The Imago Dei in the Reformed Tradition and Jonathan Edwards

The Reformed tradition often describes the imago Dei as the very substance of the soul. An original integrity and rectitude in the soul is “concreated” with the image and established by the Holy Spirit. This view is supported, e.g., in the Leiden Synopsis Purioris Theologiae (1625) and in Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology. However, some Reformed theologians, such as John Owen, deny that the image of God is in the soul. Rather, the image of God is found in the Godward orientation of the soul facilitated by the Holy Spirit. So, sinners without the Holy Spirit cannot be in the image of God. [See, Suzanne McDonald, “The Pneumatology of the ‘Lost’ Image in John Owen” [WJT 71 (2009): 323-35]. The problem Owen notices in the Reformed tradition had already been pointed out by Martin Luther. Luther argues that if the image of God is a substance or a capacity, then the image of God could be evil. Satan has a spiritual substance and capacities, namely a memory, understanding, and will. But the image of God cannot be evil. Therefore, we should not attribute the image of God to sinful humans or Satan.

Jonathan Edwards receives this Reformed tradition and affirms the more common Reformed account of the image of God. However, Edwards’s anthropology addresses the interests of John Owen by showing that humanity can be fully human only when it is living in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Moreover, he further develops the psychological analogy of the image of God in a way that shows the necessity of union with God in Christ. In this paper, I offer an account of Edwards’s understanding of the imago Dei and show how he charts a helpful path through the knotty problems that arise for the standard Reformed account. I argue that Edwards affirms both a natural image of God and a supernatural image of God, but he does so in a way that shows that the doctrine of the Trinity grounds both the natural and the supernatural. The natural is established in creation and the supernatural in salvation, the former in goodness and the latter in holiness.

At ETS, I hope to receive constructive feedback on this paper before the argument appears in a contracted book chapter.

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