The Christian Scholars’ Review just published a series of two blog articles about our doctoral program. Three current global students and I wrote these blogs, “The Image of God is Our Identity,” reflecting on our learning experience in the program (Kevin is from Canada, Ruhama is from Ethiopia, and Shaiju is from India). This is Part I:
Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? These are fundamental questions that define our identity and relationships with others. Answers to these questions help explain what matters for our existence. We often try to find value and meaning in external things, whether professional achievements, money, property, or influence over others. The search for significance can quickly become a never-ending and all-consuming adventure.
However, right from Genesis, we find an explanation that humanity’s value and dignity are not found in external conditions but in our identity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God (Gn. 1:27). All of us, inclusive of our gender, ethnic background, or social background, are made of the same substance and have the same value. This reality should permeate our relationships and affirm our intrinsic importance. Despite our shared essence, we easily forget who we are and, thus, do not understand who another might be. We all need to be constantly reminded of our essential values and the value of our fellow human beings.
Our Diversity and Global Learning Community
How we learn also matters for our existence and how we bear the image of God in our learning communities. Recently, six of my classmates and I (Kevin) had the pleasure of taking Dr. Octavio Esqueda’s doctoral seminar course on Philosophical Issues in Educational Studies. The learners in this course community came from diverse backgrounds, including Canada, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, the United States, Wales, and Zambia. The class encouraged critical and reflective discussions in African theology, contextual hermeneutics, what bearing our cultural identity has on how we engage in the world, how artificial intelligence technology is rapidly changing educational practice in our regions, and how we serve the church in our specific cultural moments and spaces. We also had the opportunity to meet together for an intensive week of dialogue, sit at the table, and deepen these discussions face-to-face.
Our cohort, including our professor, discussed educational practice concerning power, contextuality, theology, identity, gender and sexuality, intercultural diversity, trauma-informed approach, and reconciliation. Our goal was to pursue wisdom together in these respective conversations; however, our capacity to grow in wisdom is only possible because Jesus is the incarnation of wisdom. Each of the readings we engaged in offered a view that the image of God—the imago Dei—is the central theological starting ground for engaging critical questions about what it means to be human and, thus, how we encourage Christian education in our communities.
In the current context of ethical and political polarization between west/east, private/public, individual/collective, and Christ/culture, we hope to provide an example and perspective for how people of different global beliefs can come together as a Christian learning community and be united in their image-bearing nature. This matters for how believers participate in shared efforts toward another’s formation. We write to help the church to better understand itself as a mosaic of the diversity that already is the body of Christ. Our goals are to understand better our shared potential and contribution as image bearers of Christ to our particularities of culture, work, and learning.
We encountered our image-bearing nature with more clarity in our community of differences in terms of geography, worldview perspectives, theological traditions, and experiences. Our diversity informed how we might approach theological issues and conversations. The shared space we entered and participated in clarified that who we are in Christ contributes to our formation as image bearers.
In these blog posts, we first highlight the essential readings with which we engaged. Second, we share some perspectives and conversations that made for a formative learning experience. Third, we reflect on our deep hope to inspire ordinary leaders in the church to think about who they are, who are part of their learning communities, and how to encourage learning with their communities out of an understanding of Christ-like image bearing.
A central theme of the course was to discuss the importance of our Christian worldview and its relationship to educational and ministerial practice. In addition to the typical textbooks for such a subject, we read four books that reinforced the importance of our true common identity as human beings created in the image of God. After reading their books, we had the enormous privilege of interacting with the authors. It was a transformative experience for all of us, and I (Octavio) would like to share briefly how these authors helped us better understand our identity as sons and daughters of God, created in the image of the triune God.
My colleague Carmen Joy Imes highlighted that our identity as human beings does not relate to our functions or capabilities. She writes in her book, Being God’s Image: Why Creation Still Matters, that the image of God is not lost or distorted by sin or any other circumstance. Our value and dignity are expressed in our relationships with God, with the creation, and with our fellow human beings. This book is newly released, and I am convinced that it will be influential in laying the biblical foundation for the importance of the image of God in all spheres of human behavior.
Renowned psychologist and counselor Diane Langberg has dedicated her professional life to studying abuse and trauma worldwide. Her most recent book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, is, in my opinion, a must-read for all of us, especially those in any leadership position. Langberg reminded us that humans have inherent power that can be used for good or ill. She highlights the importance of our humanity and stresses how abuse of power destroys our identity in at least three ways. First, humans have a voice, and abuse of power robs others of the voice and expression that emanates from our identity as beings made in the image of God. Second, humans are in a relationship with others, and abuse of power shatters our relationships and profoundly impacts our relationship with God and others. Third, humans have power and the ability to shape the world as God’s stewards, and abuse of power robs others of their power and inhibits their ability and purpose to act according to God’s plan.
Theologian Daniel D. Lee identified our cultural identity’s role in our relationship with God and others. In his book, Doing Asian American Theology: A Contextual Framework for Faith and Practice, Lee proposes the Asian American Quadrilateral (AAQ) to explain the Asian American experience that includes Asian heritage, migration experience, American culture, and racialization. Although Lee focused on Asian Americans, his book emphasized that our ethnic and cultural backgrounds are essential to our union with Christ, who relates to us without setting aside who we are or where we come from.
Writer Aimee Byrd offered a timely and necessary exhortation to recover the dignity and personhood of men and women through the eschatological imagination of the Church as the bride of Christ. In her book The Sexual Reformation: Restoring the Dignity and Personhood of Man and Woman, Byrd focused on The Song of Songs to help Christians better understand our sexuality as a gift from God. Ultimately, Byrd’s book demonstrated that our bodies are valuable, and our gender goes far beyond our roles or activities.
Reading these crucial books, interacting with the authors, and discussing them with Christian leaders worldwide have greatly enriched us. Our identity as human beings created in the image of God firmly establishes our worth and dignity. This profound and theological reality becomes practical when we live with and learn from others. The answer to the question “Who am I?” is always linked to the question “Who are we?” Together, as men and women from all over the world, we represent God, and we need each other. We invite you to join us in valuing and defending the dignity of all people at all times and in all circumstances. In part II of our post tomorrow, we share some of the important insights we gained that are pertinent for global learning communities.