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Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Trinitarian Vision of Jonathan Edwards and David Coffey

Steven M. Studebaker, The Trinitarian Vision of Jonathan Edwards and David Coffey (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2011).

Steven Studebaker, a Trinity grad who teaches at McMaster Divinity College in Ontario, has published more than anyone on Edwards and the Trinity–including three books in the past four years. This book, however, is the most revealing and personal of his writings on the subject. It compares Edwards with Studebaker’s mentor, David Coffey, an Australian Roman Catholic who taught for a time at Marquette University in Milwaukee when Steve was a doctoral student there.

Edwards, Coffey, and Studebaker share a strong affinity for the Augustinian mutual love model of the Trinity. And in Studebaker’s telling, this has yielded in all three of them “a way of thinking about salvation that is primarily relational and transformational” (i.e. more than forensic and then moral) and “a theological basis for an optimistic attitude that the grace of Christ can touch those people who participate in a non-Christian religion and have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (p. 2).

Historians of theology will recognize that Studebaker is working in the train of Coffey’s teacher Karl Rahner as he explicates Augustine and especially the notion of anonymous Christianity. Edwards scholars will recognize that Steve builds on the scholarship of Anri Morimoto and Gerald R. McDermott when it comes to Edwards’ understanding of spiritual rebirth and the possibility that non-Christian seekers might experience it.

The book has six chapters, all remarkably erudite. Chapter one lays out the Augustinian mutual love tradition. Chapter two places Edwards and Coffey within that grand tradition. Chapters three and four treat the Spirit-Christology and pneumatological concept of grace found in both Edwards and Coffey, which fill out their Trinitarian understanding of salvation and prepare the way for Studebaker’s constructive contribution. Chapter five maps out what Studebaker calls “A Trinitarian and Evangelical Vision of Redemption.” Chapter six develops “A Trinitarian and Evangelical Theology of Religions.”

This volume is an exercise in ecumenical thinking by an up-and-coming scholar with an evangelical pedigree and sympathy for Roman Catholic history and theology. Studebaker employs Edwards and Coffey in an effort to promote doctrinal convergence among the people he knows best (evangelicals and Catholics) on the issues at the center of their longstanding division (soteriological issues). Conservatives on both sides may dislike his argument. But Edwards scholars will find here a window onto Studebaker’s soul and its passion to promote renewed reflection on the Trinitarian vision of Jonathan Edwards.

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS

JEC at TEDS Hosting a Colloquium on Jonathan Edwards’ Global Legacies (Jan 6, 2012)

“The New England theology remains the most significant and enduring Christian theological school of thought to have originated in the United States. Yet today little is known about it beyond the circle of those with a professional interest in the scholarship associated with this movement. Even in this select group, one seldom finds anything like a complete understanding of the different phases of its life or the works of its main proponents. There has been scholarly work on the movement post mortem, but for much of the twentieth century that interest amounted to little more than a trickle of scholarly articles and several (important) monographs. It is only in the last quarter century that significant scholarly interest in these theologians has been rekindled. A clutch of important studies, and a collection of some of the most important writings from the movement have seen the light of day in this period, signalling a renewal of serious intellectual interest in the theologians of this movement.”

These words are taken from the introduction of a forthcoming book edited by Oliver D. Crisp and Douglas A. Sweeney, After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). This volume offers a reassessment of the New England Theology in light of the work of Jonathan Edwards. In this volume scholars whose work has made important theological and philosophical contributions to our understanding of the thought and work of Edwards are brought together with scholars of New England theology and early American history to produce a cross-disciplinary symposium dealing with the ways in which New England Theology flourished, how themes in Edwards’ thought were taken up and changed by representatives of the school, and how it has had a lasting influence on the shape of American Christianity.

Based on this new book, the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS is presenting a panel discussion on “After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology.” This JEC event will be part of the New Directions in Edwards Studies series.

The colloquium will include:

1. Moderator: Douglas A. Sweeney, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

2. Introductions: Oliver D. Crisp, Fuller Theological Seminary

3. “Jonathan Edwards and His Educational Legacy” by Kenneth P. Minkema, Yale University

4. “Edwards in the Second Great Awakening: The New Divinity Contributions of Edward Dorr Griffin and Asahel Nettleton” by David W. Kling, University of Miami

5. “An Edwardsean Lost and Found: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in Asia” by Anri Morimoto, International Christian University (Tokyo)

6. Initial response: Ava Chamberlain, Wright State University

7. Discussion with the audience

This event will be taking place on the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on Friday, Jan 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm (location TBA).