Home Pastors Articles for Pastors In the Image of God We Trust—Rethinking Race in Black-and-White America

In the Image of God We Trust—Rethinking Race in Black-and-White America

Adam and Eve Were Unfinished

But this also means that Adam and Eve, made according to God’s image, and still living in an unfallen creation, also had a glorious destiny. Even sinless Adam and sinless Eve were not created as the image of God. No, they had a destiny, to move toward a spiritual body that was imperishable according to the archetype of the glorified Christ (to come). Even before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve had a destiny yet unmet. How much more is this true of fallen humanity! And that’s the point of 1 Corinthians 15:35–49.

“After the fall, the difference between people in their sinfulness and the standard of Christ became even greater. And people are trapped by sin,” said Kilner. “They are unable to become who God intends them to be. And it is only through faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ that the power of sin can be broken.”

Christ, as the image of God, is the truest spectacle of the imperial majesty of humankind. Because we are made in his image, our status in Christ brings us immediate dignity. Because Christ is the ultimate target of all human flourishing, he is our ultimate destiny.

Enter the gospel.

Human Destiny Calls for the Gospel

The church must celebrate the nobility of mankind as a settled principle, but we cannot stop there. Speaking of the dignity of mankind does not replace the gospel; it opens the door wide for it. As Paul writes, in calling forth our honesty, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10).

The image of Christ orients our personal renewal away from the destructive power of sin. We are made in his image, and our humanity is designed to move toward him.

This is why, Kilner reiterates, “the New Testament doesn’t teach that a damaged image is restored. Rather, it teaches that damaged human beings are restored according to the image of God in Christ. It is important to read the texts carefully here and not to read into them ideas that aren’t there.”

Romans 8:29 to make the same point: “The image is the standard or the goal according to which people are being renewed.”

Confusion and Injustice

Every human being is made according to God’s image. “Human dignity—respect and protection for all people—depends on every person having that status,” he says. “And where this is celebrated, the church’s platform becomes powerful. It’s why Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, ‘There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God’” (“The American Dream”).

“In other words,” says Kilner, “King recognized that God’s image isn’t damaged by sin. But some people mistakenly think of being in God’s image as actually being like God in various ways. And since people are so damaged by sin, then God’s image or being in God’s image is damaged as well. That means that the basis for human dignity is radically weakened.” The faulty position says, “Some people are more like God, so they are more in God’s image. Others are less like God, so the very basis of their God-given dignity is severely diminished.”

These are not simply the musings of a bioethicist, but a strong cultural warning to all Christians. “Where Christians have viewed being in God’s image as something that is true only to the extent that we are actually like God, they have, in fact, been tempted to subject others to both overt abuse and more subtle discrimination.”

Sinful leaders have built evil practices upon their beliefs in the “gradations” in the image of God. Kilner cites Nazi Germany and the massacre of Jews and the disabled; Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. and his argument for the slaughter of Native Americans; the church’s role in the enslavement of black Africans in America; and the sinful practices of white supremacists today. All these evils were propagated by groups who distorted the biblical description of imago Dei. They attempted to marginalize and exclude a targeted subculture of human beings who were “less Godlike.”

All of these evils are based on the wrong idea that the imago is an interior phenomenon, and each of us possesses more or less of it than others.

“What I found in researching Dignity and Destiny is that in all of those instances, professing Christians were making misguided appeals to the notion of the image of God to marshal those movements forward. History, all the way up to the present day, is filled with examples of that misuse, all rooted in the idea that being ‘in the image’ is to have certain personal traits and abilities that are damaged.”

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tonyreinke@churchleaders.com'
Tony Reinke serves as the editorial and research assistant to C.J. Mahaney. He wrote a book called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Crossway). It will be published in September 2011. In the book he addresses four main topics: (1) why Christians prioritize book reading in the first place, (2) how to personally select the best books to read, (3) tips and tricks on how to go about reading them, and (4) how to overcome common challenges to book reading.