The discussion of being created in God’s image is an important concept that must be understood by Christians and must be articulated by Christians to the unbeliever. Pastor Greg Bahnsen articulates the essential concept: image of God, in this manner,
Now it is true, of course, that God has planted such laws of belief into our very being. It is this point on which Calvin lays such great stress when he says that all men have a sense of deity. But the unbeliever does not accept the doctrine of his creation in the image of God. It is therefore impossible to appeal to the intellectual and moral nature of men, as men themselves interpret this nature, and say that it must judge of the credibility and evidence of revelation. For if this is done, we are virtually telling the natural man to accept just so much and no more of Christianity as, with his perverted concept of human nature, he cares to accept.”
Man, in his unregenerate state is hostile to God and is not able to accept theistic concepts of God as revealed in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14). Whether he is a good standing citizen, a notorious sinner, spiritual procrastinator, member of a church, a pastor, a minister – an unregenerate man, no matter what his occupation is, will not accept or understand the things of God. As a result, he will pervert the concept of the human nature, which includes the concept: image of God.
Here are some samples of the perverted understanding of how a unregenerate man is defined. For the Marxist, he views man as product of nature and is not created in the image of God. Man cannot be created in the image of God because they deny the very existence of God. Marxism denies one’s responsibility to God, because human responsibility is directed to society. Another highlight is their view of salvation. Because they deny the existence of God, they do not believe in individual salvation, but they desire a future attainment of a perfect utopia. Other perverted understandings of the doctrine of man would be Psychology. For example, B.F. Skinner, in Beyond Freedom and Dignity, notes that man is autonomous and has freedom to act as he wishes or wills. An unbiblical view of man is dangerous because it denies the concept of being made in the image of God. As Hoekema puts it,
Since each of the above-named views of man considers one aspect of the human being to be ultimate, apart from any dependence on or responsibility to God the Creator, each of these anthropologies is guilty of idolatry: of worshiping an aspect of creation in the place of God. If, as the Bible teaches, the most important thing about man is that he is inescapably related to God, we must judge as deficient any anthropology which denies that relatedness.”
It must be pointed out that the unbiblical view of anthropology have crept into the church and it’s heavy implementation can be traced back to non-Christian notions that have crept into what Hoekema calls, “so-called Christian anthropologies.” Hoekema traces the problem all the way back to the Middle Ages where synthesized ideologies of man were found in Aristotelian philosophy with Christian teachings. Out from this, Hoekema points out how the hybrid of Aristotelian and Christian view, created a notion among Christians that the “sins of the flesh” (i.e. adultery) is far more serious and dangerous than the “sins of the spirit” (i.e., pride, jealously, self-centeredness, racism, anger, laziness, etc.). This chief problem stems from the evil that has its roots in the body, is implicit in scholastic theology.
Since the term, image of God is the buzzword; we must find a proper definition of it. Once it is properly defined, we will be able to answer the many myriad of questions such as: How does one view of man help one understand God, how does the view of man shed light on the work of Christ, what are the benefits in understanding the view of man, does the view of man have implications for ethics, Christians worldview, etc.?
Before we find out what is the proper definition of the concept: image of God, it must be pointed out that since this post is a book review, my goal is not to write an extensive essay on the image of God covering areas like the substantive view, relational view, or the functional view. In terms of the definition: image of God, here is how Hoekema defines it:
The concept of man as the image or likeness of God tells us that man as he was created was to mirror [i.e. to make visible the Invisible] and to represent God [i.e. to act as God, under God and for God’s creation].”
A further delineation of the definition from Hoekema can be expressed in this manner too,
We must learn to know what the image of God is by looking at Jesus Christ. What must therefore be at the center of the image of God is not characteristics like the ability to reason or the ability to make decisions…but rather that which was central in the life of Christ: love for God and love for man.
Hoekema’s definition is closely related to the relational view. Others will say that the desire to love God and people is a matter of the consequence of being made in the image of God, but not the basis because there are many who do not desire to be in relationship to God or people. If stressed is placed upon relationship, then spiritual hermits, the unborn, and the mentally handicapped, by implication, are left out of the picture.
In light of the difficulty of coming up with a precise definition of God because we mirror a complex God, I think it would be unwise to limit the definition to loving God and people. We need to also consider the human constitution. But that is a post for another day.
As for the structure of the book, it can be broken down into four parts: doctrine of man (consists of man as a created person), the image of God (consists of biblical teaching, historical survey, theological summary, the question of self-image), sin (origin of sin, spread of sin, nature of sin, restraint of sin), and the final portion of the book deals with the whole person and the issue of freedom.
The doctrine of man is an important study for Christians. Hoekema stresses the negative implications when the doctrine of man is separated from divine revelation. What you have in return is unbiblical views coming from non-Christian thinkers or systems: Greek philosophy, Marxism, psychology; and so the list goes on. If the doctrine of man is separated from God’s revelation, man-centered anthropology is guilty of idolatry. In that context, idolatry happens when one is worshipping an aspect of creation in place of the true God. Moreover, as a created person, man is under the subordination of God. In this section of chapter 2, called, “Man as a Created Person,” Hoekema addresses many problems, but one key problem is the worldview of the secular anthropology that fail to take into account man’s creaturliness. The Bible accounts for man’s creatureliness (Romans 9:21). As a result, what we can get out of this understanding is the Creator-creature distinction. God is Creator and we are His creation. We cannot lift our face away from God apart from Him.
