In man there is a unique complexity compared to all other aspects of God’s creation. The dynamics of what it means to be man are stark and magnificent. As a Christian, it is vital to have a proper and biblical view of man. The lens through which man sees himself affects his vision of many other aspects of life. The way man sees and relates to God goes hand in hand with the way man sees himself. Likewise, a person’s anthropology will give either poor or good vision when relating to his fellow man. Whether we realize it or not, our anthropology either blinds or enlightens us to the excellences of God and a proper treatment of man and nature.
The mantra or backbone of Christian anthropology has always been that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). The consensus across the landscape of Christianity on this point of doctrine is astounding. However, from this point of agreement, questions begin to be formed about the imago Dei and with them come differing answers. In Anthony Hoekema’s book, Created in God’s Image, he extensively examines these questions with the hopes of providing sound, biblical answers. Questions such as, “What does it mean to be made in the image of God?”; “Did the Fall eradicate this image?”; “Where does all of this fit into redemptive history?”; “What does the Bible say about the image of God?”; “Where did sin come from and how extensive is its effects?”; and many more are put under a microscope and probed by Hoekema with consultation from multiple theologians from history.
Anthony Hoekema (1913-1988) was professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary and has written many other works, most notably, two books which defend the Reformed understanding of soteriology (Saved by Grace) and eschatology (The Bible and the Future).
The title of this work by Hoekema is appropriately telling of its contents. The subject matter of this book is man, who was created, in relation to God, who did the creating and is the image in which man is created. From cover to cover, the totality of a Christian anthropology is presented. In this anthropological volume, Hoekema dives into the Word of God and theological history, particularly Reformed theological history, to expose all aspects of man from his status as both creature and person (5-6) to his constitution and freedom (203-243), the imago Dei as attested to in the Bible and in theological writings (11-101), and the sin that now haunts him including its origin, transmission, and how it effects our relationship to God, others, and nature (112-202).
A noticeable, significant, and vital aspect to Hoekema’s argument is his description of man as being a “created person” (6). Hoekema bases his argument on the twofold fact that man is both a dependent creature and free person. With this biblical truth as the basis for understanding the doctrine of imago Dei, Hoekema proceeds over the next three chapters to biblically exegete, historically sketch, and theologically argue for this doctrine. Within this examination of the doctrine of the image of God is included an extensive defense for the teaching that the image of God is retained even after the Fall. Hoekema is also sure to describe the nature of the image of God (what it looks like in man).
He argues that man is in God’s likeness and this is seen in man’s dominion over creation, mental and rational capabilities, and moral character including most ultimately the ability to love. In fact, Hoekema argues, “the heart of the image of God is love” (29). This is the most vital aspect of being made in God’s image since, Hoekema argues, we are to image God functionally even as we are the image of God structurally (68-73).
After giving much attention to defining and arguing for a meaning for the doctrine of the imago Dei in chapters three through five, Hoekema then moves to discuss the origin, transmission, and nature of sin in fallen man. In this portion of the book, Hoekema argues that the reason for the distortion of the image of God, though retained, is man’s sin against God. The devastating nature of sin is therefore outlined and examined in full detail by Hoekema to highlight this perversion. Hoekema falls in the Reformed tradition of affirming original sin in Adam and inheritance of his guilt and corruption.
At the heart of Hoekema’s argument is the frame of redemptive history. The image of God is understood in light of Creation (created in God’s image), the Fall (the image of God in man distorted), the redemption of Christ (renewal of the image of God in man), and the final glorification of the saints (perfection of the image of God in man). According to Hoekema, the purpose of redemption in a real sense is the renewal of the image of God in man (27). With reference to Augustine, the thrust of Hoekema’s argument is that man has journeyed from an “able not to sin” state into a “not able not to sin” state. Through redemption through Christ Jesus, this image is being renewed and regenerate man is ushered into a state of “being able not to sin” and Christians thus have the hope of future glorification where they will perfectly image God and perfectly have his image in a state of “not able to sin”.
The purpose of Created in God’s Image is explicitly stated in the preface. Hoekema’s purpose in writing this work was to “set forth what the Bible teaches about the nature and destiny of human beings” (ix). In order to do so adequately, the author would need to provide extensive biblical evidence for the nature of man and what his ultimate destiny is. Hoekema is without fault in accomplishing this purpose. In fact, he goes above and beyond the call of duty. Not only does he set forth a biblical model of anthropology, but he also sets forth a historical model of anthropology. He then combines the two into a theological summation of whom man is in relation to God—namely his image bearer whether distorted or redeemed.
