Was Jonathan Edwards a Panentheist?

The ever-insightful Oliver Crisp has a chapter in the newish volume Jonathan Edwards as Contemporary arguing that Edwards was, in fact, a panentheist. The difficulty in reading Crisp, I have found, is the knowledge that before you finish the article or chapter you are reading he has already written two others. That aside, I want to address the broad contours of his argument.

Crisp starts with a working definition of panentheism: “The being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part exists in Him, but His Being is more than, and not exhausted by, the universe.” Continuing in Crisp’s analytic mode, he offers several key constituents: Continue reading

Charles Chauncy and the American Ideal

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the Charles Chauncy / Jonathan Edwards exchange over the revivals. Each figure represents the Old Light / New Light cause respectively. I am particularly interested in Chauncy’s rhetoric. The bulk of the exchange took place during the 1730s and 1740s. Interestingly, when Chauncy criticized the revivals, he sought to link the revivals to the heretical movements of the century prior – focusing specifically on Anne Hutchinson. Chauncy argues that there are incredible similarities to the 17th century enthusiast groups and those popping up in the 18th century revivals. Subtly, Chauncy links himself to the forefathers who fought for the faith and defeated the heretics, and linked his opponents to those heretics.

There were various issues floating around these dicussions, such as the role and prominence of women (Anne Hutchinson became a key example for him), as well as, more interestingly, that both had a tendency to level-out society. Chauncy was worried that this levelling would undo the social hierarchy that was so entrenched as the proper ordering of culture. In short, Chauncy argument is what we might anachronistically call an argument against a position as “un-American.” Alan Heimart notes Chauncy’s rhetoric and even claims that Chauncy was ultimately concerned with communism! Heimart notes, “By 1774 all Liberals, Chauncy among them, were once again warning that enthusiasm, whether religious or political, endangered the very basis of American happiness” (Heimart, Religion and the American Mind, 250-251.). Whereas Ben Franklin lauded the revivals because of their social effect, Chauncy denounces them for the same reason. The levelling effect of the revivals worried Chauncy, and the rise of popular and anti-clerical religion was, no doubt, the fruit of a movement that eventually came to define America rather than undo it.

Righteousness: Covenant Faithfulness or Metaphysical Attribute?

Paul Helm, following Piper’s critique of Wright, suggests that God’s righteousness cannot be defined as covenant faithfulness (see post here). I want to think out loud a bit about Helm’s argumentation, and would love to hear your thoughts after reading his post and after reading my impressions here. First, Helm states,

I think we need to pause for a moment or two on this claimed identity between righteousness and covenant faithfulness. It means, for one thing, that there is no other way that God could express his righteousness than by way of covenant faithfulness.”

Now, presumably, if Wright is equating God’s righteousness with covenant faithfulness then this statement presupposes its conclusion. Note Helm’s assumption that God must have “righteousness” behind his covenant faithfulness. This seems, in light of the argument, to be both unhelpful and presumptuous. Next, Helm claims,

Yet it is not merely a question of some definition of righteousness not being adequate, of how we are to understand that righteousness. It is also, and more fundamentally, the question of the coherence of any account of divine righteousness that does not begin with who God is. Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being.”

Likewise, with characterological boldness, Helm continues by adding, Continue reading

Jonathan Edwards and the Philosophy of History: Part 2

Picking up where we left off, I start the major section of the work, entitled simply “Time.” Zakai places Edwards in a day divided by biblical-centric evangelicals focusing their intellectual capacities on religious experience, while the world increased in scientific and philosophical imagination. Zakai offers some explanation:

One of the main reasons for the growing privatization of religious life and experience was that during the eighteenth century the Christian theological and teleological explanation of the nature of reality had steadily declined in persuasiveness because of the attraction of scientific thought in interpreting the nature of the material world and the influence of the British school of moral sense, which developed the rationalistic idea of disinterested benevolence as the criterion for moral judgment” (135).

This age saw a major conflict between reason and revelation, the former taking precedent and the latter being dethroned from its former glory. As a helpful summary, Zakai states, “The disenchantment of the world led therefore to the reenchantment of the soul, or the heart, as the main locus of religious life and experience” (136). It is here where Zakai slowly turns his attention to the Holy Grail of Edwards studies – Continue reading

Jonathan Edwards’ Philosophy of History

After reviewing Ben Quash’s volume addressing von Balthasar’s theology of history, I thought I would wade back over Zakaito my personal area of interest and take a look at Jonathan Edwards’ philosophy of history. Avihu Zakai’s volume, put out by Princeton Press (and mostly written at the Center of Theology Inquiry) is entitled: Jonathan Edwards’s Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment. I will skip over the initial chapter covering biographical material and move right into his argumentation.

The Soul

In the second chapter, entitled: “Young Man Edwards: Religious Conversion,” Zakai focuses in on Edwards’ conversion experience, asserting, “This spiritual experience informed Edwards’s theology of nature and led directly to his quest to reconstruct the whole material world after the model of his newly acquired religious vision” (54). He then builds on his already provocative thesis, asserting baldly, Continue reading

Teaching Spiritual Formation

In light of our recent post on spiritual formation and the seminary, I thought I would share a bit about my recent teaching experience. I have been off of the blog for a little while now as I teach a spiritual formation class at Talbot School of Theology on “Jonathan Edwards’ Spiritual Theology.” I have never taught a semester length class before, so I was baptized with fire as I taught for three weeks, five days a week for three hours a day!

The way I approached the class was to try and help the students understand what it means to honor someone like Edwards. Following Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous talk “The Anachronism of Jonathan Edwards,” I suggestd that the only way to honor Edwards was to take on the spiritual and practical nature of his theology as we worked through the content of it. Therefore, I put together an hour long “Edwardsian prayer exercise” utilizing Edwards understanding of aesthetics, nature and spiritual imagination. Likewise, the class was oriented towards developing a spiritual discipline (for the final project), which would be grounded in the overarching movement of Edwards’ thought, starting with the doctrine of the Trinity, and working one’s way down to creation, fall, redemption on to glorification. My hope was to help students understand the systematic and practical nature of theology, and hopefully help them to see how important doctrinal development is for spiritual formation.

Has anyone else taught a class like this? I’m thinking through how to make this class better, as well as how to teach other classes like it. Has anyone found a way they find helpful to integrate prayer and the student’s spiritual lives in with the material of theology? I would love to hear any ideas.

N.T. Wright and the Reformed

I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity (as of yet) to read N.T. Wright’s new book on justification. I have had the opportunity to follow several blogs work through it, and I wanted to chime in on a certain point. I was reading Scot McKnight’s analysis of the volume recently (which has been incredibly helpful), and he noted Wright’s decision to read “the righteousness of God” as “covenant faithfulness” (see this post specifically). I was surprised to see how the comments on this post expressed the conviction that while this position is not new to Wright, it was still seen as “new” nonetheless. One commentator states that while this is not idiosyncratic to Wright, it is certainly not from the reformers. I think this is a bit naive, and is using “reformers” in some sense like “Calvin.” Note this quote from Jonathan Edwards:

“So the word righteousness is very often used in Scripture for his covenant faithfulness; so ’tis in Nehemiah 9:8, “Thou hast performed thy words for thou art righteous.” And so we are very often to understand righteousness and covenant mercy [to] be the same thing, as Psalms 24:5, “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of [his salvation],” Psalms 36:10, “O continue thy lovingkindness to them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright,” and Psalms 51:14, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness” and Daniel 9:16, “O Lord, according to thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away” and so in innumerable other places.” (Y9:114-115)

Edwards continues on to add, “God’s righteousness or covenant mercy is the root of which his salvation is the fruit.” In a debate with Piper, this would have probably come in handy! My worry with this debate (without having read it yet), is that “reformed” can be taken in too narrow a sense, thereby ignoring the insights of the later reformed orthodoxy. Has anyone noticed the actual debate taking this turn at all? Have both sides been fair to the historical issues?