Ellipsis Omnibus

Disillusioned but not disenchanted…

Preaching the Good News of Bearing God’s Image

            In a book which has often been referred to as an example of postmodern comedic fiction, author Douglas Adams points out that those who most want to rule are those least suited to, that therefore those who are in a position to rule shouldn’t be allowed to, and asserts “To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.”[1] The secular world is left in the dark in attempting to discover how or why it is that people are a problem, much less how this problem may be fixed. In his book Created in God’s Image, Anthony A. Hoekema sets forth the Christian doctrine of man. There are many in the contemporary world who struggle with the problem of people, or as Hoekema notes “they are vitally interested in questions about man.”[2] This can be seen in the plethora of self-help books which are available on the marketplace shelves, in Dr. Phil and Oprah plaguing our televisions, in secular science’s teaching of anthropology and psychology in our schools. The questions are by no means unique to this age – over a hundred years ago Mark Twain was asking the same question in his aptly named book What is Man?, only to conclude that he is essentially a machine[3] – yet as ministers of the Lord Jesus Christ to this generation it is our duty to answer this question once again, but to do so in the light of Scripture. It is this Christian answer which Hoekema sets forth, and for the ministers of the Word it has applicability in nearly every form of our ministry. It has reaching effects on our preaching, our pastoral counseling, our apologetic, every area of our doctrine from justification through glorification, even our view of history. Only our doctrine of God rivals this all-encompassing aspect; indeed, one can hardly speak of any other doctrine without reference to either the doctrine of God or the doctrine of man, for it is of God and of man that the doctrines deal.

Here I intend to illustrate exactly how this doctrine may influence each aspect of our pastoral ministry, and how it may be more than simply head knowledge. In this aspect the statement of Francis Schaeffer that “These things are never merely theoretical, because men act the way they think” will be a welcome observation.[4]  The way that we think directly affects the way that we act. The way that we think about man directly affects the way we act towards our fellow man and towards ourselves. Here I hope to answer the question of exactly how the fact that we are created in the image of God as outlined by Anthony Hoekema effects most relevantly and integrates into our preaching (and thus our major doctrines), our pastoral counseling, our apologetic, and finally our ministerial outreach.

As a future pastor the most obvious area in which I will minister is in my preaching of the Word. Howard Stone & James Duke note in their text How to Think Theologically that, “Every aspect of the life of the church and its members is a theological testimony.”[5] Or as A.W. Tozer similarly wrote, “because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”[6] Every part of the church is influenced by and expresses the theology of that church, and nothing more than the words of the pastor, thus in discussing how to integrate the doctrine of man into my ministry this seems the best place to start, with preaching and with the direct conveyance of theological statements. Indeed, the longest chapter of Hoekema’s book is dedicated to a theological summary of the doctrine of the image of God.

