A Theology of Limits: Kelly Kapic and You’re Only Human

W. Jackson Watts

Kelly Kapic has distinguished himself as a prolific and accessible theologian over the last two decades. Longtime theology professor at Covenant College, a Presbyterian school in Georgia, Kapic is someone I’ve come to appreciate both on the page as well as in person. His latest book is another gem worth one’s time: You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News (Brazos Press, 2022).

Around 15 years ago I began thinking deeply about human finitude and limits as a product of God’s good design in creation, rather than human sinfulness. The two main influences that guided me down this path of reflection were the work of Ken Myers and Mars Hill Audio Journal, and some in-depth study of how technology reorders our experience of the world and sense of self.

It doesn’t take a great deal of reflection to see that modern technologies seek to augment and extend human capacities, sometimes to a degree that raises ethical and moral questions. Yet Christians should consider the idea of limits beyond the typical bioethical issues, such as genetic alteration or end of life questions. As Ken Myers often points out, certain human limitations flow directly from our design as creatures. And if God’s design of us is very good, then we need to identify and embrace our limits as a reflection of what God may or may not intend for us as image-bearers in His world.

This perspective is why I’m so appreciative of and excited for Kapic’s recent book. It’s a closer investigation of the theological nature of human finitude, and the many spiritual, devotional, and practical implications of those limits. The book divides into two main parts, “Particularity and Limits,” and “Healthy Dependence.”

The first part explores aspects of life that make us face our finitude. In calling attention to the nature of God’s love, the body, worship, and more, Kapic asserts that “finitude is an unavoidable aspect of our creaturely existence.” And this has many ramifications for how we think of and treat people. What is assumed in always pushing our kids to be straight-A students? What’s happening when we view people more as “challengers to be overcome” rather than ones in whom we should delight?

Kapic carefully ensures the reader doesn’t take finitude to be exclusively associated with death, but specifically “good, created human limits,” such as time, space, power, knowledge, and energy. Such a perspective begins to open us up to liberty, joy, and delight in ways we may be currently missing because of an inadequate (or nonexistent) theology of limits.

Part two moves into more devotional and practical considerations, including how we should properly understand humility, time, God’s ongoing sanctifying work, community, and sabbath.

I think the most striking thing about this book is how it manages to be both serious, deep, and incredibly practical. By practical, I mean the idea that each section forces the reader to stop, consider, and perhaps approach the next day differently than he did the prior one. As I say above, it’s a book aimed to generate not just fresh understanding, but fresh devotion. That’s a potent combination to find in a book, so I heartily commend this one. I can think of few better ways to wrap up “resolution month” this year than to think biblically about how God created us and what He actually expects of us.

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