Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Image of God in an Image Driven Age

Ed. Beth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau.  The Image of God in an Image Driven Age: Explorations in Theological Anthropology.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

This book is associated with the twenty-fourth annual Wheaton College Theology Conference.  There are seventeen contributors to the book.  Most of them teach at evangelical institutions of higher learning, but a few teach at the University of Cambridge.

The focus of this book is on humans being made in the image of God (a la Genesis 1:26-27).  The book has three scholarly essays about what this means in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.    A few essays talk about the iconoclastic controversy in the eighth and ninth centuries, which argued over whether Jesus should be represented by icons.  There were essays discussing the relevance of the image of God to sex, racism, and global Christianity.  There were also poems in this book, a discussion of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and discussion of works of art.

Here are some thoughts about this book:

A. The contributions by Catherine McDowell and Craig L. Blomberg were especially good.  Catherine McDowell teaches Hebrew Bible at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte, and Craig Blomberg is a renowned evangelical New Testament scholar.

McDowell argues that the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27 relates to humanity’s function as representatives of God in ruling and stewarding the earth, and also to humans’ identity as children of God.  She bases this argument on Genesis 1 as well as the concept of the image of the deity in the ancient Near East, particularly regarding kings.  She acknowledges that other scholars advocate a functionalist interpretation of Genesis 1:26-27, but she states that the relationship of the image of God with being a child of God has been neglected within biblical scholarship.

Craig Blomberg disagrees with McDowell’s (and other scholars’) functionalist interpretation of the image of God and contends that the image of God relates to morality towards God and neighbor.  For Blomberg, the image of God is what qualifies humans to represent God as rulers of the earth, but their rulership of the earth itself is not the image of God.  Although Blomberg sometimes interprets the Hebrew Bible in light of the New Testament, he also interacts with what the Hebrew Bible itself actually says, in terms of passages’ immediate context.  Overall, Blomberg presents a picture in which, according to the Bible, humans are still in God’s image even after the Fall, and yet that image is being renewed in Christians as a result of the work of Christ.  Blomberg’s discussion of the issue of head-coverings in I Corinthians 11 and how that coincides with his moral interpretation of the image of God was especially worth reading.

B. It was interesting to see McDowell make a statement about Barth’s interpretation of Genesis 1:26, only for William A. Dyrness in the very next essay to present Barth saying something different. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our own image.” Why is God speaking in the first-person plural?  According to McDowell, Barth related the verse to the Trinity: God referred to God-self in the plural because there is a plural dimension to God.  Dyrness, however, said that Barth maintained that God in Genesis 1:26 was deliberating with God-self.  Perhaps, as some say, Barth is complex and people can find different or contradictory things in his writings.  Or maybe Barth thought both: God was deliberating with God-self within the context of the Trinity.

C. The book was very informative about the iconoclastic controversy in the eighth-ninth centuries. The controversy was not just about the biblical command against graven images (Exodus 20:4), but it also pertained to the controversies about Christ’s nature and how his human and divine nature were inter-related.  The significance of icons of saints and how they related to the icons of Christ is also discussed, as is the distinction between worship and veneration.  One essay expressed openness to learning about the image of God from iconography, which I found refreshing in an evangelical publication.

D. Beth Felker Jones’ contribution was informative in discussing differences between Christian and Roman views on sexuality in the ancient world.

E. The contribution by Timothy R. Gaines and Shawna Songer Gaines about sexuality was interesting, yet rather baffling. The authors appeared to be critiquing the tendency of many Christians to treat sex as dirty, and they also seemed rather critical of abstinence campaigns.  On page 104, they state: “…we cannot wait to be sexual, nor can we put our desires on hold.  To do so grates against our very createdness and obscures the image of God, creating frustration, repression, shame and sexual disorders.”  Still, they do seem to oppose sex outside of marriage.  I was unclear about what their solution was to the problem that they identify on page 104.  Is it for single Christians to channel their sex drive into other avenues, such as ministry, to wait for God to send the right person, or to wait until Christ comes back?  They appeared to me to be leaning in those directions.  There may be some wisdom to these approaches, but I doubt that they can fully solve the problem that the authors identify on page 104.

F. Overall, the poems and the discussions of art and literature did not interest me that much. I prefer prose to poetry, but I respect that there are people with different preferences.  The discussion of art highlighted theological ideas that I have encountered elsewhere, but I do respect that Christians are doing art and trying to make people think.  The chapter on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road could have relayed the story in a more compelling manner, but the chapter did have compelling insights about the human struggle to survive.

G. A discussion of literature in the book that did catch my attention, in a positive manner, was Philip Jenkins’ discussion of Charles Williams’ The House of the Octopus. In that story, an apostate from Christianity is saved after her death and redeems a missionary.  Jenkins seems to respond positively to this: “Not only is the apostate girl in the image of God, but that likeness extends to the ability to transcend time” (page 250).  This was interesting to find in an evangelical publication.

H.  Jenkins’ essay talked about such historical controversies as the filoque, and I was unclear about how that related to the image of God in an image-driven age. That was often the case in my reading of this book: I wondered how certain discussions pertained to the image of God in an image-driven age.  Still, the book made profound points and was informative.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. 

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