Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Beauty of the Triune God

Kin Yip Louie, The Beauty of the Triune God: The Theological Aesthetics of Jonathan Edwards, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013)

9781610972437

This late arrival from 2013 was conceived as a dissertation written under the supervision of David Fergusson at the University of Edinburgh. Its author now teaches at the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong.

Several works on Edwards’ aesthetics have been published heretofore, most notably those by Miller, Delattre, Lee, Austin, Sherry, Mitchell, Navone, Gibson, Farley, Lane, McClymond and McDermott. However, Louie’s book provides the most careful examination of Edwards’ doctrinally Reformed understanding of beauty to date.

After a helpful introduction in which Louie explores the state of the conversation on Edwards’ aesthetics, he offers five further chapters–on Edwards’ place in the history of Western understandings of beauty (chapter two), on his metaphysics of beauty (chapter three), on his view of the beauty of God, especially within the immanent Trinity (chapter four), on his view of the beauty of Christ in the economy of redemption (chapter five), and on his eschatological vision of the beauty of heaven and hell (chapter six)–before concluding with a discussion of the historical significance of Edwards on these subjects, paying heed in particular to the American and Dutch Reformed traditions (chapter seven).

Louie’s thesis is that Edwards’ theory of beauty will not be understood properly apart from his Reformed dogmatics. Pace what many in the line of Perry Miller have suggested, “theological concern,” especially Calvinist concern, “is central to the Edwards’ aesthetics [sic]. Edwards is not constructing metaphysics for its own sake, but he is laying out aesthetics as a channel for the perception of and communion with a personal God” (p. 15).

As this thesis statement indicates, Louie’s book is full of minor typographical errors, errors of spelling, grammar, and fact, the most egregious being the misspelling of Sang Lee’s name (as “Sung Hyun Lee,” p. 10) and the description of Edwards himself as a “seventeenth-century Puritan” (on the book’s back cover–Edwards lived in the eighteenth century, after Puritanism had died). The book is also rather breezy, sailing vast and deep oceans at a fairly quick clip. Its interpretations are helpful, but most are not detailed enough to transform the way we think about their complex subjects. Louie’s main contribution is his thesis statement itself, which should lead future scholars to assess Edwards’ aesthetics in the context of his Calvinist theology.

Those looking for a survey of Edwards’ understanding of beauty in relation to the long, Western history of aesthetics will find this volume to be helpful. But those searching for a masterwork on Edwards’ theological aesthetics must keep looking or, better yet, write it themselves.