“Image-bearing means becoming fully human, not becoming divine.”
In the opening chapters of her book None Like Him, Jen Wilkin gives us two lists:
|Only God Is||God Is (and We Can Be)|
|Omnipotent||Jealous (for his glory)|
What follows is the thesis for the rest of her book: “Though we know that the list on the right is for our good and for God’s glory, we gravitate toward the list on the left—a list that is not good for us, nor does pursuing it bring glory to God. It actually seeks to steal glory from him. It is a list that whispers, as the Serpent whispered to Eve, ‘You shall be like God’” (p. 24).
The hope? “It is the natural inclination of the sinful heart to crave this list, but as those who have been given a new heart with new desires, we must learn to crave the list on the right. The list on the right represents the abundant life Jesus came to give us” (p. 24-25). Wilkin works throughout the book to open our eyes to how we, subtly or blatantly, reach for the forbidden fruit like children trying to touch something they know they shouldn’t. Or Adam and Eve eating something they shouldn’t. Our hearts have not progressed past garden-variety temptations, and Wilkin’s applications of this reality provide the most insight in this accessible book.
None Like Him is written for women, as is evidenced by the pretty flowers on the cover. Wilkin’s examples are often targeting women, although she draws from various fields of study or pop culture that keep the book from becoming overly feminine. In terms of relationships, she speaks as an experienced wife and mother, and works in ministry at her church. She writes, not as an academic, but as a wise friend. I found this worked well in the application sections, but at times found the introductions to each chapter elementary. She used each chapter introduction to describe a quality of God, but did not stretch my understanding as much as I would have liked. She also highlighted her “feeble efforts” near the beginning of the book, something that I’ve seen women writers do frequently. Doing so is distracting and draws the reader away from the work and precludes the reader’s own conclusions. I wish this hesitation had been removed.
Again and again, what I did appreciate is Wilkin’s solid theology. She spent numerous sections correcting my understanding of a certain text and making God big where I had made him small. In the chapter “Self-Existent,” Wilkin explains that “all worship of the creation is actually a veiled form of self-worship” (p. 47-8). Connecting this temptation to the story of God’s humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, she likens the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar’s creator complex to how “we convince ourselves that we deserve credit for creating that which we are called to steward. … It is sheer wild-eyed grass-eating madness to ascribe to ourselves the role of creator” (p. 50).
I found Wilkin’s chapter “Self-Sufficient” to be the most convicting and pastoral. She leads the reader to do some heart analysis, and gets at a layer of self-deception that is profound:
We love autonomy and view dependence as a sign of failure, a flaw of some kind, a lack of proper planning or ambition. Christians, in particular, can interpret physical, financial, or spiritual need as a sign that God has removed his blessing from us because of some failure on our part. But why do we take this view? It’s almost as though our reasoning can’t separate the presence of need from the presence of sin. But is sin the cause of human need? A quick examination of Genesis 1-3 answers this question with a resounding no. In pre-fall Eden, Adam and Eve were created to need. … God created them needy, that in their need they might turn to the Source of all that is needful, acknowledge their need, and worship (p. 62).
It should disgust us that we, as Christians, would see things so perversely. Of all people, we should know how needy we are and be ready to acknowledge this reality. And yet we don’t. In an earlier chapter, Wilkin says, “One of the most frightening truths the Bible implores us to acknowledge is that we do not know our own hearts. Reflecting on this, the psalmist asks, ‘Who can discern his (own) errors?’ (Ps.19:12). The prophet Jeremiah warns that our hearts are characterized above all else by an internal, pervasive treachery that thwarts self-knowledge: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:9). We don’t know our own hearts” (p. 36-7). Wilkin’s examination of the culture and Christianity reveals a deep-seated independence that can live in our hearts but wreak havoc on our lives. Thankfully, Wilkin points to some really good food for thought: “We were created to need both God and others. We deny this to our peril. We are not needy because of sin; we are needy by divine design. … Sanctification is the process of learning increasing dependence, not autonomy” (p. 63).
Each chapter ends with four study questions, making this book suitable for individual or group study. I can see good discussion flowing from her questions. An example from the “Incomprehensible” chapter: “Think of a difficult person in your life. How well do you truly know him or her? How might acknowledging your limited understanding change the way you interact with him or her?” (p. 41). Or from the “Omnipotent” chapter: “Of the four types of power discussed (physical strength, beauty, wealth, and charisma), which do you have experience with? Which do you wish you had more of?” (p. 136). The book is hopeful but not trite. Wilkin does a nice job focusing on our union with Christ and his sanctifying work in us as a means to growth, and directs the reader’s eyes to spiritual blessings. “Not everything will be made new in this lifetime, but his promise to grown in us the fruit of the Spirit means we can know abundant life whether relationships and circumstances heal or not” (p. 52).
There were a couple of times where Wilkin threw out a statement that seemed out of place without some Scriptural support or further explanation. On page 96 of the “Omnipresent” chapter, she states: “Even in hell, God is fully present, though its inhabitants perceive only his wrath” (p. 96). And from the “Eternal” chapter: “When we invest our time in what has eternal significance, we store up treasure in heaven. This side of heaven, the only investments with eternal significance are people” (p. 79). I found myself desiring a footnote or two to help me understand more fully why she said what she did.
The book concludes with a “Sovereign” chapter and then a re-examination of Psalm 139:14: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Wilkin restates her thesis in another way: “Our primary problem as Christian women is not that we lack self-worth, not that we lack a sense of significance. It’s that we lack awe” (p. 154). Using the entirety of Psalm 139, she points her readers once again to God, the real subject of the passage. It is a fitting conclusion for the book—to worship our God in awe and wonder.
None Like Him quotes several times from A. W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life. Published in 1961, this book is a classic and would be a fitting next read for those whose appetites Wilkin whet. None Like Him is a theologically-sound, witty, accessible, and probing study of the attributes of God. I hope it’s not the last book you read on the subject, but if you’re a Christian woman between the ages of 19 and 90, it’s a decent place to start.