Excerpts from ‘A Doctrine of Human Being’, a chapter written by Michael Banner, part of The Doctrine of God and Theological Ethics, Alan J. Torrance & Michael Banner (eds.)(A&C Black, 2006).
Being human with and for others, as achievement, as divine possibility
A Christian doctrine of human being speaks of what it is to be human. Specifically, it asserts that to be human is to be with and for the other, thus making exception to those anthropologies which reckon that to be human is to be without or against the other. In the second place, however, a Christian doctrine of human being asserts that to be human is, so to speak, an achievement and not a present or an easily attained reality, and thus it takes exception of those anthropologies which, while not at odds with it on the first point, don’t reckon with the difficulties of the achievement of human being. In the third place, in addition, it does indeed assert the possibility of this humanity, though it reckons this to be a divine, not a human possibility. Thus, it repudiates those who doubt the real possibility of the form of human being which it deems properly and characteristically human. It speaks of our created humanity, of its present fallen state, and of its future redemption. and not only speaks. For human being is obviously and importantly a practice as well as a theory; and if Christianity propounds a theory of what it is to be human, so also and primarily it instantiates that theory in those forms of life which are characteristic to it… (p. 139).
A practice, not a theory
Human being is a practice not a theory – which is to say agnosticism in this matter is an impossibility. The question ‘What is it to be human?’ is one to which we posit an answer day by day, for there is no way of living or dying which can be, practically speaking, undecided. Christianity asserts that to be human is to be with and for the other, that being thus is an achievement and not easily within our grasp, and yet that this possibility is one which God’s grace opens to us. The task of the church is not just to give this answer to the world, but to display it (p. 146).