Monday, June 19, 2006

Doug Sweeney contemplates sin.

We are very grateful to Doug Sweeney of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for this review of Oliver Crisp's recent book on Edwards' understanding of sin. Dr Oliver Crisp teaches at Bristol University in England.

Oliver D. Crisp, Jonathan Edwards and the Metaphysics of Sin (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2005).

This is the best work ever written by an analytic philosopher on the thought of Jonathan Edwards. Given the state of the academy, it will not get many readers. It is too philosophically dense for use by most Edwards scholars. But those who invest sufficient time in Crisp’s analysis of Edwards will gain a much more lucid view of Edwards’ metaphysics of sin.
In seven brief chapters on the decrees, Adam’s fall, the so-called authorship of sin, God’s secret and revealed will, temporal parts and imputed sin, inherited guilt, and the problems posed by Edwards’ occasionalism, Crisp marches us through the logic of Edwards’ hamartiology. Along the way, he suggests that Edwards made “highly original contributions to philosophical theology that are far from being facile or merely antique.” Crisp contends, in fact, that Edwards “raise[d] the standard of discussion about this cluster of issues to a new level of limpidity and philosophical acuity. In doing so, he clarified what the central problems are that philosophical theologians need to attend to in their analysis” (p. 1).
Crisp does not simply describe and consent to Edwards’ doctrine of sin. He evaluates it critically, pointing out what he considers to be a number of serious problems. He thinks that Edwards attempted to walk a “fatally flawed” via media in pursuit of predestination, combining a supralapsarian view of God’s election to salvation with an awkward, infralapsarian view of divine reprobation (pp. 5-24). Even worse, according to Crisp, was “Edwards’ endorsement of occasionalism,” the “single greatest flaw in his doctrine of sin” (p. 130). According to Crisp, Edwards’ occasionalism--particularly his notion of recreation ex nihilo—“destroys imputation” (p. 110) and renders God directly responsible for sin. It undermines the force of Edwards’ famous argument in favor of human culpability with respect to original sin. Further, it militates against the rest of his metaphysics of sin, distracting attention from the strengths of his position.
In a brief review like this, one has no space for argumentation. Still, for the sake of promoting discussion on the issues Crisp addresses, I will summarize what I think are some mistakes in his assessment. First, while Crisp deals deftly with Edwards’ doctrine of predestination, even he underestimates its complexity. Like nearly all Edwards scholars who have interpreted this doctrine, Crisp neglects to nail down Edwards’ salient distinction between: 1) God’s supralapsarian decree to communicate His goodness ad extra and to glorify the elect considered in general (i.e. en masse, logically prior to creating them as individual persons); and 2) God’s infralapsarian decree to save the elect as individuals (i.e. considered now as created, fallen, and sinful). It may be that Edwards’ doctrine is “fatally flawed” after all, but not in the way that Crisp suggests. Technically speaking, Edwards remained consistently infralapsarian (in the tradition of Westminster), though Crisp is right to highlight his frequent use of supralapsarian logic. (See esp. “Miscellanies” No. 704, in Works 18: 317-18, where JE specifies that “both the decrees of election and rejection or reprobation, as so styled, must be considered as consequent on the decrees concerning the creation and fall.”) Second, Crisp underestimates Edwards’ Augustinian realism and exaggerates his recourse to occasionalism--especially in his treatment of Edwards’ doctrine of imputation. (For a more balanced interpretation of Edwards’ occasionalism, consult Sang Hyun Lee, The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards [Princeton, 1988], pp. 47-75, 107.) Third and finally, Crisp’s analysis proves so narrowly philosophical that it could create an impression among the uninitiated that Edwards found it more important to be logically consistent than to be biblically consistent. Perhaps this goes without saying, but Edwards operated mainly as a biblical theologian. He prized fidelity to the wide range of biblical revelation over airtight, systematic coherence.
Despite his reservations regarding Edwards’ view of sin, Crisp concludes his book by offering contemporary Edwardsians a way to move forward with Edwards’ metaphysical project: “where the occasionalism of his developed position fails, a perdurantism [see pp. 104ff.] sans occasionalistic paraphernalia could still provide a broadly Edwardsian account of sin, which is in sympathy with the intentions which lie behind the main structures of his argument for imputation, and which . . . provides an intriguing response to this traditional theological conundrum” (p. 134). Crisp believes that Edwards can serve as a fruitful interlocutor for future Christian philosophical theologians. He appeals to such thinkers to join him in dialogue with Edwards, seeking “resources for addressing contemporary philosophical concerns” (p. 1).
Whether or not they feel the need for such a forward-looking conclusion, Edwards scholars of all kinds will find a rich resource in Crisp. Social and literary historians will want to supplement this book with older works on Edwards and sin by Shelton Smith, Clyde Holbrook, Sam Storms, and Rachel Wheeler (among others). But analytical philosophers who want to engage Edwards can do no better than start with Crisp on Edwards’ metaphysics of sin.

