We constantly speak about man in theology. But is it legitimate in the first place? Theology, as you know perfectly well, consists of two Greek words that mean “God” and “word.” It is the word about God. This is the shortest and the truest definition of theology. Only R.C. Sproul’s definition can compete with it in sharpness: “Theology is the study of God.”
Theology is about God and emphatically not about man. Theology is not even about any abstract God but about the concrete God revealed in the history of Israel and in the person of Jesus Christ. The focus and intention of the Bible and, consequently, of theology is very narrow and highly specific. So “how dare you” speak about man? Do we have an explanation and justification for the intrusion of anthropology into theology, for the intrusion of the word about man into the word about God?
We can legitimately speak about man in theology for two reasons: first, God created man in His image; second, God Himself became man.
These two facts immediately bring man into the circle of our thinking and talking about God. It turns out that, in fact, we can’t speak about “God revealed in the history of redemption” without speaking about man in the same breath. So, formally, theological anthropology is justified by the very nature of theology itself.
But the reverse is true too. Man cannot be understood apart from his relation to God, or better, God’s relation to him. The very first definition of a human being is that it is a being in a special relationship to God. This is what defines man in his most basic core. Counterintuitively and paradoxically, it is neither outer form (a particular physical body) nor inner experience (thoughts and feelings) but an external link to God—an external attitude of God—that makes this being a human being.
The center of gravity of the human person is, as David Kelsey put it, eccentric—that is, it is situated outside the person. And this center is God in His creative and redemptive acts directed toward man. As the author of Hebrews formulated it so well, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16). Human beings are higher than angels (and, it follows, higher than any other being in the world) because God saves human beings and does not save angels. God does for man what He does not do for angels, cats, trees, and stars.
What is man? Man is that being which God created in His image. What is man? Man is that being whose nature God chose from the whole universe to take upon Himself at the proper time.