My goal as a minister is the spreading of the gospel for the salvation of souls, “…for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[7] In order to know what that gospel is, how we receive it, and how it affects us, it is vital that that we have a solid theological base, so perhaps the greatest way in which this doctrine of man might be applied to preaching is in the enunciation of the gospel – after all, to know what the gospel to man is it is necessary to know what man is. Hoekema begins with the fact that firstly man is a creature, and yet he is also a person. The best line expressing this idea is Hoekema’s statement that “To be a creature means that I cannot move a finger or utter a word apart from God; to be a person means that when my fingers are moved, I move them, and that when words are uttered by my lips, I utter them.” He continues on the same page to note that “Denial of either side of this paradox will fail to do justice to the biblical picture.”[8] In terms of doctrinal positions, the stance of the pastor on this issue seems at at least a superficial glance to be one of the pivotal factors determining what sort of church the church will be. One of the main dividing lines within the church today is the line between being a Calvinist and an Arminian, what many superficially see as simply the debate between fate and free will which has been raging since at least the time of the Greeks. It is this issue which Hoekema is primarily addressing with his dualism between the creature and the person, between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. Too often we as pastors and theologians focus on one point of doctrine to the exclusion of others; some churches will preach the responsibility and freedom of man to the exclusion of the God’s sovereignty, while others preach God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of man’s responsibility. In his book The Great Heresies Hilaire Belloc defines heresy as “’picking out’ one part of the structure and implies that the scheme is marred by taking away one part of it, denying one part of it, and either leaving the void unfilled or filling it with some new affirmation.”[9] G.K. Chesterton meant the same sort of thing when he said that “The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone”[10] Hoekema reminds us that the paradox cannot be done justice by simply taking a side, rather the whole picture must be accounted for. I freely admit that at various time in my life I have fallen onto one or the other side of this line. Early on I believed there to be nothing so obvious as the free will and responsibility of man. As I began to read and study onwards, especially those of the Enlightenment-era such as Jonathan Edwards, I began to believe just the opposite, that there was nothing so obvious as man’s complete lack of freedom under not only God’s sovereignty but simply under his own make-up through the arguments of deists and behaviorists. Yet as I have come to find within the last year, and as Hoekema points out, I cannot exclude one side over the other; as C.H. Spurgeon notes “it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.”[11] In applying the doctrine of man being created in the image of God I believe that this is the area which it may be most readily applied to preaching – that I may not preach one side of the paradox to the exclusion of the other, that I might not pervert my ministry into heresy by isolating one part of Scripture from it’s counterpart and that I may properly convey the gospel to the people. For an extremely direct example of how I will apply the ideas presented by Hoekema in my ministry I turn to present circumstances. Currently I am in Arkansas preparing for the funeral of my grandmother. While I am not the chief speaker at the funeral it is likely that I will have a speaking part, and there is little more relevant to this than Hoekema’s discussion of ‘The Intermediate State’; that due to the nature of man and the teaching of Scripture “the New Testament does indicate that the state of believers between death and resurrection is one of provisional happiness…”[12] This, coupled with a gospel message which accounts for God’s sovereignty even in death, as well as call to our own responsibilities in light of the facts of death, cannot help but serve as an ideal example of how the doctrines might be applied.

With this first principle of man as creature set forth Hoekema goes on to point out that not only are we created, but we are created in God’s image. He first provides the Biblical basis for this argument such as Genesis 1:26, and then uses verses such as James 3:9 to point out that even after the Fall we still hold this image in some manner.[13] This is followed with a summary of the way Christians have dealt with the idea throughout history and followed by a theological survey which begins the study of sin as that thing which has marred our image.[14] It is at this point which we get to the meat of doctrinal analysis in the text, and the fact of being created in God’s image may be applied to nearly every doctrine which we preach. It affects justification, for it says that we have something which we need to be justified for and from; we have fallen and marred the image of God in ourselves.[15] It affects sanctification, for it shows how there is this “progressive renewal of man in the image of God.”[16] It affects glorification, because since God is sovereign we may trust that “the renewal of the image of God will be brought to completion,”[17] or as it says in Philippians: “…that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Each of these areas I may integrate into my preaching, giving those under me a proper understanding of the progressive renewal of the image of God within us.

Yet another way in which the doctrine presented by Hoekema may be applied is in the realm of pastoral counseling, and when dealing with mankind in this area there is little that might be more helpful than a proper understanding of the doctrine of man. An example of an area where I might integrate this doctrine is in the realm of marital counseling, and in pointing out how Hoekema does that “Man and woman together are the image of God.”[18] While Hoekema doesn’t exclude this to the realm of marriage, it can no doubt be of use in this area. Man and woman compliment each other in forming the image of God, and it would therefore follow that each side brings a certain aspect of that image to the table. This sort of theme can be seen in the works Wild at Heart and Captivating by John and Staci Eldredge, which in turn address the image of God in man and woman.[19] In terms of practical counseling, it may play out in my ministry through an understanding of the Biblical roles of men and women, how each fulfill the image of God and how one party should not attempt to commandeer that image from the other. A proper understanding of both man and woman being part of God’s image may set the basis for a respectful and cooperative relationship. Yet another way in which I might integrate this doctrine into my pastoral counseling is in a way which falls more into what one might think of as the sphere of daytime self-help shows. Yet the very presence of these shows and the books which accompany them indicates the vast need for a proper understanding of what Hoekema determines is best called our “self-image”[20] – this chapter even conveniently follows the chapter which acts a theological summary. The chief point of this chapter might be found in the following quote:

