Theological posthumanism is a postmodern anthropology that may be best approached through the work of Philip Hefner. Hefner is known for his interpretation of the imago Dei as “created co-creators.” Hefner’s metaphor, since the 1980s, opens a door for Christians to engage with the work of secular scholars around the idea permeating academic scholarship, across disciplines, that more than what we do, “creating is who we are” (Hefner, 2022). Most all theologians engaged in the conversations of human enhancement, science and religion, and other facets of public theology will work with Hefner’s ideas in some way.
The metaphor bears particular relevance for our postmodern age. Indeed, the main support hooks of theological posthumanism—the networked, embodied, and formative nature of created beings—all are co-created aspects of creation prominent in the prevailing social ethos of what sociologists call the network society. Today, postmodern network logic not only creates and sustains a unique online culture but re-ontologizes experiences of time and space, identity, economics, and power. The transformation entails a shift to informationalism—knowledge and its possession. Now, instead of created physical institutions and discrete locations of power, co-created “flows of messages and images between networks constitute the basic thread of our social structure” (Castells, 2000).
Theological posthumanism stereotypically affirms the networked, embodied, and formative nature of creation in a way that emphasizes the good of continuing co-creation. Evangelicalism, in contrast, tends to emphasize the dangers of fallen co-creation in a way that emphasizes the need to retrieve the goodness of creation. Evangelicalism, for its contrasting emphases, is consequently uninvolved in these mainline, public theological posthumanist conversations just as it is stereotypically uninvolved in public theology in general. Exceptions, of course, are notable–for one example, Brent Waters’ work—but even an engagement like Waters’ is stereotyped to reinforce the assumption that evangelicals are resistant to postmodern anthropologies like Hefner’s that may be used to easily justify the public sphere’s agenda for technological development.
Evangelicalism and public theology stand to mutually benefit, at least, from a constructive exchange of gifts. I argue that if evangelicals are partial to the notion that theological anthropology is at the fore of public relevance today—as the theme of our annual meeting suggests—then evangelicals would be well-served to engage more robustly with the theological posthumanism conversation. Hefner’s explicitly public-facing anthropological metaphor of “created co-creators” persists as a constructive entry of engagement for evangelicals. A relevant gift of evangelicalism to this conversation is the evangelical expectation of the conversion of creation; a relevant critique of evangelicalism is a more robust understanding of the co-created means of conversion.