Having really enjoyed Imes’ earlier book ‘Bearing God’s Image’ I was really excited to hear that she had a companion book, not quite a followup, not quite a sequel or prequel, coming out. So excited that we at IVP UK nearly licensed it from IVP USA – until we clocked chronologically that we also had a book about being human coming out at a very similar time. Ros’s ‘Human’ (the Keswick theme book, briefly reviewed here) and Imes’ books are quite different – Ros offers a thematic, more theological overview, whereas Imes is a more of biblical theology approach – but there are other interesting similarities: both are evangelical women with Old Testament PhDs, and both books ended up green-ish and relating to their orange-ish first books! But I digress. As longer term readers of this blog will know, the main reason I was excited to see this book out was due to my long term interest in theological anthropology – understanding what it means to be human, to be made in God’s image. I’m a fan of Tony Thiselton’s summary – both embodiment and relational capacity are key – and whilst he didn’t make Imes’ bibliography, some of his concerns and potential ideas are there, which was great to see. In terms of the relationship between ‘Being’ and ‘Bearing’, Imes writes in her introduction:
“Since the publication of Bearing God’s Name, the question I’ve been asked more than any other is how bearing God’s name relates tobeing the image of God. This book is my extended answer to that important question. Here it is in a nutshell: being God’s image and bearing God’s name are related, but they are not the same thing. Every human being is created as God’s image… Our identity as God’s image implies a representational rule – the Creator God appointed humans to excercise his rule over creation on his behalf. Because of human rebellion, most of us are not doing this job well; nonetheless, it remains our job… Jesus ties these two threads together. As a descendant of Abraham, he is the ultimate human who perfectly carries out his vocation as God’s image” (p.3)
Imes has written a readable, well-referenced and calm consideration of the biblical material about humanity. It’s not just about the image of God in Genesis 1/5/9, and neither is it just about the way in which Christ takes on and fulfills this imagery and vocation (though her chapter on this is excellent). Imes makes careful use of Wisdom literature, where the Bible offers deep teaching on the nature of humanity (one highlight is her observation that “the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is taking a sober look at human ambition and recognizing its limits. You and I are dispensable” [p.94]). It is also not an academic book in the sense of dull disconnect – Imes is careful to use meaningful and human stories, and there is a discussion guide for reading groups as well as an appendix of links via QR codes to Bible Project videos. This last is one of the strengths of this book – Imes writes with enthusiasm, and clearly wants everyone to come on a journey into the rich depths of Scripture. This invitation is made easy by that appendix and the discussion guide – though this reader would have preferred footnotes to endnotes!
Overall, Imes rightly (in my view) argues that being made in the image of God applies to everyone and that this being made has a related vocation – a vocation that due to sin humans cannot fully fulfil. This echoes the grand biblical narrative, centered and focused on Christ, and Imes is clear about the sobering reality of human sin and the fall, and about the glorious victory of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. Imes’ Old Testament scholarship and awareness of the contemporary world are well illustrated in her comments at the opening of chatper 5, ‘The Human Quest’: “We are God’s image, plain and simple, no matter our intelligence or our virtue.However, our bodies facilitate our engagement with the world” (p. 77). That aptly summarises a key question for me in any book about this – what about people with disabilities, and what about our bodies? I think Imes is right to probe this, and it makes this a valuable book, reminding us of reality. One area of application is sexaulity – and I appreciate Ime’s observation that “Our culture distorts sex, framing it as a need rather than a gift and as an individual right rather than the most intimate expression of an excuslively commiitted relationship” (p.82). She goes on to write robustly about pornography – this is a powerful, practical, and often prophetic book.
Imes comes the conclusions she comes to by reading across the biblical text – and the Bible’s robust but often overlooked emphasis on embodiment is particularly platformed. She offers helpful comment on Jesus’ manhood and Mary’s womanhood (quote) as well as the way that the sacraments echo the core do what church is. References to the Covid pandemic May date the book – but do serve to humanize her points.
Other than preferring footnotes to endnotes my only qualms here were when Imes moved away from biblical theology and into other areas – often relying on other scholars and thinkers, occasionally doing so in a way that could have done with a little more explanation. For example, referencing the Roman Catholic Catechism raises a question for me – I’m not saying it’s bad but it further muddies the water as to whether this is an academic or popular book, and makes it more difficult to recommend universally. Overall i would strongly recommend this as a biblical theology book about what it means to be human for church leaders and theological student students. For church groups of people with a range of theological education I would probably recommend Ros’s ‘Human’ or Mark Meynell’s ‘What Makes us Human‘. If this review has piqued your interest, and you end up reading Imes’ book – it is very good – then you might want to follow it up with the following reviews/books that examine the topic from related but different angles:
- ‘The Christian Doctrine of Humanity‘ – an edited volume that is like a chocolate box of different perspectives.
- Klyne R. Snodgrass’s ‘Who God Says You Are‘ – a superb book that remains a favourite volume on human identity for me, by a New Testament Scholar
- Gordon McConville’s ‘Being Human In God’s World‘ – an excellent book from an Old Testament scholar, which would harmonise well with Imes.
- Susan Eastman’s ‘Paul and the Person‘ – a really good book considering Paul’s anthropology.
- Lucy Peppiatt’s Cascade Companion on the Image of God – a really good short, technically informed introduction.