In God’s Image: How Christological Anthropology Shapes Natural Law Theory & Human Flourishing

Though Protestants have begun in recent years to soften their suspicion, or outright rejection, of the natural law, there remains a great need to construct a more biblical, theological, and Christocentric account of the “law written on our hearts.” Fortunately, contemporary works of theological anthropologists, like that of Marc Cortez, Ryan S. Peterson, and Christa L. McKirland, offer a potential turning point in the discussion surrounding natural law ethics and its relation to biblical ethics. Further, the implications of Christocentric anthropology lend themselves to forming a more robust framework for how all of humanity participates in a form of human flourishing via the natural law. Hence, I contend that one’s underlying theological anthropology, whether assumed or stated, directly shapes their framing of natural law theory and human flourishing. However, ample clarification is needed for the ways in which imago Dei, the natural law, and biblical ethics are integrated into our framework of human flourishing.

To make such a case, I argue that Tanner’s framing of weak & strong imaging in Christ the Key is a pivotal work, but greater clarity in definitions must be sought. By accepting the framing of weak/strong imaging alongside a few revisions of definition, natural law ethics can be re-positioned more positively and precisely to articulate the ways in which all humans desire and participate in human flourishing via the natural law. Given this distinction of imaging, I argue that the terms weak and strong flourishing are more useful to distinguish a natural law ethic that describes a robust sense of weak human flourishing, as well as strong human flourishing. While weak human flourishing acknowledges the various ways in which all people may act in harmony with the natural law (basic moral goods), strong flourishing coincides with humanity’s participation in their supernatural telos and ultimate end, which is grounded and enabled by Christ, himself. Thus, by appropriately applying a Christological anthropology within the framework of weak & strong human flourishing a broader connection between natural law and biblical ethics emerges.

Ultimately, there is no need to falsely minimize the importance of the natural law in fear of collapsing a strong sense of human flourishing, as biblical ethics properly describes. We can reaffirm the everyday ways in which all humanity participates in weak flourishing by desiring and seeking after basic moral goods via the natural law, as New Natural Law theorists, like Finnis,contend. However, we can also clarify that strong human flourishing rightfully incorporates the eschatological, and teleological, nature of the good life. Thus, the biblical definition of the good life is interlocked with the telos of the human person, whereby they are called to be in union with Christ and conforming to his image via the Spirit’s indwelling work to actualize their God-bestowed identity, as his earthly representative and image bearer.

5 thoughts on “In God’s Image: How Christological Anthropology Shapes Natural Law Theory & Human Flourishing”

  1. The opening reference to
    The opening reference to “Protestants” puzzled me, because many Protestants have championed Natural Law. Several sentences are written rather awkwardly, which undermined clarity, at least for me.

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