The Christian life involves not just believing something about Christ but also believing something about ourselves. We must believe that we are indeed part of Christ’s new creation. Our faith in Christ must include believing that we are exactly what the Bible says we are. (Hoekema 1994, 110)

The main applicability of this in relation to pastoral counseling is to avoid a false dichotomy similar to the issue between the sovereignty of God and man’s responsibility. The difference is in this case between the view of looking at ourselves through the lens of our sinful nature –  ie. “no one does good, not even one,”[21] or in the words of Martin Luther that “all that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable”[22] – or the view of looking at ourselves only through the lens of the image of God in us, of our freed selves, of our new natures. This latter view seems to be what many in our day might call the ‘goodness of man’ (which secularists may unconsciously borrow from Christians), or it might present itself in a church which never only preaches the happy side of Christianity, never wanting to dwell on the state of man in sin. As I will freely admit I have in the past missed the paradoxical nature of sovereignty versus responsibility, I have also often failed to distinguish the similar paradox here. The paradox can be seen fairly well in the writings of Paul, especially in Romans 7 when he makes such statements as “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Or in the Westminster Confession when it states that “This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated… yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”[1] The are regenerated yet sinful. While this might also be applicable to a more philosophic discussion on the flesh versus the spirit, in this context it is more readily applicable simply to the state of individuals when the look at themselves, when they try and create or recognize their self-image. For instance I have in the past focused so much on the sinful aspect of human nature, of man’s complete inability and total depravity, that my view of people was very low. John Eldredge makes such a point when he says while you remain no threat to Satan his line will be to tell you how fine you are, “But after you do take sides, it becomes ‘Your heart is bad and you know it’.”[23] Without a proper doctrine of the image of God in man, without a proper understanding of this dualism between, we may sink into a depression when we see the sin storming up in our lives, perhaps even to the point questioning whether God has really saved us. Yet following with Hoekema again “we must believe that we are indeed part of Christ’s new creation.”[24] We can look to Paul for assurance that even in our state of vast sin we are still that new creation. If in my pastoral counseling I only focus on the sin that it is in those who come to me, and even if tell them the wonderful news of Christ’s salvation from that sin, they may still go away with little hope if their experience and their view of their own life makes keeps them focusing on that sinful nature and on the sin that is still present in their lives. To be sure, they should never forget that nature or that sin, yet with this proper view of being created in God’s image, of the restraint of sin,[25] of the renewal of that self-image,[26] they may take heart that they have a new heart, that they are a new creation in God; as Hoekema says “Not totally new, to be sure, but genuinely new.”[27] In this I can give those who come to me for pastoral counseling a reason for a positive self-image that they could never get from the spirituality or psychology of secular society.