As for the image of God section of his book, which consists of biblical teaching, historical survey, theological summary, the question of self-image, Hoekema’s covers many pertinent areas. In the “Biblical Teaching” section, he covers the Old Testament and the New Testament understanding of the image of God concept. I really appreciated his interaction of the exegetical significance and insights of certain terms such as “image,” “likeness,” “new man,” “be imitators of God,” etc. In regards to the “Historical Survey” section, Hoekema draws up a myriad of historical resources from men of the past such as Irenaeus, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and G.C. Berkouwer. This is a fascinating area, because it addresses key concepts such as dominion, love, the historical fall, and many other issues. In the “Theological Summary” section, Hoekema summarizes theological descriptions of the meaning and significance of the concept and doctrine concerning the image of God. He covers the structural and functional aspects, Christ as the true image of God, man in his threefold relationship (“between man and God, between man and his fellowmen, and between man and nature”), the original image, the perverted image, the renewed image, the perfected image, and the concluding observations that includes implications for the church and evangelism. As good as the “Theological Summary” section is, I was really disappointed when Hoekema made this statement,
We see God’s image in its greater richness and wider splendor only as we look at the Christian community throughout the ages and throughout the world—in other words, in the universal church. When we look at great saints of the past and of the present—the apostle Paul, Francis of Assisi, Martiin Luther, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, and Billy Graham, to mention just a few—we see what God is like.”
I already have trouble with Billy Graham, but to mention Mother Teresa who is a Roman Catholic that upholds works righteousness is sad. I am not sure why Hoekema placed her in the halls of saints. He will have to give an answer for this. At any rate, in this “Self-Image” section, Hoekema points out the perversion of the self-image and the renewal of the self-image.
In Chapter 7, “The Origin of Sin,” talking points revolve around whether Adam was a historical person, covenant of works, the fall of angels, speaking serpent, and the riddle of sin. There are much details covered in those areas. For example, in relation to the covenant of works, one may want to do further research. This will lead into questions about whether all reform theologians believe in a covenant of works. According to Hoekema, he also agrees with John Murray and believes that the covenant of works should not be used because it does not do justice to the elements of grace, because the Bible does not refer to its arrangement as a covenant (Hosea 6:7), and because there was no covenant ratification ceremony of the covenant of works in the early chapters of Genesis. In chapter 8, “The Spread of Sin,” this section covers the results of sin, the universality of sin, original sin, and the transmission of sin. For chapter 9, “The Nature of Sin,” Hoekema brings to the readers’ attention concerning the essential character of sin, biblical words for sin, different types of sin, degrees in sin, and the unpardonable sin. He covers those areas because it affects how one images God biblically. The last section on sin is chapter 9, “The Restraint of Sin.” If it was not for the restraint of sin, the perverted image of God would be magnified. In this section, he also brings to light: the doctrine of common grace, biblical basis for common grace, the means by which sin is restrained, and the value in the doctrine of common grace. Those interested or those who have different views of common grace, may want to look into this section to see how Hoekema lays out his biblical basis for common grace.
The final portion of this book covers the concept of the whole person and the question of freedom. In Chapter 11, titled “The Whole Person” Hoekema writes about whether humans have two or three separate parts. This deals with the issue of Trichotomy or Dichotmoy topic. He looks at it from the Old Testament and New Testamant. At the end of the day, he concludes that man is not able to be separated into parts, but must be seen as a unitary being. For example, he states,
He or she must be seen in his or her totality, not as a composite of different ‘parts.’”
Although I see man in two parts: material and immaterial (Dichotomy), this section is worth the read. In this section, he also discusses the psychosomatic unity (“man is one person who can, however, be looked at from two sides”). In this area, he states,
My preference, however, is to speak of man as a psychosomatic unity. The advantage of this expression is that it does full justice to the two sides of man, while stressing man’s unity.”
His definition of the psychosomatic unity and the prior definition above about man not being able to be separated is confusing. It appears to be eclectic in its expression. He also covers the intermediate state. What I appreciated about this chapter are the practical implications. Because man is material and non-material, the church must be concern for man as a whole person. The immaterial and the non-material both have affects upon a person. Man is a complex unity. Eating, exercising, and spiritual disciplines, which is most important to the believer (1 Timothy 4:8; 3 John 1:12; Phil. 4:13; Prov. 10:4). In regards to chapter twelve, called “The Question of Freedom,” Hoekema brings into discussion regarding the ability to choose, the origin of true freedom, true freedom lost, true freedom restored, and true freedom perfected. He quotes some famous theologians: John Calvin and Martin Luther to get some of their insights on this ancient issue.
In light of all the details covered, I recommend reading this 243-page book. It will help and cause you to dive deeper into the discussion concerning the doctrine of man.
Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 1998), 155.
Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 3.