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Recovering Human Dignity

Truth In Love 383

Why do we need, more than ever before, a theology of mankind?

Oct 3, 2022

Dale Johnson: And this week on the podcast, I am delighted to have my wonderful, very personal friend, Dr. Owen Strachan with us on the podcast to discuss this issue of the image of God in man. He’s the Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. Before coming to GBTS he served as Associate Professor of Christian Theology and Director of the Residency Ph.D Program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is where I had the privilege of getting to know Owen much better. He earned his Ph.D from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, his M.Div from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his AB from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He is married and is the father of three children. Dr. Strachan has authored numerous books, including the one that we are going to talk about today, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (with Kevin Vanhoozer), and Christianity and Wokeness: How the Social Justice Movement is Hijacking the Gospel – and the Way to Stop it. Dr. Strachan is the former president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, the former director of The Center for Public Theology at MBTS, and the President of Reformanda Ministries. And I’m so grateful for this brother and the things that we’re going to talk about today.

Let me preface some of this by saying, we are at our annual conference. We’re so grateful to be here. And it’s so important for us to discuss this topic, listen, Owen, as we talk about this I’ll give some preface so everybody understands where this is coming from. Particularly, as it relates to biblical counseling, there are lots of issues that we are wrestling with, okay? But there are three really, really important issues. One of those is ecclesiology, we tried to address that last year, the importance of the church and the church’s responsibility to engage in the care of souls in the way in which God commands us to do that. The second is, the sufficiency of Scripture that will be something that’s enduring that we talked about on a consistent basis from generation to generation to generation until Jesus comes and gets his own, that’s just the reality. And then, the third that I think is really important and it’s really important for us in biblical counseling is this issue of anthropology, and anthropology has been so radically changed in modern America, modern times really by psychology in the psychological narrative. Now, you’ve written this book, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind, we’re giving this away to nearly 3,000 people at the conference, and so, I’m so grateful that you’ve written this book and I just want to ask you a couple of questions. So first, Owen, thanks for being here, and thanks for discussing what I think is a really, really important topic. 

Owen Strachan: Well, thank you so much for having me, Dale. I’m so honored to be on and have appreciated your ministry and ACBC’s ministry, a great deal, and I really appreciate you giving the book out. So, thank you, and great to be with you.

Dale Johnson: Amen. Well, you’re very welcome, man. I think it’s an important work. And how do these things relate to us? Let me just give you a quick synopsis. I think they relate to us in biblical counseling because as humanity is degraded, we see problems in the counseling room, and as we don’t think about man in terms of the dignity in which God created him or her, we begin to see the degradation of that affected by problems that are revealed in society and eventually wind up in the counseling room. So, this is an important topic and I want to see the connection there.

So, let me just start with this, Owen. And we’re talking again from the context of your book, but just even broader, how is biblical anthropology start differently than secular anthropology?

Owen Strachan: You’ve already alluded to it. But basically, we start with this glistening reality of the imago Dei that every single person is made in the image of God. So, we don’t start from the standpoint that we are an evolved animal. We don’t start from the standpoint that we’re just mere matter and nothing else matters on the other side. We don’t start from the vantage point that we have this spark of divinity in us or something like that. And so, our major problem is simply for that impediment in our thinking or in our past to be removed and then our true self will emerge and we will shine, as we are meant to shine. We do start from the standpoint that God made us. So, we have infinite dignity and worth given to us by God, we’re made to know God, we’re made to worship God. And so, we start from that vantage point, and we’re saying something very different than what secularists or non-Christians are saying on either side of us. But then we go to the doctrine of sin in just a moment, and we see that even as we start high, we also have to go very low and recognize that we’re all a sinner, and so we’re made to know God, but we’ve fallen from God and that frames everything that then takes place from there. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, this is really an absolute non-negotiable starting point. We have to begin here to understand man or else everything that we look at in terms of data and problems becomes jaded or shaded in one direction or the other, whether we see this from a secular perspective or a biblical perspective, the way in which God has revealed man, or made man from himself, how man was corrupted. We’re going to talk about that in a second, you mentioned that.

So, let’s keep moving in this direction because even as we talk about biblical anthropology and secular anthropology, what is the image of God mean for biblical counselors as we engage human people?

Owen Strachan: The image of God means that every person you’re engaging has a soul and every person you’re engaging has as their greatest need spiritual care, spiritual restoration, salvation in the name of Jesus Christ for starters, but then that doesn’t cut off the need for truth and the gospel, that actually is the beginning point of their need for truth and the gospel for our needs. So, when we recognize that every person is made first and foremost as a spiritual being to know the Lord, that’s not a degradation of our body, of our lived humanity, our body matters tremendously and actually is going to matter in the counseling relationship in different ways. But if we start there, we won’t be thinking that a lot of the solutions that are offered to us in the wider world are our ultimate solution. There may be interfacing of different disciplines, sure, medicine and others. But fundamentally a biblical counselor is somebody who approaches the old task out of the framework of this person’s greatest need ultimately is spiritual care through Christ.

Dale Johnson: Amen. And I think that’s really important. Now, that gets us really across the bridge to talk about the issue of sin. Now, to set the context and Owen, you know this, but historically, biblical counselors have sort of been chided for our perspective of sin dominating the way that we think about human beings and what makes us broken in manifestation in terms of emotions and behaviors and even our physiological health and so on. But sin is such an important part of this as we think about man in terms of a theological disposition.

