On Cordell Schulten's Imago Dei Article
I was delighted to be sent Cordell Schulten's 2009 article, Imago Dei. It is the first article I had found that goes beyond stewardship in our relationship with the rest of creation, as I do in Consumers, Stewards or Shepherds. More, as I do, he links this with being in the image of God, and as representatives of God to the rest of creation. What Schulten argues is that humanity should be servants of the rest of creation, and that this must be in community. I might question the necessity of the latter, in the spirit of academic discourse that seeks to clarify ideas, but I find it very helpful, and Schulten is clearer than I have been about certain things.
I first give a Summary of Schulten's article.
Then I discuss its Significance of it.
Finally I provide Some Critical Comments to stimulate further reflection and discussion.
The phrase "image of God" occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible, yet the literature discussing it "is immense, and like other immensities of discussion, comes to no agreed conclusion" [Gunton 1998, 193]. Schulten  first argues that 'dominion' (Hebrew radah) and imago dei (being in the image of God) are linked. Then he discusses three perspectives on them, two that contrast with the third.
- The Substantialist / Functionalist Views - Dominion as lordship. Much discussion of imago Dei has focused on finding some 'substantial' characteristic that is innate in human beings, which differentiates us from animals and the rest of creation - such as rationality, freedom to choose, etc.; that is the substantialist view. The functionalist view focuses on what we can do with the rest of creation, more than on how we differ from it, especially to "have dominion over" it, with emphasis on the honour or royality with which God apparently bestowed humankind. Both views see humans emphasise our separateness from the rest of creation, as superior over it, as lords over a subservient creation. As lords humans can do whatever they wish with the rest of creation, for their benefit and enjoyment. The only value the rest of creation has is utility to a royal humanity. The implications are that it is acceptable for humans to be harsh with the rest of creation, consuming and destroying it as they wish. Though authors like Beisner try to ameliorate this with moral strictures about not being harsh, Schulten argues that such views are inherently inconsistency because they pits humans against creation, rather than being in harmony with it.
- The Relational View - Dominion as Stewardship. Just as God is community (Christian theology sees God as three-in-one), so imago Dei is to reflect this community by relationships - relationships between male and female, between humanity and rest of creation and between humanity and God. The emphasis should not be on our separateness from the rest of creation, but our "unique position of relatedness with both the Creator and all of his creation". Gunton [1998, 211] sees humanity in a "layered network of relationships, first to God the creator, then to one another, and then to the world in its diversity." The relational view sees creation, not as a kingdom but as God's household, over which he has placed humanity as stewards, to care for and manage the household to which they themselves belong. It has ethical implications (expounded by Gunton ), and which does not denigrate other creatures [Hall 1986]. Humans are 'representatives' of God to the rest of creation (rather like my view, which probably sees representation in a richer form than the relational view does). But, Schulten argues, management of the household might "degenerate into mayhem should the steward fall prey to thinking that the master of the house has delayed his return and deferred the day of calling his steward into account." (Christians will of course remember Jesus' parable of that.) He argues that the stewardship view suffers from a similar deficiency to the lordship view, namely it is too individualistic.
In his analysis of these three views, Schulten has provided both a very clear exposition of them which is useful in its own right. Whereas critique of the lordship views has been well discussed, that he critiques the stewardship view is very interesting, given that most who dislike the lordship views find refuge in the stewardship view. Since, Schulten argues, even the stewardship view is not enough, he suggests ...
- The Communalist View - Dominion as Servanthood. Zizioulas  suggests that being is communion, not just relationship, and that the Being of God is likewise. The focus shifts away from the individual, which both the relational, functionalist and substantialist views hold, to the community of persons. The danger of dissolving individual uniqueness, which Russell  sees in Zizioulas, may be overcome by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, given differently to each. The argument from this to what dominion seems to be as follows (I find it not entirely clear, with possible a step missing because assumed by its author). God's redemptive work is carried out through, and it seems only through, the church, the Body of Christ on earch. Though Schulten does not explicitly say this, it seems that imago Dei today is found in this communal Body of Christ, rather than in individuals. Then, just as Christ came as a servant (Mark 10<:45), de-emphasizing his equality with God [Phil 2:6-7], so the Body of Christ is a servant. Therefore imago Dei is not lordship nor stewardship, but servanthood. Schulten emphasises servanthood and humility from several authors, including Stott and Santmire as well as the above.
Schulten  sums this up with:
"dominion as servanthood paints a picture of the world, not as a kingdom nor as a household, but as an orchestra performing together a great symphony to the praise of the Creator."
Presumably humanity is either the conductor or the players, though he does not expand sufficiently to make that clear. It is a metaphor after all, and that is its power. He ends with Psalm 98, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth, ... Let the hills sing together for joy at the prsence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth."
The significance of this, as a way of overcoming the lordship views of imago Dei is fivefold.
- Whereas many have critiqued the lordship views of dominion, and have largely taken refuge in the notion of stewardship, Schulten critiques the stewardship view too. Stewardship is not enough. In doing so, he provides an understanding of humanity as imago Dei that seems closer to the tenor of the whole of Scripture and the character and heart of Christ than either the lordship or stewardship views do, namely that of servant.
