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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Fouts

Why the IMAGO DEI is an Essential Doctrine

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; He created him in the Image of God; He created them male and female. - Genesis 1:26-27

One of the critiques of Christianity as a whole, but especially among the Protestant tradition, is that you have so many different beliefs under the Christian label. These beliefs typically are referred to as Doctrines of the Church, and spell out the accepted belief of a specific fellowship, if you are outside of these beliefs, then typically you are not a part of the fellowship. However, one thing that we also understand is that not all doctrine holds the same importance as others, and so we typically divide them up into tiers, Essential, Secondary, or Tertiary. Essential doctrines are the requirement for being considered a Christian, Secondary are ones that we can agree to disagree on without calling someone a heretic. We probably would have a hard time ministering together in confined spaces, but we are still family at the end of the day. Tertiary then are those third-tier theologies that ultimately make little impact when it comes to Church unity.


Typically essential doctrines are accepted across denominational lines. Most churches would agree that the Apostles Creed is typically the baseline belief statement needed to qualify someone as a disciple of Jesus. It gives us a baseline of Theology Proper (God), Christology (Christ & Christ's Work), Soteriology (Salvation), Pneumatology (Holy Spirit), and ecclesiology (Church). Outside of this, typically everything can normally be labeled as Secondary safely. However, I would also argue that there is another Theological concept that needs to be classified as an Essential Doctrine as well, coming out of Genesis 1. Now this chapter is thrown into the essential doctrine category often within evangelical & fundamentalist circles, but not for the reason I am arguing. Typically we hear the claim that you must hold to a Young Earth & 6 Day Creation story in order to be a true believer, however, the actual piece of essential doctrine is found in 2 verses of this opening chapter, a concept we refer to as IMAGO DEI.

Most of us have a basic understanding of the Creation story in Genesis 1. God in 6 days makes all of the universe by speaking it into existence. The one exception is found in verses 26-27, where God creates mankind out of the dust, by crafting them into His Image. This separated out mankind from all other parts of Creation as bearing the Imago Dei (Latin: Image of God). Now what this image actually is, is debated among theologians. Some say it is because mankind is 3-in-1 (mind, body, spirit) just like the Trinity. Some say it is because we as humans have the ability to build and create. Some look at it as the authority to have dominion over Creation. But this is not the focus of what we are arguing regarding the Imago Dei, what it means isn't as important as what we do with it.


There are two major reasons why the IMAGO DEI matters.

  1. It shows our heart towards God.

It’s literally in the name, the IMAGE of GOD. How we approach His Image ultimately shows how our heart is positioned towards Him.

  1. It shows our heart towards others.

Genesis 1 tells us that mankind was created in the Image of God. This means that all of mankind bears the image of Elohim, the Creator. That is what gives someone their worth. So when we treat other people as less than human, we are saying that they are not worthy of carrying the dignity and respect given to them by the One that Created them.

It's from these two heart postures we are able to see why it must remain an essential aspect of our faith. Jesus Himself says as much in Matthew 22:34-40.

When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. 35 And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

All of the Law and the Prophets depend on two commands, to Love God & to Love Neighbor, and the IMAGO DEI shows us why that is the case. The two commands are completely intertwined because our neighbors bear God’s image. This is why we see issues arise. When our view of God is off, then our view of our neighbors will be off as well, and vice versa.

When we remove the IMAGO DEI from its essential status, we remove the lens through which we view other people. Suddenly, other people must meet certain requirements to have dignity. Skin color, Social Status, Gender, Citizenship, Language, Religion, Political Affiliation, etc. all take the place of what we were Created with. The Image of Elohim is now replaced with the image of the god we have created. Suddenly, the Bible supports the oppression of Patriarchy or Slavery, rather than the life of discipleship & submission we see throughout the Epistles. Suddenly assimilating to White culture is the primary sign of god’s work in your life rather than the Fruit of the Spirit of Galatians 5.

The IMAGO DEI is not just some doctrine to be debated about that we can disagree on. The IMAGE of GOD is fundamental to our understanding of what it means to be Christocentric in our theology. It is what allows us to be willing to put others’ needs and interests ahead of our own (Philippians 2). It is what allows us to love our enemies (Matthew 5). It is what allows us to submit to everyone as we submit to Christ (Ephesians 5). It is what allows us to be willing to offer ourselves as living sacrifices back to the Creator, in whose Image we are made (Romans 12). It is what it means to Love God and Love Others because when we love other image bearers, we are doing so to the One whose image they are made in (Matthew 25).

We have to get this right because this concept is what connects our understanding of Who God is (Theology) with our understanding of Salvation (Soteriology). The reason God is willing to Love and sacrifice Himself for us, a sinful & rebellious creation, is because of the Image we bear. When we try and diminish that image into something less than what God has said, affecting the relationships we have with others, it impacts the message we give to the world about the relationship that God desires to have with us.


For a deeper discussion into what the Image of God actually is, check out this episode of Kingdom on the Road I was a part of:

For a deeper look at Essential Doctrines, check out this episode from Season 1:


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