A Review: Created in God’s Image by Anthony Hoekema

Perhaps one of the most important truths we can ever know is the truth about ourselves. Knowing the truth about ourselves will determine the perspective we have on ourselves and on those around us. We cannot derive this truth from ourselves, but from God’s revelation in Scripture, because He is the God who has created us in His image. We are existent only because of Him and through Him, and it only makes since to glean the truth about ourselves from God. The doctrine of man seeks to explain who and what man is, where he came from, where he is going, and what he should be doing.

Created in God’s Image¹ is the magnum opus on this doctrine of man, authored by the well-learned professor Anthony A. Hoekema. He was a professor who taught at the esteemed Calvin Theological Seminary for several years. And this book is one of three volumes which Hoekema has authored that deal with some of the most major Christian doctrines. This book deals with the crucial doctrine of man, and it is easily visible that Hoekema knows what he’s talking about. It is evident from reading the book that Hoekema is completely suited to author such an exposition as this, for he is very acquainted with the Scriptures, with church history, and is skilled in countering the unbiblical perspectives on the Christian doctrine of man. The references to and exegesis of various passages of Scripture greatly demonstrate Hoekema’s careful analysis of all the biblical data concerning this doctrine. Also, in every chapter there are many interactions with the views and teachings on the various aspects of the doctrine of man by those throughout church history, and those who currently teach varying views of the aspects of the doctrine. But Hoekema notably counters the views and perspectives that are contrary to Scripture in a way that should convince any reader.

The main thesis of the book is clearly to accurately define and expound on the doctrine of man, and all of its implications. From the title alone, one assumes that Hoekema is going to deal with the doctrine of man in some way. It is evident from the book that Hoekema describes the three most basic and essential components of the doctrine of man. These three being: first man as created in the image of God, secondly man as corrupted and depraved by sin, and finally the unity of man or man as a holistic being. First, he expounds on the doctrine of man by explaining how man has been created in the image of God. Hoekema stresses the importance of understanding this doctrine, because it essentially answers the crucial question, what is man? He answers this from a Christian understanding by explaining who and what man is as a created person, having been made in the image of God. He examines the biblical teaching on this doctrine first, basically saying that man as he has been created in God’s image is a representation of God and is like Him in certain respects (13). Even though man is affected by the corruption and guilt of sin, the image of God in man is not lost but is distorted, and is being renewed through the process of sanctification (32). Hoekema then examines the understanding of this doctrine throughout history, noting the various views among different theologians, observing what is either right or wrong about their views in light of the testimony of Scripture. Then, he presents the theological meaning and significance of the doctrine, and the affect this can have on man’s perspective of himself.

The second part of the book focuses on how man has been corrupted and depraved by sin. He enucleates on the image of God as having been distorted by sin, and how God is renewing this image in the believer by His grace. Hoekema expounds on this central aspect of the doctrine by dealing first with the origin of sin, and strongly defends the historicity of Adam over against many opposing views. Then, he proceeds to explain how sin spreads to all mankind, noting how exactly the guilt of Adam’s sin is reckoned to our account (166), and that we sinned “in Adam,” therefore being born with a corrupt nature (167). After defining the origin and spread of sin, Hoekema takes on the nature of sin, noting several crucial truths that clarify exactly what sin is. Then he deals with the restraint of sin in the world. One may wonder, Why isn’t the world literally hell on earth if sin is as bad as the Bible teaches? And Hoekema answers by explaining the doctrine of God’s common grace. God’s common grace is the doctrine that deals with God’s restraint (to a degree) of human sin in the world.

Finally in the last part of the book, Hoekema explains the structural makeup of man—how he is both material and immaterial. How he has both a soul and physical body, but that the two are never meant to be seen as separate. He counters the unbiblical views on the human structure, views such as trichotomy (which teaches that man is fundamentally made up of body, soul, and spirit). Hoekema spells out the implications of why the unbiblical views on human structure wrong, and why a dualistic view of man (that man is fundamentally body and soul/spirit) is more faithful to the biblical information on man’s structure. The final chapter of the book deals with the question of human freedom, Hoekema explaining how man is both able to choose but in an unregenerate state is unable to choose good.

