Being Human

Being Human

If there is one little piece of theology all theological educators need to know about, it is anakephalaiosis or, if you prefer the Latin to the Greek, recapitulatio. But first let us take a step back a little and say why.

The tendency in our institutions is to contrast the human with the spiritual. We say that our job is to help the spiritual formation of the student – and what a shame that the human side of them gets in the way. Indeed, we say that the students are “only human” when talking about disciplinary proceedings.

Now there is a school of thought that says one needs the other. Only as you become more mature in your humanity can you become mature spiritualty and, since Pastores Dabo Vobis, this has been the accepted wisdom in the training of priests in the Roman Catholic Church. But I doubt that this is the correct relationship between the two – after all, as no less a theologian than George Lindbeck points out, some at least of the great saints of the past could not have been described as mature human beings and calls Francis of Assisi to witness[1]. But perhaps they were human beings as intended by God.

We must, of course, distinguish between humanity and sin. Even though they seem to have been mixed up in a complicated way after the fall, it is far too easy to just throw the baby out with the bathwater and avoid both sin and humanity, which is what we have often been guilty of doing.

Anakephalaiosis says that Christ re-headed humanity and so redeemed it. He was the second Adam, restoring, sanctifying and exemplifying what it means to be human. As Athanasius so beautifully puts it. The image of God was defaced in humanity so, just as it is necessary when a portrait is badly defaced for the original sitter to come back and sit for its restoration,  the second person of the trinity, in whose image we humans had been created, came in the incarnation to sit for the restoration of that image of God in humanity.

Therefore, the highest spirituality is to be human as God intended. That expresses the very image of God in us, the very imitation of Christ. Now, there are two big consequences of this truth for theological educators;

Firstly, let us rejoice in the humanity of our students and encourage it. Fun, joy, satisfaction in work and pleasure in relationships, peace in nature, honour, reality and a good laugh – along with much more. We must be teaching our students the godliness of these things.

Secondly, this truth has implications for our curriculum. If true humanity is true spirituality, then the study of society and culture, history and literature, even  politics and psychology, are no longer in the curriculum to help us understand them, those to whom we need to preach the gospel, but become a part of understanding us, what we should be. And the riches of the best of our history and culture, where even non-Christian writers have sometimes seen clearly what is true and glorious about humanity, become helps to our spirituality.

Humanity and spirituality are not two separate things existing in opposition in our colleges and seminaries. Ultimately they are the same thing. How I wish I had been told that when I was at college. Students in our colleges are often just at the point of trying to understand themselves as human beings with all the emotions and longings that involves – and debating how all this relates to their spiritual lives. Of course that relationship is complicated but this truth is a vital piece of the puzzle.

You can be sure that your students are watching you to see not just what sort of teacher, or even what sort of Christian, but what sort of man or woman you are. And they are right to do so.

[1]Spiritual Formation and Theological Education” by George Lindbeck, Theological Education, 1988, supplement 1, p13.

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5 Comments on “Being Human”

  1. Very much enjoyed this, Graham! Thank you. Indeed, dualism seems to be so deeply ingrained in our thinking and practices, including those of seminaries and theological colleges. Addressing it requires not only teaching the call to true humanity, but embodying it in all areas of our lives. That includes our worship times. I love a line from an Iona community song which we often sing at IBTS before sharing the bread and the wine: “May my life be Yours, and yet let it still be me.”

  2. Drew Gibson Says:

    Let me fly a kite! I wonder if it is helpful to understand human beings in terms of relationships. Can we understand the ‘spiritual’ to refer to our relationship with God and all that issues from that. Alongside this is the ‘physical’ refers to our relationship to the rest of creation. Thirdly, the ‘integral’ refers to my relationship with myself, the degree to which I am an integrated person. To be fully human all three of these must be fully developed and an overemphasis or underemphasis on any one of them leads to distorted human beings.

    Clearly the three relationships cannot be fully separated, Hence the distortion that comes when one is over or under emphasised. I often return to Romans 12:1f with Paul’s use of ‘logikos’ to describe the relationship between our physical bodies and our true worship. The philosophical background to the word brings all sorts of insight that I think is what you are driving at. He seems to be saying that it is of the essence of our spiritual nature to be offering our physical bodies to God in worship.

    Being fully human, in all of its richness including, as you say, our laughing and crying, eating, relaxing, working, growing old and much more, is, by definition, a spiritual experience and we do our students no good, if we leave them untutored in the wholeness of life. So then, How do we integrate this into the teaching programme of a secular university? I’ve one wee suggestion, make practical theology compulsory for all theological students. I’ve also one big suggestion, make practical theology the interpretive matrix through which all theology is done. Missiologists have been attempting this for some time and I’m all in favour of this but (whisper it quietly) I see missiology as a third of practical theology, along with liturgics and pastoral care.

    If Christ is the kephale of the new humanity, we allow him to form our theology and our approach to theology. He was certainly not a church historian, systematician or even Biblical scholar but he clearly used these disciplines in his primary work as a ‘carer,’ ‘worshipper’ and ‘missionary.’ So, practical theologians, let’s take over the theological world!

  3. Josué García Says:

    Great Article, just a question: Why some of the best human beings I know are farther away from God than those who are a wreck of persons?

  4. this content is extremely important to me, i’ve learnt a lot here. lista de emails lista de emails lista de emails lista de emails lista de emails

  5. Chris Thomas Says:

    Googled this word in a discussion thread at Roger Olson’s blog and found this piece. Thanks for posting! Enjoyed reading this and a few of your others.

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