Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Kin Yip Louie on Edwards' theological aesthetics

Kin Yip Louie, graduate student at Edinburgh University, kindly responded to some questions we sent him regarding his research on Edwards - motivation, content, and future plans. We are grateful for his full response ...

My name is Kin Yip Louie. Louie is my family name. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I graduated from Queen’s University, Canada and studied in doctoral program in economics at Princeton University. When God called me into ministry, I left Princeton and went to Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, to get a M.Div. I pastored in Chinese churches in New York City for several years. Then I went back to Hong Kong to teach in China Graduate School of Theology for three years. CGST sent me to University of Edinburgh to pursue a Ph.D. in 2003. I hope to have my oral examination (called viva in UK) in June. I’ll start teaching at CGST again in September this year. Through CGST, I hope to serve the Christians in Hong Kong and in Mainland China.

Jonathan Edwards is one of the heroes of Westminster Seminary. I received a heavy dose of Puritan and Reformed theology at Westminster, but I did not have the opportunity to study Edwards at Westminster. When I need to choose a subject for my doctoral research at Edinburgh, a senior colleague, Carver Yu, at CGST suggested the aesthetics of Jonathan Edwards. A Catholic priest and philosopher once told Carver that Edwards’ aesthetics holds great promise for facing the challenges of postmodernity. I was surprised that a Catholic scholar could be impressed by Edwards. Given my theological background, I decided that Edwards should be both an interesting and a feasible topic for me.

My dissertation is on the theological aesthetics of Edwards. In particular, I want to study how Edwards uses aesthetic language to defend and develop Reformed theology to face the challenge of the English Enlightenment. In the past, Edwardsian scholarship has split into two streams. On the one hand, Miller, Delattre, Lee and others portray Edwards as an innovative theologian building on the insights of the Enlightenment, while minimizing his debt and concern for traditional Reformed theology. On the other hand, Gerstner, Murray and others paint an Edwards as a revival preacher and staunch defender of Reformed orthodoxy, making Edwards’ philosophical speculations a minor concern. I follow scholars such as Holmes and McClymond in seeing Reformed theology and philosophical speculation as both important to Edwards. My dissertation examines how Edwards uses aesthetic categories to develop his metaphysics, his doctrine of the Trinity, his Christology and his soteriology. Delattre’s Beauty and Sensibility, still the standard work on this topic, develops Edwards’ aesthetics mainly as a metaphysics of being with minor doctrinal concern. I differ from Delattre in arguing that doctrinal issues are at the heart of Edwards’ aesthetics. I find that the aesthetic category of sublimity, ignored by Delattre, is actually very important to Edwards. The aesthetic categories of beauty (the consent of being to being) and sublimity (the greatness / nothingness contrast between Creator and creatures) give Edwards’ theology its richness, vitality and unresolved tensions.


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