It could be said that our age suffers from an overreactive anthropology gland.
In Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind, Owen Strachan rightly and insightfully declares to his reader: “If the major issue of the sixteenth century was that of acceptance (how man may be forgiven by God), and the major issue of the twentieth century was that of authority (whether the Bible is inerrant), then the major issue of our time is that of anthropology.” (p.3)
Is Strachan just being dramatic? I don’t think he is.
Remember that heart-rending episode in 2 Kings 3 where King Mesha of Moab, in hopes of overthrowing the Northern Kingdom, stoops so low as to sacrifice his own firstborn son on the city wall? The story is as shocking as it is wretched. The LORD has His reasons for inscripturating such texts. Strachan proposes that our culture and age is similar.
Oh, sure, we use hand sanitizer and latex gloves when we dismember babies, but that doesn’t put much moral distance between us and Mesha, does it? Just like ancient Moab, we are an era that chooses to sacrifice babies by the millions. We slay our children on the altars of the gods of career, ease, education, and the good life. Yes, we are just like Mesha. And yet, we fancy our society as quite modern and just.
The anthropological rabbit hole goes deeper: we not only dismember babies, we also mutilate our own bodies—particularly women’s bodies—in an effort to attain utopian beauty. We inject collagen and botox into our bodies to stave off what God, in Scripture, calls wisdom. We mutilate our God-assigned genitalia in the backward hope of replacing them with the veneer of a new identity.
So, is Strachan right to claim that anthropology is the major issue of our time? He is. There is no more pressing issue for the Church of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, these are primitive and pagan days. Sin runs deep, and man remains hopeless to change his own heart. Strachan, affixed on the Scriptures, raises his voice above the ruckus in confidence that only the cross of Christ can pierce through the darkness of the human heart.
My aim in this post is to provide the reader with ten reasons, backed by quotations, why you ought to take up Strachan’s Reenchanting Humanity.
1.) Strachan writes as a poet-theologian.
I call them “Strachanwiches”—the bite-sized, poetic theology bombs littered throughout Reenchanting. This might be the most recognizable feature of Strachan’s work more broadly, and here in Reenchanting, he does not disappoint.
“Mankind is not God; he is a mere creature, but a creature with a limitless charter. This small, nonflying, ungilled being has great responsibility and explosive potential.” (p.15)
“We are stamped by God, and no one can scratch out the seal of God’s making. Genesis 1 tells us why we were made, who made us, and what marks us out among all the living creatures.” (p.21)
“…how striking that the greatest anthropological miracle known to human history is performed not by a scientific genius, but by God. The Lord puts the human race on notice in the incarnation.” (p.256)
“What a race humanity is. What a story the Bible charts. Made by God an enchanted being, humanity chose to grovel in the ground beside the Serpent. Yet in God’s kindness, Adam’s children may rise again.” (p.378)
2.) Reenchanting is a contribution to systematics that yet focuses on exegetical rigor and Biblical Theology.
Strachan engages with top flight commentators and scholars of both the OT and NT (Douglas Moo, John Walton, Mark Strauss, Brandon Crowe, Henri Blocher, etc.). He braces his arguments not first with historical figures, though there is no lack of them, but via exegetical scholarship and Biblical Theological threads.
“Theologians connect the command to rule in Gen 1:28 to the nature of mankind, and thus underline the conscious and intentional nature of human work as distinct from, say, the squirrel’s industriousness. G. K. Beale connects the ancient Near East concept of image to the rule that God expected from mankind:” (p.27)
3.) Reenchanting is conversant with contemporary voices and issues.
The reader is brought into conversation and engagement with Dawkins, Michel Foucault, Charles Taylor, Jordan Peterson, and the like. This is not typical for Systematicians. Strachan’s conversation partners strengthen his contribution. Moreover, he writes whole chapters on Technology and Contingency—both burning anthropological issues given our self-maximizing-prone and fragmenting society and times.
4.) Strachan writes as a "doxologist," in hopes that you might become one, too.
The entire volume registers at the pitch of doxology:
“If we would worship God, we must be holy” (p.37)
“Mankind is spiritual and thus worshipful—for good or ill—by nature.” (p.38)
“But the Bible points us to a great and glorious reality as the text unfolds: all our ruling and subduing and procreating and dominion-taking express worship of the living God…” (p.36)
5.) Strachan utilizes the Old Testament more than most Systematicians.
Strachan leans heavily on OT narratives throughout the book. In his chapter on "Justice," Strachan sets forward Cain and Abel (p.287). In the same chapter he addresses barren Hannah from 1 Samuel 1-3, Ruth, Esther, and the imprecatory Psalms. By so heavily depending on the OT, Strachan (1) gives validity to the OT, (2) lays claim to the OT as Christian Scripture, and (3) quietly argues that the OT is as useful for the systematic enterprise as the NT.
“The Christian, then is not on his heels with regard to the Canaanite conquest or other such text; the Christian, in fact, must never accept the lie that a God who judges evil is a God we cannot worship. The text presents the opposite view: we cannot worship a God who does not oppose and overcome evil.” (p.223)
“The tabernacle, the forerunner to the more resplendent Temple, is a kind of counter-Babel, however distantly. It showcases human ingenuity of the vertical kind.” (p.255)
6.) Reenchanting is convicting.
