Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Waddington

Edwards Studies is pleased to be talking today with Dr. Jeffrey Waddington, a voice that you may find familiar from his excellent work on the Reformed Forum. Besides being a frequent contributor on the podcast East of Eden, Dr. Waddington is an ordained minister in the OPC and an occasional contributor to Reformation 21. He is also the author of The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. 

Pleased to have you Jeff!

Brother, I am thrilled to be able to spend time with you today. I was looking around your EdwardsStudies.com site and am quite impressed with the architecture and interior design of the place. Excuse me while I take a swig of my piping hot blondie coffee! You have outdone yourself in bringing together a multimedia extravaganza of Edwards articles, videos, and reviews. I am overwhelmed. It warms the cockles of my heart!

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We will talk about your book in just a few moments, but tell us what is going on with the Reformed Forum lately? Are there big plans for the East of Eden show? There have only been a couple in 2015 and just one in 2016. What gives?

The Reformed Forum board recently met over the net (and though I was absent) and the big topic of discussion is our upcoming third annual theology conference at Greyslake, IL in October. We have thoroughly enjoyed the first two conferences and look forward the teaching and the interaction with the folks who come from all over the US and Canada. As for East of Eden the slackened pace of getting this podcast out is simply a matter of logistics for the three of us involved: Nick Batzig from the Savannah area, David Filson from Nashville, and myself from the greater Philadelphia area. We love doing the podcast and hope to get back into a regular routine. Please pray that the Lord would grant us schedules that mesh and the energy to tend to our pastoral charges and do the podcast and all the other writing we do. Thanks for asking about the forum and the Edwards podcast.

How did you get into Jonathan Edwards? Was it through John Piper like the majority of us, or through your English Literature class like a few others of us around here?

Years ago as a Salvation Army officer (Wesleyan-Arminian pastor) I picked up a copy of Iain Murray’s bio on Edwards but did not read it until I came into the Reformed community through a PCA congregation in Ithaca, NY. I actually had read a fair bit of John Piper and loved him. But I did not act on his hints sprinkled throughout his various books and articles. And I did read Edwards in my tenth grade English class back in 1980 but I was not a believer at the time. I remember reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and not being bothered by it at all. It was the plain gospel truth. Of course, as you know, Matthew, Edwards could rhapsodize just as lyrically on the joys of heaven as a world of love. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. I came into the Reformed community and purchased the two volume Banner of Truth edition of The Works of Edwards and began reading a little at a time. When I came to the Philly area to study at Westminster Seminary I purchased Piper’s delightful annotated edition of Edwards’s The End of Creation and fell in love with the aesthetic on display in the very way Edwards wrote The End. After that I took an independent study with Sam Logan, then president of Westminster and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That course was based on the taped lectures of John Gerstner on Edwards. Gerstner was just brilliant. Now as you know I have my differences with Gerstner, which are not inconsiderable, but in this series (which I would love to see on CD or MP3) he just shines. While I entered the PhD program at Westminster intent on doing something with Abraham Kuyper’s common grace doctrine, Sam Logan convinced me to work on something to do with Edwards. So I eventually took the PhD seminar on Edwards that Sang Lee offered at Princeton Theological Seminary. I took that course in 2003, just after his volume in the Yale edition of Edwards’s Works had been published. It was delight to learn from Lee, with whom I differ as well. He was gracious and an enjoyable professor. I had the privilege and pleasure of helping him edit the Princeton Companion on Jonathan Edwards. It took me a very long time to complete my PhD but I finally did under the supervision of William Edgar at Westminster. Edgar is a brilliant apologist interested in all things cultural. He was knowledgeable and encouraging.

Your 2015 book is entitled The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. Break that down for us – first the title, then the subtitle. What are you doing here?