So, where does the doctrine of sin really enter this picture as we’re talking about the imago Dei?

Owen Strachan: It enters rapidly because sadly, James 3:2 “We all stumble in many ways.” And so, our hearts, we know to use the language of the old hymn are prone to wander even as a believer, we’re engaged in a lifelong battle against our sin, our sin does not define us. And as I understand biblical counseling, I’m not a practitioner or expert myself, but writing on this from a theological angle. We have to keep sin issues very much in mind, in the counseling engagement, we have to know that because our hearts are prone to wander that there are going to be all sorts of solutions we seek outside of the true solution. So, a skilled biblical counselor is somebody, yes, who can address, I believe what your movement uses as the language of the outer man, and the inner man, we don’t just dismiss the outer man. There’s different phrases people use, but we don’t dismiss issues of the body or sleep or habits or something like this. But we’re always working out of the assumption that sin is going to be uncovered here in this journey. And there is going to be not a small need for Christ and his truth but a great need for all of us, whether the person’s actually in formal biblical counseling or not, we all desperately need Christ every day we go.

Dale Johnson: Such an important and key factor because even when we talk about the physiological, if we don’t have a concept of sin, then the degrading of the body, or the decaying of the body, really makes no sense to us. We have to come up with some secular explanation for it, but biblically we have a category for that. We can explain to some degree, how or why the body is decaying and why we see those physiological aspects happening. Yes, as counselors we do have to address and deal with and it has to fit in our framework somehow.

Now, I want to move this discussion a little bit forward, and you said you’re not a practitioner, one of the things I’ve always found interesting, Owen as our friendship has grown over the years is, you don’t see theology as just some esoteric, intellectual pursuit. Theology matters to you in the way in which we live out what God has revealed to us, and that’s been one of the most encouraging things, as you and I talked about theology itself.

And so, I want to ask you a question as it relates to soul care. How does biblical soul care driven by biblical anthropology differ from what the world offers its telos the gospel? 

Owen Strachan: There’s no gospel in secular counseling. A skilled counselor, let’s say a non-Christian can probably listen well, if we’re honest, at least it’s possible, can probably give some common-sense wisdom, maybe even some insight about different conditions depending on who the person is, but ultimately they cannot give the gospel solution, and thus they cannot form people into the image of Christ, as God’s grace works in the counselee. So, biblical counselors are not the ones who are behind the 8-ball and they have to justify themselves and explain why they should have a stake in the game. Biblical counseling has the only winning hand in the game. Biblical counseling forms, is part of that whole ecclesiological setup that you mentioned earlier that forms men and women, that forms all of us into the image of Jesus Christ himself. We are not just saved. We are being actively transformed to look like Jesus Christ, and so, it’s so essential that biblical counselors understand that they have what the world most needs.

Now, you still need the kind of wisdom and perspective and learning and training, that is all going to really help biblical counseling, but fundamentally, if we start from that starting point, we see that we’re not playing from a weak hand, but the strongest hand there is because of God. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s right. And I love the way that you’re weaving in the perspective of being conformed to the image of Christ because as I talk about all the time, that is what it means to be healthy. He demonstrated what healthy humanity is intended to look like in relation to God from his human perspective. So, for us, it’s no wonder why salvation God constructed it, yes, to remove us from our sin, to forgive us of our sin, but then also to conform us to the image of Christ that in and of itself is true repair, that in and of itself is true restoration of all that’s broken, and so, if we don’t set this in a biblical anthropology and the ideas of the doctrine of sin, we begin to miss the primary points and the usefulness of salvation, both, justification, sanctification and what we long for in glorification. We miss its benefits for soul care in the end.

Now, I want to finish with maybe one final question, and this is the ‘so what’ question right? Is people hearing, “oh anthropology” and this sort of thing, we’re really just talking about man, and how we understand man and how important that is. So, overall, why should we care about this issue of biblical anthropology? 

Owen Strachan: You know, we’ve got to care so much because we won’t know who the human person is without it. And I would say, all sides need to keep in mind what every Christian has to remember, and this is humbling, and if we’re honest, this can be hard for us, but fundamentally it is not a defeat for our sin to be unmasked, and for us to confess our sin and repent of it and then by the grace of God to fight it and re-carve out new patterns, God willing, in our lives, that is actually victory and that’s a huge differentiator between biblical anthropology, secular anthropology, biblical counseling, secular counseling, the uncovering of sin wherever that occurs in the relationship and the process is not bad, it’s not a defeat, that is where hope springs from, that is where newness then comes to take up residence. So, if we can keep in mind those kinds of realities, we will take back counseling really from the secularists and we will be able to see people when God does that deep soul care work in them and uncovers not just little bitty habits that are not good, but deeper patterns, that may have been cut for years and taken root for years, that is victory. It’s always victory to have our sin exposed and overcomed by the power of God. So, keeping those kinds of truths in mind will help us greatly, I think. 

Dale Johnson: Owen, that’s unbelievably helpful, brother. Thank you so much. First of all, thank you for writing the book that we’re able to give away at our Annual Conference starting today October, the 3rd, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind. And thanks for joining me today, taking time out of your busy schedule to help us understand, maybe get a little behind-the-scenes look at your theology book, and then how it relates very practically to us in biblical soul care, brother. Thank you.

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