Strachan writes with a polemicist’s edge. He is aflame with Biblical truth, and he does not relent from coming at you until you, too, are afire.
“Our problem is not first environmental but personal.” (p.84-85)
“The body has never been more idolized, more scrutinized, more obsessed-over, then in our age. The female physique in particular seems at once an object of open worship and unrelenting criticism. To survey our culture is to witness insecurity and personal obsession in epidemic form.” (p.278)
“We begin life with three major problems: we are dependent and helpless; we are time-limited and under the gun; we will die and suffer for eternity. Every system of theology, every spirituality, every worldview must engage these truths. We cannot pretend they do not exist. Though we like to think of ourselves as gods, we must quickly lose this delusion.” (p.342)
“The one who was the overjoyed Maker now presents himself as the iron judge. He comes for answers, and it is answers that he will have.” (p.71)
“Nothing and no one on the earth can reenchant humanity. This only God can do.” (p.47)
“The fall of Adam and Eve following the creation of the world is symphonic in its terribleness. Man throws himself from the highest peak, becoming a transgressor in actuality and in nature by his disobedience.” (p.51)
“A man is never less strong than when he rejects God’s moral will and succumbs to sin. He may feel strong in such a moment, he may think he is bristling with power, but he is in truth picking himself apart piece by piece.” (p.140)
In the chapter on Race and Ethnicity: “There is no sense in which the Jewish people-the Israelites-were allowed by their covenant status to see themselves as ethnically superior to other groups.” (p.220)
7.) Reenchanting aims to be Prophetic.
Reenchanting is at once both timely and sobering. These are troubling and difficult days. We, the church and society at large, avoid difficult conversations and prefer rounded edges and sugar coating on most issues. Strachan stands on the Scriptures and brings a level of clarity and forewarning.
“One of the chief ironies of an evolutionary approach to reality is that it inadvertently yields a cosmos that is self-directed. The non–higher power ends up being very much like a higher power; the propulsive force of evolution unintentionally functions as a quasi-theistic figure. Granted, the atheist does not personalize this force, but their principle of evolution becomes, at the very least, an impersonal law of life. Perhaps due to the vastness of the world and the universe beyond, it is extremely difficult to capture the origins of such a bustling system without reference to a transcendent force, whether personal or impersonal.” (p.18)
“In a Darwinian framework, mankind is not made or formed by any kind of higher intelligence. Mankind has no purpose. Man and woman, united but distinct, are cosmic accidents. There is no sharp differentiation between humanity and the animals, or humanity and any life-form. There can be no code of ethics or law of morality or purposeful spirituality to guide our conduct. There is no one to whom we may pray, no reason to be thankful for anything, and no hope at all of ultimate peaceful resolution. In such a system, hope itself has no logical basis, neither does positivity, love, nor confidence in anything. Evolution is a wellworked-out and seemingly sturdy system of Pg. 20 “We labor to carve our names in the earth.” (p.19)
“Although many mouth secularist cosmological and personal formulations, in their hearts they cheat.” (p.20)
8.) Reenchanting is helpful.
Strachan aims to be helpful to the Church. He ably addresses the invisible sins and idolatries of our age—sleep, work, technology, and even productivity. These are not inherently sinful, but Strachan shows how they have manifested themselves in sinful ways. With Bible in hand, he lights the way forward for us.
“The Christian knows he is a creature. We are not God, and we cannot live as God. We do not combat our creatureliness; in appropriate terms, we welcome it. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death with foes all around us, but the Lord leads us beside quiet waters (Ps 23:2). This Psalm speaks of a stillness that transcends our surroundings. Here in the Old Testament, we have the stirrings of the greater rest that Christ gives in the New. “Come to me,” he tells us, a battle-scarred people, “all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).” (p.122)
9.) Strachan does not flinch in the face of our culture’s sexual ethic.
Strachan does not shy away from the difficult sexual ethical questions of our time. He addresses them scripturally, clearly, and with appropriate accompanying implications.
“The four major challenges the church faces today in its sexual ethics are feminism, postmarital sexual libertinism, transgenderism, and homosexuality.” (p.182)
10.) Reenchanting exults in the person and work of Christ.
Jesus was the perfect man, the true man. Strachan argues for and defends an anthropology wherein Christ is the center, telos, and culminating figure. Jesus is the Father’s greatest delight. He is the object of our highest affection and praise. Strachan holds up Christ and points to Him, saying, “Behold your God.”
Referring to Adam and Eve in the garden, “Before they could see him, they heard him, so they sheltered among the trees. (It was a tree that undid them, and no tree except one can save them now.)” (p.71)
In the chapter on Race and Ethnicity, “with one stroke, one sacrificial offering, Jesus united all believers in all places from all backgrounds for all time.” (p.237)
“The just God creates justice-loving people. Thankfully, things are not left to us. History’s arc is long, but it bends toward Christic justice.” (p.286)
There you have it, ten reasons to take up Strachan’s Reenchanting Humanity. You will enjoy it, you will be challenged, and ultimately, you will be shaped by it.