EdwardsStudies.com is pleased to be talking today with Kyle Strobel, noted Jonathan Edwards scholar, author of some great books on the Northampton Puritan, and also the son of the award winning writer, Lee Strobel. Kyle, I just gave copies of The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith to an inquirer this very morning. What’s your dad up to these days?
Well, pretty much the same as usual – working on books and preaching. He is currently on faculty at Houston Baptist University teaching evangelism courses and is a teaching pastor at Woodlands church. These days he is enjoying being a grandfather quite a lot, so that takes up a good deal of his time!
I’m sure everyone asks, but what was it like growing up with a pretty well known speaker/writer as your father?
It is hard to summarize really. Mostly positive. It is a bit unusual when everyone seems to know your father and have an opinion about him. It is also unusual when people make all sorts of assumptions about you based on what they know about your father. But overall it was just normal for me.
How did you get started studying Jonathan Edwards?
When I went to the University of Aberdeen to work on my PhD in systematic theology I didn’t know what my dissertation topic would be. My supervisor mentioned Edwards because he knew I was particularly interested in the interplay between theology and spirituality. So I started reading Edwards seriously for the next six months, making my way through several of his major works, and at that point I was hooked!
You mention the Reformed tradition in your works and lectures from time to time. Did you grow up Reformed or was that something that you discovered later in life? Do you consider yourself part of the broader Reformed tradition today?
This is something that has come up later in life for me. I grew up somewhat antagonistic to Reformed theology, but like most people, I really didn’t know what that meant. I was confronted with a reductionistic and superficial version of it, and so I critiqued it for being reductionistic and superficial! I consider myself Reformed, but I do so in a very broad sense. I am not confessionally Reformed – although I love the confessions of the Reformed tradition. I am Reformed in a more methodological way. The task of Christian theology is to think well about God and the content of theology in light of God. I take that impulse to be at the heart of Reformed theology.
If you don’t mind my asking, where are you worshiping on the Lord’s Day?
I am on the teaching team at Redeemer Church in La Mirada, CA. I preach there monthly.
Let’s start with your much harder book, Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation. Tell us, in layman’s terms, what you are trying to accomplish here.
Basically, my Reinterpretation book is an attempt to provide a way to read Edwards. In other words, this book provides a hermeneutical key to reading Edwards well. If we are going to read Edwards well, as I argue, we have to read him as he wanted to be read. We have to take seriously his Reformed impulses and we have to understand the inner-logic of his thought. This leads us to an overall orientation and direction in which to read Edwards well. As I argue there, we have to read him from the top-down – and therefore from his doctrine of the Trinity through his doctrine of creation in light of his understanding of the consummation of all things. This allows us to triangulate doctrine in light of who God is, what creation is, and where God is leading creation. I test my analysis by looking at spiritual knowledge, regeneration, and religious affection, showing how my distinct reading can speak into these three topics.
Why is a “reinterpretation” necessary?
With only a handful of exceptions, I don’t think Edwards is often read theologically. Because of Perry Miller’s emphasis, I think, we often read Edwards as a radical philosopher who appended a generic Reformed theology onto an already established philosophical framework. I think this is misguided. But the problem is that Miller, and those following in his wake, have done a better job of casting a vision for how to read Edwards. Scholars have responded to Miller and his line, but they never really did much to establish an alternative reading (and way of reading). My work is an attempt to fill in that gap. This is why, for better or worse, I spend a lot of time in the footnotes outlining how my view relates to or (more often) undermines other views in the secondary literature.
When I was reading it, I thought to myself, “Man! This guy really likes the word ‘qua!’” Aside from your obvious enthusiasm for the Latin term, what else do you think this work contributes to the advancement of Edwards studies overall?
“Qua” is a great term! Next to giving a methodology for reading Edwards, I think the most important contribution would be my analysis of Edwards’s doctrine of God. I argue that Edwards changed his view of the Trinity and no one seemed to notice. I argue for a distinct view of how Edwards’s argument works in his “Discourse on the Trinity.” I argue that Edwards’s view of God is “religious affection in pure act” (what I call, in the book, “Personal Beatific-Delight”). In light of these features of Edwards’s doctrine, I seek to show how his emphases guide his theology.
Your book Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards is much more accessible for lay readers. Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?
I had two main audiences in mind with that book. I was aiming it at lay people, but I was particularly interested in folks who appreciate Reformed theology (or who call themselves “Calvinists”) and those who are interested in spiritual formation. For the first group, I wanted to show them what a distinctively Reformed view of spiritual formation could look like. No one has ever really outlined Edwards’s understanding of spiritual formation before, and so I wanted to offer that to folks. But I also wanted to show people interested in spiritual formation that a distinctively evangelical reading, albeit a Reformed version, would develop into a specific kind of spirituality. I wanted to show the laity (and pastors) that our theological views are not divorced from our understanding of the practical realities of the Christian life.
In the appendix, you mention The Jonathan Edwards Project. Tell us a bit about that. How is progress going?
Things are going well. Along with my edited version of Edwards’s Charity and Its Fruits, I am co-editing a volume of Edwards’s spiritual writings for the Classics of Western Spirituality series. I am still editing academic works on Edwards, and Oliver Crisp and I are nearly finished with our introduction to Edwards’s Christian thought. This volume with Oliver is the next major addition to my project, because we believe this could be the go-to introduction to Edwards’s thought. I am writing three chapters outlining Edwards’s theology while Oliver writes three chapters outlining Edwards’s philosophy. The book is due at the end of the Summer with Eerdmans.
Are you going to continue studying Edwards, or are you going to open some new channels of study in the future?
I will slow down my research on Edwards a bit but I’ll never put it aside completely. I am a systematic theologian, so my interests are not primarily historical but doctrinal (not that I want to divide those two). Whenever I want to think about a doctrine I start with Edwards, and so that is where you see a lot of my work on Edwards come out. For instance, I have an article coming out with Harvard Theological Review called “Jonathan Edwards’s Reformed Doctrine of Theosis,” because I wanted to think through that topic more. I also have finished a chapter for a book on Edwards’s understanding of theologically anthropology, because that is a topic captivating me at the moment.
Any shout-outs or book recommendations for Edwards fans?
I am particularly excited about the essays in a new edited volume I did called The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Theologians. What I like about this volume is that it includes Protestants of all kinds as well as Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians writing on Edwards in relation to another theologian (or school of thought). It ended up becoming a fascinating volume. My good friend Rhys Bezzant has a volume out on Edwards and the church that everyone should read, and, of course, Oliver Crisp has a new book out on Edwards (I assume Oliver always has a new book out!). There is a lot of good work being done on Edwards right now, so it is an exciting time for the guild. I am in the middle of reading Doug Sweeney’s new book Edwards the Exegete and it is great. Everyone interested in Edwards will need to read it.
Kyle, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us at EdwardsStudies.com today!