- Much discussion about dominion fails to link with imago Dei except at a superficial level, and vice versa. Often imago Dei is either not mentioned, or it is used only to justify the various views on dominion, usually the lordship view. But in this article, Schulten shows a closer and more substantial link between them, as two aspects of the same issue. Imago Dei is seen in terms of our responsibility to the rest of creation.
- Schulten sees imago Dei not just in terms of being but in terms of representation of God to the rest of creation - though this is shared with the relational view. Just as the character of God is humility towards, and servanthood of, that which is not God, so humanity should exhibit this God-like character towards that which is not humanity.
- Schulten seems to believe that the only way for this to occur is via a communalist view, in which we are imago Dei by virtue of being part of the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. Though he does not explicitly say so, he seems to imply that we cannot be imago Dei as individuals.
- From this, he presents (rather than argues) the metaphor of the world not as kingdom nor as household but as orchestra. Humanity, either as players or conductor, is crucial along with the rest of creation in making praise to the Creator.
I have not seen that combination anywhere else. It deserves to be taken seriously, understood properly, critiqued, explored and refined.
The significance for my 'New View in Theology and Practice' lies in the first three. In a discussion of the role of humankind and radah, I have argued that seeing humans as stewards is not enough, but that humans should be shepherds, who care for the sheep (the rest of creation) and even lay down their lives for them. I have argued that this links with imago Dei in that if this kind of dominion is exercised then we represent God to the rest of creation in a way that the rest of creation can appreciate. I also argue that the more important characteristic of God that we represent to the rest of creation is agape love. I have argued that just as shepherds exercise dominion for the sake of the sheep, so humanity should exercise its dominion for the sake of the rest of creation rather than for their own sake, or even out of a sense of duty that stewardship implies.
In this latter I am slightly different from Schulten: agape love is not the same as servanthood. It involves it but is more than servanthood. This brings me to a mild critique of Schulten's view that is designed not to negate it but to enrich it and perhaps fulfil at least one of its underlying motivations, that of understanding dominion aright.
Some Critical Remarks
Schulten's critique of the lordship view in particular is excellent, much better than mine is, and he then develops a good argument for the view of dominion as servanthood. However, it might benefit from the following small points that might provide enrichment. The first four are not really critical, but aim to enrich his ideas by stimulating widening of his ideas.
There is however one actual criticism I could make of Schulten. It does not negate his core idea of dominion as servanthood, but it questions whether one of the arguments he makes for it is sound and even whether it is necessary:
- Is commulanism really necessary to dominion as servanthood (or shepherding)? Schulten's argument on why it seems necessary is not entirely clear. Schulten begins with expounding Zizioulas' ideas of communalism before introducing the notion of dominion as servanthood, implying that he believes that communalism is necessary for dominion as servanthood. But, as indicated above, the steps of his argument are not entirely clear, and seem to miss the crucial step of saying that it is only in the communal Body of Christ that imago Dei occurs today. As far as I can see, dominion as servanthood only requires the humility of God and the servant nature of Christ, which Schulten expounds, and does not depend on communalism at all. While it is certainly true that humans are inescapably communal creatures, I and an attitude of servanthood is necessary for a healthy community, I do not see community as necessary for an attitude of servanthood. Moreover, to say that only the communal Body of Christ can exhibite imago Dei goes against what we see of the history of the church. Was not Francis of Assisi was called to servanthood and shepherding before he was in community? Did not revivals like the Welsh Revival of 1904, show that the Holy Spirit works on individuals to make them more like Christ? Certainly there is a communal element, when people are drawn into this by masses of people being so changed, and the societal impacts like lowered crime rates require masses of people so changed, but the crucial change-point was always the individual submitting to God and the Holy Spirit changing the individual.
I have summarised Cordell Schulten's important article on imago Dei in which he argues that dominion should not be seen as either lordship or stewardship, but as servanthood. That is, humanity is intended by God to serve the rest of creation rather than consume it or even manage it. I have explained why I think it is significant, both for the world in general, and in relation to my New View in Theology and Practice.
I have also provided five critical remarks. The first four are intended to stimulate enrichment of his views, while the fifth questions whether a reason he gives why dominion as servanthood is important - I believe his reason is both not well argued and unnecessary. Removing it might even strengthen his important concept of dominion as servanthood, which moves our understanding of imago Dei forward in a major way.
Gunton, C.E. (1998) The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study. Grand Rapids, USA, Eerdmans.
Hall, D.J. (1986). Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship. Eerdmans, USA.
Russell, E. (2003). Reconsidering relational anthropology: a critical assessment of John Zizioulas's theological anthropology. International Journal of Systematic Theology, 5(2), 168-186.
Schulten, C.P. (2009). Imago Dei: Made in God's Image to be Lords, Stewards, or Servants of Creation?, Integrite: A Faith and Learning Journal, 8(1) (Spring 2009), 12-20. (I met Cordell Schulten in Korea in 2014 where he was teaching at Handong Global University, and we got on well and shared many ideas. He mentioned this paper and I recognised its significance and asked him for a copy.)
Zizioulas, J.D. (1985). Being in Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. New York, USA, Vladimir's Seminary Press.
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Created: 19 June 2014.