Tag Archives: Jonathan Edwards

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….

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.



This is the final part of a short series in which I look at Stanley Grenz’s theological anthropology as it can be found in “The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei.”

From our brief survey of Grenz’s method and content it is quite clear that Grenz has attempted to pen a biblically faithful, historically grounded theological anthropology which is sensitive to the problems of postmodernism. In this conclusion to this series of posts I want to assess several aspects of his historical-theological surveys, his use of the Trinity for theological anthropology, and his evangelical sensitivities. In doing so we can gauge the success of his project.

The first topic which draws our attention is his treatment of historical sources in theology. Though obviously showing deference towards these sources, Grenz subtly hints at his belief that “good” theology only came about in the modern period. One sees this theme in his belief that the psychological analogy for the trinity has rightly been abandoned in favor models that are closer to the social analogy for the trinity. One also notices this in his assessment of the concept of self. The past was highly individualistic, only now have we recovered a relational basis for the self. Finally one sees this in his surveys of the imago Dei. Christian theology began with a structural view, helpfully moved towards a relational view, and it has finally matured into a “destiny”/Kaleidoscopic view of the image of God. He may be correct in believing that these more modern views are actually truer than the older views. However, to base one’s assessment of the matters solely upon a concept of historical development or unfolding is to commit chronological snobbery. To add to this problem, Grenz’s preference for the new and modern (or should I say post-modern) leads him to flatten out distinctions in the historical theologies he examines. These are important distinctions which could undermine his assessments. For instance, he sees Augustine as the progenitor of inward individualism. Though there is certainly an inward aspect of Augustine’s spirituality, to say it underlies an individualistic ontology is quite off the mark. James Smith has argued that an Augustinian ontology is what he calls an “intentional account of human persons.” The concept of humans as intentional beings “emphasizes that our being in the world is always characterized by a dynamic, “ek-static” orientation that “intends” the world or “aims at” the world as an object of consciousness.”[1] Or to put it more simply, “we are essentially and ultimately lovers. To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. Our ultimate love is constitutive of our identity;”[2] using Smith’s catchy title of his popular level book you are what you love. An Augustinian ontology considers persons in light of their relationship (intentionally or love) to other beings and things. If what one loves constitutes one’s being, necessarily being cannot be individualistic, since it is defined by the other. Another minor point of historical accuracy, Grenz critiques Edwards’s spirituality as being “focused squarely on the self,” saying, “According to Edwards, true saints can discern experimentally the presence of true religion within themselves.”[3] Although its true that Edwards believed one could not know with certainty the status of other Christians, what comes to mind is what Edwards says is the best sign of one’s salvation: charity. The greatest sign of salvation is whether or not one actually loves one’s neighbor. This is far from the sort of individualistic piety Grenz pegs onto Edwards.[4] These are just two examples of how his negative disposition for the past leads Grenz to skew his readings of important theological figures.

A second issue present in Grenz’s work that deserves attention is his use of Trinitarian theology for developing anthropological conclusions. One key example is his use of Zizioulas’s metaphysics: being as communion (i.e that there is no true being without communion or to be a person is to be in relation to other persons). He moves from Trinitarian ontology to human ontology, claiming that to be a person is to be in a certain sort of relation to other persons (an ecclesial relation). Although this might be a legitimate move to make, he never stops to ask “can we predicated persons in the same sense to God as we can of human beings?” The fact that the Trinity is a model for humanity and community is almost a truism today. However we should ask, “in which respects and to what extent the Trinity should serve as a model for human community?” Here, the works of theologians like Fred Sanders, Stephen Holmes, and Karen Kilby come to mind. For instance Kilby writes that “There is intrinsic limitation deriving from our creatureliness, which means that Trinitarian concepts can only analogously be applied to human community.”[5] This hesitation, to move too quickly from the Trinity to humanity, is grounded in the well worn Eastern tradition (which ironically is so prominent in the theology of which social Trinitarianism claims its roots) of apophaticism. Again, I am not claiming that Grenz conclusions are off the mark, rather that he has not engaged what is probably the most pressing critique of social Trinitarianism which makes the “Trinity our social program.”

Finally, I would like to assess the evangelical pedigree of this work. Part of what it means to be evangelical is to take the gospel seriously. This means taking the healing reality of God’s reconciliation of the world through Christ, and the church’s call to proclaim that reality as it is articulated in Scripture, seriously. Grenz has written a text which meets these marks. Beginning with the fact that he seeks to articulate the reality of the Trinitarian God to a postmodern world to the fact that he is concerned with helping the church live out its transformation according to the image of Christ, this book is grounded in the mission of the gospel. In this work Grenz takes seriously what scripture says and he is missionally oriented. Despite some of the historical and theological shortcomings of this book, one cannot deny the fact that Grenz has written a text which has the potential to make important contributions to the church living out its mission of  being a preview of the new humanity shaped in the true imago Dei, Jesus Christ.

