I received my copy of the new book Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (Dunedin Academic Press, 2011) the other day, and I wanted to talk a bit about my essay in that volume: “Jonathan Edwards’ Reformed Doctrine of the Beatific Vision.” The volume itself is a series of papers-turned-chapters from the Jonathan Edwards and Scotland conference held at Glasgow University in 2009. While most of the essays focused on Edwards and Scotland and the interchange between Edwards and the Scots, mine obviously did not. My essay, rather, focused on the beatific vision as it was being developed in Reformed high orthodoxy, particularly in the thought of John Owen, Francis Turretin and Jonathan Edwards. I peppered the footnotes with some random other Reformed thought on the beatific vision, spanning from John Calvin, Johannis Wollebius, Lewis Bayly, Thomas Watson, Bavinck on to Charles Hodge.
Without going into my essay in much detail, I want to focus on some themes I saw develop in Reformed thought on the beatific vision. First, and maybe most interestingly, there was incredible breadth and creativity in the Reformed accounts, particularly the three I focused on. At first glance, finding any similiarities seem nearly impossible. Owen develops his account with a particularly robust Christology, allowing Christ’s imaging of the Father to do the most dogmatic work for him. Turretin, by contrast, puts himself in conversation with Scotus and Aquinas, and with Bavinck after him, goes the way of Bonaventure. Rather than using Christology to help navigate questions of the vision in glory, Turretin turns to anthropology, virtue and soteriology to do most of the heavy lifting. God’s nature is not discussed to the degree one would think, and, in my opinion, Turretin’s account seems to sketch a vision of deity abstractly considered rather than the Triune God of glory opening up his life in love to his creatures in a vision of his true self. Edwards’s account, I would suggest, does just this, turning to distinctively trinitarian machinery to develop his account of the beatific vision.
That said, I closed my essay with some thoughts that are still very much in construction. I attempted to highlight what a Reformed doctrine of the beatific vision would look like, with specific emphasis on the figures I outlined. Let me sketch those here. First, it seems, the Reformed account of the beatific vision focuses on seeing God personally rather than essentially. The essence, all agreed, is invisible and out of reach of creaturely perception. Rather, the vision of God is a personal vision, and as such, never ceases to be a gift. Second, and this would leave Turretin to the side, the beatific vision is a vision of God pro nobis. For Owen, the vision of God is translated through Christ’s mediatorial office; the God who is for us in Christ is only known in Christ. For Edwards, the beatific vision is given by an act of God’s love, such that the vision is had in that love. The focus then, for both Owen and Edwards, is on the God who gives the vision rather than the vision received. For both, this vision takes up the history of redemption such that it is a vision of God qua Redeemer.
Like I said, my thoughts on this are still very much in construction. Any thoughts? Has anyone had the beatific vision and could just explain it to us (!)? haha