The Imago Dei and Justice: A Conversation with H, Thurman, Dr. MLK Jr., and J. Cone

This paper explores the connection between justice and the imago dei. The image of God in humanity is a critical theological foundation for dealing with biblical social justice. The Reformed and evangelical traditions have provided a great foundation for understanding the historic views of the imago dei and the importance of this doctrine Christologically and soteriologically. Yet literature that explores the imago dei and biblical social justice is lacking from these traditions. For marginalized people groups and for many people of color, justice is a critical aspect of theology and their experience. Three African American theologians (among many others) have discussed the imago dei in light of their cultural contexts of Jim Crow in the south, segregation, and in response to racial oppression. This paper will analyze the theologies of the imago dei of Howard Thurman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Cone. It will survey the unique features of their theologies that contribute to our understanding of biblical social justice. I will present an initial discussion from evangelical theologians, including Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology and Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology. A recent contribution to this conversation is Joshua Ferris’s An Introduction to Theological Anthropology. The primary sources and scholarly interaction with Thurman, King (and Wills’ work Martin Luther King Jr. and the Image of God), and Cone will be analyzed. Each of their theologies will deepen our theologies of the imago dei, The insights from these theologies of the imago dei will be integrated with Reformed and evangelical approaches that will serve as a foundation for biblical social justice. Since there is a lack of literature about biblical social justice, especially in conversations with black theologians, this paper will contribute to the conversation by placing their theological insights into a biblical-theological framework in our justice conversations.

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