Before I quote extensively from the introduction to The Image of God by Glenn Sunshine, I will state that a number of years ago, after many years of reading and studying theology, I was strongly inspired by the same idea that comprises the premise of this book. Recognizing the existence of God, a central, ongoing challenge of any serious-minded human being should be to understand the nature and character of God, the image and likeness of God. As we gain this understanding, we increase in awareness of what human beings were created to reflect, mirror or image. The apostle Paul says, “…be imitators of God…” How are we to imitate what we do not understand and how are we to understand what we do not study? Finally, before the quote, though such study is rigorously academic, it must not remain merely academic. If we fail to pursue its practical implications, our study is incomplete and nothing ultimately changes. Not having read the entirety of the book, I do not know if I can endorse the content thereof but would like you to consider the premise by reading the following excerpt from its introduction.
“The first thing God says about humanity is that we are made in His image. Everything about what it means to be human flows from there. This concept has enormous implications for our lives, for our culture, and for society, yet we hardly ever talk about it. There was a time when the church understood this, in those bygone days when Christians believed that they should lead the culture rather than follow it. Until fairly recently, Christians worked to apply the biblical understanding of what it means to be human to the full range of human experience. The result was the transformation of work, the development of technology, the rise of science, the idea of human rights, the abolition of slavery, improvement in the status of women, promotion of monogamy, the creation of great art, and a host of other elements that shaped Western civilization and created the modern world.
Unfortunately, we’ve largely forgotten all that, and so has our culture.
The AWOL Church
American society has lost sight of the meaning and purpose of human life. We give lip service to supporting people with disabilities, but when we find them we exterminate them in utero. We idolize sex yet have divorced it from its biological purpose. We have made children a lifestyle accessory available to pretty much everyone who wants one. So-called same sex marriage is increasingly considered an obvious human rights issue when it did not even exist anywhere in history prior to 2001. We view work as either a necessary evil rather than a positive good, or we idolize it. We have a consumerist mentality that says that Jesus was wrong and that life does consist in the abundance of our possessions. Young people live vicariously through video games rather than doing something with their lives in the real world. Contemporary art celebrates meaninglessness. More people are enslaved today than at any point in human history. The list is endless.
The need in our society is thus great. The challenges raised by bioethics alone should drive us to examine what the Bible says about what it means to be human. Unfortunately, the church has not taught a message that is capable of addressing the unprecedented cultural changes that we are facing.
Liberal churches have largely adopted an agenda indistinguishable from liberal politics. They have thus made themselves irrelevant: if I can do the same things and work on the same causes through a Political Action Committee, what do I need the church for? Conservative churches have reduced Christianity to the message of salvation, and the Christian life to “spiritual” activities (typically limited to prayer, Bible study, going to church, and evangelism) plus morality. These churches have essentially nothing to offer to the culture. Personal salvation, yes; cultural impact, no.
But Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. If our culture is decaying and becoming dark, it is because we are not doing our job. And a big part of the reason we are not doing our job is we don’t understand the fullness of the Gospel, and that Christians are meant to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on every area of life and culture.
In other words, we don’t understand the image of God and its role in developing an integrated vision of life . We need to re-learn the idea that all legitimate work is a calling from God, that the work of the scientist, the artist, the teacher, and the auto mechanic is just as spiritual as the work of the pastor because all of these jobs can and should be done to the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. Once we understand that, the Gospel becomes far bigger than personal salvation, as important as that is. Rather, it offers a positive vision of culture, a good and compelling picture of the way things are supposed to be. Rather than being sellers of fire insurance, we have good news both for this world and for the next.”
Sunshine, Glenn; The Image of God; Every Square Inch Publishing.