Thursday, February 01, 2007

Jonathan Edwards: Reformed Herotic

No, not that Jonathan Edwards. He won Olympic medals and stuff, and I'm not sure he's Reformed anyway. So, his blog post would just be Jonathan Edwards: Hero.

Yes, I'm writing about this Jonathan Edwards, to which this website is devoted.

Lots of people who study Christian theology love Jonathan Edwards. Lots of Christians hear lots of preachers talking about Edwards as a model preacher, or a model spiritual influence, or whatever.

Here are my questions about all this.

First, can we really take his theological system, or his view of the world, as our own in the 21st century? So far, in light of the reading I've done in the last day or so, my answer would have to be negative, with some qualifications. Edwards, in his philosophy, in his scientific writings, and in his doctrine of creation, is seriously at odds with both modern science and philosophy, and a basic Christian or biblical doctrine of creation. It appears that he was an idealist, and that he believed that God essentially re-created the world all the time in one continuous action of upholding and sustaining the world. Edwards wrote against Newton's mechanical views of the universe, and against deism in general. His idealism, rightly or wrongly, has been compared to the idealism of people like George Berkeley and William Blake. Can it find a place in a credible Christian theology today?

Second, what are the implications of this idealism for Edwards and his understanding of Jesus Christ? Did the humanity of Jesus Christ matter all that much to Edwards? He understood that the incarnation was based on a Spirit Logos model of christology. This will be the theme of a short paper I have to write this semester. John Owen also applied this model of incarnation when he needed it. But, is this a meaningful model of incarnation, or is it just 'the man Jesus was very very full of the Holy Spirit' incarnation? Moreover, if Edwards was such a huge influence in American intellectual development, is his legacy altogether good? Is his legacy responsible for the dualism that affects the evangelical church in the US in so many ways?

Finally, can we separate the theology of Edwards from his spirituality? Edwards is a model for the Christ centred devotional life, and the Spirit filled life of Christian service in preaching and teaching. I think spiritual revival is an important aspect of the Christian life. In fact, to some extent, spiritual revival is the Christian life. Here, I think, Edwards was an important influence for good. But how, then, do his theological quirks matter? Was his style of ministry 'affected' by them? I hope to explore all these things over the next two months.

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