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Sweeney’s Booknotes: The Unified Operations of the Human Soul

Jeffrey C. Waddington, The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic (Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2015)

RESOURCE_TemplateThis is the published version of Waddington’s dissertation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. An
Orthodox Presbyterian minister near Philly, Waddington also serves as Secretary of the Reformed Forum, an organization that has done good work on Edwards over the years. His book concerns itself with Edwards’ theological anth
ropology and its bearing on Edwards’ work in the field of apologetics.

Waddington’s thesis is that the late John Gerstner (1914-1996) was wrong to classify Edwards as a “classical” apologist. Gerstner should have seen that Edwards’ doctrine of humanity was too Augustinian, indeed Calvinistic, to yield a “classical” defense of Christian faith.

Gerstner spoke at times about three kinds of apologists in early church history, distinguished from one another by their views of the relation between philosophy and theology. “There is the rejection of any interaction,” Waddington explains, “arguably exemplified in Tertullian. Then there is Augustine’s perspective in which philosophy serves as the handmaid of theology providing conceptual tools. Finally there is the view of Thomas Aquinas in which philosophy has its own legitimacy apart from its role as handmaiden to theology. In fact, philosophy provides the foundation upon which theology is built” (pp. 23-24). This last, Thomistic view is the so-called “classical” view.

In Waddington’s estimation, “classical” apologists are too rationalistic, too dependent on a “hierarchical faculty psychology,” too soft on the noetic consequences of the fall, and too Catholic on the relationship between nature and grace to include the likes of Edwards. The author stops short of calling Edwards a “presuppositionalist,” for eighteenth-century scholars never wore that modern label, designed as it was by Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and his followers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westminster Seminary, and related institutions—but he clearly thinks that Edwards would have chosen this label over “classical” if pressed.

“Edwards was not a presuppositionalist apologist born out of season,” Waddington admits in a paragraph that gives the reader a sense of his overall argument and delivery. “However, there are areas of overlap that seem to have escaped the notice of John Gerstner. It is this writer’s view that major advances have occurred in the field of apologetics since the time of Edwards. One such advance is the self-conscious nature of the discipline. It is not as if apologists from the different schools do things absolutely differently. That is surely not the case. But we are better off being sensitive to epistemological issues and how the Scriptures bear on these. Edwards may have used some classical arguments in his apologetic endeavors, but he lacks the zeal for the classical method that Gerstner himself evidenced. What’s more, Edwards does in fact show some leanings in a presuppositional direction. But that is not surprising. Inasmuch as he was a Reformed theologian he would manifest such things” (p. 227).

In his effort to create distance between Edwards and less Calvinistic “classical” apologists, Waddington paints a rather unflattering portrait of Aquinas and his ilk on philosophy and theology, reason and revelation, and, indeed, nature and grace–one in which very few late-modern Thomists would see themselves. (In a section on the history of the donum superadditum, he claims that the goal of human fellowship with God is “an optional extra” for them, and that for Edwards, by contrast, “there is no sense that fallen man can function adequately” without the gift of the Spirit [p. 75–both claims are false.]) But in the main, this is a helpful look at Christian anthropology, Christian apologetics, and Edwards’ place within them.

I highly recommend this book for Reformed Protestants and others interested in Reformed apologetics.