Parallel sessions Thursday, July 6th

Parallel session 4

Room: LCCS 0101 *McClymond
11:00 – 11:30Iain McGee: Flirting with the Enemy? The Light of Nature in Jonathan Edwards’ Battle against Deism.
Go to abstract
11:30 – 12:00Richard Hall: Jonathan Edwards’s “Sense of the Heart”: The Link between Rationality & Spirituality.
Go to abstract
Room: LCCS 0102 *Beck
11:00 – 11:30Hendra Thamrindinata: The Puritan Doctrine of Preparation for Grace: the Root of Edwards’s Spirituality in Calvin’s Anthropology.
Go to abstract

Parallel session 5

Room: LCCS 0101 *Winslow
13:30 – 14:00Anna Svĕtlíková: Jonathan Edwards and Marilynne Robinson on Being at Home.
Go to abstract
14:00 – 14:30John Shouse: Rationality, Spirituality and Faith in Jonathan Edwards and Søren Kierkegaard.
Go to abstract
Room: LCCS 0102 *Pauw
13:30 – 14:00Zak Tharp: With an Air of Lightness and Laughter: Jonathan Edwards’s View of Humor.
Go to abstract
14:00 – 14:30Maaike Harmsen: A discussion on Jonathan Edwards, spirituality, and the human will in relation to artificial intelligence & artificial spirituality.
Go to abstract


Iain McGee: Flirting with the Enemy? The Light of Nature in Jonathan Edwards’ Battle against Deism.

In this paper presentation I consider how Edwards attempted to manage various knowledge streams in his anti-deism polemic, alongside his arguments concerning the role of reason in the matter of religion. I examine, in some detail, what Edwards argued to be known through the light of nature, the light of reason and implanted knowledge and consider the relationship between this knowledge and ancient theology tradition (prisca theologia) knowledge. I argue that it is understandable, within the deist context, why Edwards stressed the importance of traditional knowledge: he believed Deist reason to be informed by the tradition; he also argued that the tradition was the source for various truths about God, including ethical truths found in various religions and philosophies around the world, and in history. Revelation was considered by Edwards to be above the light of nature in what it taught to fallen humankind. I will argue that while Edwards systematically compartmentalized what was and was not known through the light of nature and through the prisca theologia, when it comes to handling the implications of the deterioration of the prisca theologia, he was forced to make appeals to what the light of nature taught to show the unreasonableness of false religion. While on the one hand Edwards seemed to strongly delimit what the light of nature shows, on the other, its essential functionality was critical to his argumentation. I show that in practice Edwards could not so easily minimise the role of the light of nature. I suggest it is, for Edwards, the last (though certainly not the first) line of defence against false religion – including deism.

Go back to schedule parallel session 4

Richard Hall: Jonathan Edwards’s “Sense of the Heart”: The Link between Rationality & Spirituality.

This paper, in three parts, considers Edwards’ distinctive “sense of the heart” as linking his conceptions of rationality and spirituality while showing their contemporary relevance.

The first considers reason’s role in Edwards’ conception of true religion. Edwards assigns reason a two-fold role: (1) Reason qua understanding enables us to understand Scripture and religious doctrines. And to the understanding the idea of God’s “excellency” is supernaturally vouchsafed through the medium of a “sense of the heart.” (2) Reason can provide a critique of religion by specifying criteria whereby to distinguish true religion from false religiosity. Though Edwards centers religion in the affections he insists that they be informed and disciplined by reason. His conception of experiential religion represents a fusion of thought and feeling—of “light” and “heat.” Against the enthusiasts, with whom he was sometimes confused, he insists that affective religion has rationality at its core. In sum, Edwards argues persuasively that it was entirely possible for one to be both religious and rational.

The second part shows how Edwards spiritualizes nature through its perception by his “sense of the heart” and its interpretation via his theory of types. In his own perception of nature by way of his “sense of the heart” he came to experience nature in a wholly new way. For example, before the exercise of this new faculty he was terrified of thunderstorms, but afterwards he delighted in them. He applied typology to the natural world interpreting its facts as types or symbols of the spiritual world.

The third shows the contemporary relevance of Edwards’ conceptions of rationality and spirituality: Particularly, the relevance of his “sense of the heart” for a deeper appreciation of beauty in nature and the fine arts, and his typology for a possible scientific conception of nature as a teleological system.

Go back to schedule parallel session 4

Hendra Thamrindinata: The Puritan Doctrine of Preparation for Grace: the Root of Edwards’s Spirituality in Calvin’s Anthropology.

After finishing his ministry in New York around April 1723, Edwards experienced a spiritual struggle, as recorded in his Diary, between May and August 1723, wherein he worried about his eternal estate, whether he has the true marks of conversion, because he felt that he did not have experienced conversion in particular steps as use to be experienced by people of New England and the Dissenters of Old England. Nevertheless, from this spiritual struggle, arose one of his major agendas in the future which is to distinguish the true and false religious affections.

The background of this experience is the Puritan doctrine of preparation for grace wherein, motivated by a necessity to distinguish the true conversion from the Satanic imitation or euphoria of enthusiasm, the Puritans have proposed several preparatory steps that would lead to a true conversion. However, concerning this doctrine, debates arise among contemporary Reformed theologians focused on its alledged legalism and salvation-by-work mentality which could undermine faith and assurance.

This paper, utilizing historical and conceptual analysis, will provide an elaboration of this doctrine by tracing its historical roots from the writings of English Puritans, the foremost of whom are William Perkins (1558-1602), to Calvin’s Institutes. It will argue that this doctrine is the natural development of Calvin’s post-lapsarian anthropology wherein the Imago Dei’s deformation did not deprive man of his natural gifts, though weakened and corrupted, to be addressed with preaching. In addition, it will also address some objections on this doctrine based on the elaboration. This topic is significant in unfolding the historical-theological root of Edwards’s tradition of spirituality, clarifying its context, and illumining his view on religious affections.

Go back to schedule parallel session 4

Anna Svĕtlíková: Jonathan Edwards and Marilynne Robinson on Being at Home.

The paper will explore the idea of home and belonging in the fiction of Marilynne Robinson and in the thought of Jonathan Edwards, two authors for whom rationality and spirituality are profoundly meaningful and never separated. Robinson, acclaimed novelist and essayist and member of the Advisory Board of the Jonathan Edwards Center, has engaged deeply with the legacy of Evangelical Christianity in the United States and with the thought of key Protestant thinkers, including Jonathan Edwards.

Home is one of the themes recurrent in Robinson’s five novels to date. Housekeeping is the first contemplation on the implications and repercussions of the idea; the four interconnected later novels, Gilead, Home, Lila, and Jack, also raise the issue, each in their own way. While Robinson approaches the idea of home as an earthly place of belonging through her characters Jonathan Edwards addresses the issue of belonging in its ultimate, spiritual form: the union of the believer with God, divine communion as the ultimate home of the soul. Robinson charts the possibility of belonging via a network of inverse themes: home, homelessness, difference, reconciliation. Edwards cannot conceive of the believer’s ultimate and permanent place of belonging, divine communion, without the necessary inverse of separation, judgment, and transience. For both thinkers the idea of belonging, of a home, entails a concord of the rational and the spiritual perspective, such as can bear the tension of difference and paradox through love, the most fundamental spiritual principle for Edwards and the ultimate transformative power for Robinson.

Go back to schedule parallel session 5

John Shouse: Rationality, Spirituality and Faith in Jonathan Edwards and Søren Kierkegaard.

Faith is the avenue through which Christian spirituality is accessed and exercised. For Jonathan Edwards, faith is what actualizes the union between a believer and Christ. It is the soul’s accepting, receiving, trusting and closing around Christ as Savior. It is the affectional response and inclination of the understanding mind. For Kierkegaard faith is the adventure of passionate inwardness directed towards and ending in Christ. It is the victory of radical trust in God. Despite the inevitable disappointments and despair of existence, faith brings the confidence that with Christ life is meaningful, rich and blessed.

Both Edwards and Kierkegaard had voracious intellectual appetites and fed them through energetic attention to their affective and rational lives. They analyzed the domain of the subjective in ways that extended the realm of what is traditionally considered as the rational. For both Edwards and Kierkegaard faith is not irrational but a gift that perfects, completes and lifts natural reason to a higher understanding. Kierkegaard abhorred Hegel’s abstract reason but connected true understanding to subjectivity and faith. While Edwards appreciation of Locke was real, his most foundational understanding was dilated and enlivened by revelation from and faith in the sovereign God. While Kierkegaard and Edwards may have differing concepts of “reason,” their notions of the relationship of faith and understanding are similar.

This paper will trace how the understanding of faith in Edwards and Kierkegaard anticipates the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and others who understand reason as resting on narrated, confessional traditions. While exposing divergencies, it will underscore synergies and complementary understandings that anticipate later insights concerning the relationship of rationality, spirituality and the nature of faith.

Go back to schedule parallel session 5

Zak Tharp: With an Air of Lightness and Laughter: Jonathan Edwards’s View of Humor.

Is laughter spiritual? This paper examines the language of laughter in the correspondence and biblical exegesis of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). There is significant inquiry presently into the biblical exegesis and exegetical methods of Jonathan Edwards, yet there has been very little attention paid to how Edwards made use of the nomenclature of humor in his writings. As a young man, Edwards resolved to never speak a word that was “ridiculous, or matter of laughter” on what he considered to be the Lord’s Day. Yet recounting the Northampton revival of the 1730s and the Great Awakening of the 1740s, Edwards’s view seems to have developed as he nuanced the relation of conversion, revival, and laughter. Thus, comparable examples will be explored to situate Edwards’s view of laughter among the broader contours of his theology.

Go back to schedule parallel session 5

Maaike Harmsen: A discussion on Jonathan Edwards, spirituality, and the human will in relation to  artificial intelligence & artificial spirituality.

In 2023, the chatbot software programme Chat-gpt 3 from Open AI is able to create new, well-crafted meditations, prayers, and sermons based on data that is available to its programme through the internet. These chatbots use advanced statistics and machine learning in their physical servers. They can create writing in the preaching style of different preachers, adding pathos upon human request and suggesting appropriate Bible texts to substantiate their sermon or prayer. The chatbots work upon our human command and without any consideration or will of their own on whether or not they want to write these texts. They create these religious texts in an increasingly plausible style, texts that are hard or even impossible to distinguish from human writing, sometimes surpassing human texts in beautiful prose. With these new capabilities of computers and their programmes, the theological understanding of what it is to create a religious text and the relation of that text to the spirituality of the creator is challenged. It is therefore of importance to reevaluate our thinking on human spirituality, our will, and the production of religious texts.

For Jonathan Edwards, the concept of the human will plays a vital part in understanding human spirituality. In this paper I will expand on Edwards thought of the human mind and will, their relation to our physical realm, and their end in the glorification of God. I will point out the possible effects of his theological approach, in consideration of these new technological developments. I will compare them with other appropriate scholars (H.Arendt, H.Bavinck etc.) and their notions on the human will, which could help us understand our human spirituality against the backdrop of these software programmes and their capabilities.

Go back to schedule parallel session 5