Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought by Oliver Crisp and Kyle Strobel

 

A new and significant work on Jonathan Edwards has just come out, thanks to our good friends at Eerdman’s publishing. This new edition is the mutual brainchild of Edwards scholars Oliver C. Crisp (Fuller Seminary) and Kyle C. Strobel (Biola University), each of which has been interviewed here at Edwardsstudies.com in the past. This new work is an attempt to provide an overview of the thought of the great Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards.

Regular followers of this site will perhaps already be aware of some of the individual contributions of Strobel and Crisp (see book list below) and this new combined effort seeks to provide an overview of Edwards’ overall theological trajectory. Some key doctrines explored in this text include Edwards’ views on the Trinity, Creation, and the Atonement. Readers of Crisp in particular will not be surprised to see the concepts of idealism, occasionalism, and continuous creation treated in his contributory sections.

Book Links Mentioned in Video Review Above:
Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought

The Case for Christ

Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation

Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation

Jonathan Edwards Among the Theologians

Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

Formed for the Glory of God

After Jonathan Edwards

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One Man’s Adventure of a Lifetime to Retrace the Path of Jonathan Edwards

Tony Walker is an amazing man.

Not only is he a devoted pastor, a loving husband, and an attentive father, but he is also an exceptionally friendly and generous person. More than once, Tony has sent me something in the mail, related to Jonathan Edwards – just because of our mutual interest in Northampton Sage. Mind you, we’ve never even met personally.

While I have not yet had the pleasure of actually shaking his hand, we are destined to meet at an Edwards conference one day, I am sure.

Recently, Tony sent me an apron for serving my church’s Wednesday night dinners. Of course, it has the Jonathan Edwards family logo on it! He bought the apron while on a pilgrimage of sorts. Late last year, Tony went on the adventure of a lifetime to retrace the footsteps of the great Bewigged Puritan. In the videos below, Tony chronicles his adventures. If you have not yet befriended Tony on the interweb, he is quite possibly Edwards’ greatest fan and the nicest guy online. So please give him a like, subscribe, and follow on Youtube and Twitter.

Introduction:

Here is the story of day one:

Here is part two:

Next part:

And the subsequent:

And the final:

 

Book Review – A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards: Continuous Creation and Christology, by S. Mark Hamilton

S. Mark Hamilton has written a very exceptional and handy new volume on the metaphysics of Jonathan Edwards, especially as regards his somewhat unusual ideas of continuous creation and idealism, and their respective relationship to Christology.

Entitled, “A Treatise on Jonathan Edwards: Continuous Creation and Christology,” this work is published by the emerging new leader in Edwards publication projects, JESociety Press. Before we get to a review of the book itself, we should take a moment to note what a good thing this is for Edwards scholarship in general.

Having a press that is devoted to Edwards alone is a marvelous thing. This means that it can be small, nimble, and tightly focused on projects that advance our specialized field. JESociety Press plans to remain concentrated on publishing new projects by both respected scholars and emerging new writers alike for the tailored audience that eagerly anticipates them. While bigger publishers like Crossway do gobble up manuscripts on Edwards from time to time, they are not always as willing to give more technical treatises like the one being considered in this review the availability they deserve.

Moreover, JESociety Press, with this volume as a first foray, is also introducing a new line of monographs entitled “A Series of Treatises on Jonathan Edwards.” This new lineup promises to give readership “lively, assessable and in-depth treatments of Edwards-specific subject matter.” Each of these new volumes is also promised to be concise (Continuous Creation is only around 100 pages), which I believe will make these books all the more valuable. Hamilton

S. Mark Hamilton’s own learned contribution to Edwards scholarship on continuous creation (pictured: right) comes with high recommendations from Gerald McDermott, Douglas Sweeney, Sam Storms, and Oliver Crisp (his doctoral adviser), so my hopes were high for this volume. Thankfully it did not disappoint me in any way. Actually, even the very Forward by Crisp had me intrigued; here the esteemed professor at Fuller Seminary admits that his student will be challenging some of his own ideas within. Drama!

Crisp also admits that the concepts contained herein by his student are heavy and rank among some of the great thoughts that can be entertained by the human mind. As I delved in to the introduction, I considered myself duly warned.

