The average churchgoer might reply people resemble God because of their abilities, including the knack to be rational and to communicate. This is known as the functional viewpoint.
Others might says that we don't resemble animals' behavior and thus must be a reflection of the Almighty, also called the relational perspective.
John Stonestreet, president of the Lansdowne, Vir.-based The Colson Center for Christian Worldview, plumbed deeper the answer to that question at a recent Acton Institute Lecture Series held at its downtown Grand Rapids location, 98 E. Fulton.
What it means to be human
Knowing the answer gets to the heart of what it means to be fully human, said Stonestreet, who also co-hosts the nationally syndicated radio commentary, BreakPoint.
The answer also serves as a sobering juxtaposition of the world's viewpoint of humankind, which too often evokes dreadful results.
Stonestreet said the functional and the relational viewpoint has its limits, but more so with the functional aspect.
Tentacles gripped around society
"I have a problem with the functional view in and of itself because it describes the image of God through functionalities and capabilities," said Stonestreet. "What happens if we lose the abilities to communicate? Does that mean the image of God is not upon them? Absolutely not."
Even so, defining people's personhood because of their capabilities has its tentacles gripped around society, according to Stonestreet.
"One of the reasons doctors have given in for the euthanasia of children in the Netherlands is not because they have a terminal disease but a permanent condition and one of them cited as justification for euthanizing children was their inability to communicate.
"Another is relational view, a reflection of God's essences as Trinity," continued Stonestreet. "It's not that God does relationships. It's that God is relationship, and as a relationship, we image Him. There's certainly a lot to be said for that."
Genesis 1 is key
Genesis 1 is the scriptural passage that affirms God made humans in His image and likeness, but He goes on the say humans must be fruitful and multiply and subdue (have dominion) over the earth.
"That's what it means to be created in the image of God in a contextual vantage point," said Stonestreet. "It's that to be made in the image of God is to be a ruler, a vice regent, given responsibility to make the world what God intended it to be. That is the more biblical, theological perspective on this."
Dehumanizing myths in post-secular age
Stonestreet contrasted the biblical worldview with what he termed the dehumanizing myths in a post-secular age that has conjured an identity crisis.
"The theory going into the 20th century is that the death of God would lead to the progress of man, that the death of God, getting God off of our back, would help us move forward without the constraints of God," said Stonestreet.
Tsunamis of social change
Christian, Stonestreet said, must guard their hearts and minds against modern-day mores.
"As Christians, seeing how things have shifted, we're tempted with the things we see in the 21st century as we chalk it up with what we might call a moral slide, particularly in the areas of sexuality, gender and family," said Stonestreet. "Things that were once OK are considered wrong, things that were once considered taboo, are now considered acceptable and even preferable.
"With the tsunamis of social change, there certainly has been a moral slide, but what's really taken place is not a moral slide, but a cosmological shift."
Without understanding what it means to be in God's image, people are without a moral foundation for anything approaching universal dignity, according to Stonestreet.
Stonestreet said a biblical understanding of what it means to be created in God's image must be coupled with an understanding of what the fall, redemption and restoration brings to people's lives:
• The fall. "Our best efforts are a filthy rags," he said. "everything we do has been corrupted by the fall. We need someone to rescue us from the fall."
• Redemption. Meaning we exchange disobedience for obedience, unrighteous for righteous. "We need that exchange," said Stonestreet.
• Restoration. "We can all agree, no matter what theological perspective, that Jesus Christ said, 'Behold I am making all things new." We live some place between redemption and restoration. Apostle Paul talks about what it means to be reconciled, living in the light of the kingdom."