What is a Human Person? (or, A Unified Theory of Everything, part 3)

Thus far (see posts 1 and 2) we have explored the need for a “unified field theory” that fuses together the varied aspects of ministry, and we’ve suggested developing this theory by starting with anthropology. What is a human person? That is the question.

The importance of this question cannot be overstated. The closer our answer is to reality, the more successful we’ll be in helping people. The further our answer is from reality, the less successful we’ll be at helping people. A.W. Tozer observed:

Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false.

I think we may say with equal conviction: if the church gets a wrong answer to the question: “What is a human person?” her practical working creed will become false. She will misunderstand the essence of human personhood and will therefore become increasingly ineffective at helping human persons and glorifying the God who made them in His image.

So let me now answer the question. Or more accurately: let me point to those who have answered the question well.

“We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers.” (Harold Best, Unceasing Worship, 17.)

“Human beings are always interpreters and always worshippers… worship is hard-wired into our being.” (Tim Chester, You Can Change, 69)

“Humans have been created to be reflecting beings, and they will reflect whatever they are ultimately committed to… we become what we worship.” (G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship, 22)

Human persons are loving, liturgical animals. (James K.A. Smith, 40)

This is the heart of biblical anthropology. To be human is to be a worshiper. We are made to worship. Or more accurately: we are made worshiping. Consider Harold Best’s thoughtful nuancing here:

I [do] not say we were created to be [worshipers]. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring… we were created worshiping… Nobody does not worship.

This anthropology is, in my opinion, the foundational starting point of a gospel-centered approach to ministry. Everything comes back to worship. Various leaders have stated this reality in various ways: “The essence of every sin is idolatry” (Tim Keller). “We worshiped our way into this mess, and we’ll have to worship our way out” (Paul Tripp). “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” (John Piper). “We become what we worship” (G.K. Beale).

If it’s true that human beings are worshippers, then worship is the foundational, the core, the bottom-line issue in the work of ministry. In evangelism, in discipleship, in spiritual formation, in preaching, and in counseling, we are always getting down to issues of worship. We are revealing false gods and exalting the true God. We are urging repentance (for false worship) and faith (a return to true worship).

This idea – that humans are fundamentally worshipers and that sin is ultimately rooted in false worship (misplaced desires/loves) – is not a novel one. I am not suggesting some new outlook on human persons; I am urging the rediscovery of a very old one. St. Augustine wrote: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” At the finest moments in the Christian church’s theology, hymnody, devotion, and history, this realization has been front and center.

Human beings are desiring, loving, worshiping beings. This is the linchpin for a Unified Theory of Everything. In following posts, I’ll show how this anthropology brings everything together, and I’ll work out some implications.


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  1. When you began this series I was both skeptical and intrigued. Please forgive me lack of faith! Love where you’re going with this and look forward to hearing more.

  2. Not where I would start, but maybe you’re on a path to the same place that starts with demonstrating the brokenness of humanity.

    Remember that Descartes tried to start with an apprehension of self as the only sure starting point, and despite quickly thereafter affirming and demonstrating that a good God upholds his arguments, he sowed the seeds of deconstructionist skepticism.

    I think it’s possible to ignore anthropology until you discuss God, by acknowledging that we cannot have a reasonable discussion without acknowledging reason.

    Below I link to an argument (more abstractly philosophical than your pastoral philosophy seeks to be) that establishes God from the laws of logic without making him “subject” to them. You’re probably familiar with the general idea if not the specific argument, but I think it could be a more consistent starting point which gives an absolute basis for your anthropology.


    Of course, that doesn’t mean some other intuitive basis is wrong, since logic itself is at root intuitive in so far as we humanly apprehend it.

  3. I’ve read alot of Best and Tripp, and while I agree that every person is a worshipping person. . . I don’t think we should ignore outside causes, triggers, and circumstances that CONTRIBUTE to our responses. Yes, Idolatry is the root of all sin, but it’s not the trigger of all sin. Idolatry is the opposite of proper worship, but there is a continuum between proper enjoyment of a thing and mis-use of it. That continuum is where many people are.

    I think some Gospel Centered pastors, like myself (if I may be so bold) have an “idolatry” twitch, like tourrets or something. Sometimes nuance is helpful here. So, yes, humans are continuously pouring worship out towards something. . . . but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about secondary causes for sin, the influence of the enemy, the influence of others, etc. . To talk of such things is not always owing to a different anthropology, to pass the buck, or mask one’s sin, etc. . .

    Perhaps I jumped the gun here and we’ll get closer to practicum in later parts of the “unified theory”. If so, I apologize.

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