Brazos Press | 2022 | 272 pages (hardcover) | $24.99
Today the “supply chain” is often a topic of daily radio programming, a reminder of our human interdependence. Despite constant clues of our dependence on others for the food we eat, the buildings we inhabit, the cars we drive, and the infrastructure of our cities, we regularly forget that we are dependent and believe that we are independent—and that we can be and do everything. Kelly Kapic’s newest book, You’re Only Human, has us instead look down at the belly button we all possess and know that we need other people. God himself stated, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). This book is a needed salve in our world of increasing isolation, of “bowling alone.”
It seems to me that You’re Only Human, without citing it, unpacks arguably one of the most neglected doctrinal truths in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF): the communion of the saints. While I would venture to guess that WCF 26 is rarely studied and celebrated, it profoundly communicates our need for fellowship and community:
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. (WCF 26.1)
The confession goes on to say that believers are called to relieve “each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities” (WCF 26.2). You’re Only Human unpacks these truths from a variety of angles. Reminding us of biblical metaphors of the church as a body (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12–27), Kapic remarks that “God created us for mutual dependence and delight within a life-giving community: that isn’t merely a goal; it’s how we are built” (177).
Kapic addresses the common quandary of being drawn to so many good causes in life. There is prison ministry. Children’s ministry. Discipleship and evangelism. There are worthwhile civic causes to engage—so much to do but so little time. Here, Kapic wants to free us to realize that despite our limits, we can be involved in various things through our union with other believers in the church.
God’s Spirit has united me to Christ and, because of that union, to my sisters and brothers of the faith. . . . As part of God’s church, we have people doing prison ministry, caring for children, feeding the hungry, praying, preaching, and caring for orphans and widows. I am not the body—I am just a part of it. (178)
Kapic makes the provocative claim that “in our union with Christ, we benefit from the vicarious work of Christ. But we also benefit in some vicarious way from the work of our sisters and brothers” (179). Here he connects anthropology, a biblical understanding of humanity, with ecclesiology, a biblical understanding of the church. He also touches on a biblical understanding of vocation:
Only when we live in our interconnectedness will we stop belittling those with “secular” vocations who honor Christ as painters and teachers, as landscapers and homemakers, as politicians and software engineers. Rather than disparage someone else’s work, we can see it as part of the whole. (179)
Particularly, Kapic commends prayer as one way we join ourselves to the various activities of others (180).
Understanding all this, Kapic suggests, protects us from burnout, gives us the ability to say no to good things that might unhealthily stretch our limits, and encourages us to healthy rhythms “like Sabbath, exercise, friendship” as well as sleep (183). Pastors especially need to read this book and take his advice (181–86). Yet all Christians are called to give time to contemplating God and all things in relation to God; all Christians are called to family worship and to be good stewards of our bodies. Amid a world of frenetic busyness, Christians are called to be people of peace who value activities such as prayer that produce little visible or immediate results. As Christopher Holmes recently wrote in A Theology of the Christian Life: Imitating and Participating in God, “Hallowing God’s name is the ultimate time waster,” but this is what is “demanded” of God’s people, mirroring the Trinity, each person “delighting in one another ‘uselessly’” (Holmes, 154). Arguably, until we do this, we are unfit to go out into the world as salt and light.
You’re Only Human addresses numerous aspects of our humanity. Readers should not be dissuaded by the book’s slow start as it gains considerable steam after the first few chapters. Kapic reminds us that our limits as creatures are not sinful in themselves and that “being dependent creatures is a constructive gift, not a deficiency” (10). No doubt the apostle Paul would agree that we must depend on God (2 Cor. 1:9; 4:7; 12:7–10).
Kapic’s second chapter brings awareness to the particularity of God’s love for us as individuals, with the reminder that he formed us with specific gifts and needs. The third chapter points to Jesus’ humanity as proof that having a physical body with physical limits is not inherently bad. Chapter 4 engages human experience in powerful and practical ways, speaking of the sexualized ads that surround us at the grocery store as well as the pressure on both men and women to have a particular body shape. Kapic not only speaks to the embodied gathering of God’s people, which paused for so many during the early days of COVID-19, but also of the power of touch.
Chapter 5 could be viewed as a helpful but brief supplement to Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, for Kapic here reminds us of our dependence on those around us even to identify ourselves. When we tell others about who we are, we necessarily speak of the people and institutions that shape us and our history (77). Kapic grounds his explanations in the Bible and answers the “Who am I?” question ultimately through our relation to God (e.g., 90). He even tackles unhelpful ways of speaking about struggles with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia: instead of identifying ourselves with a behavior, “distinguishing the person from the addictive behavior helps the patient identify, fight, and resist the self-harming actions” (93).
Part 2 of the book discusses “healthy dependence,” where Kapic begins with a recovery of true humility and joyful realism. “Humility,” he writes, “consists in a recognition of (and a rejoicing in) the good limitations that God has given us; it is not a regrettable necessity, nor simply a later addition responding to sinful disorders” (103). Kapic makes the interesting claim that humility should be viewed in terms of our creaturely limits, not just our sinfulness (112). Humility also means acknowledging the gifts that God has given to others. One commendable aspect of the book is that Kapic inserts Christology into each chapter, showing how Jesus lived out what Kapic is observing. However, I felt that he did not connect those dots sufficiently when it came to Christ and Kapic’s paradigm of humility.
Kapic’s chapter on time is one of the book’s highlights, and his history of how the clock has come to control our lives is fascinating. There are many gems of wisdom here, such as “We have often tried to make machines that are like humans, but now we often expect humans to be like machines” (126). Similarly, chapter 8 shows from the Bible that God is comfortable with change over time, process. This chapter will surely help Christians lamenting their slow progress in sanctification. Kapic ties our impatience here to the desire for efficiency, but “love, community, and growth of character are often—though not always—at odds with efficiency. . . . One of the most inefficient things you can ever do is love another person. . . . Loving another creature requires engagement, response, and patience” (149). As a parent of small children who sometimes laments how child-rearing hinders my productivity, I needed to hear this.
Kapic’s final chapter reminds us that “trying to ‘have it all’—all at once—sets us up for frustration and failure” (197). Here, he reminds us that there are different seasons in life, that we can admit our vulnerabilities, we can lament, and that God made us as creatures who need rest, including sleep. Kapic posits that “sleep is an act of faith. It requires us to see our finitude as a good part of God’s design for us” (217). The Sabbath also should be celebrated: you get to say “no” to work one day a week (219), in imitation of God (Gen. 2:3)!
Today, realism is often labeled “defeatism”—certainly when it comes to sanctification; end-time views that deny worldly triumph or transformationalism are viewed as pessimistic and resignation, while traditional doctrines, such as the spirituality of the church, are rejected as quietism and political cowardice. Such labelers may find You’re Only Human to be defeatist as well, just as some eschewed Michael Horton’s excellent book Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). Others will find it refreshing, freeing, and challenging to our modern idolatries.
Andrew J. Miller is the pastor of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Fredericksburg, Virginia.