Welcome to the Crawl

Welcome to Theology Crawl! This year, we are meeting online to really try and unpack one big question…”How the heck did we get here?” 2020 has been a year of reckoning on a lot of fronts, and we want to take time to discuss how God-talk has often contributed to the many problems we are facing, and how better theology might help us navigate our way out. 

This week, we are talking about how Christian answers to the question, “What is a human?” have contributed to racism, and how better theological anthropology can help us fight racism. Before you start, make sure someone gives The Spiel to your group.


The gradual racialization of slavery during the Age of Discover (15th -16th c.) dramatically altered the perception of the human person for the Western world. The discovery of other humans in the Americas and increased exposure to Africans gradually led to the creation of racial theories and oppressive racialized social hierarchies. By the time of the Enlightenment (17th – 19th c.), these ideas began seeking justification in the new sciences of human anthropology and ethnology. Biblical thinkers were often involved in this process and began to develop theological theories to explain the different sources of the human race.

  • Theory 1: Sub-humanism. This theory posited that certain groups, most notably indigenous peoples of the Americas and Africans, were not fully human. Early missionaries pushed back against this view, though even they often portrayed certain peoples as intellectually infantile or physically bestial.
  • Theory 2:Pre-Adamism. Pre-Adamism claimed there were already races of humans living before the creation of Adam. It traces back to Isaac La Peyrère in the 17th century. This view was typically seen as heretical.
  • Theory 3: Co-Adamism. Co-Adamism claimed that there was more than one Adam – small groups of humans were created at the same time in different places across the Earth – and therefore that the different races were separately created. The idea of co-Adamism has been traced back as far as Paracelsus in 1520 and was more popular in that it levied somewhat successful critiques of the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.
  • Theory 4: Hamism. The story of Noah and his three sons in Genesis 9 was used as an explanation for the origins of different racial groups. Noah’s third son, Ham, is deemed to be the descendant of African peoples. His first son, Japeth, was deemed the ancestor of Caucasian peoples.  In the story, Noah pronounces a curse on his son Ham’s child, Canaan. Racial theorists argued that Ham was exiled to Africa and thus Black people were his descendents. As a result of the curse, black people were naturally more servile and sinful.
  • Theory 5: Shemism. The story of Noah and his three sons in Genesis 9 was used as an explanation for the origins of different racial groups. Noah’s second son, Shem, was deemed the ancestor of Native Americans and Semitic peoples. His third son, Japeth, was deemed the ancestor of Caucasian peoples. Noah’s curse included the line  “may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth” which was used to justify white people’s expansion and exploitation of “cursed,” and thus inferior, people and their lands.


  • For each of the theories answer the following questions:
    • What do you think it means to be fully human in this theory?
    • What do you think the Christian responsibility of full humans to inferior/sub-humans would be in this theory? (e.g. do they need to be evangelized? treated humanely?)
    • What was the effect of this theory on non-Christian and non-Western people?
    • Do you see ideas related to this theory alive in our culture or theology today? If so, where?
  • Is it theologically significant to hold that all humans have the same biological origin? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  • Theological anthropology is the branch of Christian theology which seeks to answer the question: What is a human? How do you answer this question?
  • Genesis 1:27 says, “God created humanity in his own image.” This phrase is only used in reference to humanity and no other aspect of the created world. As such, the latin term, imago Dei (God’s image), has been used in theology to refer to the factor which renders human unique among creation. Read the section titled “Theological Concept: Four Models of the Imago Dei,” and answer the following questions:
    • Which model looks most like your definition of what it means to be human?
    • Which model seems most strange to you? Which is most appealing to you?
    • Which model(s) were being utilized in the historical theories?
  • Are humans all bearers of the imago Dei in an equal way? If yes, how so? If no, why not?
    How does a recognition of the imago Dei alter or add to our responses to the following:
    • Personal and systemic racism
    • Endemic poverty
    • The violation of human rights
  • Beyond the concept of the imago Dei, what other doctrines or theological ideas do you think are helpful for exploring the similarities and differences among human people?


  • Ontological View. The ontological view roots the imago Dei in the nature of a person. It states that the imago Dei involves an attribute which is fundamental to the nature of human beings. It is an approach which was adopted throughout Christian history, from patristic theologians to contemporary theologians. The most common articulation of this approach has been to identify the ‘imago’ as humanity’s capacity for rational thought, reflecting the image of a rational God. 
  • Functional View. The functional view roots the imago Dei in the function humans fulfill. It states that just as God has dominion over all creation, so God has appointed humanity to be vice-regents on the earth. Humanity is created like this God, with the special and unique role of reflecting God’s rule in the world.
  • Relational View. The functional view roots the imago Dei in the related nature of human existence. The relational view proposes that the imago Dei is best understood in terms of relationships:  human persons are essentially relational beings (in relationship with God, creation, and other human beings), and it is this relationality that reflects the image of the relational Creator himself.
  • Multi-faceted View. The functional view refuses to root the imago Dei in any one factor.The approach argues that the image of God cannot be restricted to a set of capacities, relationships, or functions.  While appealing in its various forms, this theory does not explain how the ontological, relational, functional concepts are related to one another.

* Adapted from “The Imago Dei: A Survey of Four Models” by Michael Shaw


  • Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth. // Genesis 1:26
  • You made them a little less than the heavenly beings. You crowned mankind with honor and majesty. You appoint them to rule over your creation; you have placed everything under their authority, // Psalm 8:5-6
  • Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. // 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. // Mark 12:30
  • And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. // 1 Corinthians 15:49
  • He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. // Colossians 1:15


  • Racism springs from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human. It’s a self-centered falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing we are right to treat others as we would not want to be treated. // Alveda King
  • Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. // Viktor E. Frankl
    • How far the gentlemen of dark complexion will get with their independence, now that they have declared it, I don’t know. There are serious difficulties in their way. The vast majority of people of their race are but two or three inches removed from gorillas: it will be a sheer impossibility, for a long, long while, to interest them in anything above pork-chops and bootleg gin. // H.L. Mencken
    • We can make ourselves whole only by accepting our partiality, by living within our limits, by being humans not by trying to be gods. // Wendell Berry
    • The passion to explore is at the heart of being human. // Carl Sagan
    • This splendid territory [the Balkans] has the misfortune to be inhabited by a conglomerate of different races and nationalities, of which it is hard to say which is the least fit for progress and civilization. // Karl Marx
    • Being human means asking the questions of one’s own being and living under the impact of the answers given to this question. And, conversely, being human means receiving answers to the questions of one’s own being and asking questions under the impact of the answers. // Paul Tillich
    • Merely being human is morally significant. // Alice Crary
    • If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you. // Lyndon B. Johnson