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The book is slightly revised version of my Westminster dissertation (very slightly revised!) for which I was awarded a PhD in 2013. I am challenging John Gerstner’s contention that Edwards was an exemplar of the classical method of apologetics. The heart of my argument is that Edwards rejected the hierarchical faculty psychology of the day (for instance as advocated by “Old Brick” Charles Chauncey, Edwards’s Boston nemesis). Faculty psychology at its worst thinks of the human soul as made up of three little agents called will, intellect, and emotions (or in Edwards’s case, just intellect and will). Edwards, I would argue, advocates the standard Reformed and Puritan notion of the convergence of the distinct yet inseparable powers or capacities or capabilities of the human soul. It is one person who wills, thinks, or feels. So the expression “unified operations of the human soul” simply tries to capture that facet of Edwards’s thinking that is capsulized in his notion of the new sense. The new sense or spiritual understanding involves the whole person or whole soul. Someone can understand to a certain extent the truth of the Christian faith without embracing it or being wowed by it. I was that way for many years. I am a preacher’s brat and a preacher myself. But I did not come to faith in Christ until I was 18 years old. Again this is somewhat standard Reformed anthropology (er…, doctrine of man). The new sense is at the heart of Edwards’s apologetic. He knew his intellectual endeavors defending the Christian faith against Enlightenment thinking would not bring a person to Christ without the Holy Spirit working a new heart in him or her. We might say with good reason that the true religious affections were the heart of Edwards’s apologetic. Affections are not to be equated with the emotions. I would argue, as others have as well, that affections are thoughtful volitions or we might say clear-headed thoughts that stir the will and emotions. Affections therefore have a volitional, emotive, and intellectual component. The subtitle is all about how Edwards’s understanding of man interacted with his view of the apologetic task. The heart of the book is the chapter on the relation of the intellect and will and how they must work together in regeneration to bring about true saving faith. The defense of the faith (the apologetic task) involves, to use the language of the Westminster assembly divines, the enlightenment of the mind and the renewal of the will. In that chapter I challenge Gerstner’s notion of the indirect effects of sin on the human mind. I interact with Alvin Plantinga’s use of Edwards on this topic in his justly famous Warranted Christian Belief to get at the problem. So in the end I argue that Edwards was an eclectic apologist who reflects his educational background and era and so draws from various philosophical streams that can assist him in making a biblical case for whatever doctrine Edwards is seeking to defend. The esteemed church historian Doug Sweeney kindly reviewed the book on the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS website. Where I might challenge Dr. Sweeney, who is gracious as the day is long, is his suggesting I was trying to make Edwards look like a presuppositional apologist. I am a presuppositionalist myself, or better, a covenantal apologetics guy. And I did argue that Edwards resembles Cornelius Van Til at times. I would still argue that. But Edwards insofar as Edwards was Reformed and his defense of the Christian faith reflected that, that far he looks like Van Til. Don’t worry if you don’t know who Van Til is. That may be a conversation for another time. I would be happy to fill your readers in on that score.

If you would, talk briefly about how Edwards saw humanity under this classic fourfold rubric: how man was created, fallen, redeemed, and consumated? Help us understand how these “states” work together. 

Edwards read his Bible but he also read the Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State in which Boston unpacks the movement of man as created good and holy, the fall of man into sin and misery, his restoration plus in redemption, and the summing up of redemption in the consummate state when all the saints and angels gather together to live with the Triune God in the new heavens and new earth. Man’s thinking capacities reflect his spiritual condition in each state. The only way to transition from the fallen state to a redeemed state is if the Father draws the unbeliever, with the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the unbeliever so that they freely embrace Jesus Christ by faith, repenting of his or her sin and pursuing holiness. Edwards followed this basic Reformed understanding of how a sinner becomes a saint.

How does this fit together with the Imago Dei (the image of God) in man? Did Edwards see this as a key component in man’s identity? 

The image of God is a big deal for Edwards and figures prominently in his defense of the doctrine of original sin. Adam and Eve were created in righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. In other words, they were not created neutral. Edwards follows the standard view that the image has a broader and narrower reference. The broad reference is to our ability to think, communicate, relate. I would call these the preconditions for exercising the image in the narrower reference. The narrow reference refers to our holiness, righteousness, and knowledge. Adam and Eve possessed the image in both senses at creation and for some time thereafter. In the fall, we lost the image in its narrow sense but retained, in a twisted and defaced manner, the broad image. Redemption restores the lost narrow image and in fact goes beyond mere restoration. Yes, this was a key component of Edwards’s understanding of who and what man is.

You have used the word “analog” in your writings. Is that an Edwardsian phrase? How does he view man as an analog of God, and what does that say about God’s nature and attributes? 

The question closely follows on the last and overlaps with it a bit. When I say that man is an analog (or analogue for you dictionary geeks out there) of God, I am talking about how we were created to reflect God in our very being and beliefs and behavior. This is not Edwards’s language although I do think it reflects his theology. I guess I could say that the word analog images the reality Edwards is getting at when he talks about the way that man resembles God his maker. Edwards understood that God is Creator and man is creature but he also saw that we are called to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We are to be holy. And with the coming of the Son in the flesh, we are to be conformed to the image of the Son (an image of the Image, we might say) Jesus Christ. God, Edwards tells us, has an intellect and will (this enters into Edwards’s discussion of the Trinity, but that is a discussion for another day too) and so do we. Our intellect and will worked harmoniously in the garden but the fall brought a disruption to that harmony. Redemption restores it. And we spend the whole of our Christian life growing into greater and greater conformity to God so that we once again image forth in our own lives the Son of God Jesus Christ (as argued, for instance, in Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10). Edwards talks about this throughout his sermons and in the treatise on The End of Creation and the Religious Affections, etc.

