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N.T. Wright on What It Means To Be An Image Bearer

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June 18, 2012 Tags:

N.T. Wright. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this video conversation, N.T. Wright considers what it means to be an image bearer of God. He suggests that what the book of Genesis and the apostle Paul mean by humans reflecting the image of God is less a static picture and more of a “creative, dynamic” proposition.

To emphasize the point that bearing Christ’s image is multi-dimensional, Wright suggests the metaphor of an angled mirror as example. To contextualize this in practical terms, he recounts a childhood anecdote about being ill in bed as a child and having his mother rest an angled mirror on his bedroom door so he would be able to see the comings and goings of other family members and not feel so isolated and alone. Similarly, Wright comments, we can use this metaphor to understand what the Bible means about being an image bearer—God can reflect his love, care, and stewardship toward humans, and in turn, they can reflect God back to the world.

As such, the “image of God” is not something about us—instead, it is what we do and how we do it. That is, how we reflect God into the world—aptly described by Paul in Colossians 3:9-10: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (ESV).

N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #70520

June 18th 2012

Clearly the Image of God is not a thing that humans can “hang their hat on.” 

Humans, male and female, were created in the Image of God, yet when humanity fell into sin, somehow this Image was lost or distorted.  Some say it was lost, but since humans can be and are saved or redeemed from the power of sin and receive eternal life, then the Bible must mean that the Image was only distorted.  

To be under the power of sin means to be alienated from God, to not be in the proper relationship with God.  To be saved means to be restored to the proper relationship with God by acknowledging that we are sinners unable to please God the Father by our own actions and accepting God’s forgiveness and grace made available through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and received through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Thus while it is true that being created in the Image of God does mean to be able to things that God can do, think, care, and decide, Dr. Wright is very right to say that the true image of God is to be in right relationship to God, to others, to the universe, and to ourselves. 

George Bernard Murphy - #70523

June 18th 2012

I always thought the “image of God” dealt with behavior,... not the body image.

 What are our instincts? Do we kill rivals? Do we accept others into our group and cooperate with them?

The greatest achievements of man can be possible only within large groups.

 Do these groups self-destruct or do they grow as stable cooperating producers.

So what are instincts?

Well it must be some kind of software in your noggin.,... an operating system perhaps?

 I think that ‘the image of god” was a software upgrade  that makes you link up with other humans more readily.

 Then you can say Adam and Eve got a wireless upgrade when God wanted to raise them above the animals.

schweiz - #71079

July 13th 2012

N.T. Wright’s theological angle of the imago Dei as the Christian community’s vocation (witnessed in our acts of love toward people and nature) is a welcomed viewpoint in today’s age. All too often we have an unintentional tendency due to our western mindset to define the phrase imago Dei with an egotistical mindset. We think primarily in terms of “my” relationship with God and how “I” reflect God to others, rather than how the body of Christ corporately reflects God’s image to the world.

This individualistic focus on one’s relationship with God has the downside of falling into self-criticism not being able to live up to living the perceived Christ-like life on one’s own. This mentality is present in many sermons and topical bible studies dealing with feelings of self-guilt. When one also views the image of God as reflected in their Christian community locally and globally, one’s shortcomings fade within the context of the larger community. Every Christian has been given spiritual gifts to function as different parts of the body of Christ to bring love and restoration to this world.

By comparing humans to an angled mirror, Wright creatively defines what it means that we bear the image of God as a Christian community. In the above video blog Wright says that, “It seems like God has put humans like an angled mirror in his world, so that God can reflect his love and care and stewardship of the world through humans and so the rest of the world can praise the creator through humans.” God has given humans the privilege of ruling over the earth (Gen. 1:26), just as God rules over the universe. Because we live in a broken world due to the Fall, our rule is to focus on bringing restoration to creation.

In the vocational view of the imago Dei, Wright insightfully describes our two-fold functions: first, we are to see ourselves as the royal priesthood reflecting God’s image back up to Him by offering up the praises of creation on behalf of the world. At the same time, we are to see ourselves as reflecting God’s image into the world, by caring for human needs and the natural creation. By taking this vocational view, God’s kingdom naturally will expand on earth as more people see His reflected image in the restorative acts carried out by His people.

The comment I have is that I thought Wright was somewhat dismissive of the other views in theological history of the imago Dei: the structural view (characteristics in us that represent God), the relational view (our relationship before God), and the dynamic view (the sanctification process of becoming like God). Wright briefly mentions one of the views, the structural view, but only in acknowledgment. With how amazing the human body has been structured and with discoveries that neuroscience has made with the complexity with the mind, it is hard to believe that we primarily reflect God in our vocation and not also equally in our bodies/identities. The work of Nancey Murphy especially highlights the unique way humans have been anthropologically designed by God. In her book Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies?, Murphy shows on how our bodies are “enabled by culture and by our complex neural systems” to have the capacity for reason, emotions, morality, and connection with God (Murphy, 5-6). The definition of the imago Dei is so complex that the different viewpoints, vocational, structural, dynamic, and relational, each contribute to a more comprehensive picture of what it means to be created in the image of God.

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