Christian Ethics and the Image of God

David Shaw reviews how Herman Bavinck makes the image of God central to a Christian account of ethics in the recently published book: Reformed Ethics.

In the recently published Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck makes the image of God central to a Christian account of ethics:

Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity: Amazon ...

“How we must live is determined by our answers to the most fundamental questions of our origin, purpose, and destiny. Scripture teaches us that the image of God belongs to the very essence of our humanity, created good, fallen, and redeemable in Christ.”

For biblical ethics then (“the art of fruitful, godly living and dying well, to God’s glory” in Bavinck’s wonderful definition), we need to understand what it is to be made in God’s image and to grasp that theme throughout the narrative of Scripture.

In Bavinck’s mind, there is an urgency to this task too. On the one hand, he is aware of competing narratives (in his day, Darwinian accounts of evolution). On the other, he knows what goes wrong when we fail to treat one another with the dignity that belongs to images of God. In one place, for example, he expounds the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt not murder”) as follows:

“In general, sins against this commandment deny that our neighbours have equal rights as image bearers of God (Gen 9:6) and see them as hindrances, as being beneath us. The result is heartlessness - a loss of natural affection, lovelessness (Rom 1:31); the lack of all compassion and mercy; harshness; viewing the stranger as enemy, as a barbarian, as someone of a lower order, of different descent. Beyond this anger and dislike develop.”

That’s worth re-reading, surely. Heartlessness, anger, and dislike. How much does our society need to recapture the sense of what it is to be human and to let that shape our actions and attitudes towards one another! And how much does the church need to do likewise!

And so it is, with that same sense of urgency, that we are returning to the theme of the image of God this year in our School of Theology. We will trace the image of God throughout the narrative of Scripture, alert to the other narratives of human origins and destiny. And we will press into some of the key ethical questions: how humans relates to technology, to the unborn, and how the image of God relates to the abuse of power? We would love for you to join us!

For two seminars from last year’s School of Theology on race and class by Felix Aremo and Duncan Forbes, see here.

To book for this year’s School of Theology, click here.