Dissertation Note: “‘A Soul Inflamed with High Exercises of Divine Love’: Affections and Passions in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards.”

Martin, Ryan Jared. “’A Soul Inflamed with High Exercises of Divine Love’: Affections and Passions in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards.” PhD diss., Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 2013. 

This dissertation is concerned with alleged confusion in the secondary literature regarding Edwards’s concept of religious affections and how it relates to the modern day concept of emotions. Martin writes, “The goal of this dissertation has been to describe Edwards’s affective psychology, and to find its points of contact and discordance with modern emotions” (297). Both scholars and ministry leaders have suggested that when Edwards encouraged Christians to have high affections he meant Christians ought to be emotional. In his view, John Piper has contributed perhaps more than any other person to the perpetuation of this conflation of affections and emotions.

Martin argues that this understanding is confusing and unhelpful for accurately interpreting Jonathan Edwards. Martin writes, “By replacing affections with emotions (often done to make Edwards more intelligible and contemporary), interpreters have left readers with a distorted Edwards. Edwards did not conceive of affections as corporeal feelings at all, but as strong movements of the will” (300). Edwards distinguished between the lower, animal passions which are rooted in bodily appetites and the affections which can be gracious or natural. Affections refer to a person’s inclinations and aversions. A person with holy affections will possess supernatural, godly inclinations and aversions. A person with natural affections will possess sinful inclinations and aversions.

Few if any have written more than article length treatments on this subject; however, as Martin shows there has been no shortage of authors sharing their opinions regarding Edwards and the affections. He argues against scholars such as Perry Miller, Conrad Cherry, D. G. Hart, and K. Scott Oliphant who believe that Edwards invented a new psychology that was deeply rooted in John Locke. Even though Edwards appreciated Locke, Martin contends that Edwards’s distinction between affections and passions can be found as early as Augustine. In other words, Edwards was not as novel nor as dependant upon Locke as some have suggested. Martin also disagrees with scholars such as Miller, Jeremiah Day, Henry Tappan, Joseph Haroutunian, and more recently James Blight and Paul Helm when they equate affections with emotions.  Martin also notes that he is not alone in his position, and he finds agreement with regard to Edwards on the affections in the work of Gordon Clark, Robert Jensen, Mark Noll, John Smith,  John Hannah, Michael Haykin, Sean Michael Lucas, Michael McClymond, and Gerald McDermott.

Chapter one introduces the study and describes the ways in which scholars and evangelicals have understood or misunderstood Edwards on the affections. Chapter two highlights some ways in which the concept of affections has been used in church history in the writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, the Reformers, Descartes, Pascal, and the Puritans. Chapter three discusses the concept of affections in the early writings of Jonathan Edwards. Martin surveys Edwards’s notebooks, sermons, and revival writings. Chapter four discusses Edwards’s understanding of the affections in context with his debate with Charles Chauncy during the Great Awakening. Chapter five discusses Edwards’s later thought in The Life of David Brainerd, Freedom of the Will, Original Sin, and Two Dissertations. Chapter six offers conclusions regarding the study explaining the significance of affections for understanding Jonathan Edwards and that affections should not be equated with emotions.

This dissertation is well executed and will be of interest primarily to specialists who need to understand Edwards on the affections, emotions, and faculty psychology.  This dissertation represents the first book length treatment of a vital topic in Edwards studies and an opportunity to secure a clearer and fuller understanding among Edwards specialists on Edwards and the affections.