Whose Work Is This—Man?

by Paul Burmeister

One popular philosophy or theory about man, rooted in serious, so-called enlightened concepts and watered down in subsequent applications, holds that humans have made themselves in their own image. Humans have become something more than animals by virtue of their exertion to withdraw from the material, outer world and to construct their inner, conceptual worlds of the self. This theory holds that is it possible, little by little, for man to improve his lot in life by forcing, as a protagonist, the world to more and more become subject to his campaigns of imagination.

There are streaks of idealism and progressivism in such a view: idealism because man is regarded as being basically good, and progressivism because man has the capability to increase his successes.

This view of man is antithetical to the Christian concept of man, which is a slow and inconvenient concept. Christian doctrine agrees with the worldly theory that man is more than animal, and Christian doctrine asserts he is essentially more than animal—he has had this status conferred upon him at Creation, when he was made in the image of his Creator. (And then man fell into sin and the image of God was corrupted in him.) The other theory of man holds that nothing essential was conferred upon him; instead, man has become human through his own super-animal effort.

The Christian concept of man finds man a fallen being who has been rescued from slavery to sin by a loving God who redeemed him. In the other view, man redeems himself by a correcting enterprise that can overcome his animal baseness; man can imagine a course of action that is beneficial to himself and others.

In the Christian concept, man can be transformed and restored only by the grace of God. In the Christian concept, man’s relationship with the world is understood as God’s work to preserve all people during their times of grace. Man’s role in the world is to fear God and to love people. In the other concept, man is liberated by his ideas, and his freedom obligates him to making (or re-making) the world a better place for those not yet free or those being freed.