Many missteps in theology are on account of the implicit idea that God must be like us in some way.

(Note: After originally posting this, I read Albert Mohler’s response to Brian McLaren, and Mohler makes the point that McLaren’s piece explicitly exemplifies this kind of bottom-up methodology.)

In 2003 I read the following from Ardel Caneday and it helped me to see the importance of getting the Creator-creature relationship in the right order. This is worth reading slowly to grasp the point and the import.

Apprehension of God and relation to God are ours only in terms of analogies that derive from the fact that God made man in his own image.

God’s imprinted image is organic.

The Creator-creature analogy yields the Bible’s five primary analogical relationships within which we relate to God:

(1) king and subject;
(2) judge and defendant/litigant;
(3) husband and wife;
(4) father and child; and
(5) master and slave.

God, who made his creatures in his own image, is pleased to disclose himself to us in keeping with the God-like adornment with which he clothed us.

Here is the essence of anthropomorphism. God reveals himself to us in human terms, yet we must not compare God to us as if we were the ultimate reference point. God organically and indelibly impressed his image upon man so that our relationships to one another reflect his relationships with us.

We do not come to know God as creator ex nihilo because we know ourselves to be creative and imagine him to be greater. Instead, man creates because we are like God. God is the original; we are the organic image, the living copy.

We do not rightly speak of God as king by projecting onto him regal imagery because we think it is fitting for God. Rather, bowing before God who has dominion is proper because man, as king over creation, is the image of kingship; God, the true king, is the reality that casts the image of the earthly king.

It is not as if God looked around his creation and found marital union between male and female to be a fit pattern for his relationship with humans. “Male and female he created them” that they may “become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The union of husband and wife is an earthly image or copy of the heavenly union of God, the true husband, with his people, the true bride. Paul understood marriage in Genesis 2:24 this way, for he cites the passage and explains, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).

—A. B. Caneday, “Veiled Glory: God’s Self-Revelation in Human Likeness—A Biblical Theology of God’s Anthropomorphic Self-Disclosure,” in Beyond the Bounds, ed. Piper, Taylor, and Helseth (Crossway, 2003), p. 163; my emphasis. [The whole book is online for free.]