Iconoclasm, Icons and the Image of God: a book review

We are bombarded by images daily. They come to us through television, social media, and other online platforms (i.e. BuzzFeed slide shows about has-been celebrities—you’ll never believe what they look like now!). The current format of our image drivenness may be new, but images are not. Images shape our self understanding and our perceptions of the world. Each person is also an image. Enshrined in Christian theology is the idea of that humankind itself is made in the image of God.

9780830851201The Wheaton Theology Conference brings together, each year, an impressive array of scholars to probe a theological theme from different angles and academic disciplines.  The 2015 conference was entitled The Image of God in an Image Driven Age and explored the topic of theological anthropology through the lenses of Canon, Culture, Vision, and Witness. IVP Academic published essays delivered from the conference (March 2016), under the same title: The Image of God in an Image Driven Age with an introduction and epilogue from editors Beth Felker Jones and Jeffrey Barbeau.

What I have appreciated about past publications from the conference is the breadth of scholarship represented. This is no exception. Featured in this volume are poets, theologians, an art historians, professors of English and literature, a historian, pastors and biblical scholars. It is also worth noting that while academic theology tends too often to be a white male discipline, seven of the sixteen contributors are female and three of the contributors to this volume are scholars of color, though the conference also had a presentation from theologian Willie James  Jennings not replicated here (I’m not sure why his talk was omitted).

After  an introduction from Felker Jones and Barbeau, two poems introduce this collection (one from Jill Peláez Baumgaertner, and one from Brett Foster). The essays are divided into four sections, each considering the implications of the image of God from different angles. In part one, Catherine McDowell, William Dyrness and Craig Blomberg consider what the biblical material tells us about what it means that humankind is created in God’s image.  McDowell surveys the way theologians past and present have understood image bearing—spiritually or mentally, corporeality, capacity for relationship or royal representative (30-34). She examines the concepts of image and likeness in the Bible (particularly the Genesis  passages) and the Ancient Near East arguing that the concept of sonship is inherit in the idea of image bearing. Dyrness discusses the nature of image-bearing in a fallen world, where the trajectory of life and the trajectory of death are both at work in humankind. Blomberg extends the canonical lens by examining what light the New Testament sheds   on the Image Dei. He argues that implicit in image bearing is showcasing God’s glory through holy living.

Timothy Gaines and Shawna Songer Gaines, Matthew Milliner and Christina Bieber Lake look the Image of God through the cultural lens. The Gaineses examine how sexual sin can distort our understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image, but conversely a biblical perspective of sexuality as ‘God’s good gift’ reveals God’s good intent for humanity and contributes to the construction of the self (16, 106). Milliner’s essay sings the praise of iconoclasm  throughout the Christian tradition (in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant guises). While humanity images its Creator, not all of human’s images are good or healthy, especially in our consumer, capitalist age. A healthy dose of Christian iconoclasm (in and through the Arts) showcases a way to resist the spirit of the age, “God’s people are called to resist our image-driven age because God loves the images—us—who are caught up within it. He calls us to break free of all our counterfeit images and be restored to his own true image” (135). Lake takes on ride down Cormac McCarthy’s dystopia, The Road, revealing how God’s image persists through darkness and despair. She encourages us to engage contemporary literature, not as God forsaken, but Christ haunted (152).

Part three explores vision, or “the Christian idea of Christ as the icon of God” and the implications for what that means for the church (17). Ian McFarland commends the Eastern Orthodox theology of the icon to Western Christians, encouraging us to see in human persons the possibility of an encounter with the Divine (172). Daniela C. Augustine continues to draw insight from the Christian East, exploring the concept of intercessory prayer as a way to make space and offering unconditional hospitality for the other (180). In this way the church itself becomes an icon of the Holy Trinity (186-188).  Janet Soskice examines the implications of Image bearing for ethics, positing that the Creative God who spoke worlds into being also invites us towards creative address (we image God as we learn to speak.

Part four explores the implications of the Imago Dei for our Christian Witness. Soong Chan Rah describes the way the image of God has been racialized in the West, as Christians of color have been encouraged to conform to a white, evangelical image of God. His essay suggests a more diverse and richer picture of the image of God which showcases our mutual image bearing across racial and cultural lines. Felker Jones discusses how our theology of the Image of God helps us resist the commodification of human persons. Historian Phillip Jenkins describes a ‘storm of images’ showing us how our understanding of being made in God’s image is enriched by historical and global understandings.

The essays in this volume are brief but suggestive, each could be unpacked in greater detail in monograph length treatments. However there is enough here to provoke serious reflection on what it means for us to be created in God’s image. I am glad that the organizers of this conference (and publication) made a serious effort to incorporate the arts into their presentation of the Imago Dei. This volume is all the richer for it. Milliners essay, in particular, discusses how Christians in the arts both image the world  and destroy false images.

