Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards review

Alastair Roberts reviews the book The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott:

There's also a transcript of the same video. Here's a brief excerpt:

I think there is a lot that can be done with a theology like Edwards’, that is creatively rooted within the tradition; that is rooted within the tradition but is moving out in ways that enable it to take on board insights from the natural sciences, insights from other contexts of the church, insights from empirical experience, and insights from foreign religions. And in these respects, there is something bracing and exciting about Edwards’ theology. He is not just a hidebound traditionalist, but nor is he someone who has abandoned all moorings and has no anchor left anymore, and is going off on the wild waves of the sea into who knows where. He is someone who has bearings and he is someone who has a clear anchor. And yet, he is someone who is able to explore areas that others cannot, because he has a different cast of theology.


  1. His idealism is interesting.

    1. Speaking of which, I wonder if Steve had in mind (among other things) Jonathan Edwards when he asked John Frame: "He asked something like 'can a Reformed Christian be a Malebrancheian Occasionalist?'"

      Frame briefly examines Edwards' idealism and occasionalism in his A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (cf. Frame on George Berkeley in the same work).

      I assume William Wainwright's discussion of Jonathan Edwards' idealism in his SEP paper on Edwards offers a more or less standard philosophical take on Edwards' idealism.

      If so, then some evangelical philosophers like Paul Copan and Walter Schultz seem to be at some odds with mainstream philosophical perspectives in their views on Edwards' idealism which they argue is really immaterialism (e.g. Schultz's JETS paper "The Metaphysics of Jonathan Edwards' End of Creation"; Copan's JETS paper "Jonathan Edwards's Philosophical Influences: Lockean or Malebranchean?"). For example, here's Schultz:

      "Edwards has been accused of advocating pantheism because of the way he states this.38 This charge is misdirected. First, Edwards's occasionalist idealism is a realism. Edwards's idealism does not deny the extra-mental reality of the material world with respect to humans. Edwards does not deny, but rather affirms that material objects exist independently of human thought. However, the material world just is God's willing it in every aspect at every moment.39 Thus, Edwards's occasionalist idealism is a form of res-idealism in contrast to Berkeley's mens-idealism.40 Second, no aspect of an intentional object is identical to the agent for whom it is intentional. By analogy, no aspect of a scenario is identical to the person who is imagining it. So, no aspect of creation could be identical to God. Therefore, Edwards's occasionalist idealism cannot be a version of pantheism.41 It is better construed as intentional object panentheism: creation is 'within' God as a thought is 'within' a consciousness. Be this as it may, Edwards's philosophical account is not the complete picture."

      I'm not conversant with the literature though so I don't really know what to think.