In the beginning of the work, Hamilton introduces the reader to the concept of Edwards’ idea of continuous creation; that is, that God is constantly re-creating the universe at every instant, which is akin to His sustaining the universe (Colossians 1:15-17). Rather than creating just once, and then letting the universe spin (so the enlightenment machinists), Edwards has an idea that God is always and constantly recreating everything that is. But this idea, if accepted, comes with some tangential “baggage” that likewise must be toted to keep the concept coherent. Thus, in order to make this view hold together (note: Hamilton is not arguing a defense of continuous creation; he is only trying to help readers understand Edwards more clearly) he will have to dig into related areas that this notion of continuous creation may affect.

On page 11, Hamilton gives the outline for the book. First, he will deal with the fact that Edwards held to some form of immaterialism. That is to say, the universe is actually a product of God’s uncreated mind, and all else that “is,” consists of either created minds with the power to perceive, or else the mental impressions that God places upon those minds. As I understand it, Edwards’ believes that the universe is somewhat like the movie the Matrix, with reality somehow impressed into the minds of God’s intelligent creatures, all the while they perceive that they are actually “there.” This chair that I am sitting on as I write is not really here. My created mind perceives it to be there; but there is no “stuff” below me. All that exists in Edwards’ metaphysical world is the Uncreated Mind of God impressing ideas into our created minds.

But this is all not so simple. What do we make of time itself? Does it progress? Is it eternally present to God? Does it lapse moment by moment? Does the past still “exist” once it is gone, or is it destroyed? All of these questions, Hamilton tries to explain in his second chapter on time, a view which he calls “stage theory.” In the third chapter, Hamilton deals with occasionalism which is the idea that God is the sole causal factor in all that transpires in the universe. Hamilton does not think that Edwards believes God needs to recreate the lesser created minds instant by instant, but he does argue that the percepts given by God to those minds are in a constant state of being “updated” through God’s direct agency. And while all of these things are interesting enough on their own, where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is in the Christology of Jonathan Edwards.

Here we see the subtitle of the work coming into full effect, “Continuous Creation and Christology.” True enough, if the doctrine of the Incarnation suggests that the Son of God took on humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, this opens up quite a few other questions about Edwards’ metaphysics: What of Jesus’ physical body? Does it possess physicality (material) outside of its “idea,” or does it too exist as an impression from the Uncreated Mind (God) to the created minds of men? And even more startling, we must ask, what about the mind of Jesus of Nazareth itself; is it created or uncreated? Does the human mind of Jesus of Nazareth need be constantly recreated? If Jesus is to be truly incarnate as a human being, he must exist in his humanity in the same way as all human creations do, right? And yet this is made quite a bit more complex still by the fact that the Son is also eternal and timeless; begotten by the Father. The reader is challenged to work through these complex questions alongside Hamilton as he considers each one in turn.

When Hamilton is working through Edwards’ first hand materials, he is primarily doing work in his Miscellanies and his book Original Sin. It is in the latter that we see his doctrine of continuous creation explained most fully, and in the former that Edwards talks about such ideas as idealism and occasionalism freely. There are moments when Hamilton, in order to explain what Edwards likely thought, is somewhat forced to make conjectures and leaps to fill in that gaps that are not fully explained by Edwards himself in his extant writings. Of course, he rigorously works through the relevant literature, and especially interacts with Crisp in the footnotes.

Since the book is short, the reader moves through these questions a bit fast. Perhaps too fast at times, although Hamilton tries to give the reader enough illustrations and examples to keep his or her mind focused on the topic at hand. Several times, just when my focus was about to “tap out” from mental perplexity, Hamilton would give just the right illustration that helped me to jump back on board and cling on a bit longer. Readers will find themselves preserved from mental fatigue by helpful handholds such as the recurring “cupcake” illustration (p. 32-33), a Monet painting reference (page 38), an illustration of an actor watching himself on film (p. 40), a memorable old-school slide projector (p. 56) and so on.  The constant use of these illustrations gives the reader the assurance of “Okay, I’m still with you!”

Without giving too many spoilers, Hamilton holds that Edwards does have a coherent view of continuous creation that sustains challenges from other problematic issues related to Christology. Edwards’ view of immaterialism is that the universe consists of minds and ideas only. He holds that the ideas must be constantly recreated, but not the minds. This prevents him from having to admit that the created mind of Jesus of Nazareth (as distinct from the uncreated mind of the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity) need be remade continually. This makes Edwards, in Hamilton’s view an “immaterial realist.” Thus, Hamilton concludes the following propositions can be discerned in Edwards’ metaphysics:

  • The humanity of Jesus is a real substance, composed of an immaterial mind and a body composed entirely of ideas presented to Him by the Spirit
  • The mind of Jesus persists through time by enduring moment-to-moment whereas the body of Jesus, like all other perceptible objects, is continuously created and re-presented ex nihilo to the mind of Jesus (p. 92-93).

The book does get embroiled in quite a bit of jargon. Each chapter introduces new terms to the reader that must be considered before one or the other is finally preferred by the author. Is time discreet or dense? We must become familiar with fusion theory and fission theory. Neophytes will struggle to keep up with terms like idealism, occasionalism, substances, minds, immaterialism etc. Readers may do well to keep the new Edwards Encyclopedia close at hand. Thus, the constant introduction of new terms may give some uninitated readers the sense of playing “catch up” throughout the book. On the other hand, the brevity, clarity, and illustrations of the book make it an attainable read for all who are interested to go further into Edwards’ somewhat idiosyncratic thoughts on metaphysics.

 

 

The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017)

Here it is!

Finally the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia, edited by Harry S. Stout, is available for purchase in the hardback edition. This volume contains over 400 entries on topics about and related to the Northampton Puritan. This work represents the learning of over 175 world class Edwards scholars. Topics include the historical persons related to his life, the times and context in which he lived, his interlocutors, his primary written sources, as well as dozens of theological and philosophical concepts necessary to understanding JE’s works. Contributors to this volume include Kenneth Minkema, Joel Beeke, Rhys Bezzant, Adriaan Neele, Oliver Crisp, Sean Michael Lucas, Jefferey Waddington, Jonathan S. Marko, and many others. The forward was written by George M. Marsden.

This volume will likely join just a handful of other works related to Edwards that are considered absolutely indispensable for future scholars to reckon with.

Forthwith, a full video review of this beautiful and scholarly work.

Recent Lecture by Douglas A. Sweeney “Human Flourishing in the Augustinian Tradition: Jonathan Edwards”

Most recently, within the circuit of Jonathan Edwards scholarship, Doug Sweeney gave an excellent lecture entitled “Human Flourishing in the Augustinian Tradition: Jonathan Edwards” at the Commonweal Project Spring Colloquium on April 28, 2017 at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In short, the Commonweal Project is an initiative to equip Christians in general, and pastors in particular, with a biblical theology of work and economics. Below is the access to the lecture.

Sweeney is the Chair of the Church History & History of Christian Thought, and the Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is one of the editors of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, and has published numerous articles and books on Edwards including his latest offering Edwards the Exegete.

Click here for more information about The Commonweal Project.

–Guest post by John T. Lowe (@johntlowe). John is a Ph.D. Candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He received his B.A. from the University of Louisville, and his M.Div., and Th.M. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Check out the sermon on video here:

 

Edwards Encyclopedia Preview

Forthwith, the world’s first look at the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (pre-order this volume here), edited by Harry S. Stout, Kenneth P. Minkema, and Adriaan C. Neele (Eerdmans, 2017). The edition shown in the video below is not the final version, but is rather an advanced, uncorrected proof provided by the good folks at Eerdmans Publishing. The hardback edition will be released in November of this year, and will weigh in at well over 700 pages. It will likely be the definitive one volume reference work on Jonathan Edwards for decades to come. Contributing authors include: Robert L. Boss, Jonathan S. Marko, Oliver Crisp, Joel Beeke, Sean Michael Lucas, Thomas S. Kidd, Rhys S. Bezzant, Jeffery C. Waddington and many more.

 

Interview with Robert Caldwell: Author of “Theologies of the American Revivalists”

Today, Edwards Studies speaks with Dr. Robert Caldwell III, Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of the new work Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP, 2017). 

 

ES: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you fall in love with historical theology?

