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"Image of God" - Its Practical Meaning
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Nonna Verna Harrison
God's Many-Splendored Image:  Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Grand Rapids:  Baker, 2010.  207p.)

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Harrison bridges the gap often found between scholarly and devotional writing.  Her study introduces us to the concepts of the early Christian centuries concerning the idea of humanity in God's image.  Likewise she keeps us focused on the meaning of this for our attitudes, relationships and daily living.

The question presented in the beginning is how this concept affects our beliefs about freedom, of the will and of the life.  She develops a stimulating discussion on this topic early in her exploration.  As Jesus does in his teachings, Harrison references the Creation stories of Genesis for foundational perspectives.

Harrison writes with intention and integrity, not over-simplifying for the popular superficial expectations of modern society, nor over-intellectualizing.  This is readable and substantial.  This was an excellent study from an author I had not known before.  I just accidentally ran up on this book in a local store.  What an excellent find!

Western Christians will benefit greatly from her meaningful reference to eastern and African forms of Christian faith and the foundational early movements of this vibrant practical faith in the first 4 centuries.  But she also brings the question home by analyzing medieval and modern ideas and modern examples from east and west, bringing us up to our time, with meaningful applications and suggestions for enriching life by treating other humans of whatever state or status as bearers of the original and unified image of God.

The author investigates the implications of the Image of God for the critical biblical and social themes of Social Justice, care of the earth and meaning of community in our modern urban and technological world.  She provides a meaningful summary of the activities and teachings of Irenaeus, an early bishop in Lyons in Gaul.  I was glad to learn here for the first time of the anti-slavery efforts of Gregory of Nyssa, a pastor-theologian.  Gregory is better known in western studies for his theological reflections on the Trinity, as one of the Cappadocian Fathers.

This trinitarian thinking led Gregory to the immediate social analysis of the Roman Empire in which he served.  Harrison's expanded portrait of Gregory in his pastoral and social situation is instructive.  His boldness in a time when slavery was an entrenched social institution is a challenge to us in the modern question of physical and economic slavery it is now so easy to ignore.

She does not avoid the difficult and serious implications of the belief that all humans are bearers of the image of God, whether "saved" or not.  She helps us think about what that means, theologically and practically.  This book will help you go beyond the ordinary while your feet are firmly planted in real daily life.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] The Ministry of Presence
[review] Practicing the Presence of God

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Reviewed on Amazon and OJTR 3 February 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2012 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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