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Sweeney’s Booknotes: God is a Communicative Being

William M. Schweitzer, God Is a Communicative Being: Divine Communicativeness and Harmony in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2012).

An American Presbyterian serving a church in Gateshead, England, William Schweitzer is also an expert Edwards scholar. Though mainly a theologian, he also pays due respect to Edwards’ eighteenth-century context, depicting Edwards’ view of God in relation to early modern British intellectual history.

This revised version of Schweitzer’s Edinburgh dissertation is a rather ambitious work, the sort of doctoral-level project that could only have been approved by a department of theology. For, in it, Schweitzer seeks to characterize his subject’s work in its entirety, expounding on its value within the history of Christian thought.

Fortunately for us, he does so on the basis of meticulous research and a good feel for the overall coherence of Edwards’ thought. “My proposal,” Schweitzer states, “is that what is distinctive in Edwards is related to his insight that ‘God is a communicative Being.’ The context of this statement is a problem that animated him throughout his life: why did a self-sufficient God create the world? His astonishing reply was ‘The great and universal end of God’s creating the world was to communicate himself. God is a communicative being.’ To understand all that Edwards meant by this, in the final analysis, is to understand the Northampton pastor” (pp. 4-5). It is also to appreciate Edwards’ fascination with the harmonies inherent in the cosmos. Inasmuch as Edwards understood the universe and the Bible as communication of God’s inner-Trinitarian life, “Edwards’ lifelong project was to interpret the harmony of reality” (p. 5).

Schweitzer demonstrates his thesis in six clearly written chapters: on the doctrine of God (who is essentially communicative), nature (an important, although secondary, source of divine communication in the world), special revelation (which, contra the deists and other naturalists, was absolutely necessary for right knowledge of God), the harmony of Scripture (which shared the attributes of God, most importantly beautiful harmony), the harmony of history (the most important medium of divine communication, which Edwards understood in largely supernatural terms), and Edwards’ project of interpreting the harmony of reality (dealt with in a conclusion, in which Schweitzer’s contribution is recapitulated).

In sum, Schweitzer avers, “At a time when the Deists were pronouncing the discord of nature with Scripture, history with Scripture, and Scripture with itself, Edwards’ life work was to argue the opposite: nature, Scripture, and history are all in perfect, though highly complex, harmony within themselves and with one another, and this very harmony points to the underlying reality of the beautiful divine mind” (pp. 144-45). Though there were surely other elements in Edwards’ life work, it would be difficult to identify the engine driving his theological labors much more accurately than that.

This book is highly recommended. I especially like its emphasis on the centrality of the doctrine of revelation, and of the Bible, in Edwards’ work.

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS