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Muller on Edwards and Freedom of Will

Richard Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, gave a fascinating inaugural lecture in the “New Directions in Edwards Studies” series. The lecture was titled “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition.” The overall focus was on the British reception of Edwards’ theology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One of the lecture’s more provocative conclusions is that Edwards’ theology of the will departed significantly from the early Reformed tradition.

Scholars may be interested in a new book that overlaps with Dr. Muller’s lecture: Willem J. van Asselt, J. Martin Bac, and Roelf T. te Velde, Reformed Thought on Freedom: The Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology (Baker Academic, 2010).

Others will want to wrestle further with the full implications of Muller’s stimulating argument. A free audio recording of this lecture will be available soon.


New Directions in Edwards Studies: Inaugural Lecture by Richard Muller

The Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS is pleased to announce its inaugural lecture in the “New Directions in Edwards Studies” series. Richard Muller, P. J. Zondervan Professor of Historical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, will be giving a new lecture on Edwards and free choice.

The lecture will be on September 29, 2010 at 1pm at the ATO chapel on the campus of TEDS. The event is free and all are welcome.

Abstract: Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition.

Jonathan Edwards, frequently identified in modern discussions of his thought as the “greatest American theologian” and often regarded as an epitome of Calvinism for his teaching on the freedom of will, was, in his own time and for a century after his death, a much-debated thinker whose views had a polarizing effect in Reformed circles. Scholars have examined the reception of his ideas in America and have noted a rather pointed opposition both in New England and in the American South. The reception of Edwards’ thought in Britain, however, has received far less attention, even though it offers a rather significant perspective on Edwards’ place in the Reformed tradition.

This lecture takes up the issue of Edwards’ reception in Britain, examining understandings of Edwards’ doctrine of the freedom of will in two historical contexts, the late eighteenth century and the third quarter of the nineteenth. In the former context, Edwards’ thought was positively evaluated – surprisingly for much the same reason – by the Unitarian, universalist, and materialist philosopher Joseph Priestley and the orthodox Scottish Calvinist theologian, George Hill. In the latter context, despite agreement on the pedigree of Edwards’ thought, the Scottish Calvinist philosopher Sir William Hamilton could identify Edwards’ views as a dangerous heresy, while the Scottish Calvinist theologian William Cunningham could argue positively for Edwards’ place in the Reformed confessional tradition.

By examining these two phases of the British reception of Edwards’ theology and by noting briefly the differences between Edwards’ views on the freedom of will and the views expressed throughout the era of Reformed orthodoxy, the lecture points to a parting of the ways in the Reformed tradition that took place largely in the eighteenth century.