Jesus as the Imago Dei: Image-Of-God Christology and the Non-Linear Linearity of Theology -- By: Stanley J. Grenz

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 47:4 (Dec 2004)
Article: Jesus as the Imago Dei: Image-Of-God Christology and the Non-Linear Linearity of Theology
Author: Stanley J. Grenz

Jesus as the Imago Dei:
Image-Of-God Christology and
the Non-Linear Linearity of Theology

Stanley J. Grenz

[Stanley Grenz is Pioneer McDonald professor of theology at Carey Theological College, 5920 lona Dr., Vancouver, EC V6T 1J6]

That Jesus is central to Christianity is one of the least contested assertions in theology today. Furthermore, nearly all evangelical theologians deduce from the centrality of Jesus the principle that Christology must form the center of Christian theology. Evangelicals are less likely to be of one mind as to what forms the center of Christology. Yet most tend to elevate Christ’s saving work—the atonement—to center stage. Moreover, following the trajectory of Western theology, evangelical theologians typically present the atonement as God’s antidote for the predicament posed by human sin. This focus, in turn, determines both the shape and the flow of the typically evangelical delineation of systematic theology. Such depictions routinely begin by presenting God as the Creator who fashions humankind in the divine image, which is generally understood as involving some sort of endowment, such as reason or will. Evangelical presentations then delineate the sinful human condition that resulted from the primordial fall, before describing Christ as the one who overcomes the debilitating rule of sin.

Understanding the Christian message as centering on God’s work in remedying the human sin problem through Christ’s death is not devoid of biblical precedence. Yet it is not the whole story. Indeed, throughout church history Christians—drawing from Scripture—have devised additional ways of describing God’s gracious activity on behalf of humankind, ways that evangelicals tend either to reduce to secondary importance or to ignore completely. One such approach that dates at least to Irenaeus and has remained prominent in Eastern Orthodoxy speaks of God at work bringing humankind to the divinely determined goal for human existence. Like every articulation of the gospel story including the narrative that “Jesus paid it all,” this recounting reflects a particular understanding of Christ’s role in God’s overarching purpose. And what is the divinely-given goal for human existence that Jesus both exemplified and accomplished on our behalf? The answer to this question leads to a biblical theme that in evangelical presentations is generally discarded halfway through the anthropology section, the idea of the imago Dei, and with it, the telling of the salvation story in terms of Jesus’ role as the image of God.

My goal in the following paragraphs is to indicate how this overlooked understanding of the purpose of Christ’s coming ca...

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