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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Peterson, Ryan S.


TheImago Dei as Human Identity. A Theological Interpretation.


University Park: Eisenbrauns (Penn State University Press) 2016. XIV, 192 S. = Journal of Theological In-terpretation, Supplement 14. Kart. US$ 33,95. ISBN 978-1-57506-433-8.


Peter Søes

Ryan S. Peterson’s PhD dissertation from 2010 has with minor changes been published in the Journal of Theological Interpretation Supplement Series. P. aims to present a theological understanding of the imago Dei that can meet four requirements: (a) to accommo-date the best exegetical understanding of Gen 1:26–28, (b) to enable a canonical reading of the image motif throughout Scripture, (c) to integrate particular anthropological insights from Christian tradition, and (d) to propose a convincing basis for the addressing of ethical questions.
Chapter 2 lists three »kinds« of interpretation: the substantialis-tic, the relational and the functional, represented by Aquinas, Barth and J. Richard Middleton. The chapter attempts to show that none of them meets the four requirements. Chapter 3 presents the central thesis: that God’s image simply is human identity, and that human identity, thus, is revealed together with the revelation of God’s own identity.
The canonical interpretation of this thesis (chapters 4–5) is the best part of the book, demonstrating its ethical implications in the reading of a large number of biblical texts. Disagreeing with Cyril Rodd and others, P. sides with Eryl Davis arguing that imitatio Dei is an important ethical motif throughout the Old Testament (104–112). His arguments and the biblical passages discussed make his thesis appear convincing and well-founded. Even more texts could have been added in favor of P., such as the motivation for the sabbath in Ex 20:11.
Chapter 6 attempts to show the interpretation able to incorpo-rate anthropological insights from Christian tradition (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine and Luther). This, however, is based on secondary literature and with a tendency to align the four positions, so that differences are underestimated. For example, the perspective of development in (Augustine and) Luther differs crucially from Irenaeus, but the few pages spend on the issue do not allow for any comments on that. And the Augustine presented here (163 ff.), among P.’s theological heroes, differs significantly from the Augustine, Aquinas is said to rely upon (29.34 f.), but the difference receives no further comments. I would have preferred only one or two interpretations from Christian tradition presented more thoroughly.
P.’s thesis is that a theological understanding of imago Dei from the concept of human identity can meet the four requirements. Therefore, it is crucial how ›identity‹ is defined. The point of departure is Brubaker and Cooper, who suggest a collective understanding of identity. Ricœur’s distinction between idem-identity and ipse-identity is included in order to state that continuity of identity is established narratively. This insight is deepened in Vanhoozer, who interprets God’s identity as narrative identity (ipse-identity), that is: stories of God’s acts are not constitutive for God’s being but reve-latory in that they »reveal him for what he has been from all eter-nity and always will be.« P. attempts to integrate this revelatory aspect of God’s ipse-identity in his own concept of human identity, because it neither separates nor confuses ontology and function.
He ends up with a concept of common identity, shared by all human beings (65), and emphasizes that it is a »strong« concept in that it determines human existence whether the individual recognizes it or not. Precisely this prescriptiveness, which Brubaker and Cooper consider to be problematic and even »violent« (57), makes the term useful in theological interpretation. As it appears, P. compiles his key concept from a variety of components. None of these, however, is about human identity, but about group identity (Brubaker and Cooper), about narrative and singular identity (Ricœur), about divine, Trinitarian identity (Jenson, Vanhoozer) or about Christ’s identity (Frei, Bauckham).
He could have chosen a particular philosophical or psychological concept of human identity. In a sense, he is close to do so, as an important aspect, namely that it is possible to have identity with-out being aware of it, seems to be based on a popular version of Erik Erikson. However, the combining of different sources for the central concept makes it difficult to intercompare with other concepts of identity, either psychological of philosophical. He could as well have opened for dialogue with Christian tradition on a broader basis by a discussion of his concept of identity from the theological notion of human nature. He mentions, of course, natura in his presentation of Aquinas, but does not consider how it differs from his own concept of human identity, even though the works of David Kelsey and Robert Pasnau, mentioned in the bibliography, might have been helpful in this regard.
P. succeeds in showing that imitatio Dei presupposes imago Dei in Scripture. For that reason, his book should be welcomed. If he in future work succeeds in clarifying his own concept of identity fur-ther, it should be welcomed even more.