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Archive for November, 2013

Dissertation Notes: “Jonathan Edwards’s Application of Theological Method to His Doctrine of Assurance in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.”

Eric J. Lehner. “Jonathan Edwards’s Application of Theological Method to His Doctrine of Assurance in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections” Ph.D. diss., Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA, 2012.

Eric J. Lehner’s dissertation offers a discussion of Edwards’s theological method in conjunction with his doctrine of assurance in Religious Affections. Lehner is Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary.

He writes to show how Scripture is the most important source and influence on Edwards generally, but more specifically, he labors to show that there is a matrix of sources involved in the execution of Edwards’s method including philosophy, history, and Scripture. He seeks to redress what he considers a problem in scholarship on Edwards which has under-emphasized the role of Scripture in Edwards’s thought and the lack of virtually any work on his theological method.

He argues that Edwards is best understood through a “matrix of informing sources, with Scripture as the primary and governing source” (14). This thesis challenges the idea that Edwards’s thought was mostly explained by the rise of Enlightenment thought. He also rejects the notion that Edwards’s thought can be explained by or reduced to a single central motif. He argues that we ought see a number of motifs coming together in Edwards’s thought. He concludes, “An examination of Edwards’s use of philosophical, historical, and biblical sources demonstrates conclusively that Edwards’s theology is not governed by metaphysical or epistemological categories, as some argue, but by biblical data” (iv).

In situating his study, he attempts to adopt the merits of both the “Yale school” approach to Edwards as well as the approach exemplified by Ian Murray. The former, founded by Perry Miller, took a strictly academic and secular approach to the study of Jonathan Edwards. Murray and other evangelical Christian historians and theologians have been willing to allow their theological convictions to color their assessment of Edwards.

Lehner’s study is a welcome contribution that makes substantial inroads into the study of Edward’s theological method and the use of the Bible. Scholars who specialize in Edwards ought to be interested in Lehner’s work as well theologians who have interests in theological method or the doctrine of assurance. He demonstrates a well informed awareness of the field of secondary literature though he may be a little too dependent upon Perry Miller at points. He could have made use of some more recent secondary literature on New England Puritanism. Overall, highly recommended for specialists.