Jonathan Edwards and the Beatific

I mentioned my trip down to Glasgow for the Jonathan Edwards and Scotland Conference, and Kent suggested I say something here about the paper I read. My paper was titled: “‘A Happifying Sight’: Jonathan Edwards and the Beatific.” In it, I held Edwards’ view of the beatific vision in contrast to John Owen and Francis Turretin’s views. Basically, I claimed, Turretin argued along anthopological lines with Aquinas and Scotus, navigating through their material by denying that either the intellect or will alone engaged in the vision, but that they were, in fact, united. Owen, by contrast, develops a Christological orientation to the vision, so that Christ is always the image of the invisible God. In doing so, I was tracing along closely with Suzanne McDonald in her paper on Owen, where she argues Owen provides the contours of a trinitarian theology of the beatific, but the Spirit fades from view in glory. I suggest Edwards’ view as an answer to this lacuna, where Edwards argues for understanding the beatific vision as a participation in the inner-trinitarian vision of love between the Father and the Son, where the Spirit himself is the vision – and hence, the robustly trinitarian analysis McDonald lamented not seeing in Owen.

There was some helpful dialogue afterward, which I appreciated. One criticism was my use of Turretin which I found interesting. After going back and forth on whether or not another section of his work would have been fruitful for my analysis, it was suggested that Turretin, whose work is polemical, shouldn’t be used as a constructive proposal. This seems true, but I don’t know how far I would want to take it. After all, is there every really a pure polemical theology or ever truly a non-polemical constructive theology? Turretin chose to engage Aquinas and Scotus on anthropological terms, which says a lot about his view. I don’t think Edwards or Owen would have, even though they had anthopological elements in their discussion. For Owen and Edwards, there were other issues at the forefront, namely, Christology and a trinitarian theology respectively. It seems clear that Turretin needs to be handled carefully, that it is never suggested his work is exactly what he would have said had he written a constructive theology, but I think it seems misguided to push that very far.

I’m going to put some more thought into some of the comments, and think that, if nothing else, they will make fruitful footnotes!


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