I give this book four stars and recommend it to anyone who interested in tracing out the implications of theological anthropology. Our humanity is stamped with the image of God which affects our self understanding, our hospitality of others, our ethics, our sexuality, our appreciation of the arts and our Christian witness.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.




We Got Spirit, Yes We Do: a book review

Every year Wheaton college hosts their annual Theology Conference. These gatherings host scholars discussing pertinent theological topics. While Wheaton and its conference are broadly evangelical, they gather an impressive range of scholars from various biblical, historical or theological disciplines and church traditions. The 2014 conference, The Spirit of God: Christian Renewal in the Community of Faithhas just been published by IVP Academic (edited by Jeffrey Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones). In it, you will find historic, fresh and challenging perspectives on the Holy Spirit and his work in the church and world.

Part one of the book, explores biblical and historical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. In chapter two Sandra Richter gives a ‘bird’s-eye-view’ of the work of the Holy Spirit through out Scripture. In chapter three, Gregory Lee compares the pneumatology of Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo, representative voices from East and West, discovering a great deal of commonality. In chapter four, Mattew Levering examines Thomas Aquainas’s theology regarding the Filoque clause that was added to the Western version of the Nicaea-Constantinople creed. In chapter five, Jeffrey Barbeau recovers the pneumatological insights implicit in Charles Wesley’s conversion (on Pentecost, May 21, 1738–a few days before John Wesley’s famous Aldersgate conversion). In chapter six, Oliver Crisp describes the insights of Reformed Pneumatology. Chapters seven and eight describe the Pentecostal movement. Allan Heaton Anderson profiles the global Pentecostal movement, Estrelda Alexander focuses on the African American Pentecostal experience.

Part two explores doctrinal and practical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. Chapter nine wrestles with the role of the Spirit in hermeneutics. Here, Kevin Vanhoozer expertly untangles the lack of pneumatology in many approaches to biblical interpretation and presents the crucial, formative role the Spirit has. In chapter ten Amos Yong explores the Spirit’s role in creation and Michael Welker does the same for salvation in chapter eleven. Geoffrey Wainwright presents the Spirit’s role in the liturgy of the church (chapter twelve). Doug Petersen talks about Pentecostals and social justice (chapter thirteen). In chapter fourteen, Timothy George explores the Spirit’s role in Christian Unity. The concluding essay (by Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones) argues three basic premises: (1) The Christian life should reflect our worship of the Triune God, (2) Christian theology is fully pneumatological and (3) Christian practice should be characterized by love.

Like all multi-author works, there are some stand out essays. Barbeau’s essay about Methodism and Charles Wesley’s contributions to pneumatology is quite good. As is Vanhoozer’s recovery of the Holy Spirit for hermeneutics. I found both of these chapters insightful–the first for offering an anatomy of conversion with an eye toward the Spirit’s work, the second for making hermeneutics spiritual. Yet my favorite chapter is Crisp’s presentation on Reformed pneumatology. Crisp hones in on the Spirit’s role in uniting us to God (and the Reformed, dogmatic presentation of that), and he offers two principles. The first is the Trinitarian Appropriation Principle (TAP) which posits that where one person of the Trinity is at work, all members are likewise at work (99-100). The Intentional Application Principle (IAP) claims that the aim at every Divine action is the telos, our union with God and the transformation of creation at the end of  the age (101). The second principle names the peculiar pneumatelogical dimension to God’s work. While Crisp extrapolates from the Reformed Tradition (Calvin and Brunner, and the various confessions), these are insights appropriate for the whole church. Beyond these three chapters, the essays are generally still quite good.

Unity in diversity is especially important in a volume devoted to the  Holy Spirit’s work. Of the fourteen contributors to this volume, three are people of color and three are women. The ecclesial diversity is somewhat greater. One of the contributors is Catholic, there are Pentecostals, Reformed, Methodists, and a Baptist (this book may be more ecclesially diverse than this, I am not sure of everyone’s denominational affiliation). Lacking is a Greek Orthodox perspective on pneumatology, though at least a couple of essays present on and interact with Orthodox perspectives (see especially Lee and Levering’s chapters). There also is not a Mennonite pneumatology here. I’m not sure what the specific Mennonite contribution would be, but since that tradition has helped shape my Christology and ethics I am curious about what Anabaptism may bring to the discussion.So certainly this group may have been more diverse, but it still does a fairly good job of presenting a good cross section of theological perspectives.

This is not a scholarly monograph but a collection of essays (originally lectures). The authors do not agree on every point, in either theology or historical detail. Still books like this give you a taste of various perspectives. I thouroughly enjoyed this romp through (mostly) Evangelical pneumatology. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.