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Sweeney’s Booknotes—A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates during the Long Eighteenth Century

Mark Jones and Michael A. G. Haykin (eds.), A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates during the Long Eighteenth Century (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2018).

New DivinitySince Doug Sweeney is a contributor to the volume under review, this booknote is written by Joey Cochran, assistant director of the Jonathan Edwards Center and doctoral student of Doug Sweeney’s. 

Editors Mark Jones and Michael Haykin have assembled a crack squad of theologically minded historians to trace the stories of significant ecclesiological and theological debates during the “Long” 18th Century. Though these discussions lend themselves broadly to Calvinistic traditions in Britain and New England, these debates represent both confessional and non-confessional backgrounds. The editors wish for this study to be an aid for today’s churchmen and scholars to assess how to best navigate our day’s ecclesiological and theological disputes.

Since the nature of the Jonathan Edwards Center blog pivots on the figure of Edwards, this booknote will primarily address the fifth chapter contribution from Daniel W. Cooley and Douglas A. Sweeney. A fundamental premise of the authors in this chapter is that Edwards Sr. modeled a methodology of theological reflection open to adaptation. His theological heirs apparent (literally in this case) adopted the practice of adaptation and included it in their theological toolkit.

New Divinity theology had the hallmark of distinguishing natural ability and moral inability, along with asserting a doctrine of immediate repentance. Edwards Sr.’s understanding of imputation of Adam’s sin followed an Augustino-Federal theology of original sin. However, the New Divinity theologians that followed him shifted to a view where guilt is derived from personal sin alone.

This then becomes the avenue by which the penal substitutionary view of atonement might be eclipsed by the moral government view. The chapter authors indicate that Edwards Jr. pioneered this view of the atonement sometime in the 1780s as a viable polemic against the trending universalism of his day. (See Michael McClymond’s stout two-volume study, The Devil’s Redemption, for more on the history and interpretation of universalism.)

Edwards Jr. viewed the payment of the debt for sin as metaphorical. Rather than emphasizing substitution, “the atonement is about restoring God’s divine rule” in which his moral government set by his moral law is upheld (120). He proposed that God’s general justice—where his moral goodness is upheld by God conducting himself in a manner in which he seeks his own glory and provides for the universe’s good—is in mind with the moral government view of atonement. General justice necessitates vindicating God’s true virtue. Thus, Edwards Jr. retrieves both of Edwards Sr.’s two dissertations, a post-humous publication impossible apart from the help of none other than Edwards Jr., in order to facilitate a moral government view of the atonement (cf. Yeager, Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture).

The chapter authors make clear that Edwards Jr. does not forsake substitution altogether in his moral government view. This view of substitution protected against universalism by clarifying that the payment to God was not for each individual sinner. Rather, it is Christ’s sufferings that are substituted for the punishment justly due to humanity, which clears the way for individual conversion. In other words, the locus of substitution is relocated from ontology to mission. Though Edwards Sr. spoke in more conservative Reformed-scholastic terms that indeed merged Anselmic and Grotian themes, father and son agreed that atonement ought to restore God’s honor and express God’s character.

Akin to how the humanists of the later 15th and early 16th century might best be understood as purveyors of a methodology, one might argue that Edwards’ ability to adapt, in the 18th century’s new era of science and enlightenment, served as an exemplar for his theological heirs and in itself may have been one of the most powerful influences of “America’s Theologian.”

I heartily recommend the rest of the chapter contributions in this fine collection. This work is an asset for scholars and churchmen concerned about developments and disputations of doctrine in the long 18th century. Perusing the book’s table of contents provides a depiction of the broad landscape that this compendium offers:

Editors Introduction | Mark Jones / Michael A. G. Haykin

1 The Antinomian-Neonomian Controversy in Nonconforming England (c. 1690) | Mark Jones / D. Patrick Ramsey

2 The Marrow Controversy | William VanDoodewaard

3 “A catholic spirit”: George Whitefield’s Dispute with the Erskines in Scotland | Ian Hugh Clary

4 The Doctrine of Free Choice | HyunKwan Kim

5 The Edwardseans and the Atonement | Daniel W. Cooley / Douglas A. Sweeney

6 The “Modern Question”: Hyper-Calvinism | Paul Helm

7 Eschatology: Spes Meliorum Temporum | Mark A. Herzer

8 The Particular Baptist Battle Over Sandemanianism | Nathan A. Finn

9 Andrew Fuller and the Fading of the Trinitarian Imagination | Michael A. G. Haykin

10 Church Authority and Subscription in the Synod of Philadelphia (1721-1741) | Scott Sealy

11 The Legacy of John Witherspoon and the Founding of Princeton Theological Seminary: Samuel Stanhope Smith, Ashbel Green, and the Contested Meaning of Enlightened Education | Paul Kjoss Helseth

12 Is Revival from God? The Great Awakening Debate Between Two Moderates | Robert Smart

Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement

Brandon James Crawford, Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement: Understanding the Legacy of America’s Greatest Theologian (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017).

