Evangelism and the Image of God

On college campuses, where I spend a lot of time in my capacity as Area Director for a college outreach ministry, I often run into some very zealous evangelists. They are very excited and dedicated people, sometimes carrying crosses, always handing out pamphlets, and often engaging students in conversations about how depraved they are. I have no doubt that these evangelists are on campus because they deeply care their about cause and about the students they are talking to. But I roll my eyes as I listen intently to their message.

They stand there, talking down at these students. Their message starts with each individual’s sin and ends with the biblical solution to that sin: Jesus dying on the cross for their atonement. The essence of humanity, according to these evangelists, is our individual depravity. We each are sinful through and through, and thus each of us is destined to hell. God wants us to escape this evil world and the lusts of our flesh and lead us away to heaven, where we will can with God forever.

As I walk away from the Student Center and all that confrontational stress, it strikes me: I actually feel sorry for these evangelists! Since all humanity is created in the Image of God, each and every human being has dignity. Period.

Now, these evangelists were not out-right heretics like the ones that come to my door (denying the divinity of Jesus). They are not that bad. But they have bought into a form of Christianity that does not embrace the fullness of what it means to be human and the true greatness of the redemption in Christ.

The ultimate essence of what it means to be human is not that we are sinners. Human essence is the imago Dei, the reflection of the divine Trinity. There is a divine spark in each and every person and in each and every human community. Certainly, sin has entered into that and severely taints this and very often grotesquely twists it. Certainly, ever since the Fall, humanity has taken on a new nature: the sin of Adam. But this is not the ultimate essence of humanity – it is not what God has created us to be. God greatly prizes us because we are made in His image. This is why he so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. God sees our potential as his “image and likeness,” and therefore does not let us go to destroy ourselves and our society. He has created people that are special to him, and he will redeem a people that are special to him.

Without starting with where the Bible starts in defining humanity – as the “image of God” – these evangelists truncate the gospel to just two things: sin and atonement. While that is certainly a major part of the story, the story is bigger than that. Without a view of humanity that starts with the Imago Dei, these evangelists are missing the richness of the gospel.

We need to explore afresh the implications of the Imago Dei in humanity in order to understand and proclaim of the gospel of redemption. Since humanity is created in the image of God, we are to understand what it means that God is redeeming this image in us through Christ.

technorati: , , ,


grace said...

Great post. God, the gospel, and humanity all become distorted when we start with the message of depraved sinners.

Nate W said...


When it comes to evangelism, I think it is at least worth asking questions in regards to what it might look like to begin our efforts with the cosmic scope of God's redemption and filter individual salvation, redemption, and even a theology of Imago Dei through that lens.

Even beginning with Imago Dei, I feel we run the risk of shrinking the gospel to what its significance holds for "me".

What are your thoughts?

Bob Robinson said...

That's an excellent point.
Since the imago Dei is the climax of the creation of the Cosmos, when imago Dei is "cracked," so too the cosmos becomes "cracked."

The redemption of the cosmos, then, hinges on the redemption of the imago Dei.

Romans 8:19 ff
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

Nate W said...

Awesome! What I hear you saying is that the two go hand in hand. You cannot start with one and not the other.

That is great! Thanks for the insight