Douglas A. Sweeney
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Announcing our latest prize give away - the JEC gobbet competition

A gobbet is a short section of a text requiring commentary. Myriad interpretations of JE abound and we would like to encourage closer readings of Edwards. To this end we will award prizes to the best short commentary on selected gobbets. If this is popular we will award a regular gobbet prize.

There is some good advice on gobbets here and here.

Please limit your submission to 500 words - we will announce the winner by mid-July and will post the best response here. Fantastic Edwards-themed prizes by snail mail.

We would be grateful if you would inform anyone you know who might be interested in submitting a commentary.

Questions and submissions to michael.

Text of Gobbet.

"Miscellanies" No. 198, Works, 13, 336-337.

198. HAPPINESS. How soon do earthly lovers come to an end of their discoveries of each other's beauty; how soon do they see all that is to be seen! Are they united as near as 'tis possible, and have communion as intimate as possible? how soon do they come to the most endearing expressions of love that 'tis possible to give, so that no new ways can be invented given or received. And how happy is that love, in which there is an eternal progress in all these things; wherein new beauties are continually discovered, and more and more loveliness, and in which we shall forever increase in beauty ourselves; where we shall be made capable of finding out and giving, and shall receive, more and more endearing expressions of love forever: our union will become more close, and communion more intimate.

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Edwards and Locke

William Morris goes into extraordinary background detail on Locke. I'm not in a position at the moment to write on the quality of his reading of Locke, but this does seem like a helpful comment:

'But while Edwards acknowledges the great enthusiasm with which he read Locke, he does not say that he was converted to Locke, or that he owned him as master. According to Hopkins, at no time did he own any man as master. An intellectual feast is not necessarily an intellectual enlightenment and is certainly not a spiritual conversion. The age was one of transition; the methods were eclectic, the place of Locke in the esteem of the college and in the curriculum was yet to be definitively determined.' The Young Jonathan Edwards, 165.

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On Edwards

There are thousands of books and articles about Edwards. What is your favourite?


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The Jonathan Edwards Classic Studies Series

We will be announcing a number of new volumes in this series soon.

For a discounted copy of this volume please email the office.

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Youth is like a flower that is cut down

The death in 1741 of a young man called Billy Sheldon gave Edwards the opportunity to preach this sermon on premature death. It is worth reading the whole sermon - it raises some very interesting questions about the nature of Edwards' approach to theodicy. Or maybe more accurately, his disregard for theodicy in this context. Phrases like 'He has cut down one flower after another- - just don't suggest an apologetic theodicy. Or 'God is pleased to cut down some to warn others.'

'So youth is an age wherein persons are commonly full of hopes and promises to themselves of the good and prosperity they shall see in the world. They are just entering upon the stage of the world, and they promise themselves much that they shall see and enjoy afterwards. And their parents and friends are also ready to promise themselves much future comfort in them, and are full of hop of seeing 'em settled, and oftentimes are full of hope of the figure they will make in the world. ...

What you have heard from the Word of God, you have lately seen verified in the providence of God. There have been several instances it in this town. God tells you in his Word, and has now been telling you, how that man "cometh forth as a flower, and is cut down"; and he has not only told you so, but he has been showing of you that it is so. He has cut down one flower after another of those that were but lately come forth, that were as it were just in the blossom. He has spoken not only once, but twice, nigh thrice. God is pleased to cut down some to warn others. ... It would be a stupid hardness and provoking obstinancy in you to disregard one such warning; but God has repeated his witness and has called to you with so awful and solemn a voice once, and again, and again. ...

