As an abolitionist of human abortion, I have heard a lot of talk about the Image of God. It is a topic of many conversations and is bound to come up with several people while on the streets and while on social media. And that is appropriate. So much so that the doctrine of the Image of God is a vital element in the “AHA” symbol. It is a doctrine that serves as the foundation for why Christians are called to seek justice on behalf of our neighbors. It is a doctrine that serves as the foundation for how Christians are made able to be reconciled to our Lord. Because of this, the image of God is a specific doctrine that requires equality before God. This is not to say that all men and women are equal in all things, but rather that men and women are both equally created in God’s Image. Christians should reject any sort of egalitarianism that denies any distinctions whatsoever.
To conflate complementarianism with inequality of Image Bearing is to radically and dangerously misunderstand the doctrine of the Image of God. The Image God is not about biology or brute physical strength. It does not mean having a beard or having a low voice. It does not mean you have a specific sort of reproductive organs. In short, being created with particular attributes of God is what the Image of God teaches. Because of sin the Image of God is corrupted yet retained. Even in sin, man and woman bear God’s Image (Genesis 9:6–7, James 3:9). The characteristics of God, our Christlikeness, is restored more fully in Christ. Goodness, truth, justice, mercy, authority, and so on, are all a sanctifying work in the soul and life of the Believer. We become HIS children, and the ethics that are a part of sanctification and how we should live are not arbitrary but a reflection of His attributes. The Image of God is not about outward appearances and what is commonly called “gender roles.” As John Calvin wrote, the Image of God is in the soul.
“The image of God is in the soul. Its nature may be learnt from its renewal by Christ. What comprehended under this renewal. What the image of God in man before the fall. In what things it now appears. When and where it will be seen in perfection”
The renewal we have in Christ, as Calvin pointed out, is comprehended through the Image of God. This is vital to our understanding of the Image of God. Again, this is not about radical and humanistic equalitarianism or complementarianism (hierarchical or covenantal). What specific role we take in life or whether or not we can bear children is simply irrelevant to the question of the Image of God. Normative gender roles are not relevant to the subject of the Image of God. We should look out for well-meaning but distracting red herrings that focus on the normative functions that are based on gender distinctions. Although that subject is interesting and important, being created in the Image of God is distinct from being created as a male. In short, a hierarchical view of the Image of God is distinct from all forms of complementarianism. Even distinct from forms of complementarianism that I would disagree with.
According to Calvin and the vast majority of the history of the Protestant church, the Image of God is intrinsically tied to being reconciled to Christ. Furthermore, the value and dignity of the creature is dependent on them being the Image of God. Therefore, the value and dignity of the creature is diminished as the image of God is diminished. At the same time, as the Image of God is diminished, the ability of the creation to become more like his or her creator, in Christ, is also diminished. Scripture teaches that sanctification and being created in the Image of God/Christ is interwoven very closely (Romans 8:29). Being sanctified is to be conformed to the Image of Christ. In a strikingly beautiful way, becoming more like Christ is embracing and growing in your Image Bearing of God.
If we posit that women are created in the Image of God, but are less than or unequally created in the Image of God, are women less able to be sanctified?
Regarding a central text, it is essential to practice sound hermeneutics.
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
First, nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that women are unequally Created in God’s Image.
Second, “man” is generally used as a catch-all term concerning “mankind.” This interpretation is not only possible, but it is also widespread.
Now, let us reason together and consider the implications of allowing for inequality in the Image of God. It is true that Genesis 1:27 does not say “equally” in the original language. However, what else does it not say? Quite a bit. If Genesis 1:27 does not teach that women are created equally in God’s Image, can we be sure that it also does not exclude other value/dignity distinctions? This is where people will holler “oh come on, John! Good and necessary consequence clearly implies it!” And they would be right. There is that implication. It is likewise true that good and necessary consequence implies women being created equally in God’s Image. If this text, and all the other texts that do not artificially divide up the Imago Dei, do not teach equality in the Imago Dei, then that lets the cat out of the bag. That is precisely what some Christian Identity and British Israelism (racist ideologies) groups have done. When I read that women are supposedly not created equally in the Image of God, the first thing that it reminds me of are how racists justify their racism. Many retain that other ethnicities are made in the image of God but just a little less equally made. An innocent distinction, right? Except this distinction has led to outright blatant racism and injustice. And that sadly makes sense. The racism flows from the bad theology. Or, as often is the case, the racist twists scripture to justify themselves.
If we believe that it is valid to divide up the Imago Dei is unequal categories, how does the Christian respond to the Christian Identity advocate or Kinist? What do we appeal to other than the Image of God? This is not an insignificant or trivial doctrine.
Basic human value and dignity are not based on ontological equality. Men and women are different. Basic human value and dignity are not based on what “roles” men and women naturally are best suited for. No. Fundamental human value and dignity are based on the Image of God. Inequality of Image Bearing theologically necessitates disparities in dignity and sanctification. Both less valuable and less Christlike according to ontology.
When the doctrine of the Imago Dei is disrupted, assaulted, or confused, we should pay attention. Pay very close attention, beloved.