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Salvation: Anthropology or Theology

In the modern era, man’s thinking has become increasingly anthropocentric, man-centered, so that Scripture itself has been subjected to an anti-theological interpretation.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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In the modern era, man’s thinking has become increasingly anthropocentric, man-centered, so that Scripture itself has been subjected to an anti-theological interpretation. The purpose of Scripture is not to provide man with a life or fire insurance contract, setting forth all his valid claims, rights, and benefits, but rather to declare God’s necessary word to man, His creature, so that man might know and obey His sovereign Lord. Paul tells us, with respect to Scripture:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

First, we are told that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Second, the Bible is “profitable” in that it perfects or matures man in God’s service, “unto all good works.” Thus, the Bible is not man-centered, nor is man. Man’s salvation has as its purpose the training and harnessing of man to God’s calling. Third, some of these areas wherein man is to be instructed, trained, and put to service “unto all good works” are then specified. They include doctrine, i.e., a knowledge of Scripture so that we can apply it; reproof, so that we can be corrected and made right in all our ways; correction or amendment, because the word of God tells us how to correct our ways and wherein to walk; and instruction in righteousness, i.e., training in God’s justice, in whatever conforms to the full and revealed revelation of God.

Thus, neither salvation nor the Bible free us from the death penalty of the law into our own devices, but rather summon us to be, in all our being, the faithful and obedient people of the Most High. “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself” (Lk. 10:27).

Modern man, however, has become man-centered in his thinking. Theology also has in fact increasingly become anthropology. To illustrate, Lewis B. Smedes, professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, in discussing homosexuality, set forth eight theses:

  1. Human life is inlaid with certain channels which form the limits of certain kinds of behavior.
  2. Heterosexual union is the inlaid channel within which human sexuality is meant to be given its full expression.
  3. The question of whether or not a homosexual person is responsible for his or her sexual orientation is not pertinent to the question of the rightness of homosexual behavior.
  4. Sufferings endured unfairly by homosexual people are not a reason for moral approval of homosexual activity.
  5. That personal relationships between people in homosexual union can be loving and enduring does not determine whether the sexual nature of the union is morally right.
  6. The judgment that homosexual activity embodies a disorder in human sexuality does not imply that all persons who engage in it are equally accountable for doing so.
  7. That homosexual behavior is judged morally wrong by the Bible is not a warrant for excluding homosexual people from their vocations as teachers in public schools.
  8. The calling of the Christian community to acknowledge homosexual believers as Christians is not a reason for concluding that homosexual persons are not disqualified from the Christian ministry.1

This is logical thinking, but its premise is not theological but humanistic. There is no absolute law-word from God, no unchanging word, for Smedes. The law depends on the human content. Thus, Smedes holds, “homosexual people may be deprived of a civil right only if it can be shown on evidence accepted by believers and non-believers that a teacher’s homosexuality is very likely seriously to harm his or her students.”2 For Smedes, God’s word at best may govern the church; in civil society, the moral decision is made by all men, believer and non-believer alike, and their word is law, not God’s word. How determinative the human context is for Smedes appears in his opening comment on Thesis 8:

This thesis does not say that every homosexual person is disqualified from the Christian ministry. It leaves open the possibility that some homosexual persons might, in spite of their homosexuality, be thus qualified for some special reason. It also leaves open the possibility that one’s homosexuality, by itself, openly admitted, might disqualify him or her. What Thesis 8 asserts is that qualification for participation within the Christian community is not identical to qualification for the ministry.3

Clearly, ultimacy does not reside in God and His law but in man, in the human condition. Smedes does not see Scripture as God’s law-word. For him, it is man, and man’s faith, which is somehow detached from Scripture into a free-floating association. Writing later of the decision of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church concerning the ordination of homosexuals to the ministry, Smedes said:

The data coming from psychology may tell us more about what homosexuality is than the Bible tells us. Any sophomore today is likely to know more about homosexuality than St. Paul knew. But, said the Presbyterians, very correctly, when it comes to deciding rights and wrongs, “What is really important is not what homosexuality is, but what we believe about it.” Do we value it? Do we think it bad? Do we think it morally neutral? It all depends on whose moral authority we live by. And in the last analysis, we live here by faith. It was on this basis that the Presbyterian Assembly concluded that “homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity…it is neither a gift from God nor a state or condition like race, it is a result of our living in a fallen world.”4

Indeed, Smedes is right at one point: “It all depends on whose moral authority we live by.” In the name of faith, we are asked to live by man’s authority and judgment. In another context, Smedes calls homosexuality a disorder: “The disorder is not an immoral condition as much as a tragic condition.”5 In other words, for Smedes, whatever God and Scripture may say, homosexuality is not a sin but a tragic condition, a disorder. This means that, instead of being the sinner God declares him to be, the homosexual is a victim, and apparently a victim of God’s making! Smedes is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church.

Other churchmen are bolder in condemning the Bible as a hate-creating book:

The United Church of Christ has gone on record at its synod meeting as affirming civil liberties without discrimination relating to sexual or affectional preference and called upon individual members, local churches and others to work in that direction. The Rev. Lincoln Y. Reed, senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Portland, agrees, and backs a statement that deplores the use of scripture to generate hatred for gay and bisexual persons. He told his congregation in a sermon a year ago that they should “live and let live.”6

Such thinking may call itself theology, but it is anthropology. In theology, the command word, the law-word, comes from the triune God alone, and we are saved, not for our sakes, but for His Kingdom and glory. With the psalmist, we must declare, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake” (Ps. 115:1).

Salvation cannot be preached as a human asset, offering peace of mind, a solution to problems, and a happy estate of privileges, but as the summons of Almighty God to appear before Him, be judged and re-created by Him, for His sovereign purpose and service. To be born again is to be commanded, with a command Book placed in our hands: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (Jn. 15:16). It is humanism to pass over the requirement to serve the Lord and produce fruit for His Kingdom, and to claim the answers to prayer promised here by our Lord. Rather, the meaning is that, as we are faithful and productive in His service, we are blessed in our requests to the Lord and answered by Him in order to prosper us in our service.

Salvation does not deliver us from the Kingdom of Man, the realm of sin and death, to walk independently in a neutral world. Rather, it transfers us by the legal act of atonement and justification, and by the regenerating power of the Spirit, into the kingdom of God and His service. In the fullness of the new creation, that service will be totally free from the effects of the curse (Rev. 22:3). Meanwhile, as we move out from under the curse by faith and obedience, we move into blessing and freedom under God and to His glory.


1. Lewis B. Smedes, “Homosexuality: Sorting out the Issues,” The Reformed Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, January 1978, 8-12.

2. Ibid., 12, italics added.

3. Idem.

4. Lewis B. Smedes, “The San Diego Decision: Presbyterian and Homosexuality,”
The Reformed Journal, vol. 28, no. 8, August, 1978, 16.

5. Lewis B. Smedes, “A Reply,” The Reformed Journal, vol. 28, no. 5, May, 1978, 13.

6. Jean Henniger, “What It’s Like to be a Lesbian,” Oregonian, Northwest Magazine, March 11, 1979, 7.

Reprinted from Systematic Theology, Vol. I (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 510-513.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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