[1] James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 48.

[2] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 51.

[3] Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 85

[4] For more on the notion that Edwards’s spirituality and ethics was other-centered (and fully Trinitarian) see Christopher Woznicki, “Bad Books and The Glorious Trinity: Jonathan Edwards on the Sexual Holiness of the Church” in McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry vol. 16 (2014-2015)

[5] Karen Kilby, “Trinity and Politics: An Apohatic Approach” in Advancing Trinitarian Theology, eds. Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 78.

Calls for Contributions to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia

See below:

We are pleased to inform you that the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia project is progressing well. Over the last 18 months we have edited hundreds of entries, which will be returned in the coming months to the contributor for review. However, there are still a number of entries to be written for which we invite you or your colleagues and students to submit a contribution. 

To volunteer, please make your topic selection of the list of available entries (http://edwards.yale.edu/publication/encyclopedia). If an entry is listed and you have send your contribution it might have been overlooked–please resend at your earliest convenience. Please make your selected entry known to edwards@yale.edu before October 30, 2015. Contributors’ entries are due December 15, 2015 as we are planning to publish the encyclopedia in 2016. 

Many thanks for your participation and best wishes

Adriaan & Ken
If you are interested in contributing to this project make sure to act quickly!

Jonathan Edwards’s Bible

I recently reviewed Stephen Nichols’s Jonathan Edwards’s Bible: The Relationship of the Old and New Testaments for the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry. Here is an excerpt:

In the recent resurgence of scholarship on Jonathan Edwards nearly every facet of his complex ministry has been explored. Edwards has been studied as a philosopher, scientist, religious psychologist, and revivalist; however Jonathan Edwards’s ministry as an interpreter of Scripture has largely been left unexplored. Stephen Nichols’s study, Jonathan Edwards’s Bible: The Relationship of the Old and New Testaments, seeks to fill this gap in Edwardsean scholarship by giving attention the largely neglected, “The Harmony of the Old and New Testament…..”

You can read the rest of the review here.

5 Great Deals for Your Kindle

What I love about the Kindle is that every once in a while you will find awesome deals – often at $0.99 or $1.99. Today I discovered four great books, and I got them all! Here they are in their categories:

Church History

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church – $0.99 – Michael Haykin


Galatians: Gospel-rooted Living – $0.99


A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, and Mission around the Table – $0.99 – Tim Chester

Jonathan Edwards

A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards$1.99 – John Piper & Justin Taylor

Church and Society

Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry – $0.99 – Gregory Thornbury

[Breaking News] A New Disease Discovered in Dallas, TX

Sort of not really…. I love what Professor William J. Abraham says:

Philosophy is like a sort of disease that you pick up but there is no cure.

That is so true. Anyway here Professor Abraham talk about how the relationship between philosophy and theology, Jonathan Edwards, and teaching classes on evangelism.

ETS Far West 2014 is Tomorrow!

So tomorrow is the gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society’s Far Western Region. I will be presenting a paper titled:

“The Son in the Hands of a Violent God?” Assesing Trinitarian Violence in Jonathan Edwards’s Covenant of Redemption.

As you can probably tell by the title of my paper, this year’s theme is Trinitarian theology. Fun stuff!

I am not the only one presenting a paper on Trinitarian theology though. Here are a few other papers that you can can look forward to hearing, if you attend, tomorrow. These are all papers by bloggers (they do other stuff too, like teach or work on their PhD) that I highly recommend.

  1. Fred Sanders, who blogs over at The Scriptorium Daily, is the keynote speaker. He will be presenting a paper titled: “The Trinity as a Biblical Doctrine: Developments in the Oldest Conversation.”
  2. Matthew Emerson, who blogs over at Secundum Scripturas, is presenting a paper titled: “Hermeneutics and the Eternal Generation of the Son.”
  3. Jason Sexton, who helps the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project, will be presenting a paper titled: “What’s Scripture Got to Do With It? Trinitarian Theology for the Future of Evangelicalism.”
  4. Gavin Ortlund, a former classmate of mine who blogs over at Soliloquium, will be presenting a paper titled: “Sonship and the Imago Dei in Genesis 5:3 and Luke 3:38.”

Those are just a few of the awesome papers you can look forward to hearing tomorrow at ETSFarWest2014. You can get the whole list of papers as well as the location and schedule here.