He was young as you are. He was in like circumstances with many of you. A little while ago he appeared as likely to live as you. ... But yet now he is gone ... And you are yet spared. You as yet have an opportunity to prepare for death.'

Youth Is Like a Flower That Is Cut Down, Works, 22, 325-326.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Book covers

I should add that Stephen Wilson's book is the first text on Edwards that I have read that is adorned with a semi-clad woman whipping a bearded older gentleman.

SW says 'The cover illustration is Urs Graf's rendition of the common renaissance theme of Aristotle's insufficient recognition of the strength of the passions, 'Aristoteles von der schönen Phyllis geritten' (1521).

Definitely a first for JE studies.

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Competition Results!

Caleb writes: When the Jonathan Edwards Center opened up the Works of Jonathan Edwards Online for the Alpha and Beta testing period, we promised to award prizes to the three individuals who reported the most bugs through our bug reporting system.

I am happy to report that the results are finally in! We have winners!

In third place, we have William Smith of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with 30 submissions.

In second place, we have Jeff Co of Anmore, British Columbia with 42 submissions.

And in FIRST PLACE...with a whopping 259 submissions...we have Grand Prize Winner Brandon Cozart of Charlotte, North Carolina.

These three prizewinners have received their awards in the mail, and needless to say, we are very grateful to them for their participation in this contest.

Congratulations gentlemen!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Edwards and Heaven

A new book on Edwards and Heaven is here.

From the publisher:

Heaven isn’t only about the future. It has everything to do with life on earth—life “in between.” Jonathan Edwards understood this well. His writings are full of his thoughts on heaven and how those thoughts should make a difference in our lives.

This book focuses on key sermons by Edwards, showing readers how his insights can be applied to the challenges of living the Christian life in the twenty-first century. Edwards reminds us of our duty to live on earth in light of heaven and to endeavor to bring the realities and the beauty of heaven to earth—even if only in miniature. This book is for all believers wondering how to live on earth with a view of heaven, and those familiar with Edwards’s works will have a special appreciation for this study.

“No one spoke or wrote more eloquently than Jonathan Edwards on the earthly responsibilities of those whose citizenship was in heaven. And no one has done a better job than Stephen Nichols in making Edwards’s thoughts on this subject accessible to the church today. His insightful analysis of Edwards’s sermons on heaven is essential reading for those who’ve lost sight of the life-changing power of meditating on future glory. I highly recommend it.”
Dr. Sam Storms, Enjoying God Ministries

“Jonathan Edwards’s contagious vision of heaven on earth is compellingly captured by Stephen Nichols in this accessible book. It’s been said that some Christians are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. On the other hand, it’s also the case that some are so earthly-minded that they are not fit for heaven. Nichols, following Edwards, argues that the solution to the errors of escapism and earthliness is not to find a happy medium, but rather to develop a radical new perspective that transforms both our vision of heaven and our life on earth. With Edwards as our guide, Nichols teaches us the biblical art of living the vision of heaven on earth.”
Justin Taylor, co-editor of A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards

About the Author
Stephen J. Nichols is a professor at Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School. He earned a Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has written several books, including The Pages of Church History. He lives with his wife and two sons in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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JEC - opportunities for interns

In case you didn't read all the last post:

We are also currently soliciting interns for the academic year 2006-2007. Anyone interested should write to edwards (at] yale dot edu

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Update from Caleb on the Works of JE Online

The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online is a few short weeks away from being made available worldwide. Our 1000+ Beta testers have responded with great enthusiasm to the content and usability of the Works Online and have also made some very helpful constructive critiques which we have incorporated into our final revision of the site design. We have received positive reviews from all over the USA, Europe, Brazil, Japan, and Korea. Our hope is that we can provide a globally valuable resource for use by readers of Edwards everywhere.

Over the last several months, we have also been refining the onscreen presentation of the texts as well as adding years of editorial knowledge into the texts themselves through the use of theme tagging. We believe that this will prove to be one of the most powerful features of the site, enabling people to get what they want, when they want it, how they want it. JE would be proud!

In other news (and I will speak vaguely here) we have recently seen some very exciting developments with another major evangelical editorial project which we expect to result in a consortial partnership in the near future. Watch this space for details!

We are also currently soliciting interns for the academic year 2006-2007. Anyone interested should write to edwards (at] yale dot edu.