I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, raised in Buffalo, New York, went to school in the Chicago area (Northwestern University for undergrad, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for my M.Div. and Ph.D.). I came to faith in Christ in high school, met my wife in Cru at Northwestern (currently married 21 wonderful years), and we have two daughters (13 and 11). I enjoy the guitar and running.

I have always loved history and the mind. Being a science buff in high school, I was drawn to the history and philosophy of science in college. When I got to seminary, I discovered Jonathan Edwards who lighted my mind and fired my soul. From there I developed a deep appreciation for how the great thinkers of the Christian faith have pursued loving the Lord with their minds: Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Edwards. Keeping company with these folks through their writings has made me a better Christian, husband, father, and churchman.

ES: Where do you teach, and what do you focus on in your research studies? 

I am an Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I’ve taught for thirteen years. My research has specialized in Jonathan Edwards, the First and Second Great Awakenings and the history of theology in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

ES: Give us an overview of your project – what will readers expect to discover here? 5164

Theologies of the American Revivalists explores the ways American revivalists from the First and Second Great Awakenings (1740-1840) thought, preached, and wrote about what I call “revival theology,” that combination of Protestant soteriology, conversion expectations, and preaching practices associated with revival. Unlike today, there was a great deal of theological writing done on this subject during that time. The book identifies and charts the historical theological developments of the various different schools of revival theology of the period, with specific attention given to the major controversies and writers.

ES: Of course our readers here will be most interested in Jonathan Edwards. How does he figure into your work? 

Edwards plays a prominent and unique role throughout the book. In the first chapter I examine Edwards’s views of revival amidst the standard Calvinist revivalists of the First Great Awakening—Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, and Jonathan Dickinson—a group of folks I call the “moderate evangelical” revivalists. Edwards’s views and practices were consistent with those of the moderates.

At the same time, however, Edwards advances two ideas in his own unique way—the “voluntarist accent” in his theology (sinners have a natural ability to trust Christ; we are complicit in Adam’s original transgression) and his “disinterested spirituality” (the idea that we love God for who he is, not for any good we get from God in salvation). These ideas were later taken up and modified by his disciples who formed them into a deeply revivalist school of Calvinism known as the New Divinity. I examine this side of Edwards’s revival theology separately in half of the second chapter, and spend several other chapters exploring the legacy of the Edwardsean New Divinity tradition through the Second Great Awakening.

In short, Edwards is, simultaneously, a First Great Awakening moderate revivalist and the fountainhead of a uniquely American school of Calvinism.

ES: Are there other less-appreciated revivalists of interest that perhaps most readers will not already know about? 

Yes, there were many I came across in writing the book; I’ll briefly mention three, each from different perspectives. Jonathan Dickinson (1688-1747) was known abroad as one of the two “great Jonathans” in the colonies during the First Great Awakening (the other, of course, being Jonathan Edwards). Dickinson was the elder statesmen of New Jersey Presbyterianism who played a significant role the founding of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). He was a great promoter of the Awakening, and wrote numerous works defending moderate evangelical revival theology including A Display of God’s Special Grace and The True Scripture Doctrine Concerning Some Important Points of Christian Faith. His writings are distinguished for their precision, their balance between the head and the heart, and for their spiritual insight.

Andrew Croswell (1709-1785) was a radical revivalist of the James Davenport type who actually published a host of sermons and smaller treatises defending views which were then considered radical, but would today would be considered commonplace by many evangelicals. These views include the positions that assurance is the essence of saving faith, that conversions should be experienced quickly, that grace is absolutely free, that the preaching of the moral law and the experience of preconversion “terrors” are not necessary prior to trusting Christ. For most of his ministry, Croswell was criticized, marginalized and charged with antinomianism and “enthusiasm.” His ideas would become increasingly widespread in a later history of evangelicalism.

Edward Dorr Griffin (1770-1837) was a booming Boston preacher from the Second Great Awakening who represented the Edwardsean or New Divinity theological tradition at its zenith. Griffin had a long and distinguished ministry. After a decade of pastorates he was called to be professor of pulpit eloquence at Andover Seminary. Later he was the first pastor of Boston’s historic Park Street Church, and throughout the 1820s and 30s he served as president of Williams College. His published sermons are noteworthy for their powerful rhetoric, their vivid imagery, and their strong dose of Edwardsean theology.

