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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte
Crisp, Oliver D.
Jonathan Edwards among the Theologians.
Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2015. 218 S. Kart. US$ 25,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-7172-5.
Ryan P. Hoselton
Oliver D. Crisp, Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theo-logical Seminary in California, offers a unique piece of art in his latest work on the New England theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Literally. He personally drew Edwards’ portrait for the cover. The essays behind the cover also display his craft, as he tackles the most difficult questions facing Edwards studies today. Was Edwards’ understanding of divine and human freedom a deviation from his Reformed tradition? Does his doctrine of God undermine divine simplicity and ultimately lead to panentheism? Did Edwards’ eclectic metaphysics – namely his embrace of philosophical idealism, Lockean faculty psychology, and occasionalism – push him to conclusions beyond the pale of orthodoxy? Does Edwards’ doctrine of original sin ultimately ascribe moral agency for evil to God? Why did Edwards endorse Joseph Bellamy’s governmental theory of the atonement? Is he responsible for the theological innovations of the New Divinity school? Etc.
C.’s aim is constructive rather than destructive. In his estima-tion, Edwards remains America’s preeminent theologian. He has devoted numerous books and articles to rehabilitating Edwards as a worthwhile voice for contemporary theology. However, contends C., if scholars wish to retrieve Edwards’ theology, they must also do some repair work. He especially directs this admonition to evan-gelicals who have claimed Edwards’ theology as a robust endorsement of their movement without adequately addressing the more problematic features of his thought.
As he notes throughout the essays, Edwards’ theological genius as well as his dilemmas were in large part due to two factors. For one, Edwards was a constructive theologian rather than a strictly confessional one. Edwards certainly adhered to Reformed confes-sions like the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession, but it was not his wont to merely recite a creed when faced with a theological question. Rather, he engaged it with a critical nuance and imaginative depth that reflected his eclectic theological and philosophical influences as well as his own idiosyncrasies. Second, looking to fortify his Reformed lineage amidst new intellectual circumstances and challenges, Edwards recast his theological tradi- tion with ideologies and terminology from the early Enlightenment.
Inspired by Edwards’ dual concerns for guarding orthodoxy but also for reformulating old doctrines for new times, C. proceeds in each essay to assess and revise the difficult aspects of Edwards’ thought. One method he takes is to set Edwards in dialogue with other theologians – namely, Anselm of Canterbury, the Dutch theologian Jaco-bus Arminius, the nineteenth-century American Presbyterian John Girardeau, and Edwards’ disciple and shaper of the New Divinity school, Joseph Bellamy. In each of these comparative essays, C. iso-lates a theological issue in order to highlight how novel and thorny some of Edwards’ stances were. For example, while many modern-day Reformed evangelicals would look to Edwards as the paragon of orthodoxy, their arch-foe, Arminius, proves more orthodox when it comes to the doctrine of creation. Arminius introduces his own in-novations, espousing a form of Molinism. But Edwards’ innovations were more problematic, as his argument that it is God’s essence and disposition to create compromises divine freedom and aseity (though, as C. notes, Edwards elsewhere affirmed these doctrines and did not intend to compromise them). Moreover, in espousing occasionalism and the doctrine of continuous creation, Edwards jeopardizes human freedom and divine goodness by ascribing all causal and thus moral agency to God (again, not something Edwards intended). C. also charges Edwards with embracing panentheism, as Edwards believed creation was ultimately an emanation of God ad extra (and, yet again, probably not a charge Edwards would own).
The other essays treat aspects of Edwards thought in relation to his Reformed tradition and Christian orthodoxy. The last chapter is perhaps the most provocative, entitled »On the Orthodoxy of Jonathan Edwards.« Here C. seeks to resolve the »Edwardsian Dilemma« arising from implications of Edwards’ theology proper, which force him to either concede divine simplicity or embrace pantheism. C. proposes that Edwards’ theology can best escape this dilemma by positing a more modest form of divine simplicity. By allowing distinct mental states and properties in God, Edwards avoids slipping into a form of pantheism in which God and crea-tion share a common essence and existence, which C. finds the more dangerous alternative.
Not all readers will be satisfied with C.’s interpretations and repair work, but they will not regret joining him for the ride. C. initiates and advances needed conversations, and most important, he proves Edwards a formidable and creative thinker who contemporary theologians would do well to take seriously.