Caleb Maskell
Jonathan Edwards Center
Yale University

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Still a dark place

Several people have commented that Edwards' spirituality is 'oppressive' - that he expects too much of believers. Here is an interesting comment from JE for that discussion:

'This light, in continuing to shine into the heart after conversion, shines in that which is still in a great measure a dark place, as long as the saints live in the world. Though there be a great change, and it be far otherwise with the heart than it was before, and it be a lightsome heart in comparison of what it has been; yet there is so little light in comparison of what is needed, and in comparison of what will be hereafter, and so much remaining darkness, and [the] heart may still be said to be a dark place. Though the light be of a divine, glorious, and joyful nature, yet [it] is not great enough to scatter away all darkness; bit it is so small, that it is a light in a dark place. Because of its smallness, therefore 'tis in the text compared to a star, though a bright star, even the morning star. The light of the morning star, though it be a beautiful, pleasant, and bright light, yet is often a light in a darkness. Though it be the forerunner of the day, yet it is not sufficient to put an end to the darkness of the night, and is but a very small light in comparison of the light of the risen sun that follows. The light of the dawning of the day, though it be a sweet light after total darkness, yet is but a dim sort of light; and is kind of a mixture of night and day together, and a great deal more darkness than light. ...

There is yet a great deal of blindness and ignorance. The heart is yet a very dark heart, and the heart is still liable to the darkness of spiritual trouble.'

Light in a Dark World, a Dark Heart, Works, 19, 729.


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True knowledge of God

[Divine revelation] reveals God to the soul, and enables it to apprehend him as he is, and to have a right apprehension of the perfections and glory of the being who is the being of beings, the first and the last. And proportionately, as it discovers him, it gives a right understanding of all other things. He that is ignorant of God, the great fountain and sum of all being, understands nothing aright: he understands nothing as he ought to know. That light that he has is darkness. There is no true knowledge or wisdom where there is no knowledge of God.

Light in a Dark World, a Dark Heart, Works, 19, 725

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'There is a two-fold light that God gives to the children of men to discover things to 'em that concern their true interest and happiness, viz. the light of nature, and the light of revelation. The light of nature is manifestation and evidence, that is given of those things to men's natural reason, from those works of creation and God's common providence, that all mankind behold. The other light is revelation, which is something above the light of nature. 'Tis that manifestation God has made of himself to the world by his word, or by his own immediate instructions, given in a miraculous manner by visions, miracles, and the inspiration of his Spirit.

Divine revelation used to be given of old, before Moses, to eminently holy men - as to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Job, Melchizedek, and others - to be delivered to others by oral tradition. And from Moses' time to the death of the apostle John, the church enjoyed a written revelation; and besides that, often had revelation in the other way, viz. by oral tradition from inspired persons living. From that time to this, the canon of the Scriptures being completed, we have only a written revelation, which is contained in the Holy Scriptures. So that the church in all ages of it, has enjoyed a revelation one way or other, which has always been as a light that shines in a dark place.'

Light in a Dark World, a Dark Heart, Works, 19, 710

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Read some Edwards

JEs' big picture theology is here.

History of the Work of Redemption (1739/74)


In this ambitious series of thirty sermons preached in 1739 and posthumously published, in expanded form, in Scotland, Edwards registers his broad vision of salvific history. He takes the plan to a cosmic level, showing the trinitarian plan of redemption in the covenantal interworkings of the three persons of the Trinity. God’s righteousness consists in God’s faithfulness in fulfilling covenant promises to believers. The covenant of redemption separated all of humanity into elect and reprobate. Human history from Adam’s fall to the final judgement was organized into distinct phases. In describing the projected treatise on this subject to the trustees of the College of New Jersey in 1757, he described it as theology thrown into the form of a narrative, a story. All of Christian doctrine would be organized into a history of heaven, hell, and earth. Tantalizing in its inception and from the large amounts of material he left behind for it, A History of the Work of Redemption remains one of Edwards’s uncompleted “great works.”
When the WJEOnline archive is up and running, this page will directly display a portion of A History of the Work of Redemption. Until then, please click here to download a PDF file of the first sermon from the series.

Jonathan Edwards Center. "History of the Work of Redemption (1739/74)" 08 Jan. 2005

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