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The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1
The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1
J. Richard Middleton
Brazos Press, 2005
304 pp., $27.00

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Stephen H. Webb


In Whose Image?

The meaning of the imago Dei

Few biblical motifs have generated as much theological heat as the imago Dei. The idea that we are created in the image and likeness of God, found in Genesis 1:26–27, begs for theological elucidation. Its deceptive simplicity opens up a world of questions.

At first glance, the doctrine of the imago Dei looks like a definition of human nature, but upon closer inspection, it redirects our gaze toward God. We are the image of the divine, yet when we look closely at ourselves, we see but a mirror. The mirror reflects a God who cannot be captured by human sight. So what is it we see in ourselves? A hermeneutical circle sets the mind to spinning.

Where the mind grows dizzy, however, the heart rejoices. Few biblical ideas have provided so much solace and satisfaction as the imago Dei. Genesis singles out human beings, from all of creation, as the image and likeness of God. The mind asks, so what are we? While the heart responds, whatever we are, we are like God!

Perhaps the very fact that we can ask who we are provides the best clue to our divinely appointed role in the world. That is what philosophically inclined theologians have argued throughout the centuries. Those who ask questions for a living have been certain that our reason best reflects God's nature, but this seems like a particularly severe case of wishful thinking. Far from stroking the mind, the imago Dei boggles it. Yet the question lingers: How can we be the image of an imageless God? Without a clear picture of God, the imago Dei looks empty and bare.

J. Richard Middleton's The Liberating Image is clear, careful, and comprehensive. Middleton, who teaches biblical studies at Roberts Wesleyan College, is well known in theological circles for publications on postmodernism and Christian belief. Remarkably, he is as much at home in the latest debates about Sumero-Akkadian creation accounts as he is in arguments about the nature of truth. He writes with one eye on scholars in their study carrels and the other on ...

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