Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 3 of 4

Contemporary culture has sought to answer the question about human identity through various disciplines, and this has resulted in numerous secular images of humanity. These images include: 1) Humanity as a machine, emphasizing utility and functionality. 2) Humanity as an animal among animals in the animal kingdom. 3) Humanity as a sexual being driven solely by sexual motivation and energy. 4) Humanity as an economic being focused on and striving after economic survival and gain. 5) Humanity as a pawn of the universe, meaning that humanity is at the mercy of universal forces and controlled by destiny. 6) Humanity as a free being with the responsibility of self-determination and decision-making. 7) Humanity as a social being, a cog in the wheel of community.[1]

In contrast to the ideas of contemporary culture, there are scriptural references in both the OT and NT that portray humans as created in the image and likeness of God which informs the Judeo-Christian concept of human identity. In Genesis, there are several mentions of the uniqueness and sanctity of humanity because they were created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:6). The apostle Paul refers to the image and likeness of God in several of his letters. James mentions that humans were “made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9).

When considering the meaning of the image of God, there are three main views: the substantive view, the relational view and the functional view. The focus of the substantive view is the idea that the image of God is a physical or psychological quality or set of qualities in humans. A challenge to the substantive view is that it is often narrowed to one aspect of human nature, mostly the intellectual dimension which implies that the image of God may vary from person to person.[2]

The focus of the relational view is the claim that the image of God is not inherent in people, but is present when they are in relationships and community. A challenge to this view is that it does not account for how it is that humans are able to have relationships. In other words, the view does not delineate how humans are different from other creatures.[3]

The focus of the functional view is the idea that the image of God is something that humans do, specifically in their exercise of dominion over the creation. A challenge to this view is that in Genesis 1 the imagine of God and dominion are distinguishable.[4]

These views can be integrated, and so to that end, I offer some joining remarks. The image of God is universal within the human race, and it is not lost as a result of the fall or sin. Moreover, there is no degrees of the image of God, and it is not correlated with any other variables. The image of God includes aspects of the substantive view, the relational view and the functional view. Nevertheless, in the overall scheme of things, the image of God in human beings corresponds with the relational life of the Triune God and is fulfilled in human community and ultimately in God’s kingdom community.[5] In relationship with the Triune God, people will experience the πλήρωμα (pléróma) “fullness” of the image of God and the new humanity.[6] Stanley Grenz writes,

[B]eing-in-relationship with the triune God not only inherently includes, but is even comprised by being-in-relationship with those who participate together in the Jesus-narrative and thereby are the ecclesial new humanity. As the indwelling Spirit proleptically comprises the new humanity as the imago dei after the pattern of the perichoretic life of the triune God, the Spirit constitutes continually the “self” of the participants in Christ’s ecclesial community and, by extension, the “self” of the world.[7]

This is the joy and hope of the Jesus community and is the life and light to a world that is lost in their depraved humanity and confused about their human identity.

Therefore, the image of God implies that humans belong to God and experience full humanity when they are in a correct relationship with God. Humans created in the image of God means that they are valuable and sacred and must be treated as such with dignity and compassion. Since Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the image of God, humans should pattern their lives after him[8] and perform (live out), as image bearers, their part of the theo-drama of redemption.


[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 429-435. [2] Erickson, Christian, 460-463. [3] Erickson, Christian, 463-465. [4] Erickson, Christian, 465-466. [5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective, Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. 1st ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1985), 531. [6] Stanley J. Grenz, “The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Theology of the Imago Dei in the Postmodern Context,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 24, no. 1 (2002): 57. [7] Grenz, “The Social,” 57. [8] Erickson, Christian, 472-473.

A Friday Reflection: Wilderness

Oh that wilderness, desert place. A place of such history and ambivalence. The wilderness is “vast and dreadful… a thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions”(Deut 8:15). It is a “barren and howling waste” (Deut 32:10), an uninhabitable place, a dangerous place, a place of death. The Israelites said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The Israelites were expecting to die in the wilderness, but it was into the wilderness that God delivered them from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. The Israelites met their God in the wilderness, and God showed his power and compassion by providing food, water, clothing and healing. The Israelites received God’s greatest gifts–his statutes, commandments and holy sabbaths. God promised to be with them in the wilderness and to bring them into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the wilderness, God wooed the Israelites into a loving covenant relationship, and later through the prophet Jeremiah, God recalls this time in the wilderness by saying, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown” (Jer 2:2).

However, it was in the wilderness that the Israelites lost their vision and grumbled, protested and rebelled against God. Due to the Israelite’s unfaithfulness, the wilderness became a place of wandering, testing, judgement and punishment. This wilderness experience was not terminal because God remained faithful and did not allow his divine anger to erase his love for his people.

God allowed the Israelites to continue into the land, but the wilderness wandering became a prophetic reminder throughout history of the potential judgement of God upon the Israelites if they were disobedient and unrepentant. God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah says,

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives (Jer 17:5-6).

Through the prophet Hosea, God explains that Israel must repent, lest he “turn her into a wilderness, and make her like a dry land” (Hos 2:3).

But God juxtaposes these wilderness statements with eschatological pronouncements that with the future outpouring of the Spirit, the wilderness will become a fruitful field (Is 32:15) and Zion’s wilderness will be made like Eden (Isa 51:3).

The Psalmist sums up God’s sovereignty and actions regarding the wilderness,  

He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle (Ps 107:33-36).

The wilderness is an important place used by God for his purposes, but the people of God must heed the words of Psalm 95:8,9

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

But there is more wilderness juxtaposition that should be considered.

Throughout biblical history, the wilderness was viewed as a place marked by uncleanness, defilement and evil. People were relegated to “outside the camp” if they were determined ceremonial unclean (Lev 13:46; Num 5:1-4) or if they had blasphemed (Lev 24:14). The wilderness was the “cut off” place where the scapegoat was sent after the sins of the people were transferred to it on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:10, 21-22). Moreover, it was believed that Satan and evil spirits were in the wilderness. Jesus is confronted and tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13). In Luke 8:29, the Gerasene demoniac was driven into the desert by a demon. In Matthew 12:43-45 and its parallel in Luke 11:24-26, the unclean spirit who had been cast out “passes through arid places.”

In contrast, the wilderness was also viewed as a place of refuge, a place to get away to meet with God and a place where kingdom work took place. David escaped to a stronghold in the wilderness during his flight from Saul (1 Sam 23:14; 26:2-3). Jeremiah wished he had a wilderness hut to get a respite from the sinful people (Jer 9:2). Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness in order to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness (Mt 14:21; 15:32-39). The wilderness was a place of revelation and proclamation of the good news. As prophesied by Isaiah (Isa 40:3), John the Baptist lived in the wilderness (Luke 1:80) where the word of God came to him (Luke 3:2), and he preached and baptized (Mark 1:3-5). Philip’s missionary outreach to the Ethiopian takes place in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8).

Today, we also may experience the wilderness in these ways by seeking God in solitude, silence and prayer. We can choose to get away with God, and we can experience his rest and refuge. God may lead us into the wilderness for his kingdom ministry. We may find ourselves in the wilderness not by our own choice but because God has led us there. Take Elijah for example, God led him to the wilderness for a season where he was fed by ravens before he continued on in ministry (1 Kgs 17). The Apostle Paul spent a season in the desert being taught by the Holy Spirit before starting his ministry (Gal 1:16-17). Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness before his ministry.  

These examples teach us about depending on God and not giving up while in the difficult places. God cares for us and is watching over us. As we cry out, “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1), God is preparing us for future things that are greater than we could imagine. He is leading us to things that we could not fathom doing if it were not for being formed in the wilderness.

As we have seen, there is a lot to this wilderness place, but no matter why we are in the wilderness, God loves us and is faithful to us. He has a perfect, sovereign plan that he is accomplishing, and we can trust him and look to him.

Social Justice Theology

A good place to start in a conversation about social justice is with the blessed Trinity because after all the Trinity is social and just. God-the Father, God-the Son and God- the Holy Spirit exists in community, a perfect relational society. The Trinity created humans to join their righteous/just society, but humans turned from God and became totally depraved by sin. In response, the Trinity initiated their plan of redemption which culminated in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. This drama of redemption is about the ultimate social justice work. A sacrificial work. A social act and a justifying act, forgiving humanity’s social sins and social injustices against God and others. Through Christ, a new social reality and a new humanity was created. Out of the bad social situation, new creation!

By the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ ministry is continued, transforming the new social entity (the Church) into a people who are “eager to do what is good” (Tit 2:14), into a people who “act justly” and “love mercy” (Mic 6:8), into a people of the social, just and peaceable kingdom of God. This kingdom social reality calls Christ followers to sacrificially live and serve like Jesus and turn away from socially unjust behaviors. It calls us “to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society”[1] This involves taking the whole gospel to the whole person to the whole world.

To participate in social justice apart from Jesus and the gospel is wanting the beauty and goodness of the kingdom, but without the King. This doesn’t work. John Stott wrote, “Good Samaritans will always be needed to succor those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands.”[2] Yes, the world would be better without bandits, but in our own efforts, we can not rid the injustice in our world. Only Christ and his gospel can transform humanity’s unjust hearts of stone. If any social justice cause is set above Christ and his gospel, then it is idolatry and all one’s social justice acts are like filthy rags. Christ and his atonement should be the foundation of one’s social justice acts.

