Hoekema A. Anthony. Created in God’s image. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986. 264 pp.
Anthony A. Hoekema was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Calvin College, the University of Michigan, Calvin Theological seminary and Princeton Theological seminary. After serving as minister of several Christian Reformed Churches (1944‐56) he became Associate Professor of Bible at Calvin College (1956‐58). From 1958 to 1979, when he retired, he was Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Created in the God’s Image was written to teach how the image of God has both a structural and functional aspect, which deals with the three-fold relationship of man—to God, to man, and to others. In doing this Hoekema explains the four stages that the image of God goes through in regards to being seen in man. There is the original image, which is the image seen in Adam before the fall. Next, there is the perverted image, which is the image of God in man after the fall. Then there is the renewed image, which is the image of God in man after he has been born again. And Finally, there is the perfected image, which is the image of man when we are with Him in Heaven.
In chapter one Hoekema states his thesis as,
We must therefore make a sharp distinction between idealistic and materialistic anthropologies on the one hand, and a Christian anthropology on the other. In this book our purpose will be to explore the Christian view of man-what it is, how it differs from non-Christian views, and what are its implications for our thinking and living. We shall be trying to identify the uniqueness of the Christian view of man, that which makes Christian anthropology different from all other anthropologies (4).
That is the purpose of this book; to teach the church a biblical view of man. This in turn gives the Church a biblical view of God. Hoekema shows how a biblical view of man effects how we understand God, the work of Christ, soteriology, the doctrine of the Church, eschatology, and even daily life.
In the first four chapters of the book, Hoekema deals with the importance of the doctrine of man and how it affects the way we view God and the world around us. He then goes into the creation account explaining that man was intended to image God in many different ways and aspects. It is clear from scripture that man is created in the image of God but the question that Hoekema intends to answer from this point on is, “how does the fall effect the image of God in man?”. Before he attempts to answer this question, he gives a detailed evaluation of how it has been answered through history.
At this point he gives a theological summary explaining how the true image of God in man is seen in Jesus Christ. If one desires to know what God looks like he merely needs to look at Jesus Christ. He is the true image bearer of God. So the pursuit of a Christian is to be like Christ. The Christian is to strive to be a mirror that reflects the best image of God that we possibly can.
This is where Hoekema begins to unpack the original image of God in Adam, and how even in his sinless state Adam was not a perfected image of God. He was on his way to be perfected through growth and testing. However, Adam through his disobedience and sin failed the test and instead perfecting the image of God he perverted it. The image of God is still there but it is distorted by sin. Men from the fall on are born distorted images of God. When Christ Jesus came as the perfect image of God; He revealed just how distorted the image of God is in man. However, His purpose in coming was to renew the image of God by establishing the new covenant that actually changed people. When Christ was speaking to Nicodemus this is exactly what He is talking about. He says, Nicodemus if you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must be born again. Once a person is born again, he becomes a renewed image of God. This is where God no longer writes His law on tables of stone but on the fleshy tables of people’s hearts. The image that the first Adam distorted, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, renewed. Hoekema says, “The renewal of the image, therefore, means first of all that man is now enabled to be properly directed toward God (86). He then goes into the perfected image at the time of the final glorification of man. It is at this point that man truly mirrors the image of God perfectly in his relationship to God, his neighbor, and nature. This is the day that all of God’s creation longs for. The day when all things will be made new. Even so now come Lord Jesus!
In the next four chapter Hoekema deals with the issue of sin. He deals with its origin in Lucifer and then in Adam, explaining how in Adam we all became guilty. He then discusses the spread of sin, its nature and the restraint of God on sin. Through these discussions he shows the role sin plays in the distorting the image of God.
Then in the last portion of the book he discusses the whole person and the question of freedom. If man is born a corrupt image of God, who is dead in his trespasses and sins, then how is it that he becomes a renewed image of God. Is man capable of his own free will able to become a renewed image of God? This is a question that has rippled through all of Christendom. Hoekema’s view is that we are not free. We are in bondage to sin, and need God through His Spirit to set us free, and put within us a new heart that will choose God. Man has a free will, but his will is in bondage to sin and will never choose God unless God sets him free from the bondage to sin.
Hoekema does an admirable job explaining and defending a biblical view of the image of God in man. He is fair in giving a critique of the positions held by theologians through Christendom. There is no attempt to avoid any position held through the centuries. However, it is refreshing that Hoekema does not base his understanding on the work of others. There is a continual effort to base his understanding on the scriptures by quoting them.
It is helpful how he explains the image of God being mirrored in three different relationships—our relationship to God, to our neighbor, and to nature. It is really helpful to see how the fall effects these relationships that are meant to image God but have been distorted by the fall. The beauty of this is found in the image being renewed in Jesus Christ in such a way that those distorted images of God now long to once again be a true image of God. To think about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in this light causes one’s heart to skip a beat. This is what Jesus is talking about when He says to Nicodemus, “you must be born again. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” We were born the first time-distorted images of God. We are reborn as a renewed image of God. Then when we die we are resurrected as the perfect image bearers of God. It is at this point when we begin to seek to know God through an intimate relationship. This is also when we begin to love our neighbor as ourselves. It at this point that we even begin to love those who hate us and despitefully use us. This is God working in us through the power of His Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, the true image of God.
Another helpful insight that Hoekema sheds on this subject is man’s self-image. It is really interesting how he shows the reason for the first sin as being rooted in a wrong self-image, meaning that they started to think more of themselves than they ought to have thought. To see the way Adam and Eve’s self-image changed after the fall is important. How they went from being unashamed to being ashamed reveals the distortion of the image of God brought about by the fall. Before the fall Adam and Eve were not ashamed of the fact that they were naked, but once they ate the fruit they became so ashamed of their nakedness that they made for themselves clothes to cover it up. The result of the fall was that they no longer saw themselves the way they once did. Their self-image was damaged. When Christ saves a person he restores in them a new self image. This renewed self image is not the perfected self image that we will have in the resurrection, but it is renewed enough that we no longer live in shame and fear. When Adam and Eve ran and hid in the garden it was because they saw their nakedness and was ashamed, but then God clothes them with the skin of animals in order to hide their nakedness so they no longer had to feel ashamed. We hide from God because we are ashamed of our sinfulness. Jesus Christ came and died for our sins and covered us with His righteousness so we no longer have to be ashamed. This is a renewed self-image.
Anthony Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image is a great book that anyone would enjoy. One of the most impressive aspects of the book is its readability. It is written in such a way that the average lay person could pick it up and read it with understanding. It is not very often that a theologian writes in a way that the average Christian can understand them, but Hoekema does a wonderful job making a deep and complex topic understandable for the church.
The image of God is not a topic that I have given much thought to in the past, but I must say it has really been a great subject for contemplation. I was counseling with a couple last night and found myself talking to them about the image of God. It’s then that importance of this subject really began to sink in.