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On Cordell Schulten's Imago Dei Article

Andrew Basden

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 [2009] 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.

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 ...

Schulten [2009] 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.

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:


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. Last updated: