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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

On Being Human: Stuart Fowler

On Being Human: Toward a Biblical Understanding
Stuart Fowler
Amani: Melbourne and Kitale
© 2004; eBook edn 2010
ISBN 0 9750307 4 4
iv + 21 pp; AUD 8.00 (approx £4.00)
available from

Much sterile theological discussion around the issue of what it means to be human stems from holding to a two- (or three-) part view of humanity: body and soul (or body soul and spirit). This is seen even in Calvin; as Fowler points out:
Indeed, the body has often been regarded as a limitation on the soul. Calvin (1851/1958 [Tract and Treatises Vol III. Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd], 443) saw the body as “the prison of the soul” which weighs it down and “greatly limits its perception”. He argued that the soul could only attain its true spirituality when it is loosed from the fetters of the body and no longer subject to its tyranny. (p 1)
This excellent booklet provides a powerful antidote and alternative to the faulty two-component view of humanity. This is a revised version of the original that was published by the Institute for Reformational Studies: Wetenskaplike bydraes van die PU vir CHO. Reeks F1 Pamphlets no 168 (1981). It was revised in 2004 and now is available as a high-quality eBook in a searchable pdf format complete with colour photographs.

Chapter 1 takes a look at the term ‘soul’. He rightly concludes:
The more we explore the biblical text the more clearly we are compelled to conclude that the two-component theory of the human person is an unbiblical idea that has been read into Scripture in the Christian tradition, It forms no part of the biblical message about humanity. Its presence in Christian teaching is due to the contagion of pagan Greek philosophy.

Fowler is concerned to develop a biblical view of humanity as a single, indivisible entity. The discussion of ‘soul’ is followed by an illuminating examination of the ‘image of God’. The image is not something we possess, rather it the whole person that is God’s image.

Chapter 2 examines humanity in relationship: ‘Humanity means relationships. Human relationships are not merely possibilities. They are essential to being human’ (p. 6). This concept of relationship follows from the command to love our neighbours and this must be based on ‘acceptance without exception’. Fowler emphasises the importance of relating to each other in a variety of ways each of which has a definite structure. Unfortunately, space permits him enlarging on this point.

‘The worldliness of being human’ is the provocative title of the next chapter. How can being human legitimately be described as being worldly when we are given the scriptural injunction to die to the world (cf Col 2:20)? Fowler maintains that, paradoxically, ‘To be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ we must accept the worldliness of our humanity’ and ‘To deny our worldliness is to deny our humanity’ (p. 11). We were created from the earth for this earthly world. The fall has not changed this, several times after the fall our relationship with the earth is emphasised (cf Gen 9:1-6). And in the eschaton our home is a redeemed earth. As Fowler puts it: ‘Nothing is lost but the curse’ (p. 12).

Most Christians make disparaging comments about the world – this Fowler notes reflects a one-sided view. The NT makes some positive comments about the world. He sees the retreat of Christians fro the world as a denial of the gospel. The world has become distorted and corrupted, but the message of the gospel includes the world. Our involvement in the world is to be guided by the Word of God.

In chapters 4 and 5 Fowler examines ‘The sexuality of our humanity’ and ‘Sexuality and Christianity’. He sees sexuality as being ‘as inseparable from our humanity as religion, community and worldliness’ (p. 14). Humanity in the image of God is not male, humanity is male and female. There is no precedent of male over female. He sees no ‘natural male leadership role’, he rightly concludes that male domination is ‘entirely without biblical foundation’ (p. 15). Fowler is no complementarian and he examines several passages that have erroneously been used to justify male leadership and domination.

He sees the degradation of sexuality stemming from viewing sexual activity as a reproductive mechanism. To do so is to ‘reduce[s] human sexuality to mere animal sexuality’ (p. 18). He calls for Christians to take a lead on sexuality. To do so we must adopt a ‘new set of social mores’ – mores that are not derived from contemporary paganism, but from the word of God, we are subject to his norms and laws. The norm for human sexuality is ‘troth’: ‘sexuality can only be a fulfilling, enriching element in human life when it is subject to God’s norm of troth’ (p.21). He concludes with a call for the single person not to be treated as a misfit within the Christian community.

This is well-written and refreshing little book; it deserves wide attention. It subverts the false dichotomous view of what it means to be human and places an integral view of humanity within relationships, worldliness and sexuality.

It is available here. Grab yourself a copy – you’re human and you’re worth it!

1 comment:

David said...


The link to get the book isn't working. Do you know where else it might be available?