Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Defense of Biblical Anthropology

Alice C. Linsley

Anthropological study of Genesis is as important as theological study. Indeed, it may be more important because it permits us to understand how the ancients of Eden understood God; to glimpse their intimate experience of the Creator who never changes. God’s immutability is communicated profoundly in the Genesis narratives and in the ancients’ understanding of divine rule and order.

The Genesis narratives are connected to place and time, to environmental conditions, to the rising of rivers and to the expansion of herds on the wet Sahara. From a particular place they speak to the world as the world could never speak to that ancient place.

G.K. Chesterton understood that Rudyard Kipling was a man of the world who loved no one place well enough to really know it. Chesterton wrote, “It is inspiriting without doubt to whizz in a motor-car round the earth, to feel Arabia as a whirl of sand or China as a flash of rice-fields. But Arabia is not a whirl of sand and China is not a flash of rice-fields. They are ancient civilizations with strange virtues buried like treasures. If we wish to understand them it must not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of children and the patience of poets.” (Heretics, p. 51, 52)

Anthropological tools applied to the Genesis narratives enable us to place the material in the proper cultural context. This resolves many theological controversies and clarifies God’s eternal power and divine nature. We gain greater insight also into Christ, who is one with the Father and shares the Father’s immutable nature.

Biblical anthropology is in service of theology, at least good theology. It serves the Church by grounding politics and doctrine, liturgy and prayer in the not-so-big ideas, but in the daily routine of the common man who lives out his days raising children, building, investing and planting a garden.


DDeden said...

Your portrayal of Eden (Africa/Arabia) differs greatly from mine (Black Sea region).

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, I am aware that we disagree on this, but that's okay. :)