Category Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards’s Argument Against Unitarianism in Miscellany 96

Today I’m finally putting pen to paper for a short introduction to two of Edwards’s miscellanies for a reader being published by Jonathan Edwards Press.

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In the reader I will be introducing Miscellany 96 which is on the Trinity and Miscellany 279 which is on the torments of hell. The plan is basically to introduce each miscellany and then explain how Edwards’s Trinitarian doctrine relates to his doctrine of hell.

Here is a pretty sloppy summary of Edwards’s two arguments against Unitarianism – a very early modern concern – in Miscellany 96.

Argument #1 – A Theological Argument

Claim: There must be more than a unity in infinite and eternal essence.

Argument:

  1. To be perfectly good is to incline to and delight in making another happy in the same proportion as it is happy itself.
  2. God is perfectly good, therefore God is inclined and delights in making another happy in the same proportion as he is happy.

This claim has to do with Edwards’s idea of communication. A perfectly good being desires and delights in communicating the fullness of itself to others, so that others may enjoy the goodness of that first being.

This however doesn’t get you Trinitarianism yet because a Unitarian God could “potentially” delight in making another as happy as God is himself. More is needed.

  1. Goodness is delight in communicating happiness.
  2. If “goodness” is perfect, the delight to communicate must be perfect.
  3. A delight is perfect if an only if the inclination to communicate happiness to the other is equal to an agent’s own inclination to be happy.
  4. To be the object of perfect delight one must be X and Y
  5. A creatures cannot (1)God cannot love a creature as much as God loves himself, (2) a creature cannot receive the fullness of God’s communication.
  6. Therefore creatures cannot be the object of God’s desire to communicate perefectly.
  7. If God exercises his perfect goodness then he must have fellowship with a person capable of receiving the fullness of God’s love and communication.
  8. If God is good then God must exercise perfect goodness.
  9. God is good
    1. Therefore God exercises perfect goodness
  10. God exercises perfect goodness
    1. Therefore God has fellowship with a person capable of receiving the fullness of God’s love and communication.
  11. It follows that there is an object to which God perfectly delight in communicating which is not a creature.
  12. It follows from this that there must more than a unity in the infinite and eternal essence.

Argument #2 – An argument from Experience

Experience shows that rational creatures, i.e. human beings, cannot be happy apart from communion and fellowship with others.

This is because:

  1. Rational creatures, i.e. a human beings, delights in communicating themselves to another and a rational creature, i.e. a human being, cannot delight without another to communicate himself to.
  2. If a rational creature, i.e. a human being, is happy then there is another.
  3. Experience shows that human beings can be happy, therefore human beings have fellowship with others.

Edwards then adds a “lesser to greater” argument:

  1. If this is true of human beings who are made in the image of God, how much more is this true of God who is perfectly happy?

Conclusion: God’s happiness consists in communion, just like the creature’s does.

Do these arguments convince you?

Do you have any suggestions for formulating these arguments in a tighter way?

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Edwards and an Argument for the Eternity of Hell (Miscellany 279)

Assuming you believe in the eternity of hell, how would you go about arguing for this position? Would you go to Scripture? Would you look back at what some historical theologians have said about the matter? Would you try to make some argument based upon your intuitions about justice and the heinousness of sin before God? The 18th century Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, doesn’t take any of these routes. He makes a move that many people today would find quite shocking….

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Jonathan Edwards Preaching or Jonathan Edwards walking like a Zombie? Take your pick.

First let me give you the context. I am currently writing two essays for a book on Edwards’s miscellanies. The book will hopefully come out early in 2019. I will be writing an essay on the Trinity in Misc. 96 and Hell in Misc. 279. In Miscellany 279 Edwards makes an argument for the eternity of hell based on happiness/love/thankfulness. Basically its this:

  1. The happiness of the blessed in heaven is eternal.
  2. Knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of making them vessels of wrath would make them happy at time X.
  3. Without a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced had God not saved them the saints would not know that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of vessels of wrath.
  4. In order for the saints to be happy eternally they need to know God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy at time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  5. Therefore the lively sense of opposite misery needs to occur t time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  6. Therefore the damned must eternally exist in hell.

Mind you this is just one of Edwards’s arguments for the eternity of hell. Personally, I think it’s a bad one. If the point of this argument is that the happiness of those in heaven is eternal and this is secured by knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of wrath then there are certainly other ways in which God could have accomplished giving them a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced. For example, and this is absurd, God could have a daily showing on a really big screen TV viewable everywhere in the New Creation that shows the moment God judged the reprobate. That scenario is a bit absurd, but it would accomplish the “lively sense” Edwards is after. This absurd scenario would be compatible with annihilationism. Or perhaps if one takes a more Barthian stance on things maybe God could constantly present the saints with a vision of the cross, by seeing Christ crucified they would see the misery they would have faced had not Christ died for them. This again would be compatible with annihilationism.

Please don’t take me to be arguing for annihilationism here – I have elsewhere written defending the traditional doctrine of hell (Themelios). I’m just pointing out – this is a pretty bad argument for the eternity of hell.