ES: What are some of your conclusions about the importance of revivalism? What are some of its lasting results that we still feel today? 

While revivals may be thought of as phenomena of the past, they are still an important part of the evangelical church today:

  • They form a fundamental part of evangelical identity and our historical memory. Many of us would love to see revival happen in our churches, even though we may differ theologically or practically as to what that would look like.
  • The most authentic revivals occur in the context of a ministry that is deeply informed by biblical theology and spirituality. While we can’t schedule a revival (i.e. we can’t produce one by our own efforts; God is not on our timeline), pastors who know the Word and who know how to apply it to real lives can increase the chances that a revival may occur by being faithful to their calling of preaching, teaching, and shepherding souls.
  • Revivals can happen again. We don’t need to wait for a certain set of social, cultural or political conditions to be manifested in our society before one happens. All we need are Christians and pastors who are faithful in prayer and sound in the proclamation of the Word.

The phenomenon of revivals over the last several centuries has resulted in a number of features of that are still with us today in the evangelical church:

  • Evangelicals tend to identify with a strong, powerful leaders who preach the gospel with passion and clarity—men like Whitefield, Moody, and/or Graham. This is still with us today; just notice how many evangelical subgroups are built not so much around the ministry of the Word but upon the foundation of a personality, either an evangelist, a pastor, a blogger, or a conference speaker. Depending upon who the person is, this can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
  • How we expect conversions to occur has been deeply shaped by revivals of the past and the theologies behind them. Many evangelicals expect that conversion is preceded by a period of spiritual distress when an individual comes to the awareness of personal sin and God’s wrath. There is a rich theology of this in
    America’s revival traditions, one that has developed and changed throughout the generations. I explore this theological development and the practical effects of it in the book.
  • How we call people to faith has also been influenced by American revivals. For instance, the Billy Graham altar call is still with us. The theological foundations to this practice were developed in the period I treat in the book, but there were other ways evangelicals called people to faith which I explore as well.

ES: What is your own theological/ecclesiastical tradition and how do you think it colors your perspective on the revivals?

I am a Southern Baptist who deeply appreciates Augustine’s trinitarianism, the reformed tradition on soteriology, and Edwards’s spiritual theology. My experience in Cru as an undergraduate and education at TEDS has given me a great appreciation for the broader evangelical tradition. My training as a historian has encouraged me to be sensitive about allowing my theology to color my historical writing. I try to be as objective as possible and thus attempt to treat Edwards, Finney, Bellamy, and Bangs in a way that I would hope they each would find to be judicious and accurate.

Having said that, I am sure that my own views affect my historical judgment for none of us is 100% objective. There are many ways this may have affected the book, though I will only mention one. My affinity for Edwards’s spiritual theology probably surfaces in the amount of space I devote to the Edwardsean theological tradition in the book. As I reflect on this, this probably has to do with fact I appreciate Edwards’s spiritual theology which the Edwardseans faithfully represented long after Edwards’s death (even though the Edwardseans modified other aspects of Edwards’s views which I find to be problematic).

ES: Any book recommendations for our readers? 

How about a few primary sources from several American revivalists? For those interested in the topic of American revival theology here are a few writings to whet your appetite from across the theological spectrum. Most of these texts you can find for free in Google Books.

Archibald Alexander. Thoughts on Religious Experience. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1841.

Albert Barnes. The Way of Salvation. 7th ed. New York: Leavitt, Lord and Co., 1836.

Joseph Bellamy. Theron, Paulinus, and Aspasio; Or, Letters and Dialogues upon the Nature of Love to God, Faith in Christ, Assurance of a Title to Eternal Life. In The Works of Joseph Bellamy, D.D. Vol. 2, 161-267. Boston: Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1853.

Jonathan Dickinson. A Display of God’s Special Grace. In Sermons and Tracts, Separately Published at Boston, Philadelphia, etc., 379-446. Edinburgh: M. Gray, 1793.

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversions of Hundreds of Souls in Northampton. In Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 4, The Great Awakening, edited by C. C. Goen, 144-211. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972.