Man’s Ability to Write in the Light of the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions

Distinctive and unique leaching of cre­ative writing is a demanding but necessary art. An insight into the implications of the provocative phrase found in the concluding prayer of the Reformed form for the bap­tism of infants of believers is necessary for such teaching. The phrase petitioning God’s assistance in the pious and religious education of covenant children suggests a profound motivation for all-inclusive cov­enant instruction.

This essay will correlate the Protestant Reformed doctrinal position concerning the image of God with the creative or imag­inative writing attempted and accomplished by the student in the Christian school.


The Scriptural and Confessional Doctrine Concerning the Image of God Compared With Divergent Views:

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers suggests her idea of the connection between the image of God in man and man’s creativity. Miss Sayers says: “The characteristic common to God and to man is apparently the desire and the ability to make things.” This artful but extra-confessional use of the “image of God concept” is the theory commonly held among the Christian scholars who have discussed this relationship. They want to enucleate man’s creative and inventive ability by positing a cause and effect correspondence between man’s being created in the image of God and his creative ability.

Nelle Vander Ark writes as follows in an introductory essay for the Writing Program of the National Union of Christian Schools:

Now, as Christian teachers, we are quick to say. “Yes, that’s right. Man is created in the image of God; there­fore, he has a spirit. I can see, too, that language is an expression of man’s spirit and must be used for God.” But how far have we gone in our under­standing of man as God’s image-bearer? What does it really mean that man has a spirit? What powers does he have that are not animal, but God-like qualities? We must get beyond our pat definition of the image of God as consisting in “true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness” and beyond merely saying that because man has a spirit, he is a “moral, rational creature.” These things are true, but for the teaching of language we need to be more explicit. Because man has a spirit and is created in God’s like­ness, he has the power to feel and to sense; to invent and to imagine, to act, to react, and to interact; to think and to give order to thoughts; to be free, to have command, to enjoy. These are precious gifts and powers. (Admittedly, they are perverted by sin, but we must not forget that they are also renewed by grace.) It is this surging spirit of man’s, with all its potential, that we must see as his uniqueness and as the dynamic or power-source of man’s language. And we must see language as a characteristically human affair given to man to show what God is like.

Miss Sayers and Miss Vander Ark ex­press anti-confessional ideas concerning the image of God. They express ideas that cannot be substantiated by the Word of God. The Literature Studies Guide pub­lished by the Federation of Protestant Reformed Christian Schools, 1971, contains an essay which discusses the Scriptural, confessional, and historical development of the doctrine of the image of God. This essay states that the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions, and John Calvin do not permit an interpretation which views the image of God in a broader or more compre­hensive sense and in a narrower or more limited sense. To say that “We must get beyond our pat definition of the image of God as consisting in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness! . . .” is to say that we need a more comprehensive definition and description of the image of God so that the creative and inventive acts of man can be understood and ex­plained. To share this concern for a descrip­tion and definition of the creative and in­ventive acts of man is not to share the concern for a more comprehensive and ex­pansive understanding of the image of God in man. Man’s inventive acts can be enucleated apart from his being created in the image of God — an image he lost when he fell into sin.

It is the position of the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions that there are in fallen man no remnants of the image of God apart from regeneration. Man who fell into sin lost the image of God and became the image-bearer of the Devil. To maintain that man can bear the image of God in a broader sense suggests or denotes goodness — moral, ethical, spiritual integrity. This the Scriptures categorically deny. This is a denial of the truth of total depravity.

The Scriptures describe the spiritual qual­ities which were lost in the following pas­sages:

And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in right­eousness and true holiness. Ephesians 4:24.

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: . . . Colossians 3:10.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches in question and answer eight that man is so corrupt that he is wholly incapable of doing any good, and is inclined to all wickedness except be is regenerated by the Spirit of God. Eliphaz the Temanite, whose words are recorded in the book of Job says: “What is man, that he should be clean? And he which is born of woman, that he should be righteous, Job 15:14.” Job must also answer the charge of Bildad the Shuhite, who says: “. . . how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Job 25:4.”

