Theology concerning personhood is a doctrine that finds itself rooted in Trinitarian theology and language. These foundational beliefs have been considered the orthodox stance of the church since its conception. Possessing a Christian worldview of personhood will have profound implications for our world today. Our understanding of the Trinity and personhood is seen in the Imagio Dei (image of God), and it influences how we even look at many contemporary issues such as abortion. Understanding what it means to be human is a primary focus when starting to study the scriptures.
Dennis Kinlaw (2005) points out that the reason discussion in Christian circles is void of personhood is our “search for self, a search based on the assumption that the isolation of self might make possible the understanding of self.” In understanding humanity according to Trinitarian theology, we cannot come to full realization of who we are and are meant to be outside of God. As the Trinity consists of relationship we were made for relationships, not isolation. Western culture has become increasingly concerned with the self and the protection of it, “Respect for man’s personal identity is perhaps the most important idea of our time” (Kinlaw, 2005).
Since God revealed Himself to be a Holy Trinity, He places immense value on relationships. This perspective is seen in the creation, as “He has a relationship to the natural world and seems to be the key to its well-being” (Kinlaw). God created man in His image, and this meant that man needed a relationship. God then created woman to be a constant and tangible relationship partner for the man. The relationship that they would have for each other would be one of self-giving love, a reflection of the self-giving love of the Trinity. This places an increased value on marriage relationship as one of self-giving love not the fulfillment of selfish desires.
Another relationship is n the incarnation, “The creation carried within it the potential for an unbelievably intimate and eternal relationship” (Kinlaw, 2005). It is in the incarnation that we find the real depth of our relationship with God. For in the incarnation, we find a relationship between God and man that is more intimately intertwined than that of the marriage relationship.
Kinlaw further states, “Therefore, if Jesus is the prototype of all other persons, then persons never exist alone.” As the fullness of the Godhead rested in the body of Jesus, we also by can be filled with the fullness of God. Our salvation deepens when we understand the incarnation of Christ becomes a personal reality for us as well.
This leads to the understanding demonstrated by Zizioulas that man is best understood “in light of two modes of existence…hypostasis of biological existence…hypostasis of ecclesial existence” (hypostasis meaning person). The natural life begins at conception and the ecclesial reality at our spiritual birth. It is in Christ that these natures are joined. This is the completion of man’s being because of the unity he experiences in the salvation of his physical body united with his spirit shows the depth of the transformation that takes place. Salvation becomes more than just a pronouncement of innocence but one of a change in nature.
An orthodox theology of personhood is a necessity in understanding ourselves and our relationship to God. Once these assertions are held, we can move on as to how these apply to our modern day situations. Personhood is still a very real conversation that we need to have in our churches today.
Kinlaw, Dennis (2005). Let’s Start with Jesus. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI.
Zizioulas, John (1985). Being as Communion. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Publishers.