Charles Sherlock provides an example of current thinking on the meaning of the image of God, and he also considers what theologians of the past had to say on this topic. He wrote The Doctrine of Humanity. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1996. His Chapter 3 is "The Image of God in Christian Thought." (pp. 73-91.)
He writes: The Scriptures speak of what it means to be human in terms of being made 'in the image of God'. What this means precisely is nowhere told us, but it involves relationships with God, one another, and the creation; each of these relations has been inverted and distorted through sin. The New Testament speaks of the image renewed in Christ, but this is more than a past reality restored. Its fullness is known in Jesus Christ, the 'image of God', and, as we await his return, so we look to the full revelation of what being human entails. In short, Christian perspectives on being human centre in Christ, on what we are made to be. They have a future, expectant dimension, as well as a past and present sense of realism about mortality and sin. (p. 73.)
Sherlock has several interesting and important things to say. He points out that "There is always the danger of making God in the image of humanity. This is perhaps the most subtle idolatry -- projecting our highest ideals on to God for our own purposes. . . ." (p. 75)
He also points out that the incarnation of Christ reveals not only God's nature, but ours, and in bodily form. He believes that the image of God, therefore, has something to do with our physical nature.
Sherlock writes that ancient theologians thought that the capacity for creative thought, imagination, was the essence of the image of God. Augustine, he says, comes to the "conclusion . . . that the image of God within us is the structure of the mind as memory, understanding and will." (p. 80.) He says that Irenaus believed that the image of God is present in all humans, and is both physical and spiritual.
John Calvin, says Sherlock, thought that there was a difference in the images of God present in the elect, as opposed to the non-elect. He says Calvin believed that the elect had part of the image lost in the Fall restored to them.
Sherlock thinks that the image of God is not a purely personal attribute, and not something I possess that belongs just to me, like my appendix, but is relational.
Here's what Sherlock says about Karl Barth on the image of God:
Barth made three key contributions. His first is negative, but clears away a great deal of unhelpful ground: we are nowhere told in the Scriptures what the image of God actually is. Moreover, given the commandment about not making images (Ex. 20:4), we are in danger of committing idolatry if we seek to find rather than live out our status as those already made in the image of God. Secondly, Barth (following Augustine) keeps in mind at all times the truth that God is triune; the image is thus relational, involving our living as covenant partners with God and each other. In particular, as God lives in self-relationship, so do we; an analogy is drawn between the mutual life of the distinct diving Persons, and the mutual life of humankind as male and female. Thirdly, all is to be seen in and through Jesus Christ, the true covenant partner with both us and God. It is thus the community of those 'in Christ' which reveals today what it means to be made in the divine image. In this way Barth brings the doctrine of the church into close relationship with the doctrines of both God and humanity. This perspective offers an impressive account of how individual and corporate sides of being human maybe integrated in a community of persons. (p. 89)
I hope to continue this series. (See here for the most recent post.) Thanks for reading.
Added Nov 16, 2006: I haven't continued the topic, and perhaps should. Kevin Wright (a theologian -- I'm not) has posted on the image of God as seen by John Calvin and John Wesley.