Redeeming Edwards’s Doctrine of Hell: An “Edwardsean” Account

This month an article I wrote defending the traditional doctrine of hell was published in Themelios 42.2. In this article I argue that despite being subject to a serious philosophical objection, an Edwardsean doctrine of hell is defensible. In order to defend this version of the doctrine of hell I suggest we start by thinking about Edwards’s doctrine of heaven.

Here’s a bit of the article:

Among recent trends in evangelicalism, one of the most prominent has been the resurgence of interest (especially within the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the church) in all things Jonathan Edwards. One sees this in the vast quantity of recent books, blogs, and conferences dedicated to Edwards’s life and thought. These works have done much to lift him up as a pastoral, homiletical, and theological example to be emulated. The result is that certain Edwardsean themes and theological views have begun to exert greater influence upon evangelicalism, for instance: the importance of revival, preaching in order to change religious affections, the New Testament use of the Old, and even Trinitarian theology. One can certainly appreciate the positive influence that Edwards the exemplar has had upon the contemporary evangelical church. However, one aspect of Edwards’s theology that we may want to question the value of following his example is his account of the doctrine of hell.

Many Americans are familiar with Edwards’s account of hell through his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which he depicts one of the most horrific, ghoulish, and even terrorizing portrayals ever presented. In particular, his depiction of hell in this sermon is cited by many as evidence why we ought to abandon the traditional account. It has been said that Edwards’s doctrine is morally intolerable and that we should abandon it. Those who are interested in defending the traditional account and more specifically Edwards’s account have reasons for mining his works in order to find resources within it to defend not only his account but the traditional doctrine of hell as well. This essay aims to accomplish those two tasks.

You can read the rest (for free) here: Themelios

Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement (Review)

It is well known that some of Edward’s followers, sometimes known as the New Divinity, advocated for a view of atonement known as the “governmental theory” or according to Oliver Crisp, penal non-substitution.  This view (in its orthodox form) was first proposed by Hugo Grotius. He suggested that Christ acted as a penal example, demonstrating God’s aversion to sin and paying respect to God’s law. One Edwardsean, Amasa Park picked up this governmental theory and ran full speed with it, even outlining the theory in nine propositions.

Even though its commonly accepted that the New Divinity saw themselves as developing jonathanedwardsontheatonement__76739-1490203753-315-315their governmental theory in light of Edwards’s doctrine, academic debates rage as to whether Edwards’s followers were actually following Edwards’s trajectory in this area or whether they significantly departed from his thought.  For example, B.B. Warfield argued that the Edwardseans forsook Edwards’s teachings. John Gerstner argued that they though they followed Edwards but had no justification in saying so. Finally, and more recently, Oliver Crisp has argued that Edwards knew and approved of these Edwardsean ideas. Brandon Crawford, author of Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement, enters into this debate by offering an in depth account of Edwards’s theory of atonement. His hope is that by focusing on Edwards we will be in a better position to evaluate how his legacy was received.

In order to carry out his aims Crawford begins by setting the historical context of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He does this by surveying early and medieval accounts (ch. 1), Reformation and Puritan accounts (ch. 2), and alternative perspectives in the Reformation and Puritan eras (ch. 3). A few questions arose in my mind as I read this section. Did he try to survey too many perspectives? Probably. What makes “alternative perspectives” to be “alternative?” I’m not sure. I also had a few critiques of these sections. One major one is that I think he reads penal substitution too heavily into his early sources. Yes, PSA is there in some form, but not in the full blown sense Crawford wants it to be. I think his overemphasis on the presence of PSA is an important move for Crawford. He needs PSA to be the standard atonement theory in order to say that in downplaying or ignoring PSA the Edwardseans were being unfaithful to orthodoxy.

After three chapters of historical context Crawford finally gets to the heart of the matter: Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. He begins with a chapter addressing Edwards’s theology of God’s glory. Although it is an accurate overview of the topic he hardly engages with any scholarship on the topic, he also doesn’t do a great job of connecting the topic of this chapter to the main topic of the book: atonement. The connection is there but it is not very explicit. The next two chapters present Edwards’s account of salvation history and his definition of sin (ch.5) and the Penal Substitutionary nature of Edwards’s doctrine (Ch. 6). This latter chapter was the most interesting. Here he shows that Edwards conceived of atonement mainly as 1) Penal Substitution and 2) Penal Example. Crawford says, “Edwards believed that Christ’s death also served as a penal example, publicly vindicating God’s honor and law, which God also required before sin’s penalty could be fully satisfied.” (119) Crawford concludes:

Edwards’s doctrine of atonement, then, included two prominent concepts: Christ as penal substitute and Christ as penal example. As the two concepts are placed side by side it becomes apparent that these ideas were not contradictory in Edwards’s mind, but complementary.

Crawford follows up on this chapter with a chapter addressing other themes in Edwards’s doctrine of atonement. However, chapter 6 sticks out as the most significant, at least in my mind, for addressing the debate about Edwards’s legacy.

