Created In God’s Image

 Created in God's Image

Hoekema, Anthony A. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986. 264 pp. $22.00.

In an ailing age when postmodern minds no longer aim to observe human nature on a universal basis, but a subjective one, resulting in a radical individualism freed from being defined on the Creator’s terms, Anthony A. Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image is a nourishing evangelical treat. Through dealing biblically and historically with several fundamental issues concerning the nature of man, Hoekema presents his readers with a systematic Christian understanding of man.   

Summary

Created in God’s Image is a systematic anthropology which uses the biblical data and the historical interpretation of that data regarding the nature of man. Hoekema’s work exemplifies a combination of sound biblical exegesis and thorough historical analysis. By grounding himself in the Scriptures and giving attention to the community of faith, Hoekema is able to draw informative theological conclusions on the subject of humankind.

Hoekema begins his book by discussing the importance of the doctrine of man. The rise of a “new humanism” no longer views man in relation to God, and thus comes to false conclusions about how and for what purposes man ought to live (1). As one who upholds the Scriptures and sees mankind as subject to the sovereign Creator, Hoekema concludes that he must give a Christian answer to the question, “What is man?” (4). The remainder of the book thoroughly unfolds this answer.

As a Christian, Hoekema begins chapter two presupposing God as creator of the universe and thus man as a created person (5). This means that God has complete control and absolute authority over all human beings as his creatures, and at the same time created them all with genuine personhood (6). To be a created person, therefore, means to be subject to the Creator in everything, yet personally responsible for all actions taken in relation to the Creator’s will (9). To remain faithful to the biblical witness, one must affirm God’s sovereignty over his creatures and man’s accountability to him (10).

Chapters three, four, and five deal biblically, historically, and theologically with what Hoekema explains to be “the most distinctive feature in the biblical understanding of man,” to be created in the image of God (11). From the OT Scriptures, he concludes that man, was created good. The “image of God” expresses that man is a “representation” who is “like God in certain respects” (13). Due to the fall, this image is “tarnished” because of sin; however, there is an extent to which man still retains the image of God (17). From the NT Scriptures, Hoekema shows that God has brought redemption to man through his Son, the end of which is conformity to Christ, who is the perfect image of God (24).

Along with his observations from Scripture, Hoekema continues to explain the image of God in light of historical interpretation. He ends up rejecting Irenaeus, who taught that rationality is at the heart of the image of God (35). With Thomas Aquinas, he affirms that there is a distinction between the pre-fall and post-fall image of God. However, he also disagrees with Aquinas in saying the image of God is based “solely in man’s intellectual nature” (39). In dealing with John Calvin’s work, Hoekema concludes that Calvin is inconsistent on the post-fall image of God. However, he affirms much of what Calvin says concerning the original image, the effects of the fall on the image, and its restoration in Christ (48). Karl Barth’s rejection of a historical fall as well as his affirmation of the image of God as being “purely relational” causes Hoekema to reject such notions as “biblically unacceptable” (52). Emil Brunner viewed man’s image as in relation to God, as centered on love, and as tainted by sin. Hoekema agrees with Brunner on these grounds, but rejects his denying of the historical fall (57, 58). Finally, Hoekema agrees with G. C. Berkouwer on his view of the effects of sin on man’s image, but rejects his view which implies that the image of God is something apart from man as a person (65).

Using the Scriptures and his observations from the community of faith, he then gives a thorough theological overview of “the image of God.” He begins by affirming, “The concept of the image of God is the heart of Christian anthropology” (66). He holds that man is primarily functional, that is, acts for various purposes for which God has made him, and secondarily structural, that is, possesses morality and reason to carry out such tasks (69, 73). Christ sets the “proper functioning” of the image of God (75). Created as a relational being, man has a “three-fold” relationship: to God (i.e. whom he is to obey), his “fellowmen” (i.e. with whom he is to fellowship), and to nature (i.e. over which he is to rule) (75-78). Hoekema affirms with Augustine and many Reformers that man was created in a “state of integrity,” but this does not necessarily mean perfection (82). With the Fall, man perverted that image, and is now in “revolt” (84). This means the “three-fold” relationship is severely contaminated. Now, man is against God, is unloving toward his fellowmen, and uses the earth for selfish gain (85). However, because of the work of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the image of God will be restored (87). Hoekema concludes that eventually, at the consummation of the age, the image will be perfected to the glory of Christ and the good of man (92).

In chapter six, Hoekema answers the question, “What is man to think in relation to himself?” In other words, he explains man’s “self-image” (103). Though the self-image is perverted with pride and a low self-image, God, by His Spirit, frees individuals to see themselves restored in Christ (107). This brings genuine humility and a balanced self-image (111). In this way, man is to appropriately observe himself.

The following four chapters deal specifically with sin in its origin, spread, nature, and restraint. In chapter seven, Hoekema affirms that the Scriptures teach a historical fall of man. This happened according to the influence of Satan through the Serpent. Man listened to the Serpent, disobeyed God, and fell from his “state of integrity.” From these things, one can clearly observe the origin of sin (130). However, though one is able to observe the historical evidence of the origin of sin in the Scriptures, one will not be able to find sin’s origin. “Sin,” Hoekema says, “will always remain a riddle” (132).

The fall of man brought severe consequences upon mankind. Chapter eight explains the spread of sin; that is, to what extent it affects humanity and the following generations. Hoekema concludes that the fall of man brought both physical and spiritual death to all mankind (139-140). All mankind are born with “original guilt” (i.e. they are deserving of condemnation) and “original pollution” (i.e. there is an overall corruption of one’s personhood) (149-150). In fact, sin so permeates the human being that he or she is unable to be released from such bondage apart from the work of God in the Holy Spirit (152). This sin, in all of its ugliness, is immediately imputed to man at birth and makes him guilty before God. Hoekema calls this a “direct imputation” of Adam’s sin (161). He also affirms that man is really born with a corrupt nature because when Adam sinned all people sinned. This he calls “realism” (167).

In chapter nine, Hoekema develops the nature of sin. Sin is not something that is “independent,” but is something that is done by a person against God and his revealed will (168-169). This sin is “rooted in the heart” of individuals, and expressed through “thoughts and acts” committed by those individuals (171-172). Because of their sin, people stand condemned before God and thoroughly “polluted” in their being (172). Sin, is a “form of pride” in that it fails to submit to the true authority, and instead craves to have a better path than God’s (173). He also submits that sin is usually “masked” in that sinners try to hide it or justify it, but never take responsibility for it (174).

As his last section on sin, Hoekema uses chapter ten to speak of the restraint of sin; that is, the amount of sin in this world could be worse, but it is not due to a particular divine restraint. Following the Reformed tradition, he calls this restraint God’s “common grace” (189). Hoekema is persuaded that God acts to restrain sin through his general revelation in creation, through punitive measures in society, and through the relationship mankind has to one another (196, 198, 199). This common grace, or the will to restrain sin from spinning out of control, first demonstrates the severity of sin in that humans have to be restrained from committing it (199). Second, it allows Christians to explain the natural abilities of lost people as gifts from God. Third, it enables there to be such thing as civilization (200). Without it man could not live or function.

After describing the grace of God in restraining sin, Hoekema then writes on the nature of man’s person. Chapter eleven explains the man’s composition. Hoekema sees man as a unity (203). On doctrinal and philosophical levels, he rejects the trichotomist and dichotomist views of the nature of man, saying they are derived from Greek thought rather than the Scriptures. Instead, Hoekema affirms that man is a kind of complex unity. He names it a “psychosomatic unity.” This, he says, “does justice to the two sides of man while stressing man’s unity” (217). Though there is a temporary separation of the body and spirit at death, this will be restored at the resurrection (222). Thus, it is clear that God is concerned with the whole person, not merely the spirit.

Lastly, in chapter twelve, Hoekema answers the question regarding the freedom of man. He affirms that man is not created in a neutral state, but in a “state of integrity” with an ability to make genuine choices. This, he says, is a “true freedom” but not a “perfect freedom” (231). He follows both Luther and Calvin in their interpretation of the Scriptures in the loss of such freedom after the fall. Man is therefore in bondage to his own sinful will (233). Apart from God’s grace through the Spirit, man will always remain in this state and be justly condemned. Redemption, however, is the “deliverance from the bondage of the will” (234). In Christ, man experiences a renewed freedom. In this true freedom, man is set free from “the Law in earning salvation,” set free from “rules about indifferent things,” and set free “to do God’s will” (237, 238, 240). At the consummation of the age, man will no longer be able to sin, and thus will have not merely a true freedom, but a perfect freedom (243).

Critical Evaluation

Hoekema provides some challenges to the field of study. Most of these challenges he deals with in the text itself as he is sure to present their particular historical interpretations. Since he deals with most of them in the text, there is only a need to briefly mention two challenges which are rather obvious from his conclusions.

First, Hoekema challenges the theology of many Arminian theologians who would hold that man is able to help himself in salvation. Salvation, as the Arminian sees it, is synergistic. Based on Hoekema’s interpretation of the state of man post-fall, salvation must be monergistic. Only God can redeem man from his present corruption and bondage to his own sinful will. In man’s fallen condition, he is unable to choose God because his will is inclined only toward sin.

Second, Hoekema challenges the modern teaching of both trichotomists and dichotomists. These two views permeate the teaching of many evangelical books. Hoekema does not view man as made up of three, or even two different parts, but views man as a whole person. His “psychosomatic unity” thus challenges much of the Greek Platonic thought which has mixed itself in with the biblical doctrine of man.

Hoekema’s work provides Christians with a thorough understanding of the nature of man, and provides great application for the church in living out these doctrines. Although it is repetitive in some areas (e.g. his theological summary of “the image of God”), it is a very useful aid in developing a Christian view of man.

Conclusion

Hoekema has provided evangelical Christianity with an important read. It is biblically sound and historically educational, scholarly and practical. Everyone who desires to be a pastor-theologian ought to read this book. By using solid Christian theology, his book assisted me in shaping my own view of mankind, and at the same time taught me how to minister to mankind. This anthropology has legs.

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