2. Theological Method and Religious Anthropology: Heschel among the Christians
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t w o T heological M ethod and R eligious A nthropology: H eschel among the C hristians What kind of theologian was Heschel? Since, like many Jewish thinkers , Heschel talks very little about theological method, it falls to us to piece together what he is doing. With his strong theocentric thrust, Heschel can at moments sound very much like his contemporary, the neo-­Orthodox Protestant theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968). Consider, for example, Heschel’s insistence that “the Bible is primarily not man’s vision of God but God’s vision of man. The Bible is not man’s theology but God’s anthropology, dealing with man and what He asks of him.”1 In a strikingly similar vein, Barth declares that “it is not the right human thoughts about God which form the content of the Bible, but the right divine thoughts about men.”2 But Heschel’s theocentrism should not blind us to the fact that, in the tradition of modern liberal theology, he begins his theology not with divine revelation, but with human experience . He commences not by asking what it is that God has revealed, but rather, as we have seen, by asking what aspects of human nature and experience can render us receptive to revelation. Or, to put it somewhat differently,Heschelbeginsnotalreadywithinthecontentsofrevelation, but rather with anthropological prolegomena, with a “criti­cal, transcendental inquiry into the possibility of . . . belief.”3 Although it most assuredly does not end there, Heschel’s theology begins in anthropology. In what follows, I bring Heschel into conversation with some of the major fig­ures in twentieth-­century Christian theology as a basis for exploring Heschel’s approach to the intertwined issues of theological method and theological anthropology.4 72 Theological Method and Religious Anthropology 73 It will be useful to begin our discussion by briefly considering the theo­ logi­ cal approaches of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, and the rather acrimonious (at least from Barth’s side) breach between them. No twentieth-­century theologian was more emphatic in his rejection of anaturalhumancapacityforknowingGodthanKarlBarth,whoargued relentlessly in his writings that theology could brook no compromise at all between nature and grace; all knowledge of God is rooted in the latter rather than the former. Any form of natural theology constitutes an “abyss” that one must avoid at all costs; it is a “serpent,” and the theologian must “hit it and kill it as soon as [he] see[s] it.”5 Barth insists that to talk about an inherent human capacity to know God, or even merely to receive revelation, is effectively to affirm that human beings aid in their own salvation, and thus to run afoul of the related Reformation principles of sola scriptura and sola gratia.6 Barth is absolutely unyielding in his opposition to the notion that human beings can know anything at all of God outside of what they learn through revelation; the only God one can know through nature, he avers, is “a creature of man’s philosophical phantasy,”7 and thus nothing but an idol.8 For Barth, this resolute rejection of natural knowledge is only the consequence of taking seriously humanity’s total depravity after the Fall.9 Emil Brunner famously attempted to offer a more nuanced—and thus, from Barth’s perspective, irredeemably compromised—approach tonatureandgrace.BrunneragreeswithBarth(orpurportsto)that“the origi­nal image of God in man has been destroyed”10 by Adam’s sin, and that, as a result, the human being is “a sinner through and through . . . there is nothing in him which is not defiled by sin.”11 But he insists that even after the Fall, human beings retain an “Anknüpfungspunkt,” or “point of contact,” that enables grace to reach them, and makes it possible for them to receive the Word of God. The latter, he tells us, “could not reach a man who had lost his consciousness of God entirely.”12 Brunner distinguishes between the formal image of God, which he insists survives after the Fall, and the material image, which he claims has been obliterated by it. The formal image is what makes human beings capable of language, and thus of being addressed; it is, in other words, the source of our responsibility.13 For Brunner, I think, the formal image of God is the 74 Abraham Joshua Heschel Anknüpfungspunkt: “No one who agrees that only human subjects but not sticks and stones can receive the Word of God and the Holy Spirit,” he writes, “can deny that...