It is difficult, moreover, to discern which comes first—for each kind of knowledge seems to lead us to the other. As we think about God, we can hardly help but think of our relationship to him. On the other hand, however,

no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” (Acts 17:28). For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself.

For Calvin, the “knowledge of ourselves” has mainly to do with awareness of our sinfulness, finitude and weakness.

It reinforces our feeling of dependence on the Lord. “For, as a veritable world of miseries is to be found in mankind,” he said, “our shameful nakedness exposes a teeming horde of infamies.” Still, this knowledge is essential to our welfare and happiness. It prepares us for the gospel. It moves us toward the Lord. Indeed, it “not only arouses us to seek God,” he argued. It “leads us by the hand to find him.”

In this issue of Beeson magazine, we focus our attention on the “knowledge of ourselves” in an effort to lead readers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Theologians used to call this issue’s theme “the doctrine of man.” Today, most call it “theological anthropology.” But no matter what the label, it pertains to the knowledge of God’s intentions for humanity, the distortion of those intentions that results from our sin and the ways in which the Father can redeem us from our plight by his Son and Holy Spirit—reordering our lives in accordance with his will, restoring the joy of our relationship with him and enabling us to flourish by participating in him and his work of redemption in the world.

Professor Piotr Małysz leads off with reflections on our situation as moderns—after centuries of work on what it means to be human—with respect to the knowledge of ourselves. Have our scientific advances led us closer to the truth about who we really are, Professor Małysz asks, or have they “only served to obscure, and distract us from, the question?” They have made life easier and improved our understanding of its natural dimensions, he admits right away. But only in Christ does human life make the kind of sense and find the kind of purpose for which God has designed it. In the words of the gospel we proclaim day by day, God himself became human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, reconciled the faithful to himself and one another, showed us who we really are, and gave us our identity.

Professor Mike Pasquarello then presents us with profound advice from Dietrich Bonhoeffer about preaching Christ, the God-man, and thereby demonstrating God’s intentions for humanity. Bonhoeffer’s incarnational way of training pastors (which is much like Beeson’s) involved “a robust theological vision of God and humanity united in” the Savior, Pasquarello explains, one that “comprised the basis of all homiletical instruction.” And his preaching on “the ‘Word made flesh,’” in its turn, “provides the basis for a Christian humanism by which we might be what we were created to be in Christ.”

Beeson alumna Lydia Suitt offers wisdom on the theme of human desire from the writings of Jonathan Edwards and the late 20th-century French thinker René Girard. From Edwards, she teaches us that affections, or desires, “are present in all our activities.” They animate our lives and fuel everything we do. From Girard, she suggests that “we learn what to desire by association with our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors.” We tend to “mimic” role models as we express our deepest longings. “Jesus invites us to take him as our model.” And as we do, Suitt reminds us, “we can expect to find desires slowly turning from serving ourselves to serving a world desperately in need of God’s mercy and love.”

Beeson alumnus James Henderson bats cleanup with an inspirational challenge to appreciate the humanity of the members of the body of Christ often deemed the weakest. The disabled and their families feel invisible, neglected, even useless in many churches. But as Paul warned the Corinthians, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” As we “ponder what it means to be human,” pleads Henderson, “we must recognize the indispensability of every member of the body, not by politely allowing those with disabilities to exist within the boundaries of the church, but by fully embracing and celebrating their unique gifting as essential aspects both of what it means to be human and to be in Christ.”

We hope the cumulative effect of these four lead essays will encourage you to find your identity in Christ, who best represents God’s intentions for humanity. And we pray that all God’s children will grow up into him, “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). That’s what the “knowledge of ourselves” is really all about!

Douglas A. Sweeney is dean of Beeson Divinity School and author of Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment.