By Lucy Peppiatt | | 162 pages
Published in April of 2022

SUMMARY: The doctrine of the Image of God is like prayer, communion, or any other practice that has become perfunctory. We kind of know what it is and what it means, but the necessity and revolutionary nature of the practice or belief has dulled with time and repetition. In The Imago Dei: Humanity Made in the Image of God author, Lucy Peppiatt seeks to break the casual understanding of this indispensable doctrine by defining the three main perspectives, getting into the weeds by analyzing church fathers’ and theologians’ thoughts on the nuances of the doctrine, and finishing with a superb summary.

“The doctrine of the imago Dei, that human beings are created in the ‘image and likeness of God,’ is central to Christian life and practice and touches, perhaps even helps to form, every other doctrine of the Christian faith in one way or another,” Peppiatt writes.

Despite the centrality of the doctrine to the Christian faith, there is no consensus on what the doctrine means. Three main perspectives, substantionalist, functionalist, and relational, dominate the conversation with the former two being the most popular interpretations.

A substantionalist view says that being made in the image of God means that humans have a human attribute that is mirrored in an attribute of God. A functionalist perspective means that a command from God, such as to subdue and rule the earth, is a mark of being made in the image of God. The third perspective, relational, says being made in the image of God means a human’s ability to have a relationship with God is the distinction. Regardless of what view makes the most sense to you, all of them affect how we interact with others and the world.

“The idea that human beings bear the image of God can be extrapolated in a number of ways but is often used in a general sense to denote equality, unity, dignity and the sanctity of human life.”

Peppiatt dives into the nitty gritty of the doctrine in the middle of the book, touching on the differences between what being made in the image of Christ and being made in the image of the Trinity means. She compares and contrasts kingship, priesthood, and stewardship models. She ultimately asks a plethora of questions, that many times, do have not clear-cut answers. Is there a difference between image and likeness? If so, what are the implications? Does the substantionalist view reference the ability of humans to reason? Have moral judgment? Or the ability to repent? Was the image of God destroyed at the fall or was it maintained after the fall?  Does the relational view reference the “fittingness and capacity of a human being to be in a relationship with God, or in the nature of the relationship itself, or in both?” The sheer amount of information presented was overwhelming, but that, perhaps, was the point.

“It has become clear by now just how diverse the perspectives on the imago Dei really are, with many different emphases and nuances in relation to how we might understand what it means for human beings to be made in the image of God,” Peppiatt says. “We cannot resolve all the questions surrounding the imago Dei, and there will always be some element of the unknowable in relation to this topic.”

No matter what view you ascribe to, what does this mean for the average person? First, it means we must be in a relationship with God and other people.

“Jesus taught that to be made in His own image is to love God and love our neighbor. There is no understanding of being made in the image of Christ that does not entail relationship.”

Second, everyone is deserving of dignity and respect because God created them. There are no qualifications, tests, or requirements. It is a “great leveling” doctrine.

And finally, God is for us no matter what.

“The story of human beings made in the image of God is that even when we are not godlike in any way, and perhaps especially then, God is still for us.”

Ultimately this is a doctrine full of mystery requiring a healthy dose of humility.

“We know that it is a doctrine we must approach humbly: humbly because it confronts us with the truth that we cannot understand everything about this claim; neither have we understood how to live it out…I have been struck deeply by the mystery of it all,” Peppiatt concludes.

KEY QUOTE: “To have been created intentionally, imagined in the mind of God, and then brought into being communicates something profound about a person’s intrinsic worth. It speaks—you are loved; you are wanted; you are valued. Further to this, to have been created as some kind of reflection or embodiment of the divine serves only to strengthen the idea that human beings are of infinite worth and beauty.”

BONUS: Listen to Peppiatt (part I and part II) on the TheoDisc Podcast where she discusses her book.

BONUS II: Read the first 50 pages of the book on Google books.

DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.

More curated media on the image of God:

SERMON: Image of God

Pastor David Ellis of Astoria Community Church (Astoria, NY) asks what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Is it our intelligence? Is it how we look? Is it our creativity? Ellis postulates that it is none of those as there are some people that are less intelligent and less creative…

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ARTICLE: Calling for a Modern-Day Reformation

In a powerful essay author Jemar Tisby asks why many American Christians are not welcoming to the increasing diversity of the country when Revelation 7:9 talks about a diverse multitude standing before the throne of the Lord. As a result, Tisby calls for a modern-day reformation rooted in the image of God. Tisby goes one…

Read more

PODCAST: The True Meaning of Being Made in God’s Image

Speaker Mike Cosper details three ways we bear God’s images in the world – our capacity for relationships, our capacity for culture-making, and our capacity for wielding power. Each of these characteristics of God are detailed in the Bible, but what holds us back from realizing our full potential of being made in the image…

Read more

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