In my experience as a pastor-counselor, I have discovered that while many Christians are aware of the importance of the doctrine of the image of God, they often lack an understanding of what it means and why it matters. If we as counselors make this same mistake, we are bound to get ourselves into trouble. Our view of the image of God has a direct effect on our counseling because it determines how we view and understand those whom we counsel. The concept of the image of God is central to a Christian anthropology which makes it central to biblical counseling. Thankfully, Anthony Hoekema provides a scholarly, yet accessible explanation of what it means to be Created in God’s Image.
Hoekema argues that the image of God, often referred to as the imago Dei, is the key to developing a Christian view of man. It shouldn’t surprise you that this doctrine is one of the main reasons biblical counselors take issue with the non-biblical anthropologies offered by secular psychologists. A robust understanding of the imago Dei will help us as counselors be on guard against non-biblical anthropologies which may creep in and affect our thinking.
Hoekema’s overview of the Bible’s answer to the question “What is man?” is thorough. He develops the answer through biblical and historical surveys which crescendo into a comprehensive theological summary of his view in chapter five. In short, Hoekema follows great reformed thinkers like Louis Berkhof and Herman Bavinck by conceptualizing the image of God in two distinct aspects: the structural and functional. The structural image speaks to what man is while the functional image is concerned with what man does. Concerning the former, man is like God in his capacities: he makes decisions, uses reason, and appreciates beauty. This structural sense of the image of God, though negatively affected, was not lost in the Fall. However, the functional sense, or the ways in which man behaves like God—imaging His righteousness and holiness—has been lost.
Against the backdrop of man’s failure, Jesus is presented as the true or exact image of God. He is the one human who knows what it is to be fully alive. The goal of redemption then, along with its elements of justification, sanctification, and glorification, can be understood in terms of God renewing the image of God in His children by conforming them to Jesus.
The implications for counseling here are significant. Sanctification is not a matter of trying really hard not to sin, but instead becomes the process by which we experience our full humanity in Christ. Every time we encourage our counselees to say “No” to sin, we are inviting them to experience life and their humanity to the fullest—just as God created them to do.
Hoekema expands on these ideas in detail. Thoughtful counselors will be able make immediate use of the way he synthesizes the notion of being made in the likeness of God around the two concepts of mirroring God and representing God as ambassadors. Counselors will also appreciate how the author expands on Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone…” To Hoekema, the male and female differentiation is made not only to establish the institution of marriage or to classify differences in the genders, but instead speaks to the centrality of human relationships. God made us for relationships and loving others is one of the ways we can mirror God.
In the second half of the book, the author is concerned with understanding how sin has marred the image of God and what that means for our daily lives. As counselors, such an understanding helps us answer difficult questions we often face in the counseling room. Concerns about self-image (chapter 6), or restraining sin (chapter 10), or the complex relationship between the body and the soul (chapter 11) are each informed by this biblical anthropology.
Every counselor who invests the time and effort needed to understand this book will be richly rewarded with greater biblical competency, more theological precision, and many fresh counseling applications. Though many helpful books have been written on this subject, Hoekema seems particularly sensitive to how these ideas can be used by those who care for souls. For this reason, Created in God’s Image may be the best place for counselors to look for a deeper understanding of the imago Dei.
- “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” (4).
- “Imaging God is again presented here as an activity in which both Paul and his readers must continually engage” (29).
- “…when man is what he ought to be, others should be able to look at him and see something of God’s kindness in him: something of God’s love, God’s kindness, and God’s goodness” (67).
- “…the image has been perverted or distorted by the Fall. Yet the image is still there. What makes sin so serious is precisely the fact that man is now using God-given and God-imaging powers and gifts to do things that are an affront to his Maker” (72).
- “To be a human being in the truest sense, therefore, means to love God above all, to trust him, to pray to him, and to thank him. Since man’s relatedness to God is his primary relationship, all of his life is to be lived coram Deo–as before the face of God” (76).
- “The counselor ought not to think of spiritual and mental health as somehow totally separable. Since man is a whole person, the spiritual and the mental are aspects of a totality, so that each aspect influences and is influenced by the other” (225).