A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
Part 7: The Image of God Aspect of the Gospel Invitation
This is the tenth of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child. All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
There are four basic views concerning mankind being created in the image of God: the substantive-structural view, the relational view, the functional view, and the composite or eclectic view. Let us briefly discuss these perspectives and their implications.
The substantive-structural view says that being created in God’s image means that humans possess an inherent characteristic, or characteristics, be they physical, psychological, or spiritual, within our nature which include reason, self-consciousness, or self-determination.1 The biblical passage used to support this view is Gen. 1:24-28.
The relational view says that being created in God’s image means the experiencing of relationships, either between oneself and God or between human beings.2 The relationship is itself the image of God. The biblical passage used to support this view is Gen. 1:26-27.
The functional view says that being created in God’s image is something humans do, not something we possess, and this functionality is most commonly suggested by “rulership” or “dominion” over creation.3 The biblical passage used to support this view is Gen. 1:26.
The composite, or what I call the eclectic, view is my favorite, and is probably the best, since it has the advantage of being a combination of the strengths of the previous three.4 It has the broadness to include reason, self-consciousness, and self-determination with the depth to include the capacity for relationships with God and others, for doing and rulership, as well as including the mental and spiritual elements. W. R. Estep, longtime Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, believes that to say that God created some for damnation and others for salvation is to deny that all have been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).5 Additionally, The Baptist Faith and Message states, “The sacredness of human personality is evident in that God created man in His own image, and in that Christ died for man; therefore every man possesses dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”6 This confessional statement challenges the Calvinistic definition of total depravity, the doctrine of unconditional predestination for some while others are left without hope, and the belief in a limited atonement. John Newport argues that the biblical worldview teaches that Israel’s God is the Creator of all people from all nations and that the biblical worldview takes into account that all people in some sense start in the same place.7 Likewise, the Book of Amos suggests that God’s choosing of Israel did not diminish His concern for other peoples (Amos 9:7). To be created in God’s image includes the following assertions: (1) mankind is created for a special relationship to God; (2) mankind can make decisions; (3) mankind can respond to God’s claims; (4) mankind is created as a rational and creative creature; (5) all of mankind are created for fellowship with God, as evidenced by the “Our Father” phrase in the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:9); (6) mankind is created for eternal life with God; (7) mankind is created for dominion over the rest of creation; (8) mankind is created for social relations; (9) mankind is created as one human race; (10) there is only one human race; (11) and the human race is created as finite.8 We must acknowledge that all humans have been made in the same image by the same Creator, all humans are created equally, and, therefore, partiality relative to salvation is not of God, as is evidenced in the charge of Moses to the judges in Israel when he said, “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it” (Deut. 1:17). God Himself is impartial regarding His created beings as shown when He says, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe” (Deut. 10:17). Humankind is definitively presented as indivisible in terms of race or skin color.9
Regardless of the view you take, we can all agree that when we sin, we disgrace this image. Being created in God’s image undoubtedly includes being God’s representative on earth. Whether a believer or an unbeliever, all humans exist throughout life as “imagers” of God, for all humans are made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). No other creature, including angels, can claim this wondrous distinction. Therefore, all humans are invaluable to God, being worth much more than birds, for whom He also cares (Matt. 6:26-30). All humans are said to be made in the likeness of God (James 3:9), and, as such, we are representatives of the king as His vice-regents on earth. I believe that being created in God’s image presupposes some capacity for self-awareness and self-direction. Moreover, the scriptural idea of man being created in the image of God also means that mankind is called upon by God to bear witness in his existence to God’s existence.10 It is likewise exciting to know that being created in God’s image means continuing to live beyond the grave, as Boyd Hunt so capably points out.11 This means that all humans are created for eternity. Everyone is going to live forever; the only question is where — heaven or hell. God loves all humans unconditionally (John 3:16). His love “wills” the perfection of the loved ones: for God so loved the world [all humanity]. But, being created in the image of God does not make salvation automatic, it simply invites all to share in divine suffering,12 for genuine saving faith necessitates dying to the self by being crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Calvinism has a severe weakness regarding the doctrine of the Imago Dei (image of God).
The next article in this series will explore the evangelistic weakness of Calvinism.
1Robert V. Rakestraw, “The Persistent Vegetative State and the Withdrawal of Nutrition and Hydration,” in Readings in Christian Ethics, vol. 2, ed. David K. Clark and Robert V. Rakestraw (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 125.
5William R. Estep, “Doctrines Lead to ‘Dunghill’ Prof Warns,” Texas Baptist Standard, 26 March 1997, 12.
6The Baptist Faith and Message (Nashville, TN: The Southern Baptist Convention, 2000; reprint, 2003), 10.
7John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 49.
8John P. Newport, What Is Christian Doctrine? (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1984), 88-90.
10Helmut Kuhn, “The Wisdom of the Greeks,” in Christianity and Reason, ed. Edward D. Myers (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1951), 153.
11Boyd Hunt, Redeemed! Eschatological Redemption and the Kingdom of God (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 253.
12Alister E. McGrath, The Mystery of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books by Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 120.