A third way in which the doctrine presented by Hoekema might be applied to pastoral ministry is through our apologetic. If we are to teach others the faith that is found in Christ Jesus, and that is taught in the Scriptures, we must of course “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” One basic question which arises is one of apologetical method, which is accompanied by the question of epistemology; how far can our reason take us, and how autonomous is that reason? In the world around us we see many claims relating to it. In his work A Brief History of Time cosmologist Stephen Hawking notes that “If we find the answer to that [unified theory], it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”[28] Clearly he has a very high and autonomous view of human reason. Outside the scientific community pastor John MacArthur sees the opposite problem “The belief that no one can really know anything for certain is emerging as virtually the one dogma postmodernists will tolerate.”[29] C.S. Lewis clearly saw a limit: “It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.”[30] Apologist Cornelius Van Til goes even farther, stating that “man should subordinate his reason to the Scriptures and seek in the light of it to interpret his experience.”[31] And yet the whole question of how to go about this is dependent on our doctrine of man, whether we are created in God’s image and what that entails has a profound impact; indeed, Van Til bases his argument in the fact that man is “a creature of God and a sinner before his face.”[32] Hoekema echoes this in his book by stating that “the human person does not exist autonomously or independently, but as a creature of God.”[33] While Hoekema doesn’t center the image of God in the human ability to reason,[34] the very fact that we do not exist autonomously from God implies that neither does our reason. This has a direct impact on the way that I might go about my apologetic ministry as a pastor. In the past I have adhered to and defended a sort of autonomy for reason and believed natural theology to be one of the most useful tools of apologetics; indeed, when I was in college I worked with a campus ministry and when we discussed apologetics it was a classical apologetics method which I put forth. Had I then the light of this doctrine I would have been far better enabled to tackle and teach the subject to. In considering this I must now offer a Biblically consistent view, both in dealing with unbelievers and in training laypeople in defense of the faith.

One final area which is of note in how I might apply this doctrine to my pastoral ministry is in the realm of ministerial outreach and evangelism. By this I mean both the outreach to the community, the visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction” as well as attempts to spread the good news outside walls of the church building. Hoekema makes this note explicitly when he states “As the church does its evangelical or missionary work, it must keep alive the conviction that every person on this earth is an image-bearer of God,” noting that we should therefore act with respect towards them and that image.[1] It seems that very often we as Christians feel hateful towards those who are not within the folds of the church; very rarely does the fact that my neighbor is also made in the image of God enter my mind, that God’s common grace has been given to them. This doctrine reminds us that “This earth is still God’s earth,”[35] even when we see the vast sin which is also present within it; as Chesterton challenges us, this doctrine allows us to “hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?”[36] It gives us reason to “work for a better world here and now.”[37] The most directly applicable fact of this doctrine is this that Hoekema points out, that we may work for a better tomorrow. We need not simply sit waiting for Armageddon in despair that nothing can be done in the world. We need not isolate ourselves from the world and everything in it, because the doctrine of common grace which flows from the doctrine of man we find God’s hand still working through those things not in the church. In terms of my own future ministry, this may play out in not attempting to build a figurative Garden of Eden, a church environment in which I attempt to keep those within the church from interacting with those outside it. The way I see this most often done is through such things as Christian Life Centers, where the members of the church can obtain all of their social exposure within the safe confines of the church; rather I might encourage the members of the church to go out and interact with those outside it, for we will have hardly the same chance to witness if we hold ourselves up in our own little cloister of Christian community.

Going back to the central point of this section on ministerial outreach, this doctrine also affects the way that we do charity. According to this doctrine man has fallen and has been justified through no action of his own, with every man having the potential for future glorification, it seems only proper that in light of this doctrine our view of charity follow suit. God has shown his common grace to everybody, sending the “rain on the just and on the unjust.” [38] I cannot simply provide charity to those that I deem worthy. G.K. Chesterton states it, “charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them.”[39] Once I am engaged in pastoral ministry I must offer the serves of the church even to those whom I don’t think deserves it, especially them.

