Marc Cortez, Professor of Theology, Wheaton College and Graduate School
Why do you love teaching and researching about Christian theology?
Where to begin! The most obvious response is that God is infinitely amazing, all that he has done is inexhaustibly fascinating, and a right understanding of God and everything in relation to God should fundamentally shape every aspect of human existence. That seems to provide a rather rich starting point for why I love theology!
All of those same reasons inform why I love teaching theology as well, though with the added benefit that I get to walk alongside students as they grow in their own understanding of God’s glory and how that relates to their various spheres of existence. I particularly enjoy working with students who don’t see themselves as “theologians,” helping them begin to think about their own vocations in a Christ-centered way.
What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?
At the most general level, my big idea involves thinking theologically about what it means to be human. I find that modern Christians are often far too quick to derive most of what they think about being human from non-theological disciplines, and I want to encourage people to consider the rich resources that Christian theology provides for thinking about every aspect of human existence.
At a more specific level, though, I am particularly interested in thinking about the relationship between Christology and anthropology. Or, said a bit differently, if we affirm that Jesus is fully and truly human, what difference does this make for how we think about things like identity, the body, sexuality, race, disability, work, and so forth? If I can make some small contribution toward helping people think more clearly and carefully about Jesus when wrestling with these kinds of questions, I will be quite satisfied.
Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?
This one’s a little tricky depending on what you mean by “hero.” But I should probably just go with Karl Barth since he has undoubtedly influenced me the most. He’s the kind of theologian that I often describe as being provocatively interesting. In other words, even when I think he’s wrong, he makes me think better and harder as I try to figure why I think he’s wrong. And I have been particularly shaped by his christocentrism, his constant example of doing theology in direct engagement with the Bible, and his commitment to the inseparability of theology and ethics. Nonetheless I have a few too many disagreements with him both theologically and personally to be entirely comfortable with labelling him my hero.
What books were formative for you when you were a student? Why were they so important and shaping?
This is a hard one for me because I tend to identify more with particular theologians than with particular texts. So, for example, I would definitely identify Augustine as one of the more influential theologians for me in my student years, but it would be difficult to pinpoint whether that influence was primarily mediated through Confessions, On the Trinity, or City of God, all of which played differently important roles in my development. That probably reflects an educational approach that tended to emphasize gaining limited exposure to lots of different texts rather than extend exposure to just a few. Nonetheless, the one text that really stands out is Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III/2. That’s the volume of the Dogmatics that focuses on theological anthropology and it has played a pivotal role in my own thinking about the anthropological significance of Christ’s humanity.
Read Cortez’s Work
ReSourcing Theological Anthropology: A Constructive Account of Humanity in the Light of Christ
Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology
If you ran into me at a conference and didn’t want to talk theology, what would you want to talk about?
I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. I pretend like I do it for pretentious, academic reasons (e.g. these genres explores complex questions about human identity), but really I’m just a geek who loves this kind of literature.
What is a research/writing project you are working on right now that you are excited about?
I’m working on two books right now, and I’ve discovered that this is a terrible idea! One is on the image of God, specifically how this relates to the ancient concept of what an idol is, and the other is on the doctrine of creation. Although the image of God has always been fascinating to me, and I am enjoying the process of thinking more deeply about what that entails, I’m particularly excited right now about the creation book because it’s allowing me to expand my research in ways that build on by anthropological work while still moving in new directions.