The Heidelberg Catechism also teaches that God’s creative hand did not produce the corruption witnessed in the world. God did not create man so perverse, but God created man good, and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness so that he might rightly know God his Creator. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1647 A.D., Answer 1, adds: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

John Calvin, the systematizer of the Re­formers, discusses the image of God in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter XV, Paragraph IV.

Since then, the image of God consists in the original excellency of the human nature, which shone forth in Adam before the fall, afterwards, however, is so corrupted and nearly wiped out that in the ruins there is nothing left than that which is confused, mutilated, and infected by filth — . . .

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VI, Part II, enunciates the results of man’s fall in the following words:

By his sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

That man became spiritually and ethically corrupt is the only conclusion to which one can come. He did not lose the qualities that distinguish him from the brute crea­tion. He remained a man with the rational soul which had been given him by God in creation. The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647, states “. . . he [God] cre­ated man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls . . .” Man, however, became subject to bondage. “And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage Hebrews 2:15.” Man was cursed, and the whole creation was cursed because of his sin. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who had subjected the same in hope. Romans 8:20.” Man lost those excellent, distinguishing, spiritual gifts which he had in the beginning when God saw all that he had made and said, “It is very good.” Man lost those excellent gifts which are principally re­stored to him only when he is regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. In Christ the re­deemed man becomes a new creature. In Christ old things have passed away, and in Christ all things have become new (Cf. II Corinthians 5:17). The only new thing in all creation is that which Christ has wrought by his suffering, death, resurrec­tion, ascension, and His Spirit poured out on the Day of Pentecost. “And all things are of God, who had reconciled us to him­self by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5:18-19.”

Although the image of God must not be understood in the broader and the narrower sense, there is a proper distinction that must be made. The image of God must be understood in a formal and in a material sense. Man’s nature is adapted to bear the image of God. In a purely formal sense, man is capable of being an image bearer of God because he is a personal being with a moral, rational nature that is capable of standing in a conscious, personal, responsible relation to God. This the creatures of the brute creation cannot do. Man is able to know God. Man was cre­ated capable of righteousness and perfect holiness. Man always remains a moral, rational, personal being who ought to live in covenant fellowship with God, his Maker, but who has wilfully assumed the image of the Devil and has rejected the image of God. This means that man is in reality, morally corrupt. The thoughts of his heart are evil continually.

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5.

And the Lord smelled a sweet savour: and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; . . . Genesis 8:21.

The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things. Proverbs 15:28.

And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, forni­cations, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man. Mark 7:20-23.

Man sins rationally and volitionally, and is therefore responsible for his actions.

That which man could have had he does not have. Originally man was endowed with spiritual, ethical virtues which characterize the image of God. These were his material possessions. He was created with all his affections directed toward God, but he lost the material possessions of original right­eousness and assumed the material posses­sions of the Devil and became an instru­ment capable only of serving sin and all its passions.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9.

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Ephesians 2:1.

As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one: Romans 3:10.

The being who was intended to be the crown and king of creation and who was signed to be the image-bearer of God be­came by his own willful act the image bearer of the Devil. Only through the grace of God in Christ is this image re­stored in man. Paul says in Ephesians 4:23-24:

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in right­eousness and true holiness.

Only those, therefore, who have been re­generated have in principal those spiritual gifts which man originally possessed in per­fection — true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

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The Scriptural and Confessional Doctrine of the Image of God Applied to The Writing Program:

How does all that has been written in this essay apply to the writing program of the Christian School? What valid conclu­sions can he drawn which will be scrip­turally accurate and confessionally sound concerning the writing which man does? What valid conclusions can be drawn con­cerning the writing the Christian teacher assigns in the Covenant Christian classroom?

