Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Currently Reading

I've just started two books. One of them is George Marsden's magisterial, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I'm particularly interested in Edwards because, unlike Francis, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, et al, Edwards's revival did not reify into an "-ism." In other words, there is no Edwardsism. There is no First Edwardsian Church of Minneapolis. Why is that? It's that question I seek to answer, for I hope and pray that there is never an Emergentism.

(Some will say that Driscoll/Piper/Mahaney represent the legacy of Edwards, but I think they represent only one stream of his legacy. Edwards was a Congregationalist, not a Baptist. We'll see -- it's a long book.)

My favorite line so far:
"Jonathan Edwards is sometimes criticized for having too dim a view of human nature, but it may be helpful to be reminded that his grandmother was an incorrigible profligate, his great-aunt committed infanticide, and his great-uncle was an ax-murderer."

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect to your points, two points should be said about Edwards:
First, Edwards was theologically a Calvinist, as I'm sure many are aware. By "Calvinist" I simply mean that Edwards followed the understanding of soteriology and God's sovereignty that was articulated by John Calvin, the Reformation and her heirs. What is commonly called Calvinism did not originate nor was it unique to or rediscovered solely by Calvin. Martin Bucer and others in the time of Calvin held to the same ideas during the Reformation almost entirely independant of John Calvin's own teaching and writing (in fact Bucer influenced Calvin). Years later of course, Edwards was a 'Calvinist.' Edwards vigorously refuted Arminianism in his day. Edwards was essentially a Puritan and Reformed in his outlook especially his doctrine of God and his soteriology (not to mention his doctrine of the Holy Spirit). Edwards was a congregationalist rather than a presbyterian in his ecclesiology (Puritans ranged in their ecclesiology from being congregationalist, to presbyterian, to baptists).

Second, there was for a time an Edwardsean school of thought in the New Divinity men of Yale notably Samuel Hopkins, Jonathan Edwards Jr. and Nathanael Emmons. Followed later by Timothy Dwight, Nathaniel William Taylor, Bennet Tyler, Asahel Nettleton and Lyman Beecher. Arguably, the New Divinity men demurred from Edwards' strong Calvinism. This along with other influences in New England is why the movement did not last. Arguably, Edwards' followers used Edwardsean langauge without his piety and committment to Reformed theology.

Furthermore, the revivals of the first great awakening led to a revivalism of the second great awakening. The latter was markedly different from the former. The activity and furor of the revival was sought rather than the 'distinguishing marks of the Spirit of God' (to use Edwards).

Granted "Edwardseanism" never became a denomination, but then Calvin doesn't have an official denomination either. However, there was for a time an "Edwardsean" school of thought, even it if arguably demurred from Edwards. For an introduction to more research see Sydney Ahlstrom's "A Religious History of the American People" chapter 25 entitled "The New England Theology in Democratic America" (pp.403-414) as well as chapter 26 (pp.415-428).

I think that those who identify Driscoll/Piper/ and Mahaney as representing Edward's legacy simple speak of their spiritual fervor. But of course, one can find the same fervor in numorous other Calvinists down through the ages. The "Edwardsean" school of thought has long since died out.

I understand your basic point is that you don't want the next generation to be "Emergentism." This is a noble goal. The example of Edwards and his followers should give us a caution and pause for thought. I'm sure many from church history would be appalled at the '-isms' that followed them.

Here, in Edwards and his followers, we have an example where the generation that followed set out on a different path than the Edwards had walked on with his teachings. Whether one likes it or not, people follow teachers. "Emerging"/"Emergent" leaders will sway a generation and lead them. In every generation, our ideas have consequences, good and bad. The question for us is what will be passed on? What paths will the next generation walk on? What direction will they head? What trajectory am I setting? What if they take the worst trajectory, am I cautioning/warning against this? How will their following my lead (whether I like it or not) cause them to behave and think? Jude 3 seems to warn us about this.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Cindy said...

Tony- that's a great line! Makes my family seem not-quite-so bad. Maybe there's hope for me.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Rob B. said...

I am so totally impressed that you marked Edwards for a congregationalist. ;)

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought I was the black sheep of my family but compare to Edwards family......

Rodney Neill

From Northern Ireland - I really enjoy your blog!

12:42 PM  
Blogger caleb maskell said...

tony:

caleb maskell here. i will call you soon...honest. i'm just run off my feet @ work right now. but i must say that i'm stoked that you're reading Edwards. he definitely was an original...he eschewed all of the -isms for very interesting reasons. just add that to the list of things we should talk about.

caleb maskell

6:30 AM  
Blogger caleb maskell said...

and...furthermore...marsden is a great writer. the ax-murderer line is great.

that said, i do have to agree with the anonymous commenter a little bit. there was definitely an "edwardsean" school of interpretation at least up until the Civil War. that put a big stop to a lot of the ante-bellum theological conversation(aka ranting).

the difference was that no one, and i really mean no one was ever as good as Edwards. why? my take is that Edwards wrote narratives, never systematics. he started with scripture, then reason, and then experience...and took them wherever they led him in crafting a big story of the life of the world. his followers wrote theology...systematic theology at that. this flattened his ideas and kinda killed alot of the magic.

at best, his followers championed radical social causes (most notably abolitionism, which Edwards himself opposed). at worst, they were boring and reactive. most lived somewhere in between.

-caleb.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

introduced to marsden when I was part of the Pew Scholars, I have never been disappointed by his writing. i would read about the life of pat robertson as long as marsden wrote about it...

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Kudos to anonymous, it's refreshing to see serious and careful Historical Theology showing up on an Emergent site.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous wess said...

love the quote tony. Marsden is an incredible historian, his work on Fundamentalism is outstanding as well.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Noll has said that Edwards held together three streams: a) doctrine b) experience c) cultural analysis/engagement. His immediate successors were unable to hold these things together. Princeton/Hodge held on to his doctrine, Finney to his emphasis on revial/experience, and the New Divinity guys to his cultural engagement (they became abolitionists.) Edwards himself was able to see how these three emphases cohere. but the next generation couldn't.

Tim Keller

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great discussion on Edwards.

Greg Laurie

9:11 AM  

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