Gospel & Culture blog
Below is an excerpt from my book God's Image and Global Cultures:God's Image and Global Cultures
When systematic theologians ask about the nature of human beings, they are exploring, “What does it mean to be in God’s image?” Questions about the nature of humanity belong to a specific branch of systematic theology that is referred to as theological anthropology. Anthropologians (theologians of anthropology) focus primarily on what it means that humankind was created perfect, because God cannot create an imperfect creation. Jesus, the perfect God-man is the model for this inquiry. Anthropologians also look at the essence of humankind: the relationship between the human body, soul, spirit and heart (or inner person). In a broader sense, they are concerned with the role of humans in respect to creation at large, as well as questions of race, free will, sexuality, and economics. An evangelical theological anthropology recognizes that humans are tempted, but are morally accountable, and because of the Fall, currently exist in an abnormal state.
There are substantive, relational and functional aspects of being in the image (or shadow or reflection) (Hebrew: tzelem) and likeness (Hebrew: demus) of God. Theologians have described three possible explanations for what it means that we are in God’s likeness: 1) we share characteristics, like rationality; 2) we are relational, and in relationship with God, or 3) we function in ways that God does. I cannot develop each of these ideas here, but I will point out that my argument that bearing God’s image means cultural behavior emphasizes the functional image. We function in ways that God does, as we rule, create, express and relate to others, and even rest. Of course, functioning in God’s image does not mean that we mirror his image. The cultural ramifications of the Fall are that we function in cultural systems (economics, social structures, expression, etc.) but are immensely creative in the way we corrupt each of these systems.
If we employ any number of definitions of culture, it would be accurate to say that culture is rooted in the very nature of God. Culture is fundamentally about communicating, creativity, society, and norms. And the Trinity is eternally engaged in these activities we call culture. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit communicate—though the Trinity is not confined to any particular language. God has tremendous (unlimited) creative potential. The Trinity has recently been described as a society of three, eternally existing in communion. Jürgen Moltmann, who focused especially on the social aspect of the Trinity, understood that this view of God would have political and social implications—that is, it would have to do with culture. And God has norms of behavior we see reflected in His Law (Ps 119).
T. F. Torrance has masterfully tied the act of creation/culture, as well as its purpose and design, to the Trinity. “The very plurality of God serves as the basis for the unified and creative agency of God”. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit fellowship in creative activity. Humans, as image-bearers, are mediators or stewards of the order of creation, and that is really what culture is about: “ ‘The creative re-ordering of existence’…This is by its very nature a socio-cultural activity”.
Granted, the eternally existing culture in the Trinity is not perfectly analogous to culture on earth. Our cultures seem to be inextricably linked to the environment in which we live, and it would require linguistic gymnastics to say that God exists in an environment.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 22.
 Geisler, Systematic Theology, 50–53.
 Cortez, Theological Anthropology.
 Leech, The Social God.
 Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God.
 Unfortunately, the metaphor of the Social Trinity can admittedly be hijacked by any social agenda. Specifically, socialists coopt the notion of a perfect heavenly society and mandate that the people of God, as representatives of the Trinity, must reconstruct this perfect society. See Chapman, “The Social Doctrine of the Trinity.”
 Flett, Persons, Powers and Pluralities, 18.
 Ibid., 114.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor