By Alexis Neal
On a recent episode of the Knowing Faith podcast, author and bible teach Jen Wilkin was asked to summarize her purpose in writing In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls us to Reflect His Character. Her answer was so that her readers would never again have to wonder ‘What is God’s will for my life?’ With a purpose like that, you might think she’d written a book on guidance or discernment or perhaps the role of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. If, however, you discovered that she’d written a book on the communicable attributes of God, with a special emphasis on His holiness, well, nobody would blame you for being a bit surprised.
In His Image is a follow-up to Wilkin’s earlier work None Like Him, a meditation on 10 incommunicable attributes of God—those divine traits which are true of God and God alone, such as His omniscience or His infinity. In In His Image, Wilkin turns to the communicable attributes of God—those divine traits which can and should characterize the people of God. None of us, for example, bemoan our progress toward omnipresence, nor should we. We cannot emulate God in that way (and indeed, the attempt to emulate these attributes is at its heart an attempt to supplant God Himself). But we can and should emulate God’s love, His mercy, His patience. Those attributes can be and are communicated to us as those who are made, well, in His image. The specific attributes identified by Wilkin in this text are: holiness, love, goodness, justice, mercy, graciousness, faithfulness, patience, truthfulness, and wisdom.
What does all this have to do with discovering God’s will for your life? For starters, Wilkin encourages her readers to shift their focus away from asking ‘What should I do?’ For Wilkin, that’s the wrong question entirely. Instead, she encourages her readers to ask a better question:
“For the believer wanting to know God’s will for her life, the first question to pose is not ‘What should I do?’ but ‘Who should I be?’ […] The hope of the gospel in our sanctification is not simply that we would make better choices, but that we would become better people. […] But not just anyone better. The gospel begins transforming us into who we should have been. It re-images us. […] Asking the question ‘Who should I be?’ means asking for the first place to set our foot to the narrow path. […] The narrow path is not hidden. […] It shows itself to those who have learned to ask, ‘Who should I be?’ and to look to the person of Christ for their answer.”
For Wilkin, then, a study of the communicable attributes of God is not merely an academic exercise, nor is it primarily a catalyst for worship, leading us to praise God for the attributes He possesses. Or at least, it is not solely a catalyst for worship. Or not for worship by word alone. Instead, we worship God for His love by becoming loving. We honor him for His mercy by being merciful.
In each chapter, Wilkin begins by reflecting on the attribute as displayed in the character of God. Having explored, say, what it means that God is just, she then turns to a discussion of what it means for us to be just as He is just, or good as He is good, etc. Each chapter also includes verses for meditation, questions for reflection, and a prayer prompt.
As with many of Wilkin’s books, this one is an easy read. She is an engaging writer, and you could burn through this one fairly quickly. But you’d be better served to take your time. There’s a lot of meat to chew on, and I suspect the book will hold up well to repeated re-reading; it would also be an excellent book for group discussion and study. In a market flooded with so much Evangelical touchy-feely pap (at times long on navel-gazing, pep talks, and instagram-worthy quotes—a rant for another day), Wilkin once again provides a refreshing dose of real substance.