It ought to be totally obvious that it is neither confessionally accurate nor scrip­turally correct to teach that, because of man’s creation in the image of God, he is a “creative creature.” In a certain sense it is even a contradiction in terms to speak of a creature who creates, but the discus­sion will not be prolonged by an argument concerning the merits or the legitimacy of the term “creative” as it is applied to man’s innovative, imaginative, or cultural activ­ities. The Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions emphasize, however, that man after the fall did not retain the image of God. That is absolutely true. Observe, however, that even though man lost the image of God, he did not lose his desire or his ability to produce things. His ability may have been greatly impaired because of the curse (I believe it was!), but he did not lose the ability nor did he lose the desire to make things. Man’s desire and his ability to discover, to make, and to produce things is rooted in his curiosity and his intellectual powers. Man did not lose his intellect and because he did not lose his intellect, he can be a productive creature. It is likewise evident that God has not annulled or abrogated the creation or cultural mandate. Man, as the king of the creation of God, was still commanded to “subdue the earth and replenish it.” Genesis 1:28.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28.

Although God had not annulled the man­date to produce, he had made the task of man enormously difficult. His task on earth was now one that he pursued in the sweat of his brow because of the curse of God that came upon the whole creation — man­kind and brute creation.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Genesis 3:17-19.

That God had not abrogated or changed the creation mandate is also evident from the narrative in Genesis 4:19-24 which tells the tale of tile cultural activities of the sons of Cain and Lamech: Jabal, the tent builder; Jubal, the musician; and Tubal Cain, the artificer and craftsman.

If the thesis is accepted that man’s cre­ativity proceeds from the image of God, which he has lost, then a man cannot be creative or innovative unless he is regen­erated because it has been proved that it is scripturally correct to say that man has lost the image of God. This the Confessions also teach. Acceptance of the thesis that man’s creativity proceeds from the image of God demands a position which says that only the regenerated man can be creative because only the regenerated man has the mind of Christ, i.e., the image of God.

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. I Corin­thians 2:16.

Likewise only he who is regenerated can be more and more conformed to the image of God. The Heidelberg Catechism, which is addressed to the Church of Christ, sub­stantiates and interprets this truth as fol­lows:

. . . that we constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come (Question and answer 115.)

It ought to be totally obvious, therefore, that creativity and inventiveness are not

dependent upon man’s being created or re­created in the image of God. That this is obvious is evident also from the fact that image-bearers of the Devil often have more imaginative ability than those who are re­newed by the Spirit of Christ and are restored by God’s grace according to the image of God. This imaginative ability they use, however, to their own destruction and write from a heart which hates God and all His precepts. That this is true is evident from the poem of the ungodly Lamech, who exalts his exploits as follows:

Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice!

‘For I have slain a man for wounding me, And a young man for bruising me.’

(Genesis 4:23, Rev. Version, 1885.)

The imaginative man, who ought to live in covenant fellowship with His Maker, lives as a covenant breaker. He uses his literary abilities to write imaginative works which say many factually accurate and many beautifully phrased ideas which are discoverable in the events and the phenom­ena of this world, but they do not glorify the God of heaven and earth. These cultural products, which are true to the real situa­tion and may be admirable works of art from a formal point of view, proceed from the fertile imagination which is stimulated and controlled by the unregenerate de­praved heart. They are the products used and sometimes produced in the Christian classroom.

Man’s ability to write imaginatively must be explained in terms of the remnants of natural light, and not in terms of the re­maining aspects of the image of God, i.e., the image of God in the broader or more comprehensive sense. Man’s literary ability must be understood solely in terms of his creation as the highest and most gifted of God’s creatures. Man had all the abilities that accompany the intellectual faculty of the soul. Inspite of the fall, therefore, man remains a personal, moral, rational, responsible, thought-producing, and imag­inative creature.

When man fell, however, the whole man fell into sin. A gnostic dualism will not suffice in this instance. Man was affected in every part of his existence as a man. This means that man’s imaginative function was also affected by sin. It is a notable and somewhat disturbing fact that the Bible does not always use the term “imagination” therefore in a complimentary sense. Imagination is the term often used to describe the sinful notions of a man’s mind or intellect. Such instances are:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Gen­esis 6:5.

… for the imagination of mans heart is evil from his youth; . . . Genesis 8:21.

And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination [stubbornness] of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: Deuteronomy 29:19

. . . neither shall they walk any more after the imagination [stubbornness] of their evil heart. Jeremiah 3:17.

