Book Review: “Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God”, By John F. Kilner (Eerdmans, 2015) -- By: Christa L. McKirland

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 29:4 (Autumn 2015)
Article: Book Review: “Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God”, By John F. Kilner (Eerdmans, 2015)
Author: Christa L. McKirland


Book Review: “Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God”, By John F. Kilner (Eerdmans, 2015)

Christa L. McKirland

Christa McKirland is completing her ThM in systematic theology at Talbot School of Theology and has prior degrees from Talbot (MA in Bible Exposition) and the University of Georgia (BA in Philosophy and Women’s Studies). She plans to pursue a PhD with a focus on the role of the image of God in a theology of embodiment.

In his book, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, bioethicist John F. Kilner sketches the theological history of the image of God, critiques prominent viewpoints from this sketch, and offers a robust formulation of what it means to be in God’s image. Since the understanding of this theological doctrine has both dignified and vilified certain human beings, Kilner astutely asserts the importance of explicating this doctrine well. All human persons, regardless of sex, ethnicity, class, ability, etc., must be valued, and this book gives the theological underpinning for the imperative nature of this valuation.

Kilner begins with stark examples of how the image of God has been used as a weapon to oppress certain human beings. Such oppression was especially prevalent, for example, during the time of slavery in the United States and has been used throughout church history to subordinate women to men. He specifically notes how women have borne the brunt of a misunderstood image of God, especially when it has been associated with rationalism and the soul. Women have been caricatured as being less rational, less spiritual, and consequently, less in the image of God and even less human. Kilner argues this is the necessary consequence of basing the image of God on the manifestation of certain attributes believed to be the possession of males rather than females.

The second chapter proffers that the starting point for understanding the image of God is Jesus Christ since he is the image of God. Here, Kilner offers the thesis of his book: “actual likeness to God is not what being created in God’s image involves. Creation in God’s image is God’s expressed intention that people evidence the special connection they have with God through a meaningful reflection of God” (79). This approach differs markedly from most theological approaches throughout church history. Instead of claiming that humans intrinsically possess the image of God, Kilner affixes the divine image to God’s intention that all people become like Christ. Furthermore, humans are created in this image as whole beings—including the physical and non-physical. This formulation ensures that everyone is equally in the image of God, regardless of attributes, and it also inhibits sin from damaging t...

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