Volume 32 - Issue 3


by Ian McFarland

A fresh and thought-provoking exploration of a perhaps familiar subject. McFarland’s thesis is that, to be in the image of God is not so much a description of what humanity is, but an indication of what it needs to do if it would know God. Since Jesus is the head of a body, seeing him requires looking also at the rest of tie body, the church. McFarland advocates a number of ‘protocols of discernment’ comprising an ecclesial framework, the purpose of which is to safeguard against distortions and blind-spots during the church’s enquiry about the content of the divine image.

The process by which the divine image is seen and known in the body of Christ suggests the fact that God is not reducible to any finite reality even when fully present in it. McFarland therefore argues that though the community life of the church fills out its members’ knowledge of God, all such knowledge can only ever be provisional since the church itself remains under construction, on the way to the eschaton.

McFarland helpfully exposes the idolatry and arbitrariness involved in selecting certain criteria for the image of God: rationality, self-consciousness, freedom etc. However, he does not set out clearly the qualifications of the protocols he himself suggests should circumscribe the church’s discernment of the divine image. Furthermore, despite his emphasis on the life of the church as community in its discernment of the divine image he does not link this clearly enough to the life of God as one of divine community. Relationship as intrinsic to God’s being does not exert the influence it might in his discussion of the divine image. The result is that the Old Testament is perhaps not treated in a sufficiently Trinitarian way, the incarnation being seen primarily in terms of revelation. That said, while helpfully stressing the Son as the image of God McFarland seems hesitant to ascribe much revelatory value at all to the incarnate Son apart from the life of the church.

A fascinating study. McFarland’s thesis must ultimately itself be questioned: has the church really misunderstood ‘image of God’ language by seeing it in terms of something humanity is rather than something the church needs to do in order to know God?

Stephen J. Nichols

Stephen J. Nichols
Lancaster Bible College
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA