“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”
Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
“A self-balancing, 28-jointed adapter-base biped; an electro-chemical reduction-plant, integral with segregated stowages of special energy extracts in storage batteries, for subsequent actuation of thousands of hydraulic and pneumatic pumps, with motors attached; 62,000 miles of capillaries; millions of warning signals, railroad and conveyor systems; crushers and cranes (of which the arms are magnificent 23-jointed affairs with self-surfacing and lubricating systems, and a universally distributed telephone system needing no service for 70 years, if well managed); the whole, extraordinarily complex mechanism guided with exquisite precision from a turret in which are located telescopic and microscopic self-registering and recording range finders, a spectroscope, et cetera, the turret control being closely allied with an air conditioning intake and exhaust, and a main fuel intake.”
Nine Chaim- to the Moon
“Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature nor to dispose themselves to reformation.”
Canons of Dordt
3rd and 4th Heads, Art. 3
As is evident from the quotations above, the answer to the question in our title is not all that easily and quickly answered. Throughout the history of philosophical and theological ideas there have been many anthropologies proposed. But the question does have an answer and the Christian has always had one. The question, furthermore, is extremely important and it behooves you as Christian young people and us as Christian older people to know in detail what that answer is. For if you answer this question correctly, many of the other questions concerning who God is and what salvation is will also be correctly answered. That is not a guarantee, you understand, but as a general rule if one has his anthropology straight, if he knows who he really is, then the rest of his thinking will be straight as well. If one is to get to the heart of another man’s religion, then one of the most basic questions which he must ask is, “What is man?” to this particular individual. As you read your philosophy and your theology, ask that question and you will see how quickly many other ideas fall into place as well.
The asking and answering of this question has been going on for quite some time. Generally, however, there are four main notions of man that have come down to us through history. You must realize, of course, that I must needs oversimplify — I will leave the amplification to your own time and study. Most philosophical and theological systems can be, I think, grouped around these main ideas. There is first (not in time) the Greek idea that man is a rational animal, living by natural law, seeking happiness by knowledge (Plato, et al). Secondly there is what is known in the history of ideas as the Hebraic notion of man. Man was a free individual living by divine law seeking righteousness by obedience to the law (The Pharisees). Thirdly, there is what can be called the “modem,” post-Enlightenment view of man. Man is a sensitive animal living by social law seeking security by adjustment to his environment. Finally, there has been running throughout all of history the Christian view of man. To the Christian, man is a moral-rational creature who, by virtue of his creation, is adapted to the service of God; by nature he reveals the image of his father, the devil, and is restored to the image of God only by the power of God’s grace. All of these concepts could be treated in book-length form and many of them have, but the above must suffice for now.
To know one’s anthropology, then, is important, for there are different anthropologies extant. And, the point I wish to bring to you is that this is true even today. This point came home to me as I was reading the April 2nd, 1973 issue of Time. There we are given the earth-shattering news that a new breed of psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists are in the process of rediscovering human nature. They have had enough of behavioral and Freudian psychology. Don’t begin to clap your hands too loudly, however, and shout from the rooftops, “Haven’t we all?” The fight is the behaviorists and Freudian psychologists versus the new breed called the humanistic psychologists. The behaviorist anthropology, propagandized most persuasively by B. F. Skinner, especially in his recent Beyond Freedom and Dignity, adopts the position of the “modem” above. Especially to be noted is the fact that man’s nature is changeable — there is nothing fixed or constant; he is completely fluid. This makes him subject to change and his environment is the agent that does exactly that. Man, then, is basically good; there is no evil inherent in him. The evil is due to environmental influences. The Freudian anthropology was somewhat different in emphasis. The Freudian placed a great deal of emphasis on the “inner man” (nonexistent to Skinner). But to the Freudian as well, man is basically good and the evil within him is due to past influences. And now, enter the humanistic psychologist. “There is,” says the Time article, “a sneaking reappearance of the old notion that certain fixed elements in man (once unscientifically known as “human nature’) are not susceptible to environmental changes.” The humanistic psychologists have challenged the behavioral belief that man is infinitely changeable and are now beginning to speak of man having “an irreducible core of evil (another unscientific term).”
Without further study, this appears to be an enlightening and proper move. What in reality is happening, however, is that the new humanists are working to reinstate man to his rightful place so that he can determine his own fate. The age of scientism with its emphasis upon technology and a technocratic man is facing its demise, man’s environment is no longer regarded to be the primary force in determining man’s nature but man must again assert himself as man and realize that he himself is the most active force in shaping his life and nature. Rollo May, the most noted of the new humanists, is optimistic about this new charge against the “academy.” Says May, “My faith is that the human being will be rediscovered.” But do not be fooled, we have merely moved from the “modem” to the “Greek.” Evil, though contended to be an “irreducible core,” will be controlled by man himself through the assertion of his will.
It is striking, is it not, that man is not progressing but constantly reverting? Solomon’s wisdom of “there is nothing new under the sun” is evident in all of this psychologizing and philosophizing.
Let me close with a bit of advice. Never make the mistake and conclude that somehow man, without the grace of God, and without acknowledgment of his sin and depravity with its resultant repentance, will ever pull himself up again by his bootstraps. Romans 1 cannot be quoted too often or studied too much these days. Arm yourselves with the Word for in the Word is revealed to us who we really are and what man really is. Read and study your confessions — they are too often neglected these days. Finally, by all means find out who you are. Stand before the mirror of God’s Word; align yourselves with the plumb line of God’s precepts. If this is done we will thank God that He does not deal with us according to our natures, but according to the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.