Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Theologians

Kyle C. Strobel, ed., The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Theologians (Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate, 2015)

ecumenical edwardsTwenty years ago, the number of “constructive theologians” working seriously with Edwards could have been counted on one hand. (The term “constructive theologians” is often associated with the work of liberal Protestant thinkers seeking to “deconstruct” traditional understandings of God and the world and then “retrieve” from the ruins scattered fragments that can be used to “reconstruct” more “liberating” models of theology. Today, however, many evangelical and Catholic thinkers wear this label proudly, employing it as a synonym for innovative, contextual, or systematic theology—often without a word about the deconstructive aspect of its modern genealogy.)

In the twenty-first century, though, constructive theologians have offered the bulk of the most important work on Edwards’ thought, transforming the terrain of Edwards studies rather conspicuously.

The Ecumenical Edwards is a symbol of this change. It also represents well, in its chapters, their footnotes, and the appended bibliography (pp. 235-49), the most important dogmaticians interacting with Edwards—a diverse group of writers including senior and junior scholars, aficionados and novices, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and even Eastern Orthodox.

As stated in the “Introduction” by editor Kyle Strobel of Biola University, “the goal of the following chapters is to initiate an ecumenically significant conversation. These essays should serve both Edwards scholars and theologians new to Edwards as way to constructively engage his theology for contemporary theological analysis” (p. 5).

Toward that end, Strobel has framed the book in two different sections, both of which are aimed at inspiring theologians to engage Edwards’ thought. Part One, “Comparison and Assessment” (pp. 9-129), places Edwards in conversation with a wide range of others (many of whom he never read), from the Byzantine mystic, St. Nicholas Cabasilas, to Western theologians such as St. Anselm, Martin Luther, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Part Two, “Constructive Engagement for Current Conversations” (pp. 131-233), does much the same thing, though its chapters comparing Edwards to St. Thomas, Cardinal Newman, Karl Barth, and several others orient themselves a little more explicitly to contemporary issues in dogmatics.

Here is the book’s table of contents:

Introduction, Kyle Strobel

Part I: Comparison and Assessment

  1. Seeking Salvation: Jonathan Edwards and Nicholas Cabasilas on Life in Christ, Alexis Torrance
  2. Anselm and Edwards on God, Oliver D. Crisp
  3. New Science of Sacrifice, Peter J. Leithart
  4. Jonathan Edwards: “Discourse on the Trinity,” Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap.
  5. Edwards and Luther on Free/Bound Willing, Robert W. Jenson
  6. The Beauty of Christ: Edwards and Balthasar on Theological Aesthetics, Kyle Strobel
  7. The Sophiology of Jonathan Edwards, David J. Dunn

Part II: Constructive Engagement for Current Conversations

  1. Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Aquinas on Original Sin, Matthew Levering
  2. Jonathan Edwards, John Henry Newman, and Karl Barth: Is a Typological View of Reality Legitimate?, Gerald R. McDermott
  3. Jonathan Edwards and Alasdair MacIntyre: Interdependence, Community, and Contemporary Virtue Ethics, Elizabeth Agnew Cochran
  4. The Erotic Side of Divine Participation: Jonathan Edwards, Gregory of Nyssa, and Origen of Alexandria on Song of Songs 1:1-4, Brandon G. Withrow
  5. The Surprising Third Article Theology of Jonathan Edwards, Myk Habets
  6. Jonathan Edwards and Wolfhart Pannenberg toward Trinitarian Prayer, Kent Eilers

All in all, these essays mark an exciting and productive new theological trend. Edwards is joining the ranks of the doctors of the church—and not merely among Protestants. May Strobel’s tribe increase.