I have just returned from Glasgow, Scotland after attending the two day “Jonathan Edwards and Scotland Conference.” The conference was put on by both Glasgow University as well as the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. It is always interesting hearing from different interest areas involved with Edwards studies. Jonathan Edwards is one of the only (if not THE only) “Puritan” theologian who garners attention across a variety of fields. There were papers on revivals, both from Edwards day as well as the appropriation of Edwards for the “Toronto Blessing;” engagements with Baptists and preachers internationally, plus comparisons with Hume, Kant, Keats and Witherspoon. There were papers engaging Edwards historical and international context, looking at his correspondence with Scotland, his polemical engagement with Tillotson and parallels in his work with Van Mastricht. On top of that there were papers dealing with modern issues looking to Edwards as a possible source, including discussion of Edwards’ philosophy, his mission work and subjectivity, as well as my paper looking at Edwards and the beatific vision.
The Edwards Center at Yale continues to pave the way forward for what historical scholarship can look like in the modern age by advancing their website, expanding their classic reprints, and exposing Edwards to an international audience. Their website is well worth a look, even if Edwards is not your guy, just because the material and resources they offer are so helpful.
As many of you know, my dissertation research focuses on Jonathan Edwards’ theology. In light of this, I am always keeping an eye out for new material on Edwards. I was particularly excited to hear about a new project by Gerald R. McDermott, one of the more prolific Edwards scholars of our day. Beyond his interests in biblical typology, Deism and world religions, McDermott has shown he has an interest in helping a lay audience grasp Edwards – a task many try and few succeed.
The new volume is entitled: Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America’s Theologian by Oxford University Press, who was nice enough to send me a copy hot off the presses! There are several distinctive features of this volume making it stand alone among the many secondary volumes of Edwards literature (which I will highlight below). What I want to note up front is my favorite aspect – it was written for those who may have little to no knowledge of Edwards or the field of Edwards studies. What excites me about this is that it accomplishes what few (if any) have: an introduction to major themes in Edwards thought that is usable for the classroom. Continue reading
In continuing our brief (and admittedly superficial) look at several theologians, we have been asking the question: Should theologians be spiritual? In doing so, we have been looking to answer another question: Is one’s spiritual depth directly related to one’s theological ability? In other words, if it were possible to objectively “read” another person’s spiritual depth, would that provide a “ceiling” on their theological climb?
I now turn to Jonathan Edwards. As many of you know, I am writing my dissertation on Edwards, and have been asking many other questions of Edwards’ theological method, task and aim. For the purpose of this post, I am going to narrow down the literature quite a bit, and just look at the fourth sign in the “Distinguishing Signs” of The Religious Affections. Early on in this sign, Edwards states:
From what has been said, therefore, we come necessarily to this conclusion, concerning that wherein spiritual understanding consists; viz. that it consists in a sense of the heart, of the supreme beauty and sweetness of the holiness or moral perfection of divine things, together with all that discerning and knowledge of things of religion, that depends upon, and flows from such a sense.” (Y2:272)
Edwards concern, of course, is not our own. Continue reading
As I noted in my previous entry, I wanted to spend some time highlighting the distinctives of a Pentecostal view of the Lord’s Supper. Gordon T. Smith, the editor of the volume, notes that the reason for adding this view was to do diligence to the explosion of growth in the Pentecostal movement globally (p. 8). In light of the emerging theology under girding this movement, Smith thought it necessary to bring them into conversation here.
The Pentecostal view is put forth by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Fuller’s Global theologian. V-Matti starts his essay off with a hilarious aside, noting that in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (2002), the entry on the sacraments is actually written by a Roman Catholic theologian – along with the entry on ecclesiology! Fortunately, sans anathemas. Kärkkäinen attempts to briefly map the trouble with talking about a “Pentecostal” theology, particularly in light of the fact that the theology of the movement has not caught up with its experience and practice. So while, in one breath, it might be justified to argue that the movement has an antisacramental sentiment, in the next you have to note that, in certain places, there is a specific working eucharistic practice and devotion. Continue reading
In 1958, H. Richard Niebuhr gave an address for the bicentennial of Edwards death, which he titled: “The Anachronism of Jonathan Edwards.” In light of Kent’s earlier post on the interaction between Myers and Marsden, this piece came to mind. Myers concern is somewhat similar to Niebuhr’s: How do we do justice to historical sources so that they can truly speak into our experience (particularly in the form of critique)?
Niebuhr’s concerns are admittedly different from Myers. He is speaking to a gathering of people to honor Jonathan Edwards (“honoring” might be a good category for speaking about theologians from history). Niebuhr says this:
By what right do we join the funeral procession, stand beside the grave, intrude ourselves into the company of those who mourn him (Edwards)? When we think of his exile from Northampton Continue reading
When reading historical figures, do we allow ourselves to be critiqued by them? Or, do we stand over them from the vantage point of some ‘far superior’ late modern position?
There has been an interesting interaction between Ben Myers (Faith and Theology) and George Marsden in response to Marsden’s Stone Lectures at Princeton. Myers’ big worry about Marsden’s methodology for reading Edwards, and any historical figure for that matter, is that in distinguishing between Edwards’ great “‘perennial ideas’ (e.g. his doctrine of the Trinity) and his outdated nonessential ideas (e.g. his biblical literalism, his millennialism, and so on)” we isolate ourselves from being critiqued by him:
I realise that Marsden was only sketching some brief remarks on historical method, but I think this represents a deeply flawed approach to the question of how we can learn from the Christian past. If we learn from the past by distinguishing the timeless “perennial core” from the nonessential (i.e. flawed) elements, then we’re acting as though our own commitments are the final arbiter of history – we’re assuming that history has found its goal in us. And one of the unfortunate side-effects of this approach is that we’re no longer in a position to be critiqued by history. This would explain the strange fact that Marsden didn’t find any contemporary critical significance in Edwards’ millennialism, his doctrine of progress, or his theology of the election of nations. (Seriously, isn’t all this just a little relevant to American identity and to US foreign policy?).
…Once we perceive that a thinker like Jonathan Edwards was “ultimately concerned with the Christian faith,” it becomes impossible to distinguish between any timeless “core” and the mere “husk” of culturally-bound ineptitudes. Instead, by encountering the strangeness and offensiveness of Edwards’ ideas, we are encountering something new and unexpected about the nature of Christian identity itself. Continue reading