Hans Schwarz is Professor of Systematic Theology and Contemporary Theological Issues at the University of Regensburg, Germany. His theological anthropology highlights ‘the biblical testimony, the historical unfolding by its major voices through the centuries, and the present affirmation of this tradition in view of rival options and of the factual evidence the various sciences have unearthed’ (p. xii). While the biblical and historical elements are themselves comprehensive and helpful, one of the most interesting and unique features of Schwarz's anthropology is his direct engagement with contemporary science.
In part I, Schwarz provides a very detailed survey of the scientific evidence regarding human origins, noting first of all the similarities between humans and their predecessors. His description of the palaeological evidence is especially helpful and written in a way which is accessible for those not well versed in this topic. Schwarz then moves to what makes humans distinct. He notes a number of both physical and behavioural distinctions. For example, the similarities between humans and the bonobo chimpanzee, one of our closest living relatives, are well known. But Schwartz takes the time also to explain the nuanced difference between the memory capability of the bonobo, and that of human beings, as well as other differences.
The most questionable section of part I is his treatment of human potential. Schwarz seems to unquestioningly accept the idea that scientific progress benefits humanity. One example is his explanation of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for its potential to eliminate certain genetic diseases. He notes that there are ethical issues raised by these treatments, but mentions only the worry about disposal of healthy blastocysts. Since Schwarz is not writing an ethics book where he can delve into the full ethical ramifications of these examples, he would have done well simply to eliminate this section. It adds nothing to his overall argument and raises many troubling questions.
Part II delves into the question of human sin and freedom. Schwarz begins by discussing the issue from the perspective of neuroscience and psychology, spending a significant amount of time on the psychoanalytic tradition. He then offers a survey of biblical thought on sin. While his biblical treatment is rather thin he rightly emphasises humans as sinful. What exactly that means, however, is not well explained.
Having already discussed the scientific and biblical perspectives on sin, freedom and evil, Schwarz now turns to the church's wrestling with this issue throughout her history. He offers a comprehensive summary of major historical figures including Pelagius, Augustine, Erasmus and Luther. But he also works through many modern theologians including Tillich, Pannenberg, Gutierrez and Radford-Reuther. In every case, Schwarz summarises the major arguments, offers some conclusions about how the doctrine of sin has been influenced by each of these important figures, and where the most important questions lie. Schwarz's overview of the doctrine of sin is careful and nuanced. He offers the best of what these theologians assert while raising questions about points they may be overlooking.
Part III focuses on what it means to be created male and female. Schwarz affirms equality, emphasising the counter-cultural nature of the biblical understanding of women in the first-century context. One weakness in this chapter is that Schwarz spends almost no time on homosexuality. Given the ongoing interest in the topic, it would have been helpful to see him wrestle a bit more with this contemporary societal issue.
He also takes time to consider human work. Relying largely on Luther's conception of ‘station’ Schwarz affirms the importance of human work whatever that work might be insofar as it serves the common good. As Schwarz notes, rethinking work in outward-focused terms is a much needed corrective to Western society's impulse towards conceiving meaningful work as that which serves oneself and one's financial gain.
Overall, this is an excellent contemporary treatment of theological anthropology which advances scholarly discussion, weaving together scientific discoveries and the historic Christian faith.