John F. Kilner Eerdmans 2015

Kilner holds the Forman Chair of Christian Ethics and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and serves as director of bioethics degree programs at Trinity International University, Deerfield, Illinois. This book is a comprehensive look at the diversity of views of the image of God in the Christian tradition and a defense of a clearly defined position. In the introduction the author explains his conviction about much of the literature on the imago Dei: “Many people have invoked this concept to perpetuate some of the worst oppression in history. Others, often unintentionally, have promoted views of God’s image that have undermined the idea’s ability to inspire the church’s outreach to unbelievers and engagement with challenges to human life and dignity” (p. x). He summarizes his convictions succinctly and returns to these themes again and again in the book: “Ultimately, the image of God is Jesus Christ. People are first created and later renewed according to that image. Image involves connection and reflection. Creation in God’s image entails a special connection with God and an intended reflection of God. Renewal in God’s image entails a more intimate connection with God through Christ and an increasingly actual reflection of God in Christ, to God’s glory. This connection with God is the basis of human dignity. This reflection of God is the beauty of human destiny. All of humanity participates in human dignity. All of humanity is offered human destiny, though only some embrace and will experience it. Christ and humanity, connection and reflection, dignity and destiny—these lie at the heart of what God’s image is all about” (p. xi).

The book is divided into three parts. In the first, “The Human and Divine Context,” the author surveys how aberrant views of the image of God have been used to dehumanize human beings and to justify oppression, enslavement, and destruction of some humans. He argues, “What makes the image of God so susceptible to manipulation in this way is the common tendency to think of being in God’s image in terms of having attributes today (i.e., traits, virtues, functions, capacities, etc.) that are like God’s attributes. To the degree that one’s attributes fall short of the way God intends human attributes to be, God’s image is supposedly damaged or deficient. . . . As with other things in life, a more-damaged image is not worth as much as a less-damaged image” (p. 28). Another chapter provides a biblical defense of Christ as the image of God, the basis of human destiny and renewal.

In part 2, “Human Dignity,” Kilner examines the limited specific biblical texts that use the phrase “image of God,” evaluates proposals for understanding the image, and defends his view that image is connection with God and reflection of God. He discusses views of the impact of sin on the image, stating, “It is vital that people not think that God’s image has been damaged by sin. Many things about people are badly damaged, but God’s image and people’s status as created in that image are not” (p. 159). He concludes, “Humanity’s creation in the image of God functions in the Bible purely as a way to communicate something positive about who people are, much as the concept of justification does for Christians in the New Testament” (p. 176).

In the third part, “Human Destiny,” Kilner defends human dignity because of the destiny of the redeemed. He argues that humans were created in the image of God for connection with him and God intends that they represent him. Sin has damaged people and thus God’s intention for them is hindered. But “God’s intention (for what the reflection should look like) has not changed due to sin, nor has the fact that people are especially connected with God. In other words, sin has not damaged what being in God’s image constitutes. Sin has damaged people, but not God’s image” (p. 233). He concludes, “So it is people, not God’s image, that need changing. In fact, they so thoroughly need changing that their renewal amounts to a new creation. God’s provision for that is Jesus Christ, who is the image of God. Christ reveals what it looks like to be intimately connected with God and to reflect all of the godly attributes God intends for humanity to reflect” (ibid.).

A concluding chapter summarizes the content of the book and briefly demonstrates the practical significance of the image. Kilner writes, “People who are viewed in terms of the dignity, sacredness, equality, and unity grounded in their identity as being in God’s image will be treated in certain ways. People will treat them with respect. By treating those created in the image of God in a particular way, one treats the Creator in the same way” (pp. 316–17). Understanding the significance of being created in the image of God even impacts one’s view of creation: “Being in God’s image gives humanity a special dignity, but that in no way logically implies that the rest of creation has such a low status that exploitation by people is acceptable. . . . ‘Rulership’ over the nonhuman creation, on both a personal and societal level, will then look like caring stewardship informed by solidarity and servant leadership, rather than like oppression and exploitation” (p. 326).

This is an excellent treatment of an important, and often overlooked, theological concept. Kilner is thorough in his engagement with the biblical texts, comprehensive in his evaluation of the historical and contemporary literature, and practical and clear in his application to life and ministry. Students, professors, pastors, counselors, and others in Christian ministry will find this book valuable. Professors and others who are looking for an exhaustive treatment of this subject need look no further. This book is highly recommended for its content and as an example of excellent evangelical biblical and theological scholarship.

About the Contributors

Glenn Kreider

Glenn R. Kreider

Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their five rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, a terrier named Chloe, and a black lab, Carlile.