Thursday, October 12, 2006

The origin of the soul

Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, p. 484) says that Edwards held to traducianism. In other words, the soul is inherited from the parents in the same way as the body. The other view is creationism - the soul is immediately given by God. Grudem doesn't offer a citation to support this reading of JE and I'm not convinced by the claim. For example, the following is from JE:

'God is the creator of men in both soul and body; but their souls are in a special and more immediate manner his workmanship, wherein less use is made of second causes, instruments or means, or anything preexistent. The bodies of men, though they are indeed God's work, yet they are formed by him in a way of propagation from their natural parents, and the substance of which they are constituted is matter that was preexistent; but the souls of men are by God's immediate creation and infusion, being in no part communicated from earthly parents, nor formed out of any matter or principles existing before.'

Works, 25, The Great Concern of a Watchman for Souls, 64.

This sermon was preached at the ordination of Jonathan Judd (1743) and was written out in full. It represents an important statement on the soul and its significance. Moreover, as Charles Hodge notes, 'Calvin, Beza, Turrettin, and the great majority of the Reformed theologians were creationists, only here and there one adopted the ex traduce theory' (Systematic Theology, II, 67). Does anyone have any idea why Grudem would suggest that Edwards held to traducianism?

6 Comments:

Blogger Doug Sweeney said...

I agree that JE was clearly a creationist. See also _Original Sin_ (Yale vol. 3), pp. 385-86. His creationism was unique, in that JE presented it in terms of his radical doctrine of continuous creation (which had occasionalist overtones), while also paying due respect to God's use of established laws of nature (i.e. secondary causes) through which to recreate the world (and all its souls) from moment to moment--and even defending imputation by means of Augustinian realism ("Stapfer's scheme")! Quite an interesting (and potentially confusing) package. Still, JE sided consistently with creationists, not traducianists.

Grudem may be confused about this for the same reason that many others find Calvinist creationism confusing. It is always difficult for Calvinists to synthesize creationism with the doctrine of propagated depravity. Calvinists like JE want to avoid suggesting that God infuses sinful souls into His creatures. Yet they insist that, in some sense, these creatures inherit sinful natures, sinful souls. They insist on hereditary depravity, propagated depravity.

Figuring out how to make creationism consistent with propagated depravity can be tricky. Most Reformed theologians do not even try. Edwards tried, but with a philosophical package that is lost on most contemporary Christians (and historians).

Doug Sweeney

3:19 pm  
Anonymous Nick said...

You should email Grudem. I think he has a line in the intro to his Systematic that he welcomes corrections when people spot them. Great post.

4:12 am  
Blogger Matt Wienken said...

As I understand it, there should be no issue as to HOW the sinful souls are recieved, either immediately or the passing on of spiritual substance. (I would choose immediately!) The fact that we conceived in sin is a punishment, and punishment presupposes guilt, which on underlines the fact that we were legally in Adam in his sin. (The fact that we were materially in him is true as it goes, but does not carry the import of our legal unity with Adam.)

1:33 pm  
Blogger GeneMBridges said...

I agree that JE was clearly a creationist. See also _Original Sin_ (Yale vol. 3), pp. 385-86. His creationism was unique, in that JE presented it in terms of his radical doctrine of continuous creation (which had occasionalist overtones), while also paying due respect to God's use of established laws of nature (i.e. secondary causes) through which to recreate the world (and all its souls) from moment to moment--and even defending imputation by means of Augustinian realism ("Stapfer's scheme")!

This is quite a tortured route to take. I would think it would be easier to simply state that God creates the soul in the image of Adam. Adam fell, and this was part of God's decree. So, all souls are, by decree, created in the image of their father. The decree to create (a) soul(s) is/was suspended in some way on the decree of the fall. When Adam fell, the condition was fulfilled, and God's decree to react (judgment) resulted in the creation of the soul in the image of Adam. It's short, sweet, and quite simple.

By the same token, this is speculative theology, so just about anything we say here has its drawbacks. I'd email Dr. Grudem and see what he says.

P.S.

Love the shirts!

2:11 am  
Blogger David Shedden said...

W.G.T. Shedd refers to Edwards in his discussion of Scriptural Support for Traducianism in his Dogmatic Theology. (I found this in the Gomes edition of Shedd's Dogmatic Theology, P&R, 2003, p443)

Shedd takes a quote from Edwards's Against Watts's Notion of the Preexistence of Christ's Human Soul, including the line:

'Though the soul is no [material] part of the mother, and be immediately given by God, yet that hinders not its being derived by conception; it being consequent on it according to a law of nature.'

Shedd then refers to Samuel Hopkins, again in support of his own case for traducianism.

Perhaps this confused some readers into simply identifying Edwards with a classic traducianism?

7:10 pm  
Blogger David Shedden said...

I'm wondering if anyone has any further thoughts on this issue? I thinking about writing a short paper on Edwards and the incarnation, and this seems to be one important area. Can anyone recommend key texts to read? I'm still trying to figure how Shedd misread Edwards so badly, if, as this thread suggests, Edwards was more or less a creationist. I think it must be a little more subtle than we think...

7:21 pm  

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