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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.

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.

Dissertation Notes: “‘So Much of the Gospel … Shining in It’: Jonathan Edwards’ Redemptive-Historical Vision of the Psalms.” PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013.

David Barshinger. “‘So Much of the Gospel … Shining in It’: Jonathan Edwards’ Redemptive-Historical Vision of the Psalms.” PhD diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2013.

Over the past sixty years scholars have thoroughly examined Jonathan Edwards the man, the philosopher, the revivalist, and the theologian. But little has been written on Edwards the interpreter of the Bible. David Barshinger’s dissertation seeks to address this lacuna through a careful, in-depth study of Edwards’ exegesis and theological interpretation of the book of Psalms. This is the first publication of any kind to focus on Edwards’ interpretation of the Psalms and the first book-length treatment on his approach to a full book of the Bible. It is the fruit of a thorough study of Edwards’ writings on the Psalms across his vast corpus, including 104 extant sermons, “Miscellanies,” the “Blank Bible,” “Notes on Scripture,” his revival writings, theological treatises, and many biblical notebooks.

After placing Edwards’ use of the Psalms within historical context – the history of interpretation, worship, and preaching of the Psalms – the bulk of the dissertation demonstrates how Edwards used the Psalms in his development of several theological themes (God, Scripture, humanity, sin, Christ, gospel, and Spirit). Edwards’ use of the Psalms proves to be an excellent lens through which to look at his understanding of the unity of the Bible, the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, the nature of biblical inspiration, typology, prophecy, and historical criticism.

This study portrays Edwards as modestly critical, an interpreter who brought many historical-critical questions to the Psalms, but maintained a traditional doctrine of inspiration. Barshinger places Edwards firmly in the Reformed exegetical stream through frequent comparisons with the writings of predecessors like Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, John Trapp, David Dickson, and John Calvin. The result is a convincing argument against Stephen Stein’s claim that Edwards regularly broke from orthodox exegetical controls. Barshinger demonstrates that Edwards operated within exegetical boundaries formed by the history of redemption, analogy of faith, and analogy of Scripture – boundaries much more consistent with his Reformed predecessors than with medieval Catholic interpreters (contra Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott).

Edwards did find more types in the Psalms than previous Reformed exegetes. However he did so always within a redemptive-historical framework, which Barshinger argues was the governing interpretive grid in his reading of the Psalms. More than merely Christocentric, Edwards’ interpretation was shaped by the whole Bible’s revelation of the Triune God’s work of redemption in history. This redemptive-historical reading allowed Edwards to find in the Psalms truths regarding the Holy Spirit, regeneration, the nature of Christian faith, and many more aspects of God’s saving activity.

Edwards’ unique interpretations flowed not from a novel interpretive approach, but instead from his familiarity with new scholarship and the needs of his own pastoral ministry. For example, the revivals prompted Edwards to see new types for the Holy Spirit in the Psalms and to search the Psalter for help regarding bodily manifestations of the Spirit.

Barshinger’s dissertation also makes an important contribution to our understanding of Edwards as a theologian. By digging deep into how Edwards used the Psalms across his corpus, we learn much about Edwards’ theological method. As Barshinger concludes, “Edwards was a theological interpreter whose theology directed his exegesis, which in turn informed his theology” (166). Those who know Edwards’ writings will not be surprised that the Bible played a major role in his theology. But Barshinger helps us see more clearly how the Bible actually functioned as he did theology, dealt with pastoral problems, and preached the gospel. As a result, this work should be of interest not only to Edwards’ scholars, but also to theologians, Bible scholars, and pastors who are interested in the relationship between theology, ministry, and the biblical text.

Well-researched, clearly written, and compellingly argued, Barshinger’s work is essential reading for anyone interested in Edwards’ exegesis and theological interpretation.

– Mark Rogers, PhD
Crossway Community Church

Dissertation Note: The Reformed Tradition Always Reforming?

Jonathan Ray Huggins. “The Reformed Tradition Always Reforming?: A Historical-Theological Study of the Doctrine of Justification in the Works of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and NT Wright.” PhD diss.,  Stellenbosch University, 2012. (note: Full-Text is available.)

Jonathan Huggins’s recent dissertation enters into highly controversial territory. As the title suggests,  he manages to to prepare a study that combines the debate over justification with Calvin, Edwards, and Wright along with the debate over what it means to be Reformed. It seeks to place John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and NT Wright in conversation on the doctrine of justification showing as Reformed theologians in continuity and discontinuity with one another. He writes as an historical theologian and forthrightly identifies himself as an evangelical theologian and a former PCA pastor. Observing recent debates among Reformed theologians and especially within the ranks of the PCA, he writes in order to better understand for himself what it means to be doctrinally Reformed and a member the of Reformed tradition. He asserts that the Reformed tradition is a living tradition, and its doctrine is an ongoing conversation subject to correction and improvement under the sole authority of Scripture. He writes critically yet sympathetically as he discusses all three of his main figures.

For those who are especially interested in Edwards, Huggins discusses in detail Edwards’s master’s Quaestio (thesis) and his two sermons on justification in 1738. He also details the recent literature concerning Edwards’s supposed Roman Catholic views of justification.

Readers who are interested in the recent dialogue concerning the doctrine of justification will have ample material to chew on. In the end, Huggins suggests that all three of these figures are arguably members of the Reformed tradition on justification even as they articulate their views quite differently. This study demonstrates (as others have done so recently, notably, Richard Muller) that the Reformed tradition is much more diverse than many have supposed. Being Reformed is not synonymous with rehearsing and repackaging John Calvin’s theology. Each of of the figures is shown to be Reformed and shown to work with a level of independence from the traditional confessions. Huggins has offered an admirable study on a terribly important subject. Even readers who disagree with Huggins should find his work useful for thinking through important issues of defining boundaries of theological traditions.