Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The lie of the land

This is from a new book by Josh Moody, The God-centered life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for today (IVP, 2006):

'Here are four other [JM has just outlined his own approach] current approaches to interpreting Edwards.

First there is the 'Yale School' on Edwards. The Yale school is the dominant scholarly consensus. This is for the very good reason that the Yale Jonathan Edwards Project has done much of the coalface work on the actual Edwards manuscripts. Within what we may broadly describe as the Yale School, there are several different strands of interpretation. There are those who are sympathetic to Edwards's beliefs and do their work on Edwards with warm Christian piety. Less recently, others, more in line with the old Perry Miller idea that Edwards was a genius unfortunately bound by Christian doctrine, appreciated Edwards's philosophy, aesthetics and intelligence, but not his faith. In general terms, though, the Yale School's approach is that Edwards is best understood on his own terms as an early eighteenth-century Puritan preacher and pastor.

Second, the American pastor John Piper has based much of his popular preaching upon a passionate appreciation of Edwards's theology. Piper knows his history and understands the cultural context in which Edwards worked, but his emphasis is more upon Edwards's experiential Christianity. Piper's dominant theme, 'God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him', is taken out of the genetic heritage of Edwards and grafted into contemporary preaching, evangelism and church. The successful ministry of John Piper is testimony to Edwards's enduring significance. In some ways a great introduction to Edwards is John Piper's book Desiring God (Multnomah, 2003).

Third is what we refer to as the 'Banner School' on Edwards, meaning the publishers of Edwards's works, Banner of Truth. The Banner School is in many ways similar to Piper's approach, except it accents Edwards more as a defender of true revival. Edwards is described as the proponent of God-centered revival, not of the 'revivalism', whcih the second Great Awakening (in the nineteenth century) turned into a kind of machine that people thought they could crank into operation with the right techniques.

Fourth is an amalgamation of approaches to Edwards whereby Edwards's descriptions of revivals are garnered for similarities to contemporary supernatural experiences of the Spirit, and used as apologetic support for those experiences. Perhaps for shorthand we could call this the 'Blessing' reading of Edwards.' p. 17-18.

Doubtless there is something in this - but can you think of any other 'schools' of thought? The one that springs to mind is the use of JE in contemporary constructive or systematic theology. This sort of writing sails fairly freely from the texts in some cases, and in others steers a tight course. I'm thinking in particular of the work by Pauw, Holmes, Jensen, Morimoto, Lee, Chamberlain etc.

The other point is that we need to be a little circumspect about the 'Yale School'. If you have worked your way through the introductions to the Works you will quickly pick up that there is no party line for the editors to follow. I gather this deliberate. Editors are encouraged to write to their own strengths and interests. So, for example, Mark Valeri's work is more concerned with social history; Pauw's focus is more theological; and, Lesser's is more literary. This is particularly useful because so many of the volumes actually overlap in time period. So volumes of sermons and volumes of "Miscellanies".

Finally, I think some of us think we have a foot in more than one 'school'. And in more than two if that is not pushing the metaphor too far.

2 Comments:

Anonymous cozart said...

When I read that about the "Yale School," I had the same reaction. The editors of the different volumes are SO diverse that it would be hard to pin them in a particular category.

I also think you're correct in identifying the fifth school. There is definitely a strain of scholars that use Edwards to give credence to their own particular agenda, oftentimes greatly skewing certain passages in Edwards' writings or taking them out of context and moving select words away from Edwards' original intentions. This is done with MANY theologians (and other types of public figures), so it is no surprise to me that the same is true of Edwards.

I'm not sure what other schools there are, but I think that any branch of study or interpretation or even appreciation of Edwards that doesn't see him as a pastor first and foremost (as opposed to philosopher, scientist, or even theologian) has already started down the wrong path.

8:42 pm  
Blogger Jerry Stutzman said...

Two distinct schools of interpretation that are emerging are those divided over Lee's dispositional ontology in Edwards. Many have accepted Lee's conclusions but I've noticed more criticism as of late, such as Holmes.

One could also divide Edwards interpretation in terms of disciplines: Historical, Theological, Literary, Cultural. Each discipline has their own concerns and there are particular divisions within each of these disciplines.

1:18 pm  

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