Historically, the image of God in humankind has been given three basic interpretations: structure (e.g. rationality or free will), relation, or function. In the twentieth century, the relational model has often taken the form of a relational personalism - i.e. human beings are 'persons' (which is an ontological category and not reducible to particular structural characteristics), and persons are defined by their relations. The functional view has often been misunderstood to mean that we bear the image (or are the image) only as we actively perform certain functions (e.g. exercise dominion over the earth). This is obviously problematic, as people who are unable to function (e.g. the mentally handicapped) are then robbed of the dignity of the image. I want to make two comments here. First, this is more of a problem for the structural model (e.g. if the image is rationality, then those with superior intelligence have the image to a greater degree and those who are mentally incapacitated have the image to a diminished degree or not at all). Second, the functional image, properly understood, refers to an office or a role. Humankind has been appointed as God's image on the earth. (This common misunderstanding reared its head [again] when I presented in Oxford, and I had to clarify.) The universality of the image is especially important when we apply the doctrine to human life/social justice ethics.
I opted for a multi-faceted view of the image that tries to incorporate various elements of these and other interpretations. But at the core of my model is the functional image, which I prefer to think of as a 'role' in the divine drama.
Comments are welcome!
3. Some Biblical Perspectives
According to David Clines, “the primary function of the image [in the ancient Near East] was to be the dwelling-place of spirit or fluid which derived from the being whose image it was.” The possession of the divine spirit qualifies the image as a representative which mediates the presence of the deity. Middleton interprets the Old Testament image as both similarity and office, entailing a vocation to mediate divine blessing to the non-human world.
The New Testament material designates Christ as the image of the invisible God who manifests God’s glory and redeems the world (Col 1:15-20; 2 Cor 4:4; Heb 1:3). Christ is the image of God precisely because “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). But the NT also emphasises the restoration of the image in humanity through Christ (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). Prominent here are themes of mediation, manifestation (glory), and personal and communal conformity to Christ.
The image of God in the OT refers primarily to the mission or vocation conferred upon humankind by God to steward creation. In the NT the Spirit works to conform the New Humanity to Christ so that the community of Christ may manifest his glory and mediate his blessing to the world. As the image of God, humankind is called to be the embodied representative of the non-embodied God. Being a ‘visible image’ of the ‘invisible’ God requires that humankind be embodied on the one hand, and Spirit-bearing on the other hand. Both elements are essential, comprising bridges to the world and to God respectively – a notion present in patristic thought. It is the Spirit of God that pre-eminently qualifies humans to fulfil this role (2 Cor 3:18; cf. Gen 2:7).
As implied in the representative role, the creation of humankind in God’s image takes place in the context of a covenant relationship. In order to fittingly represent God, humans must live in loving, obedient relationship with him.
4. Synthesis: Covenant, Conformity and Calling
Various elements of the imago Dei – ontology, relation and function – coalesce to form a composite picture: the imago Dei is the role of human persons living in covenant relation to God who consequently are being conformed to his character and are called to bodily represent God in the world through loving communion with other persons and by serving God’s kingdom purposes. God is personal, relational and purposeful. Analogically speaking, human beings are also personal, both capable of, and intended to engage in, loving relation and purposeful action. As created beings with derived personhood, humans are dependent on God for their fulfilment of personhood.
I want to suggest that the image retained post-fall is an irrevocable mission to serve as God’s personal embodied representatives. The image recovered is the fulfilment (and fulfilling) of that same mission pre-eminently in Christ, and derivatively in the New Humanity. The former is unconditional and universal, forming the basis for human life ethics and social justice. The latter is conditioned upon participation in Christ through the Spirit, who joins the believer to her new federal head and transforms her into his likeness. Ontologically, the representative mission presupposes personhood and embodiment, the given features of created humanity. The fulfilment of the mission requires both covenant relationship with the God one represents and moral conformity to his character. Covenant and conformity are the nexus at which the Spirit prepares the ‘image’ for faithful embodiment. The image can be conceived as a role in the divine drama, played failingly by Adam, but recapitulatively by Christ the paradigmatic image of God. Upon the ascension of the incarnate Christ and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, the church now takes up this role as the image of Christ.
[To be continued.]
 D. J. A. Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” Tyndale Bulletin 19 (1968), 81. This is admittedly dated. For the relationship between the image and the “Glory-Spirit,” see Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999).
 Ibid., 82; see Hab 2:19; Jer 10:14; 51:17; Gen 2:7.
 J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 53-55.
 Reference to the original created image can be found in 1 Cor 11:7 and Jas 3:9.
 Cf. Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self (Louisville: WJK, 2001), 200-202.
 Irenaeus: “The Son is the visible of the Father” (AH 4.6.6).
 Cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 38; On Theophany 11; Maximus the Confessor, Difficulty 41, 1305B, in Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 157; this theme is also prominent in the Antiochene Fathers (Frederick G. McLeod, The Image of God in the Antiochene Tradition [Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1999], 65, cf. 72, 75). In Irenaeus, the unitive role is restricted to Christ, who bridges between God and humanity (AH 3.4.2, 3.18.7, 4.13.1, 5.1.1, 3).
 The concept of ‘creation covenant’ is broadly accepted in Reformed theology; also Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1, 184-5.
 The association of covenant with representation is also found in Grenz, Social God, 202; also Irenaeus, Dem. 11.
 Cf. Gunton, 61.
 “We are persons insofar as we are in right relationship to God” (Gunton, 58). Also Lossky, 137 and Jenson, 64.
 Cf. Irenaeus’ distinction between ‘image’ and ‘likeness’, as well as Brunner’s ‘formal image’ and ‘material image’.