Let’s tie in the “apologetics” aspect here. Give us a brief rundown of how Edwards goes about defending these constructions against the pressing threats he perceived in his own day.

Edwards did not pen an apologetics handbook or manual. If he had it would have made my life easier. Maybe! We have to glean his understanding of how to defend the Christian faith from his actual defense. Edwards attacks his opponents head on. But I would argue he does it graciously but with surgical precision. In Original Sin Edwards goes after the notion that Adam and Eve were created neutral and that we sin merely by imitation of bad examples. he deconstructs the idea that death is a blessing and affirms a Reformed notion of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us (albeit with his own creative touches). In Freedom of the Will Edwards defends the compatabilist notion that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility coexist when properly understood. Edwards’s target is libertarian free will. Edwards’s rejection of faculty psychology is on full display here. Edwards reduces the idea of libertarian free will (that we have the ability to choose A or B from a state of complete equilibrium under no influence of prior motives). Take a look at Edwards’s sermons and semi-private notebooks and you will see how he reacts to deism and other challenges to the Christian faith. Edwards affirms common grace (that the Holy Spirit is active in the world mitigating the worst effects of sin and allowing for human flourishing to occur and for the gospel to be spread and for sinners to become saints and come into the church) and he affirms natural or general revelation. This is God’s revelation of himself in creation (including us human creatures). Edwards also affirmed something called the “prisca theologica” or primitive theology. This is the idea that the human race has passed along accounts of revelation from Adam to Noah to Abraham to whoever and that this accounts for some similarities between different religions and is a form of special revelation and general revelation. This primitive theology cannot save since it is twisted and perverted as it gets past down from generation to generation. But it means, among other things, that no one is free from exposure to God’s revelation in nature, primitive theology, and Scripture (special revelation). Edwards was an acute and effective apologist. I do not happen to think he was perfect. I think we have made progress since his day and would not want to go back to his day. But he is not afraid to use sanctified reason and Scripture in his defense of the faith and that is a good thing.

Do you have more research to do in this area or do you have any plans for future projects along these lines?

I am interested in everything (well, almost) theological (and philosophical, political, military, and historical, etc) and so my work extends well beyond Edwards. In that regard I suppose I am like Edwards himself. However, I try to keep abreast of the latest developments in Edwards scholarship and always am reading something by or about Edwards. As Piper would say, Edwards is one of my constant companions and conversation partners. I am looking on doing something where I compare Edwards on the unified operations and the work of the 19th and 20th century Dutch Reformed biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos on the soul. I once noted on Facebook that Vos wrote in four pages in his newly translated Reformed Dogmatics on the soul what i tried to say about Edwards in my dissertation in more than 200 pages. Ugh!! I would also like to do work on Edwards the exegete. Perhaps I may revisit the question of how much influence John Locke had on Edwards. I am one who does not think it was as radical as others have thought. Feel free to make recommendations brother!

How about some shout outs and recommendations for our readers. 

Marsden’s  Life is the best biography on Edwards. It is well written and makes Edwards understandable in terms of his own age. Murray’s bio is still worth reading. I think Stephen Nichols’s Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought is a wonderful intro to the life and thought of Edwards. McDermott and McClymond’s Theology of Jonathan Edwards is encyclopedic, but I have many major reservations about the book (and not just because they critique me in a few footnotes!). Craig Biehl’s Infinite Merit is a magisterial treatment of Edwards’s understanding of justification within the broader spread of God’s purposes in Christ and his unchanging rule of righteousness. This website has to be must read as well. Check out reformedforum.org for articles and podcasts related to Edwards and Reformed theology in general. Various websites connected with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (reformation21 and Place for Truth, for instance) are worth checking out. I also frequent the Desiring God site and love various Piper books. I also recommend checking out the Gospel Coalition site as well. This is not to say I agree with everything these sites or authors say. But they are worthwhile. There are many others.

Thank you so much for chiming in Jeff! Hope you will write an article or so for us here at Edwards Studies, can we count on that from you sometime brother? 

Absolutely. Let me have some recommendations and I will run with them.

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