Jen Wilkin has learned God’s will for your life. And she’s ready to share it.
In her new book, In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character, she does just that. How can such a slim volume promise so much?
Wilkin—speaker, writer, Bible teacher, and regular TGC contributor—sets the terms herself. She gives us a new primary question to ask: Not “what should I do?” but “who should I be?”
Don’t be fooled by the first-person nature of the questions; this is a profoundly God-centered book. Wilkin’s essential commitment is that only God’s character can provide a sure foundation for a righteous life. Each of her 10 chapters is named for a different “communicable” attribute of God, and each begins by exploring how that attribute is displayed in him.
The word “communicable” makes most people think of a disease outbreak. If only God’s traits were that easily caught! Theologically, “communicable” refers to things about God that are also meant to be true about us. Unfortunately, due to our brokenness and sin, we rarely crave true goodness, honesty, or patience. We grasp instead at the traits God alone can possess, such as omnipotence. (Wilkin covers God’s “incommunicable” attributes in her previous book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us; read 20 quotes and TGC’s review).
Practical, Nuanced Guide
Though a focus on God’s attributes could easily lead to abstract theorizing, Wilkin never abandons firm ground. This, friends, is premium-cut lay theology. It refuses to skimp on biblical truth, while remaining fiercely practical at every turn. In His Image shines in its everyday applications, self-deprecating stories, and rich metaphors. It also wisely keeps to fighting weight, without excess textual fat.
This, friends, is premium-cut lay theology. And it remains fiercely practical at every turn.
The book’s practicality isn’t confined to the body of the text. Each chapter closes with verses for continued contemplation, personal application questions, and a paragraph prompting us to craft a prayerful response to God. The full offering will toss readers into the deep end of practical theology. But we needn’t do these exercises to benefit from the book. Wilkin knows us well. She has given us what we can handle, but also enticed us with more.
Sometimes we ask What is God’s will for my life? when we should really be asking Who should I be? The Bible has an answer: Be like the very image of God.
By exploring ten characteristics of who God is—holy, loving, just, good, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful, and wise—this book helps us understand who God intends for us to be. Through Christ, the perfect reflection of the image of God, we will discover how God’s own attributes impact how we live, leading to freedom and purpose as we follow his will and are conformed to his image.
There are so many places where Wilkin shines. She pulls no punches in her chapter on honesty, declaring: “The problem with living my truth is that my truth is a lie” (128). By taking aim at a slogan that appeals to her audience intuitively, she demonstrates wise leadership. Additionally, her chapter on faithfulness is so full of theological meat and necessary application that you might be tempted to underline everything.
Wilkin’s ability to nuance complex theological ideas in plain language is everywhere. For example, when discussing grace she explains:
Initially, grace is unasked for and undesired . . . [but then] we grow to recognize it for what it is, and we even become increasingly bold to ask for it in greater measure. But the moment we begin to ask out of a sense of entitlement, we contaminate grace.
She captures a natural progression in a Christian’s understanding of this foundational doctrine, while also exposing how it can go sour. In Wilkin’s fresh exposition, well-worn truths no longer feel like tired tropes.
Power for Change?
That doesn’t mean the book has no shortcomings. The chapters on goodness and wisdom are a little more sluggish than the others, while the chapter on love perhaps dwells overly much on the famous differences between the various Greek words translated “love,” differences that are probably not as meaningful as we evangelicals want them to be (cf. Sarah Coakley, The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender and the Quest for God, 13–15). The distinctions she makes between biblical and worldly love are valuable on their own and could be profitably made without appeals to the Greek.
Additionally, while Wilkin by no means ignores the Holy Spirit, certain directives would’ve been strengthened by explicitly pointing us to his power for change. For example, in her excellent discussion of the connection between impatience and anger, she advises us, in moments of frustration, to think about how God acts differently. Yet she does so without reference to relying on the Spirit’s work to make those thoughts fruitful through obedience. I for one know that I often need not only a different thought, but a different power to choose what I know is good.
Real Gospel Living
These issues do not substantially affect the book’s excellence. As it ends, Wilkin sticks her landing. First, her conclusion focuses us on joy as the engine of sanctification. Second, she weaves truths from coin collecting with the story of Jesus being presented with a denarius in order to drive home the whole point of her book: that because we are made in God’s image, “God’s will for our lives is that we be restored to mint condition. God’s will for our lives is that we become living proof.”
Readers of all maturity levels will benefit from In His Image. Though Wilkin never quotes Matthew 6:33, the flow and argumentation naturally illustrate the beauty and logic of Jesus’s command there—a command that is also a promise. Wilkin’s question, “Who should I be?” is a helpful lens through which to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. She strives to reduce our anxiety about our futures by pointing us to what is good—what is right in front of us in God’s text. And she succeeds.
Writers of lay theology will also benefit—not from slavishly copying Wilkin’s style, but from taking note of how to make grand ideas go to work in everyday lives. In His Image could be excellently paired with Rosaria Butterfield’s new hospitality volume [review], providing a one-two punch of real gospel living. With such resources, let’s strive together to become persons and churches who reclaim God’s image in our midst.