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Archive for January, 2012

Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards

Steven M. Studebaker and Robert W. Caldwell III, The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards: Text, Context, and Application (Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate, 2012).

This book is dedicated to me (along with Marquette’s Pat Carey). I have also written an endorsement that is printed on its cover. I have a blatant conflict of interest here, so I’d better keep this short.

In my opinion, this is now the place to begin for people interested in the Trinitarian nature of Edwards’ thought and its importance to the history of theology. There is a surge of interest today in Edwards’ doctrine of the Trinity, part of the larger surge of Trinitarian thinking in theology since the mid-twentieth century. Amy Plantinga Pauw’s book, The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards (2002), is the best known work on the topic. But several other books and articles (by Studebaker, Paul Helm, Bill Danaher, McClymond and McDermott, among others) have engaged this theme insightfully in the past ten years alone. Edwards’ Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (2003), edited well for Yale by Princeton’s Sang Hyun Lee, has enabled much of this scholarship. But not until now has anyone published such a comprehensive treatment of Edwards’ writings on the Trinity—in his treatises, his sermons, and his “Miscellanies” notebooks—in relation to their own historical contexts.

Part One, “Texts and Doctrine,” reprints Edwards’ most sustained interpretations of the doctrine, the Discourse on the Trinity and the Treatise on Grace, using these and other writings to present Edwards’ Trinitarian views systematically. Part Two, “Historical Context,” lays out Edwards’ views in relation to the Christian tradition generally and his eighteenth-century world. Part Three, “Pastoral Application,” explains what difference this doctrine made as Edwards preached and wrote of the Christian life, the doctrine of creation, and eternal life in heaven.

I recommend this volume highly. It covers difficult terrain, to be sure, but does so with a facility and clarity that makes it easy for most readers to follow—and always with a view to the significance of its contents for theology and practice.

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS

Call for Papers: JESociety 2012, Oct 4-7

Friends of the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS may be interested in the following announcement …

The Jonathan Edwards Society is extending a call for papers for the Oct 4-7, 2012 conference on the theme of “Jonathan Edwards: An American Apocalyptic Prophet.”

The details below on paper submission are from the Jonathan Edwards Society website:

Some Sug­gested Topics

  • Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy and phi­los­o­phy of history
  • Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy in its his­tor­i­cal context
  • Armini­an­ism
  • Amer­i­can utopian and dystopian literature
  • Utopian social experiments
  • The social, polit­i­cal, and eco­nomic con­text of Edwards’ thought
  • Con­tem­po­rary cul­tural trends in light of Edwards’ escha­tol­ogy and ethics.


  • Abstracts: 200-​​word maximum
  • Papers: 3,000-word max­i­mum (designed for a read­ing time of 20 to 30 minutes)

Please include the fol­low­ing information:

  • Name
  • Aca­d­e­mic sta­tus and insti­tu­tional affil­i­a­tion (if any)
  • Mail­ing address, e-​​mail address, tele­phone number

Please sub­mit your abstracts or papers (Microsoft-​​Word For­mat) by Sep­tem­ber 1st, 2012.

The con­fer­ence reg­is­tra­tion fee is $50.00 for adults, $25.00 for col­lege stu­dents, and $10.00 for high school stu­dents. Please make your check payable to The Jonathan Edwards Soci­ety and mail it to the address below.

Richard Hall
Dept. of Gov­ern­ment & His­tory
Fayet­teville State Uni­ver­sity
1200 Murchi­son Road
Fayet­teville, NC 28301

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Reality

John J. Bombaro, Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Reality: The Relationship of God to the World, Redemption History, and the Reprobate, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012).

In the nearly 24 years since Sang Hyun Lee published The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards (1988), scores of scholars have measured the merits and the extent of what Lee encouraged us to label Edwards’ “dispositional ontology.” In the main, this recent effort has proven a boon to Edwards studies, breathing new life into work on Edwards’ metaphysical thought. But it has also yielded controversy regarding the vexed question of the potential for salvation of the unevangelized–some suggesting that Edwards’ God can grant a regenerate disposition to some too young or too removed from gospel witness to know of Christ, while others criticize this view as far too modern and heterodox for a Calvinist like Edwards with a strong doctrine of hell who taught the justice of God in the damnation of sinners.

Lutheran pastor John Bombaro has now weighed in on these disputes with an excellent book on what he calls Edwards’ vision of reality. He confirms that Edwards developed a dispositional ontology, but argues that he employed it as an orthodox, particularistic Calvinist. In other words, Edwards was not an inclusivist on the matter of salvation. Rather, he taught that God is glorified in the reprobation of unrepentant sinners. Or in Bombaro’s own words: “I argue that Edwards indeed employed disposition(s) in his philosophy, but that his theocentrism, theological tradition, and Calvinist particularism established its boundaries” (p. ix).

Further, the author qualifies Lee’s interpretation of Edwards’ philosophical theology by demonstrating correctly that, “[d]espite his emergent dispositional philosophy, Edwards did not completely depart from the Aristotelian-Scholastic ontology of ‘substance,’ as Sang Lee argues.” Rather, for Edwards, “neither God nor man is to be thought of only in terms of disposition: Edwards retained ‘substance’ concepts and terminology for both” (p. 13).

There is plenty in these pages about which specialists will quibble. But, overall, it offers a careful, well-documented assessment of the issues it addresses. It will be very heavy going for all but advanced students of Edwards, but is now required reading for those who work on Edwards’ thought.

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS