we think of fallen natures as something that might be a bit broken but can be fixed by something we do. This is an unfair approach to our natures as human beings. Our nature being fallen means we are so deep in our sinful state that there is no way out. Spurgeon notes that “sin has deprived man of the principle of spiritual life, and made him a depraved and debased creature.”[3] So, it is not as if human beings simply “miss the mark” per se, but that we are devoid of spiritual life and need to be made alive because of the disobedience of our first parents. With our Calvinistic brothers and sisters, we classical Arminians affirm total depravity. The doctrine of total depravity impacts our understanding of human nature, which impacts how individuals think and act. This position is distinct from any secular anthropology in that secularists teach, from an evolutionary perspective, that humans are basically good.

Consider for example the naturalistic anthropology of popular country song:

I believe most people are good
And most Mama’s oughta qualify for sainthood
I believe most Friday nights
Look better under neon or stadium lights

I believe you love who you love
Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of
I believe this world ain’t half as bad as it looks
I believe most people are good
(Lyrics: Luke Bryan)

The intention of this song is to move the listener to consider that our friends and neighbors are not as “bad” as we think they are. There are several errors with the thinking behind this song, which we cannot discuss in this post. My point is that the Christian worldview does not teach that “most people are good” or that there is “nothing you should ever be ashamed of”. We teach that we are totally depraved, born sinners. We also teach that there is a right and wrong because morals and ethics proceed from God’s nature.

Third, human beings are created for a relationship with their Creator. God, as Trinity, is relationship. God exists within Himself as a Triune Being – meaning that God is One Being and three Persons. Matthew Barrett helpfully explains how God is “One”: 

He is one by nature, he is one in nature. He is not a God made up of parts but a God without parts. There is in him no composition, nor can he be compounded by parts. If he could, then he would be a divided being (parts are divisible by definition), a mutable being (parts are prone to change), a temporal being (parts require a composer), and a dependent being (depending on these parts as if they precede him).[4]

In other words, God exists as one Being through three Persons, in perfect communion with one another. There is no God without relationality because there are no “parts” to the God of the Bible. He is simply relationship within Himself. Thus, human beings – being made in His likeness – are relational as well. Not only does God exist in relationship, but He desires relationships with His creation, which explains how human beings are also relational beings. As Augustine of Hippo says in his Confessions, “You have made us for your own and our heart is restless until they rest in you.”[5]

Fourth, human beings are created for relationships with other human beings. Genesis 2:18 shows us that human beings need human interaction through relationships. God created Adam to maintain the Garden but knew that it was “not good for him to be alone.” So, He gave him Eve to satisfy his need for relationship. Human beings become depressed when they lack interaction of some level. Even introverts need social interaction to an extent. God knew when He created Adam that Eve would be exactly what he needed to flourish, even pre-fallOur contributor Dustin wrote about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminary community at Finkewalde serves as a model for Christian communities today.

Why Does This Matter?

The bigger question of the entire issue is the importance of biblical anthropology altogether. What is the necessity of knowing who we are as human beings, according to the Bible? What does studying anthropology enhance? Why should believers understand the origin of man? The reason this matter is so important is because one’s theology of man will ultimately directly impact their theology of salvation. You see, sinners must recognize themselves for who they are in order to see the need for redemption and the glories of God in Christ in their salvation. If one fails to recognize the way of human beings, he will fail to recognize how one responds to the call of God on their life for salvation. Biblical anthropology teaches who we are and how we can become human again through Jesus. The Gospel impacts the total person!

Ultimately, this is where the Classical Arminianism provides a wonderful framework for how God calls people to himself through His Spirit – what Leroy Forlines calls influence and response. According to The Quest for Truth, Forlines asserts that the influence and response model of salvation “God works in us to influence and to enable us to will and to do His good pleasure.”[6] In other words, the work of salvation for the human person is totally of God and not of man. God works in us by His Spirit through the His Word in order to draw us to himself (John 6:44). 

Human Beings – A Total Person

Where this comes through in your doctrine of man is what Forlines labels the “total personality.” In this view of man, Forlines claims that every human being is a thinking, feeling, acting being. While Forlines uses this approach more in epistemological endeavors, it can be applied to our doctrine of man also. Applied to anthropology, this approach to truth proves faithful to biblical doctrines because it “is made applicable to the total personality – the intellect, the emotions, and the will.”[7] You see, we have been created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27), which means that not only are people rational beings, but they think with their minds, feel with their hearts, and act with their wills. So, when God deals with human beings, He does not deal with them mechanically as machines – He deals with them as thinking, feeling, and acting beings.

Conclusion

This, of course, has massive implications for other doctrines of the faith, which I am sure will be mentioned in future posts. Human beings are people created in the image and likeness of our Creator. Human beings are totally depraved and unable to come to God on our own merit. Human beings were created for relationships with others and with their Creator. And, most importantly, human beings are more than just machines with whom God works against their personalities, they are total persons who are influenced and enabled by God to respond to His drawing power by His Spirit through His active Word. So, when our theology of man is incorrect, it affects more than just your view of others, but also affects your view of God, salvation, other important doctrines of the Christian faith, and especially how your view yourself. 

Jesus the Messiah embodied the best characteristics of what it means to be human-to have the ability to think, feel, and act. He invites us to become human again. As we allow the Spirit to transform us through the Word, we will become more truly human. Being truly human means being conformed to Christ’s image. We are not really living until we are living as Christ’s disciples (see Ephesians 2). While this is an introduction to Christian anthropology from a Christian and classical Arminian perspective, we hope to engage with this important discipline further in future posts!


[1] Author Unknown, “What is Anthropology?” American Anthropological Association accessed March 23, 2021, https://www.americananthro.org/AdvanceYourCareer/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2150.

[2] F. Leroy Forlines. The Quest for Truth: Theology for Postmodern Times (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 136.

[3] Evan Probert, “Human Depravity” The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Seminary, accessed March 23, 2021, https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/human-depravity/#flipbook/.

[4] Matthew Barrett. Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2021), 137.

[5] Carolinne White. The Confessions of St. Augustine (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 9.

[6] Forlines, Quest, 320.

[7] Ibid., ix.

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