Christ’s atonement is about sacrifice, enabling reconciliation on the vertical plane. Christians should sacrifice their lives as reconciling ambassadors on the horizontal plane. We should give of ourselves for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of others. Our sacrifice should be compelled by his sacrifice. Our sacrificial service should witness to the ultimate sacrificial servant. Social justice theology should be focused on the theology of the cross which should drive one’s concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society.                    


[1] “The Church and Evangelism” in The Lausanne Covenant https://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 285.

Today’s Hymn: Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father and I, Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart;
O King of glory, my treasure Thou art.

O King of glory, my victory won;
Rule and reign in me ’til Thy will be done;
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall;
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Doctrinal Musing on Theological Anthropology: Part 2 of 4

The Judeo-Christian faith has historically believed that humans were created from the dust of the earth by the God of Israel (Gen 1:26-27, Gen 2:7-8, 21-22, Deut 4:32, Isa 45:12). The Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve as archetypes was unique in the Ancient Near East (ANE). Other ANE writings portray human beginnings in collective terms meaning that an entire, already civilized, population of people were created (polygenesis).[1] Sumerian texts describe humans breaking out from the earth. Some Egyptian texts mention people being formed from clay that was mixed with the tears of deity. Akkadian texts describe people being formed from the flesh and the blood from a slain deity as a result of the chaotic conflicts between the gods.[2] Moreover, other ANE texts portray the origins of humans by describing humans as created by the gods for servitude or slave labor. These accounts portray humans taking over the drudgery work of the gods while the gods rest.[3]     

The ANE context contrasts with contemporary discussions about beginnings and origins. In today’s context, there is an emphasis on scientific explanations particularly that of naturalistic evolution which claims that the cosmos and humans began purely by naturalistic processes apart from any involvement of a supernatural being. However, on the other side of the debates, is fiat creationism which argues that God created everything by a direct act apart from any naturalistic processes. From a more evolutionary perspective, deistic evolution and theistic evolution argue that God used evolutionary processes in creating everything, but they differ from each other in the degree of God’s involvement in the process. The prior claims that God started the evolutionary process, but then he withdrew allowing natural law to take over. The later posits that God began the evolutionary process, but he continues his involvement. A more mediated position is progressive creationism which emphasizes God’s creation of everything in several steps over time and argues for microevolution (evolution within kinds) rather than macroevolution (evolution across kinds). However, progressive creationism particularly agrees with fiat creationism in the direct creation of humans by God.[4]

In view of the contemporary debates, I do not take a dogmatic position on the beginnings of humans due to the belief that the aesthetics of the creation narrative should be emphasized. The creation narrative is part of the overarching theo-drama of redemption, and I posit that there is a de-dramatizing of the script when people engage in the contemporary debates on beginnings. Thus, my preferred method of discourse when engaging with Genesis 1-2 is to use narrative or theo-drama language rather than to use creation vs. evolution language.

The theological meaning and purpose of human creation is manifold, but suffice it to say, humans are part of God’s creation, and so they are dependent upon him for their existence. Humans must recognize their unique place in the universe and the reality and value of kinship within the human race. While humanity is truly wonderful in God’s creation, they are not the highest being in the universe, and so humans must recognize and accept their finiteness and their limitations. They must live to glorify, worship, love and serve God.[6]


[1] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 205. [2] Walton, Ancient, 205-206. [3] Walton, Ancient, 214-215. [4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 443-447. [5] Erickson, Christian, 451-456.

Sunday Prayers

We have seen the true Light. We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the true Faith, in worshipping the indivisible Trinity; for he hath saved us. O Lord, Let our mouth be filled with Thy praise that we may hymn Thy glory; for Thou hast counted us worthy to partake of Thy holy mysteries; preserve us in Thy sanctification, meditating on Thy righteousness all the day long. Amen. (A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians, The Divine Liturgy)

We praise you and thank you, O Most Holy Trinity, for the light and power that you have bestowed upon us. Graciously grant us the grace to faithfully love you with all our hearts, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our minds. Help us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in service to you and your kingdom. Give us glimpses of you glory so that we will be sanctified and transformed more and more into the image of Christ, our loving savior and king forever and ever. Amen. (My Prayer)

Today’s Hymn: There is One Lord (Taize)

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

Bear with one another in love and charity,
be humble, be patient, be selfless, be as one.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

There is one body, there is one spirit,
there is one hope to which we are called.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.

We are all to come to unity,
in our faith and knowledge of the son of God,
until we become perfected in the fullness of Christ.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
There is one God who is Father of all.