A professor who had a profound influence upon my theological development once stated, “Practically, your theology depends upon your anthropology.” I agree with him. What one believes about the nature and situation of mankind tends to influence the rest of one’s theological beliefs.
I am not saying that this should be the case. Certainly, theology begins and ends with God. We ought to build all of our theology upon God’s self-understanding revealed to us in Scripture. We should adjust our beliefs about ourselves to conform with what God said about himself. This is the way things should be.
But things are not so. Practically, our theology often depends upon our anthropology. Because we are humans, we have strong beliefs about what humanity is or is not. We are not neutral or objective about ourselves. And because all of us have a sin nature from birth and also have sinned by choice, we have a vested interest in deceiving ourselves about ourselves. Although God begins to transform us from the point of regeneration onward, we still have a tendency to want to believe the best about ourselves and blame the worst on God. This tendency is why we would rather change our beliefs about God than change our beliefs about ourselves.
Let me give a few examples. If we (consciously or subconsciously) believe that mankind is not fully guilty of sin, then we tend to believe that mankind is not really deserving of punishment. We may struggle to embrace God’s sovereignty because we cannot believe that God could allow bad things to happen to “good” people. We may demote or deny the doctrines of predestination, election, or hell because we believe that people are just too good for God to treat them so unfairly. Similarly, if we believe that mankind is basically uncorrupted, it follows that you or I have the ability to desire what is good and choose it by our own power. We may teach a graceless “pull-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps” doctrine. If we each possess the ability to do right, than the "failures" in life got there because they didn't try as hard as we did. If we believe that we have the ability to follow God's laws by just trying harder and harder, than we might tend to teach a lot about God's laws and "restrictions" and not much about God's grace to those who fail. (We are all failures.)
These are only a few examples of the errors that may result from a faulty idea of mankind.
NOTE: In theology, the term "anthropology" is used to refer to the doctrine of man. Anthropology is one branch of theology. The social sciences use the term in a different manner, of course. I am not talking about Richard and Mary Leakey here!
ANOTHER NOTE: I thought I published this post a few days ago, but I guess I just put it to draft. Another piece of evidence that proves I am losing/have already lost my mind.
A FURTHER (unneccessary) NOTE: Yes, many of these thoughts come from my reading of the current raging debate over the ministry and books of Michael and Debbie Pearl. But many thoughts come from elsewhere, too, such as pondering the influence of Charles Finney on Evangelicalism. While certain aspects of this post may have application to evaluating the Pearl's and other Christian teachers, it is not the point of my post to discuss specific examples. Not yet.