Monday, April 01, 2013

Made in the Image of God - Three Views


Erickson outlines three views of the image of God; substantive, relational, and functional.  I will briefly discuss each view, offer my own thoughts, and then move on to the relationship of the woman to man.

The substantive view, which has been dominant throughout the history of the church,[1] has several varieties that all share a characteristic within the human makeup.[2] A less common view today is the image of God is part of human bodily makeup.  Erickson states that the Mormons are likely the most prominent advocates for this view as it is in holding with their belief that God has a physical body.  More commonly held is the view that the image of God in man is a spiritual quality.  Attention has been focused on human reason though this focus has isolated a single aspect of human nature for consideration as well as concentrates on only one facet of God’s nature.[3] Included in the differing aspects of substantive views is the agreement that the image of God is a resident quality of humans whether or not they recognize God’s existence and His work.[4]

Those who hold the relational view of the image of God see it as the experiencing of a relationship.[5]  Brunner sees the image of God as the formal and the material.  The formal being that which makes humans different from the animals (e.g. rational, responsible, etc.) and that even as sinners humans possess this part of the image of God.  The material, in Brunner’s view, is the act of response to God’s call (receiving God’s Word). 

Barth, who also held a relational view of the image of God, had three stages in his thinking.  The first view spoke of a unity between God and humans much like that between a mother and a fetus.  The second, which was during a period of controversy with Brunner, denied any connection between God and humans believing that humans were incapable of receiving the Word of God.  Barth’s third view, his most novel, held that the image of God is still present in humans insofar as he is still human.  This view sees both a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with other humans.[6]

The functional view of the image of God is the idea that the image is not experiencing a relationship with God or something within humans but, rather, is something one does.[7]  This view most frequently mentions the exercise of dominion over the creation and is a human function.  Numerous passages of Scripture are used to support this view (e.g. Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5-8, etc.).  God gave dominion over inferior creatures to man and man is showing the image of God when exercising this dominion.
Erickson points out that the substantive and relational views of the image of God are flawed and stem from existentialism.  Both Brunner and Barth believed that God does not reveal Himself objectively in the Bible but in a subjective encounter with Christ.[8]  This and their general slant towards existentialism leaves a cloud over their stated views on the image of God in humans. 

I certainly believe there are aspects of human personality that are in the image of God which allow humans to have relationships with other humans as well as God Himself.  I also believe we were given dominion over the inferior creatures on the earth which we are to tend to responsibly.  What does it mean to be made in the image of God?  I believe it means possessing the ability to have a relationship with Him, understand His commands and obey them, and to show others that they too have the image of God within themselves.

Concerning relationships between women and men, clearly this is a different topic in terms of dominion.  In the creation account we see that men and women have equal status in God’s sight and both were blessed at the time of creation.[9]  We also see that the image of God is universal in all humans, man and woman alike.  This does not mean that men and women do not have different roles but neither man nor woman is placed above the other.  In addition to the creation account, this is affirmed in the New Testament[10] Scriptures and in the approach Jesus took when dealing with women.  More men would do well to remember this!


[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 520.
[2] Ibid, 521.
[3] Ibid, 521-22.
[4] Ibid, 523.
[5] Ibid, 524.
[6] Ibid, 524-25.
[7] Ibid, 527.
[8] Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 564.
[9] See Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2
[10] See Galatians 3:28

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