Hoekema is careful to examine both the Old and New Testament in searching what God has revealed about man, all of man—his constitution, status as image bearer, state in sin and in Christ. While it may not be a complete exhaustion of Scripture concerning the nature and destiny of human beings, it must be nearly complete. Careful exegesis is given in the handling of biblical texts and the framework of redemptive history is kept at the forefront of each argument for man’s nature. In other words, the more Hoekema reveals about the nature of man, the more adoration is given to the grace of God—both common and saving.
By faithfully exegeting both Old and New Testament texts concerning man and the image of God in man, major insights are given and gleaned concerning what the image of God in man is and how we are to function as image bearers. His use of a variety of theologians to aid in forming his anthropology (or defending the Reformed understanding of man) leads to the accomplishment of his purpose. This wide variety of theological thought provides greater understanding of the biblical teaching of man and the image of God in man.
To compile a complete list of strengths in this work would be a monstrous task. What makes this book highly commendable is its fairness and respectful handling of differing views. Hoekema presents multiple views on each aspect of the doctrine of man from multiple voices from history. He is honest where he disagrees, yet kind in his disagreement. In other defenses of a certain theological teaching it may be that the author takes on an aggressively polemic attitude. No such attitude is found in this work.
At the same time, there is a fair and extensive critique of each theologian’s view of man in relation to God. Multiple questions are asked of them and none of their teachings are just taken as truth without being probed by the Word of God and appropriate speculation. He finds aspects in each theologian that he appreciates and also those that he must disagree with. Hoekema’s commitment to Scripture in all of his arguments and teachings make this work reliable for recommendation and for reading.
His sound exegesis marks this work and leaves the reader seeking answers to the questions posed in God and not in Hoekema. Hoekema plays the role of exposing the truth found in Scripture and his use of multiple (over 250) resources gives weight to his claims. Another major strength is the author’s commitment to biblical redemptive history in his presentation of the doctrine of man. The storyline of Scripture is the basis of Hoekema’s discussion of the image of God, its distortion, renewal, and perfection.
The only task more difficult than compiling a complete list of strengths is finding many weaknesses in this work by Hoekema. It should be noted, however, that although Hoekema uses a wide range theological thought concerning the image of God and anthropology, the majority of his sources are from the Reformed tradition. At first, this would lead one to declare that he is biased by his own theological system, but it is significant to point out his own words in the preface: “The theological standpoint here is that of evangelical Christianity from a Reformed or Calvinistic perspective” (ix). Could Hoekema have provided an even more extensive volume by going deeper into different theological backgrounds and understandings of humanity? Probably.
However, that was not Hoekema’s purpose in writing this book. His purpose has in it a defense and presentation of the doctrine of man from a Reformed or Calvinistic perspective. Therefore, while this work may have been stronger with more recognition of the doctrine of man from, let’s say, Arminian theologians, this work must be judged on the basis of its author’s purpose. And with this in mind, the heavy focus on Calvinistic thought and thinkers must not be viewed as a weakness, per se.
Even in the Reformed thought that Hoekema finds himself in disagreement with; there is adequate refutation involved. He often uses these refutations to make his point all the more clear (seen primarily in chapter four).
As far as personal application is concerned, this work is full of it. The only concern or possible weakness however is that these applications are not always explicitly stated. The implications are massive however when Hoekema’s presentation of Christian Reformed anthropology is seen. Since all still retain the image of God, there is a certain dignity and uniqueness about them. Because of this, we should love our neighbor and treat them with such dignity. All attacks on humanity are thus an indirect attack on God whom humanity images. While these implications are stated sporadically throughout the work, a more direct or comprehensive chapter of application on the doctrine of man would have been very helpful. So, by way of pointing out weaknesses in this book, this would be the only substantial one that this reader has noticed.
In closing, theologian Anthony Hoekema has presented a work that is helpful to the seminary student wishing to dive deep into Christian theology as well as the pastor leading his flock along with the layman who wants a greater knowledge of himself in relation to God. It is one that covers every aspect of Christian anthropology with a Reformed flavor. Hoekema exposes Scripture and Reformed teachings on the doctrine of man and successfully sets forth what the Bible teaches about humanity. I have seen my own dignity as one being made in the image of God.
On the other hand, I have also seen my desperate sinful nature existing in this broken and distorted psychosomatic existence which has been redeemed. This book is marked by biblical saturation and theological fervor and it will lead the reader to eager and joyful doxology to the God who creates and in whose image we as Christians are being conformed.