Theology in the Modern Era: John Mark Yeats on Creation and Humanity

Historical Theology for the Church is a new book from B&H Academic that treats the entire 2000 year history of Christianity with a focus on doctrinal development through major figures, events, and written works. By steering this work “for the church” this textbook shows the development of doctrine in history through congregations as well as provide a resource for contemporary congregations. The following is an excerpt from one of the contributing authors’ chapters.

John Mark Yeats serves as Vice President of Student Services, Dean of Student and Student Success, and as professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Introduction

Although there have always been attacks on the claims of Scripture about human dignity, worth, and value, the modern era experienced a greater, more pointed attack than in any period prior. The parallels with the denigration of the authority of Scripture cannot be avoided. As critics, theologians, and cultures moved away from embracing the authority of Scripture, a corollary demise of the literal understanding of Scripture related to creation and humanity during the same period naturally followed. Additionally, a robust theological anthropology touches nearly every loci of systematic theology.

This chapter provides a historical overview of the changes relating to the broad topics of anthropology and the doctrine of creation that become increasingly intertwined in our period. By looking at the broad contours of the Enlightenment and modern era, we will see an overemphasis on the autonomy of humanity derived from an increasingly mechanistic view of the universe.

Historical Overview

Established in creation, codified in biblical narrative, ethics, and theology, the imago Dei is a foundational understanding of humanity’s essence. It is essential in understanding the incarnation and the redeeming work of Christ. It undergirds our moral and ethical approaches to life that advocate for a high value of every human. Consequently, during the modern era, questions surrounding the image of God in humanity came under intense scrutiny.

Case Studies

1. Slavery in the United States

2. Missions and Evangelism Movement

3. Abortion

For the Church

The conversation relating to the fundamental nature of humanity cannot be held without the corollary discussion relating to creation. As the Creator, God wove into the fabric of the universe the design equations that result in human flourishing. These design equations lead to conclusions about the authority of biblical morals and what is best personally, culturally, and structurally for all people. Those same principles also imbue humanity with purpose and value as beings made in the image of God himself. Biblical ideas about creation and humanity in Scripture may run counter to philosophies and ideas put forward by individuals in any given era, but since God’s Word is his revelation to humanity as our Creator, we are always at our cultural best when we adhere to his design. “In the beginning God created . . .” (Gen 1:1). In the twenty-first century, the ascendency of self is being revealed like never before. The ultimate claims placed by culture over sexuality and even self-directed understandings of gender confront the biblical understanding of God as Creator. The church’s claim of submission to God in the areas of sexuality, God’s gift of gender, and God’s design of the universe continue to stand in opposition to cultural forces that demand subservience to their claims. The church will need to be attentive to its anthropology to avoid theological drift while lovingly introducing people to a loving God who made a way of redemption available through Jesus Christ.

Historical Theology for the Church
Jason G. Duesing & Nathan A. Finn, editors
B&H Academic, 2021