JEandAtonementCrawford

We are pleased to offer the following booknote by former Edwards Center fellow, Dr. Daniel W. Cooley, who wrote his dissertation at Trinity on the topic of the booknote. See Daniel W. Cooley, “The New England Theology and the Atonement: Jonathan Edwards to Edwards Amasa Park” (Ph.D. diss., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2014); and Daniel W. Cooley and Douglas A. Sweeney, “The Novelty of the New Divinity,” in A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates During the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Mark Jones and Michael A. G. Haykin (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2017).

This volume offers a study on the atonement in the writings of Jonathan Edwards. Crawford explains that this study aims to address the “lack of consensus” on the question of whether there is a genuine “trajectory” of thought between Edwards and the Edwardseans on the atonement (8–9). This problem has persisted because of the lack of literature on Edwards’ views of the atonement. The author concludes that the literature to date has maintained a predominantly historical interest in the subject rather than a theological emphasis. In fact, I would add that this is generally true across the academic study of Edwards. Crawford writes, “The present study aims to address this problem by offering a thorough presentation of Edwards’s doctrine of the atonement as revealed in his collected works” (10).

The author introduces his study with a brief narrative of Edwards’ “legacy under dispute” (1). He sketches out Edwards’ influence on his successors such as Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins as well as those who came after—such as John Smalley, Nathan Strong, Nathanael Emmons, Nathaniel William Taylor, and Edwards Amasa Park, who figures prominently in the story of the Edwardseans on the atonement.

Crawford asserts from the outset that he agrees with Mark Noll, who argues that Edwards left no intellectual or theological heirs. Jonathan Edwards “did not leave any clear intellectual successors behind” (1). Crawford agrees that the Edwardseans dominated theological discourse in New England for the hundred year period after Edwards’s death, ironically citing Doug Sweeney and Allen Guelzo who disagree with Crawford’s premise that Edwardseans took a clean break from Edwards. While they dominated the scene they were not quite like Edwards himself, though “their ministries did parallel his in many ways” (6). Crawford cites the Edwardseans’ defense of reformed theology as one of the key similarities in the face of an “enlightened” age. He makes clear that the sort of atonement that the Edwardseans taught was unlike that which Edwards taught.

Crawford continues his study with an overview of the development of the doctrine of the atonement in chapters 1, 2, and 3, from Clement of Rome in the first century to the medieval period and the Reformation era and the Post-Reformation era that saw the development of the moral example and governmental theories of the atonement and further developments of penal substitution.

These initial chapters provide a series of sketches of the varying contributions of select individuals on the doctrine of the atonement. The length of each treatment ranges from a couple of paragraphs to a few pages. Some of these figures include Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, William Ames, and John Owen. In addition, he mentions the influence of some other figures such as Socinus, Arminius, and Hugo Grotius.

The next four chapters discuss Edwards’ views of theology from a broad framework and then narrowing in on the atonement. Chapters four and five delve into the doctrines of God, Humanity, Sin, and Christ, showing the theological framework in which Edwards’ view of the atonement resides. Chapters six and seven describe the “vital content” of Edwards’ atonement and additional themes found in Edwards’ writing as they relate to the atonement where he draws upon material from many different “Miscellanies” as well as a handful of sermons and major works.

Crawford closes with a discussion of Edwards’ legacy on the atonement and concludes that Edwards falls within the bounds of reformed orthodoxy. The views of his followers, the New Divinity, diverged from Edwards’ views. Crawford explains that Edwards may not have been clear enough in his views, which led to misunderstandings among his followers. His conclusion fits with the regnant historiography concerning Edwards and the Edwardseans, though the proponents of this viewpoint that the followers of Edwards represented a decline from Edwards struggle to explain how this misunderstanding took place.

Readers looking for an introduction to Edwards on the atonement can find help in Crawford’s treatment. It is not overly technical, so informed laypeople, pastors, and students can benefit from it. Crawford has presented evidence that helps him in his argument that Edwards held to a recognizably reformed version of the doctrine of the atonement; however, he does not present evidence in regard to Edwards’ relationship with the Edwardseans—so readers will want to look elsewhere on that score.