Jonathan Edwards and Justification

With my recent move and my upcoming semester of teaching (which is all very new), I feel like all my posts have been updates about something I’ve published. Sorry about that, hopefully things will be more manageable soon. Until then, I would like to highlight a new book out on Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and Justification ed. Josh Moody (Crossway, 2012). In short, this book is a defense of the claim that Edwards held to a position on justification that can be regarded as Protestant and Reformed. If you are not familiar with the secondary literature on Edwards, this might seem pointless. If Edwards was anything he was Reformed right? Not necessarily so. On justification specifically, Edwards scholars have long questioned Edwards stance, even claiming that it is a key ecumenical bridge with Roman Catholicism.

To start the book, Josh Moody lays out the debated issues and defends Edwards’s Reformed heritage. Next, I lay out what I believe to be the crux of Edwards’s position. I argue that his position is often misunderstood because his doctrinal ordering is not followed carefully. Edwards grounds justification in participation and union, ordering soteriology around Christ and the Spirit. Ultimately, this has to do with Edwards’s account of theosis, but in general, it has more to do with his theocentric approach to doctrine. Every doctrine finds its orbit around Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Third, my friend Rhys Bezzant addresses Edwards’s broad social vision and its implication for his preaching on justification. Fourth, Samuel Logan analyses perhaps the biggest stumbling block in Edwards’s account of justification – evangelical obedience. My hope is that his chapter and mine really serve as two sides of the same argument. Once you follow the dogmatic moves in the first part of Edwards’s discourse on justification, his second part (dealing with evangelical obedience) can fall into place appropriately. Last, Doug Sweeney mines other material across Edwards’s corpus, published and not, to round out the picture of justification we present in this book. 
Edwards creatively presents justification in a broadly Reformed mode. Much of his account is idiosyncratic, which I try to highlight in my essay, but his emphases are weighted in a distinctively Reformed way. With all of the discussion about justification by faith, I hope this book will case a vision for the kind of resources available to Protestants, and remind us that creatively in theology is not necessarily a bad thing.

8 thoughts on “Jonathan Edwards and Justification

  1. Kyle,

    How would you say that Edwards’ theology correlates with Calvin’s ‘double grace’ and union with Christ theology (if)? From what you have said above, it sounds as if Edwards and Calvin are at least conversation partners. Did Edwards read Calvin at all?

    • Bobby, it is hard to know how much of anyone Edwards read. What is clear is that he was a modern man who wanted to be a player in an international scene of modern theology, so he focused his attention on figures like John Locke, Cambridge Platonists, etc., as well as Francis Turretin, John Owen, Peter van Mastricht, etc. He certainly read Calvin, but probably didn’t really study him.

      In my analysis, I would say that Edwards basically follows Calvin here by focusing all of his attention on union and participation. The focal point of his soteriology is always Christ and the Spirit. He couldn’t really have used the lanugage of “double grace” as Calvin did, but he would have made the same kinds of moves. Ultimately, for Edwards, justification and sanctification are words that call out participation in Christ’s life (and therefore participation in Christ’s justification and Christ’s sanctification), as well as a particular kind of emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit that was standard fare for the high orthodox period of Reformed theology.

      • Kyle,

        Thank you. And I understand your point about the Holy Spirit in High Calvinist orthodoxy, indeed. I need to spend more time with Edwards, and you are motivating me to do so; thanks, again, Kyle.

  2. Pingback: Theology Around the Blogosphere — August 2012 « Cheese-Wearing Theology

  3. Kyle,

    i’m a little late to the party here, but i’m just wondering if the legitimacy of Edward’s ‘reformedness’ is questioned because of his privileging of participation and union to justification so that, as you say, justification has its ground in participation and union rather than the other way round. In other words, i’m wondering if there are some who see that move as ‘unreformed’.

    If that is the critiique, what is the defense of that ordering as a legitimate reformed position?


    • Geordie,

      Yes, that critique is made. Usually people don’t go so far as to call it unreformed, but a move away from what they see as the central tenant of Reformed theology (or, more narrowly, soteriology). Horton, for instance, thinks that a truly Reformed soteriology has Gods declarative speech act as its fountain. I argue in this chapter that Edwards does not lose this impulse, but, with the bulk of Reformed High Orthodoxy, move it over to the effectual call.

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