This paper will demonstrate that Bavinck’s inclusion of the body in the image of God, while seemingly a minority position amongst the 16th and 17th century Reformed orthodox, nevertheless has precedence within his theological heritage. This will be demonstrated by highlighting two loci of continuity in the tools of reasoning in Bavinck and his forbears, namely the Reformed scholastic sources that share his position and the tradition’s consistent affirmation of human nature as a psychosomatic unity.
Recent Reformed scholarship in the field of theological anthropology has devoted attention to the essentiality of the body in the human person—be it in relation to the image of God, faculty psychology, or human ontology—with an eye towards how the tradition has historically treated the topic. An important conversation partner within these trends has been Herman Bavinck, whose holistic account of human nature and the image of God has over the past several decades influenced a number of figures within the tradition. What has largely been left out of such discussions, however, is Bavinck’s position in relation to earlier Reformed theologians in his insistence of the body’s inclusion in the image. It remains yet unclear whether the Dutch theologian’s standing on this matter is a genuine expression of his theological heritage’s consensus, and if so, whose shoulders he stands on in his claim. This essay will seek to examine this relationship and highlight strains of continuity and discontinuity between Bavinck and the Reformed orthodox.
Historically situating his stance on this doctrine will prove illuminating on a number of fronts. First, it will shed light on Bavinck studies more generally as it will help explicate his relationship to his theological tradition and how he receives, unfolds, and expresses Reformed orthodoxy. Second and relatedly, this study’s findings will help provide a clearer historical context for contemporary scholarship on theological anthropology as it will observe how the body within the image of God has been handled more broadly by the Reformed. Third, it will help to unearth the tools used by our theological forebears for the purpose of future studies in human embodiment and the imago Dei as we continue to encounter the pressing ethical concerns of our cultural climate.