Perhaps the best summary of the ideas presented here is Hoekema’s statement that “we must always see man in the light of his destiny.”[40] This light shines into every aspect of our ministry: into the preaching of the Word, the pastoral counseling, the apologetics we use, even our ministerial outreach. Each area is affected by the doctrine of man, by the fact of us being created in the image of God. It is only by upholding this doctrine that we can formulate a message of the gospel which all at once may convict the individual of their sin, inform them of the salvation found in Christ Jesus, and give them hope and assurance even when they don’t feel as if they have obtained that salvation. Not only this but it helps us avoid heresy, of excluding on doctrine in favor of another, and we must be vigilant not to concentrate on this one to the exclusion of others. In my preaching I can incorporate this doctrine by means of giving my congregation a sound doctrine on which to base themselves. In my pastoral counseling I can remind those who meet with me not only of their sin nature or only of the goodness within them, but of both, and tell them why it is so. In my apologetics I may submit my mind to Scripture. In my ministerial outreach and evangelism I may keep in mind the potential destinies of those I encounter, that I might treat them with respect and also be motivated to tell them the gospel; furthermore I may seek to give the charity of the church not just to those who I feel deserve it, but to all, just as the Lord gives his common grace to all. The sum is that I may speak and give those who hear a reason to trust in Christ, rather than in themselves, and may answer the question of why man is a problem, and how he may be (or has been) fixed.


Belloc, Hilaire. The Great Heresies. New York: SMK Books, 2009.

Chesterton, G.K. Heretics. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. New York: Simon & Brown, 2009.

Eldredge, John. Wild at Heart. Nashville, TN: Yates and Yates, 209.

Eldredge, John, and Staci Eldredge, Captivating. Nashville, TN: Yates and Yates, 2010.

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam, 1998.

Hoekema, Anthony A. Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1994.

Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man. New York: HarperOne, 2001.

Luther, Martin. On Christian Liberty. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2003.

MacArthur, John. The Truth War. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 2008).

Adams, Douglas The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. New York: Del Ray Books, 2008.

Schaeffer, Francis. Escape from Reason. UK: IVP Books, 2006.

Spurgeon, C.H. A Defense of Calvinism. Carlisle, PN: Banner of Truth, 2010.

Stone, Howard, and James Duke, How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2006.

The Westminster Divines. Westminster Confession of Faith. Charleston, SC: Nabu Press, 2010.

Tozer, A.W. The Knowledge of the Holy. New York: HarperOne, 1978.

Twain, Mark. What is Man?. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008.

Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (New York: Del Ray Books, 2008), 143.

[2]     Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1994), 1.

[3]     Mark Twain, What is Man?(New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 3.

Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (UK: IVP Books, 2006), 37.

[5]     Howard Stone and James Duke, How to Think Theologically (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2006), 2.

[6]     A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperOne, 1978), 27.

[7]     Romans 1:16, ES.

[8]     Hoekema, 6.

[9]     Hilaire Belloc, The Great Heresies (New York: SMK Books, 2009), 1.

[10]   G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Simon & Brown, 2009), 20.

[11]   C.H. Spurgeon, A Defense of Calvinism (Carlisle, PN: Banner of Truth, 2010), 6.

[12]   Hoekema, 220.

[13]   Ibid, 19.

[14]   Ibid, 66.

[15]   Ibid, 83.

[16]   Ibid, 86.

[17]   Ibid, 91.

[18]   Hoekema, 97.

[19]   John and Staci Eldredge, Captivating (Nashville, TN: Yates and Yates, 2010), 133.

[20]   Hoekema, 103.

[21]   Romans 3:12, ESV

[22]   Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty (Minneapolis, MI: Fortress Press, 2003), 9.

[23]   John Eldredge, Wild at Heart,  (Nashville, TN: Yates and Yates, 209), 110.

[24]   Hoekema, 110.

[25]   Ibid, 187.

[26]   Ibid, 106.

[27]   Ibid, 110.

[28]   Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1998), 175.

[29]   John MacArthur, The Truth War (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Pub., 2008), 16.

[30]   C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 81.

[31]   Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 125.

[32]   Ibid.

[33]   Hoekema, 5.

[34]   Ibid, 22.

[35]   Ibid, 201.

[36]   G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 39.

[37]   Hoekema, 201.

[38]   Matthew 5:45, ESV

[39]   G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 82.

[40]   Hoekema, 96.

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"This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle; wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it... It is by not thinking that we cease to wonder at it."--Thomas Carlyle, 'On Heroes & Hero Worship'
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