But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination [stubbornness] of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Jeremiah 7:24.

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, [reasoning] and their foolish heart was darkened, Romans 1:21.

Casting down imaginations [reasonings] and every high thing that exalteth it­self against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; II Corinthians 10:5.

Although the term “imagination” is used in the uncomplimentary sense in the King James Version of the Scriptures, the Scrip­tures do permit a sanctified use of term. David says:

And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imag­inations of thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast the off forever. II Chronicles 28:9.

O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for­ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and pre­pare their heart unto thee: II Chron­icles 29: 18.

Furthermore, the doctrinal statements concerning the image of God, man’s soul, and man’s heart enunciate the nature of the cultural products of man. If cultural products are an extension of the man, and if they are produced by men as a response to reality, they reflect the world and life view of a man. If works are produced by men who hold the truth in unrighteousness (cf. Romans 1), it can be said that these works are directed away from God even though they may correctly represent an aspect of reality. These works are inclined away from God because they are part of the issues of life which come from the heart of one who is not regenerated by the Spirit of Christ. They have been produced by one who does not have the mind of Christ. He has not been restored to a new relationship in Christ and there­fore he cannot know the truth which shall make him free. If he speaks what his heart says, he will speak the lie, unless he is a hypocrite in his writings.

An important distinction must be made, however. Although the motive of the producer may be evil, the Christian may take that product and use it in the service of God. That which was originally prod­uced by one who violently opposed the truth may be used by the covenant-keeper in the service of God. The Christian brings into captivity every thought to the obe­dience of Christ (cf. 11 Corinthians 10:5).

The doctrinal statements concerning the image of God also imply but do not guaran­tee the Christianness of works produced by men who have been renewed by the Spirit of Christ. Cultural products of men who are saved in Christ will have a theocentric inclination. The frustrating self- denying, world-denying, Devil-denying proc­ess through which the Christian drives him­self will be obvious in his product. He will have attempted to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ be­cause he knows that in Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cf. Colossians 2:3). Such literature will be artful, imaginative, stimulating, and representative without being sentimental drivel.

The “Christianness” of works produced by the Christian is not necessarily guaran­teed. Christian literature is not spontaneously- generated and spawned from the mind and bowels of the Christian. Imperfect and sinful ideas exist in the works of a Christian

in all of his activities has only a small beginnng of the new obedience. The West­minster Confession of Faith, 1647, Chapter VI, Part V, enunciates this truth in the following cogent sentence:

This corruption of nature during this life, doth remain in those that are re­generated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself and all the motions thereof are truly and properly sin.

The Heidelberg Catechism likewise artic­ulates the imperfection of man and his works in Lord’s Day 44.

But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these command­ments? No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they be­gin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.

The Heidelberg Catechism also indicates (the necessity of this kind of separated and sanctified living in Lord’s Day 24.

. . . for it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.

All the works of the Christian, who is principally a new creature, are polluted with the sins of the old man, which he is called to mortify. The old man which he is called to mortify wars incessantly against the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Romans 7:2.3-24a.

The Christian is not yet in heaven. He writes in this creation. He can in no way

establish the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ in this life. He can only point

the way to   the city  which hath been eternally founded on the finished work of Christ. That is something which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man” (I Corin­thians 2:9, Isaiah 64:4). The builder of that eternal city is the faithful, covenant ­keeping Triune Cod — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian writer looks for­ward with hope, as he writes his metaphors of praise, to the time when the perfect poem will be sung — THE SONG OF MOSES AND THE LAMB. That will be culture true and complete. Let the Christian create in the hope of that day using all things as gifts he has received as a means to the final end and not as the end itself. Let the Christian serve the Creator and not the creature.

Put on therefore the new man which after God is created in righteousness and

true holiness so that with the whole heart, mind, soul, and strength a covenant-keep­ing, creative people may faithfully serve God in the writing which they do. Bring into captivity every thought to the obe­dience of Christ.

*This is one of the papers that will be in­cluded in product of the latest workshop for teachers sponsored by the Federation of Protestant Reformed Christian Schools.