The “Imago Dei” And Christian Aesthetics -- By: William A. Dyrness

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 15:3 (Summer 1972)
Article: The “Imago Dei” And Christian Aesthetics
Author: William A. Dyrness


The “Imago Dei” And Christian Aesthetics

William A. Dyrness*

In one of the few discussions that seeks to relate aesthetics to the Image of God, Calvin Seerveld cautions that comparisons of God as Creator and man as image-of-God-creator are speculative and misleading. “Man is not God’s image,” says Seerveld, “a finite parallel to an infinite perfection, only Christ is a spitting image of God.” The Image of God for him lies in the fact that men carry with them inescapably a restless sense of allegiance to God until they rest in commitment to him. He concludes that this whole discussion looks too hard and overlooks the limited knowing craftsmanship character of artistic activity.1 But surely the discussion of the image of God and aesthetics merits more attention than this if only to attempt to relate man’s uniqueness before God to his aesthetic sensitivity. Is the Imago limited to man’s sense of allegiance to God? Or put another way, granted the image finds its fullest meaning in being turned toward that of which it is the image, is man’s capacity for “knowing craftsmanship” (a pregnant concept) unrelated to this chief end of man? We think not. In any event from Dr. Seerveld’s helpful study we can perhaps be stimulated to go deeper into the idea of the image of God, to see if and where it might be relevant to a development of Christian aesthetics.

Let us consider this present essay an attempt to consider the doctrine of the Image of God as traditionally understood and as presently discussed in the light of human artistic sensitivity and expression. We mean this to be a contribution not so much to reflection upon the image of God in man, as upon how this idea might illumine Christian consideration of human artistic activity.

Biblical Basis

The Biblical locus of the doctrine of the Image is Genesis 1:26–28. Here God declares “let us make man in our image, after our likeness … “ The two Hebrew words Zelem and Demut have been the occasion for much controversy. By the Reformation the Church had come to see them in terms of Hebrew parallelism, two complementary ways of expressing

*Minister to Students, Hinson Memorial Baptist Church, Portland, Oregon.

the same thought. Some, however, have persisted in seeing a spiritual-intellectual reference in one and a moral allusion in the other.

What is the meaning of the words themselves? Zelem or ‘image’ as von Rad notes, denotes predominately an actual plastic work, a duplicate, sometimes an idol.

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