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Wednesday, June 2, 2021 : By Standing for Freedom Staff
Owen Strachan, author of Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind, is the associate professor of Christian theology, director of the Center for Public Theology, and director of the Residency PhD program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.
He has authored and co-authored various other theological texts, ranging from analyses on Jonathan Edwards to growing one’s faith to understanding what the Bible teaches about the many facets of human sexuality. He has often written for the Gospel Coalition, is the host of the “City of God” podcast, and is well-known within evangelical circles for his forthright tone and no-nonsense approach to theology.
In Reechanting Humanity, Strachan aims to find God’s truth in modern life where culture has deemed God to be dead. He posits that this book (best as a guide for pastors and seminarians) should serve as a reenchantment for a disenchanted humanity, one that has given in to depravity and accepted the cultural tides as the new wave the Church should be surfing on.
By reenchanting humanity, Strachan hopes that he can breathe new life into where culture has forgotten the truth of the gospel and, by using scripture as well as other theologians he respects, can show where the best life is not a life that asks, “How high?” when culture says to jump, but stands firm on truth rooted in the scriptures.
Strachan recognizes that the Church historically believed that “Christ held a meaningful anthropology, and that our children learned what they needed to know simply by ecclesial and cultural osmosis” and that this is no longer true. As a result, he hopes to teach the doctrine of the Bible “with confidence and with joy, seeking to be witnesses to fellow sinners and guides to all God’s flock.”
After a brief introduction by the author, the book is broken down into nine chapters, each with subsections that further break down their subject. These chapters dive into how modern culture (and often, the modernized Church) look at the following: image, depravity, work, sexuality, race and ethnicity, technology, justice, contingency, and Christ. While each chapter stands on its own, Strachan often says in earlier chapters that he will continue to unpack his thoughts in the chapters that follow, so that his thoughts show a cohesion of how these hermeneutics work together.
While Strachan builds upon previous chapters and fleshes out his thoughts as he goes, there are also a number of organizational issues within the book. For example, most chapters, with their subsections, have a conclusion at the end where Strachan aims to neatly tie these thoughts together, but not every chapter has such resolution (his longest chapter, on sexuality, lacks a conclusion). And in the section on depravity, Strachan outlines six different types of sins that humans engage in that show the depravity of the soul. The problem here is not how he describes them — that he does rather floridly — but rather that he leaves off sin number six, leaving readers scratching their heads and aching for a consistency that Strachan has neglected to build in.
While the editing and organization of the book leaves a bit to be desired, Strachan makes thoughtful use of biblical texts and commentary from theologians who have studied these topics in more detail. This is indeed a book written for theologians, as Strachan uses less than colloquial terms throughout, and often his vocabulary loses its power. In some places he does a thoughtful job of reenchanting humanity through thoughtful research and commentary, and in other places paints with a broad brush and makes statements that are neither backed by commentary or scripture.
Where Strachan can uncover that culture has steered away from God’s love and law, his book does exactly what he says it will do — it enchants the reader and draws them toward the majesty of an unwavering God. Where Strachan paints with broad strokes and leans on his own understanding of each section, that reenchantment is a bit more shallow and devoid of thoughtfulness and grace.
So does Strachan reenchant humanity? Yes and no. Strachan has strong thoughts on God’s law and what the scriptures say, and he comes at it from a very specific perspective. While it would not do his words justice to “leave it up to the reader to decide/research for themselves,” Strachan also speaks in very harsh terms in places that could use more grace. As an enchantment is to deeply arouse the emotions and mind of a person, a reenchantment should help the person to find what they loved about something in the first place. A broad brush cannot be used along with a fine tooth comb when attempting to reenchant humanity when any teacher is then going to speak to an educated, skeptical, and very possibly hurt congregation.
In conclusion, pastors and teachers planning to use this book as a template for teaching should remember the skeptic sitting in the pew. Each section makes some thoughtful points about where culture has attempted to take God out, and with a bit more reverence towards the creativity and graciousness of God, Strachan would have a better shot at reenchanting a dead-to-God culture.