The Majesty of Man: The Dignity of Being Human. Revised and expanded

By Ronald B. Allen
Grand Rapids : Kregel (2000). 217 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
13.2 (Fall 2002) : 265-266

 The first edition of this book appeared in 1984 from Multnomah Press as part of its “Critical Concerns” series. Calling it a revised and expanded edition is certainly inaccurate since it is very difficult to find any noticeable change or upgrade or revision. All chapter headings and sub-headings remain the same as before except for two which were dropped, but with their content just becoming part of the material under the previous subheading. With more than a random check being done, it became increasingly obvious that the content of the book as a whole remains unchanged—the first edition was reviewed by this reviewer [Grace Theological Journal 7/1 (1986):135-36] and was practically read again, this time parallel with the second edition.

With a good turn of phrase, a pleasant style of writing, liberal use of anecdotes and illustrations, Allen does hold the reader’s attention, evoking murmurs of agreement with his observations and conclusions, and sometimes a rueful shake of the head or a questioning moue. Strikingly obvious was the fact that the questions asked about and the descriptions given of the contemporary world remain the same for both editions.

One realizes fairly soon after reading the book that it probably would not be read a second time since it is neither a study book, nor a commentary on selected passages of Scripture, nor a detailed presentation on the doctrine of man, nor a focused treatment of moral and ethical dilemmas, nor an in-depth analysis of worldly, ungodly, and secular-humanist elements and ideals harmful to present-day churches and Christian schools. Nor is it a discourse on what the author refers to as ‘biblical humanism.’ However, a blending of snatches of all of these makes it a primer on thinking about the badness of man and the goodness he can still show morally, culturally, and socially. The biblical emphasis and evidence on man’s depravity is clearly acknowledged and is not lessened or redefined by pointing to the good humanity can do and has done. Never does Allen suggest that this element of good could possibly win God’s favor. The portrayal of man as a noble savage well underscores why the question “What is man?” validly resurfaces in every generation. Years have come and gone yet the question still begs a philosophical and, even more so, a biblical response. That is what Allen begins to deal with. As a primer, then, it does pique the reader’s interest to pursue some issues in more depth.

The wide variety of anecdotes also provides the reader with interesting “trivial-pursuit” type tid-bits of information at which he might remark, “Hey! I didn’t know that!” For example, the designer of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge intended it to glorify the Lord (69). Further, insight into where the author stands on different issues surfaces here and there in a comment or two, e.g., he obviously does not endorse today’s unfortunate emphasis on self-esteem (88), but he does appear unfortunately to endorse progressive creationism (38). However, he does commend a positive attitude toward science (163). On the other hand, he evaluates ‘scientific creationism’ as being oxymoronic because one cannot teach creation without giving attention to the Creator (37). He also delivers a caution against prematurely settling the issue of Bible and science (38). Agreed, in part; but the theologian must assert that scientific theories on origins just cannot be allowed to override the straightforward presentation of creation in the biblical text as though somehow the scientific theory and its extrapolation backwards could hermeneutically inform and stretch that text.

Evangelicals are correctly cautioned from responding unwisely to things going on in the world around them—circumstances and actions to which they have a valid right to respond. Lack of having all the facts before reporting and upbraiding something constitutes lack of wisdom (cf. 39-42). This aspect of wisdom the author returns to later in the book with propositions that tantalize the reader to reflect thereupon, e.g., “We were created by God to be wise” (139), or “Let us be truly human in God’s wisdom” (152). Other observations are just as thought-provoking, demanding some reaction from the reader, e.g., “It is precisely because of the high value that Yahweh places in man—who, though fallen, still bears his image—that God himself became man in Christ” (97). Or “When a person comes to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, he not only has life forever, but is now more man than ever” (101). Or in the book’s final paragraph, “Let us therefore luxuriate in our humanity” (180), and in closure, “Only then will we be able to praise God for the majesty that man is” (180). Keep in mind when responding that Allen had previously well underscored both the creatureliness and fallenness of man and had also rhetorically asked, “Does our doctrine of the fallenness of man mean that we are not to be concerned with the ailing and the hurting of the world?” (157). He had also remarked, “The marvel of being man is that man may give praise to God” (179). One could wish for Colossians 3:1-5 and M ark 8:34-38 to have been included to enhance discussion on man being of heavenly use in his world and to stress the need for man to say goodbye to self as part of his self-awareness as one who follows Christ Jesus the Lord. But choice of texts on which to base his thoughts belongs to the author and could always be amended and extended by another.

Despite remarking that it would probably not be read a second time, it is possible that one may refer back to this book not necessarily for doctrinal comment and definition but in order to extract certain stories and illustrations as color for his own sermons.