Crawford’s conclusion about Edwards’s legacy is that Edwards was classically Reformed and that his followers deviated from Edwards’s reformed orthodoxy. According to Crawford, Edwards bears some responsibility for this, as he “may not have sufficiently guarded against the separation of the substitution and governmental components of his system… Yet Edwards does not bear all of the responsibility. He is not responsible for how his words may have been misunderstood by his successors after they took possessions of his manuscripts.” (140). This is a fair and even-keeled conclusion, which I think is argued for persuasively in chapter 6. However, I think it could have been argued for in a journal article rather than in a whole book.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is widely acknowledged to be one of America’s most important theologians and considered a fountainhead of American evangelicalism. He not only played an important role in his own time but also influenced the generations that followed in profound ways.

Many thanks to the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. for this landmark volume.

Features include:

  • More than four hundred entries
  • Wide-ranging perspective on Edwards
  • Succinct synopses of topics large and small from his life, thought, and work
  • Summaries of Edwards’s ideas as well as descriptions of the people and events of his times are all easy to find
  • Suggestions for further reading point to ways to explore topics in greater depth.

Comprehensive and reliable, with contributions from the premier Edwards scholars in the world, this encyclopedia will be the standard reference work on one of the most extraordinary figures in American history.

Eerdmans, 700 pages, hardcover, ISBN-13: 978-0802869524

Pre-order now from Amazon.com at guaranteed price discount of $45.77 $60.00

HT: JESociety

Revival – Some Lessons from “Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition”

A few days ago I finished a book that was sent to me by Reformation Heritage Press titled Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition. I reviewed it yesterday (you can read the review here), but I wanted to share some thoughts – some lessons – I gleaned from the book about revival.

  1. Remembering Revival is Important: Many of the stories about revival told in this book start with churches looking back at earlier times of revival and longing for the Lord to pour out his Spirit once again. Also, another feature of revival, (it seems) is that people really kept track of what the Lord was doing. That way they could look back and remember the Lord’s work.
  2. Revival Cuts Across Denominations and Traditions: One of the most encouraging thing that I saw throughout this book was how different churches and denominations were willing to set aside their differences and agendas in order to advance God’s kingdom. Whether it’s the Dutch Reformed working together with Presbyterians in New York or Scottish Presbyterians like Erskine working together with the Congregationalist Edwards and Baptists like Ryland and Fuller drawing inspiration from them, or even Irish Presbyterians and Baptists. So many groups were willing to work together for the sake of God’s glory. Hear the words of Andrew Fuller: “O, brethren, let us pray much for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon our ministers and churches, and not upon only those of our own connection and denomination, but upon ‘al that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” But revival doesn’t just bring unity…
  3. Revivals Draw Extreme Opposition: New lights vs. Old Lights, Coetus vs. Coferentie are just two examples of how revivals brought about and further entrenched division. Revial often draws opposition not only from those outside of the church, but also from those we tend to think are closest to us.
  4. Jonathan Edwards Might Be the Most Important Person in Early Modern Revivals: That is probably not something he would like to hear but its true, but you can’t talk about revival without talking about Jonathan Edwards and his writings. His work not only influenced his own Congregationalist churches, but it affected the Dutch Reformed churches of new York, Baptist churches in England, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and of course Presbyterian churches here in the US. One chapter even goes as far as to argue that Edwards was really a Presbyterian and that the American Presbyterian denominations cannot be understood apart from him.
  5. Only God Saves but we are Still Called to do Work: Only God can do the work of bringing people to saving faith, yet among the revival stories in this book there is a deep sense of the church’s responsibility to prayer and more importantly to preach. This might seem quite obvious, but as we see in Andrew Fuller’s reforming work, this was not always a given.

Those are just a few lessons. I’m sure there is much more to be said. But if you want to read about and be encouraged about revival for yourself I recommend you pick up Pentecostal Outpourings.

I’m a Father!

On March 9th at 3:22pm my beautiful baby daughter was born! Her mom – my wife – started getting contractions during the YoungLife club that she serves at. But she didn’t really know what it was, just that it hurt and that she didn’t feel well. When she got home, she told me that she thought the baby was going to come soon. Of course I doubted it. I thought she was having false contractions, so I told her to relax and go to bed. Well, she knew better. She said we should pack our bags, and reluctantly I did. I didn’t even pack anything to sleep in because I figured they would send us back home due to a false alarm. (I mean common, you have to give me credit, my wife was due April 4th!) Shiloh1

We tried to go to sleep, well she tried, and I actually did sleep. And then at 3 am she woke me up saying she thinks this is it. We both shower, because you want to be fresh for labor! And she was right, when we got to the hospital they said she was in fact in labor. A few hours, and no pain med or epidural, later my wife gave birth to our baby girl!

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Today she is one week old, but already I’m feeling changed. I never thought I could love someone the way I love my daughter. She is so precious to me and makes my heart melt. I’ve heard people say there is nothing like the love of a parent, but I never really understood that. Now, a week later, I think I’m starting to get it. To think – I love my daughter so much, and God the Father loves the Son even more, and was willing to give him up for our sake! Having a child of my own makes me appreciate the gospel that much more.

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We are starting our baby on the right track by teaching her her ABC’s… of Church History! Today she learned about Augustine, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards.