Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Children of God: The Imago Dei in John Calvin and His Context – A Review

Human beings, we read in Genesis 1, are created in God’s image and likeness. Throughout the centuries theologians have struggled with these terms, trying to ascertain their precise meaning. Some have concluded that they refer to the fact that humans, unlike other creatures, have the ability to reason and so to communicate with God. Others believe that they point to the human ability to establish relationships, and still others that they must be interpreted in a functional sense, referring to the fact that human beings were appointed as God’s vice-regents with the specific task of ruling the rest of creation.

Prominent among Reformed contributors to the discussion is the sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin, and it is his views that form the topic of the book now under discussion. The author, Dr. Jason Van Vliet, originally wrote it as a doctoral dissertation for the Theological University at Apeldoorn, The Netherlands (2009). A graduate of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, ON (1996), he now serves at that seminary in the department of dogmatology. Van Vliet shows that Calvin dealt with the question of the divine image throughout his professional life and that his views developed over time. Calvin’s most important contribution, Van Vliet concludes, lay in his description of the image as referring to the relationship between a Father and his children (as also reflected in the title).

Books by theologians are usually reviewed by theologians. Since Van Vliet’s topic falls within the category of historical theology, however, it was also possible to assign the work of reviewing it to a historian. That is what we did when we asked Richard Oosterhoff to take up the challenge. As the review shows, we made the proper choice. Not only historians, but also theologians (as well as the interested lay person) will appreciate both the contextual framework our reviewer has provided and his informative, extensive, and balanced description and analysis of Van Vliet’s book.

Richard Oosterhoff is a native of southern Ontario and received his B.Sc., with double majors in Biology and Religion and Theology, from Redeemer University College (2005). Now a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, he is writing a dissertation on how a group of Renaissance professors at the University of Paris, some of whom became French reformers, joined their passion for Christ and their piety with deep love of the liberal arts, especially the mathematical arts of the quadrivium. (If you wonder what the quadrivium is, just ask him – but be prepared to endure enthusiasm!) Richard was pleased to spend much of this winter researching in rare book libraries in Paris and southern California, but now that spring has brought daffodils to the Midwest he is very happy to be back in South Bend, Indiana, where he can again enjoy the warm fellowship of Michiana Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), which he, his wife Elora, and their two little girls had greatly missed during their travels.

The review is found in our “Collected Papers”; a direct link is here.

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