I certainly believe that Hoekema’s explanations and arguments are solid and biblically supported. Hoekema is skilled at illustrating difficult aspects of the doctrine of man, and he is able to exegete passages very well, and to show how they form the various facets of the doctrine of man that we hold to and teach today. He is also very good at explaining the obvious faults from the arguments of those who oppose the biblical doctrine of man. However, at a few places throughout the book, I believe he could have done better at explaining and expounding. These are only minor discrepancies in my estimation, but they still are discrepancies nonetheless. First, on the covenant of works he deals with in chapter 7. I’m not convinced that referring to God’s covenant with Adam and Eve as a “covenant of works” is necessarily insufficient, as Hoekema argues. A few of his arguments on pages 120-121 weren’t explained well enough for me to be convinced that this cannot rightly be called a covenant of works. Second, I believe Hoekema wrongly used Romans 1:24-25 as a scriptural proof for God’s common grace. He uses this passage in support of God’s common grace to restrain evil to a certain degree in the world, but even he admits that this passage implies that God has taken His restraint away from sinful man to let him have his way (195). It certainly can’t support both! Of course, God restrains sin by His common grace. There’s no denying that this doctrine is biblical. But this passage in Romans teaches that God withdraws His common grace and gives man over to the dominion of sin. And Hoekema argues strongly for the doctrine of God’s common grace, and expounds on it well, but I believe he could have at least expounded on this passage from Romans a bit more. Finally, I feel like Hoekema quotes theologian Herman Bavinck excessively too much. In a few areas in the book, I feel I would have benefited better had Hoekema put forth his own thoughts instead of Bavinck’s. Though the quotations and references from Bavinck’s many works are true and helpful, it seems that at some points Hoekema is running completely on Bavinck’s own work, and not his own.

Overall, when comparing this book to other literary works put forth throughout history on the doctrine of man and all its implications, Hoekema’s book rests proudly on the zenith of biblical accuracy and exposition. I believe Hoekema expounds best and most exhaustively on this biblical doctrine of man, better than any other book in his time or in our own. He is excellent in nuancing all the biblical data, whereas many other works deal with only portions of Scripture and base their entire theologies from those. Hoekema makes an irrefutable case for the doctrine of man as he has been created in God’s image, corrupted by sin, and holistic in his structure.

The greatest benefit I have gained from this book concerns my dealing with people as a pastor. My line of work requires me to be consistently involved with people. I talk with them, I know them, and they come to me for spiritual advice in their personal problems and trials. I preach from God’s word regularly that deals precisely with who man is and what he is in relation to God. Because of all of these reason (and many more), I am compelled to have an accurate, clear, and biblical view of the nature of man! I cannot deal and interact with people correctly if I do not understand them in the way Scripture portrays them. Further, I cannot even know what or who I am if it weren’t for God’s revelation. So as Hoekema has presented the doctrine of man in Scripture, I have been encouraged to value others because their worth and value is inherent, for they have been created in God’s image. I am also more aware of my own need for the Spirit of God and a perfect Savior to redeem me and others from the depravity and destruction of sin. And finally, I have been encouraged to address others in a holistic manner—applying Scripture to both the physical and spiritual.

Knowing the biblical doctrine of man, as Hoekema has faithfully presented will affect the way we minister to people, as we understand that they are holistic beings as we are, created in the image of God with value and worth. It will affect our involvement in the world, as we seek the best interests of all those in our community, country, and the world. Anyone desiring a concise, clear and comprehensible understanding of the doctrine of man, Hoekema’s book is the one to get.

  1. Hoekema, Anthony A. Created in God’s Image. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986).

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