|Room: LCCS 0101 *Beck
|13:30 – 14:00
|Corné Blaauw: “Enlighten the Heathen World”: Jonathan Edwards on the Emergence of Christianity in the Greco-Roman World.
|14:00 – 14:30
|Joel Burnell: The Mundane, Practical Mysticism of Jonathan Edwards and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
|Room: LCCS 0102 *Fisk
|13:30 – 14:00
|Layne Hancock: Towards an early, middle, and late Edwards: structuring Edwards’ intellectual development.
|14:00 – 14:30
|Roy Carpenter: Edwardsian aesthetics as a potential bridge between rationality and spirituality.
Debate has raged about the salvific nature of world religions in Edwards’s theology (McDermott, 2000; Gilbert, 2002; McGee, 2021). Widespread recognition exists that ‘the Great work’ Edwards planned but never completed toward the end of his life in a ‘new method’ deserves critical attention, not least because of its focus on world religions. The sources for such an investigation include ‘A History of the Work of Redemption’ (1739) as well as the late private notebooks (Miscellanies, ‘History of Redemption’ Notebook) (Zakai, 2003; Stievermann, 2021). This study seeks to examine Edwards’s assessment of the Greco-Roman religious culture out of which Christianity emerged in order to provide an account of the historical and providential origins of Christianity as an argument for its supernatural appearance. By highlighting Edwards’s chief interlocutor of eighteenth-century European theology and world religions, Johann Friedrich Stapfer (1708-1775), the resulting picture foregrounds the Enlightenment, classicist, and polemical contexts, which sheds light on Edwards’s continuity and discontinuity with the early modern European thought on world religions in antiquity.
If asked to describe the spiritual experience and praxis of Jonathan Edwards and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, mysticism might not be the first label that comes to mind. Yet many have noted the significance of mystical experience in the lives and work of both men. While their experience differed to some degree, both men can be aptly described as mundane or practical mystics. This paper thus begins with a and comparison of their mundane mysticism, drawing out similarities as well as differences between them.
For many Christians, mysticism seems at odds with orthodox faith and practice. As Spencer points out, the “unitive experiences” of mystics tend to cross religious and cultural boundaries, which raises important questions regarding the nature of truth and authority. To what extent do mystical experiences come to supplement or even supplant other sources of truth? Are they compatible with or contrary to rational thought? Do they not tend to become the ultimate authority, eclipsing both scientific enquiry and the Bible, often leading to metaphysical conclusions which seem to undermine or contradict views of reality (creation) based on science and Scripture?
Edwards and Bonhoeffer may have been mystics, but they were also much more. Though both were highly educated theologians, throughout their lives they showed a keen interest in philosophy, natural science and the humanities. Their mundane mysticism was not a means to escape the world, but rather a way to live in it more fully. Furthermore, they did not perceive their spiritual experience to be in opposition either to Scripture or to a scientific understanding of the world. As this paper argues, the ways in which they navigated the seeming divide between spirituality and rationality remains relevant and instructive for us today.
Layne Hancock: Towards an early, middle, and late Edwards: structuring Edwards’ intellectual development.
The “late Augustine” versus the “early Augustine.” Aquinas’ change of mind between his Sentences commentary and the Summa. The evolution of Calvin’s Institutes. Barth’s crisis of confidence in theological liberalism during the First World War. These are well known, pivotal moments of intellectual development in Western theology’s most important players. These narratives of development and evolution, while not automatically producing a field wide consensus, provide scholars with the soil – biographical, spiritual, intellectual, and cultural – from which more accurate interpretations spring. Edwards scholarship presently offers a rich account of his biographical and spiritual development, but comparatively little on his intellectual development – especially in a format comparable to the aforementioned theologians.
This paper offers an outline for Edwards’ late period (c.1749-58) that structures his intellectual development around the concept of rational moral agency. By reading Edwards chronologically – from his fragmentary notebooks to his published works to his unfinished masterworks – and comparing overlapping themes, I show the underlying unity in Edwards’ seven major writing projects. I argue that what emerges is an abiding concern to defend a rational account of divine and human agency from competing models. Edwards repeatedly tells us these competing models, while prima facie rational, intuitive, or even “common sensical” – actually undermine the spirituality gains made during the Great Awakening. I conclude with a visualization of this development and a much-expanded timeline of Edwards’ life and writings, collated from the Jonathan Edwards Center.
In July 1747, Jonathan Edwards ended a sermon with the following somewhat astonishing admission: “[W]hen I went about preparing this discourse it was with considerable discouragement; I thought it was now some time since I had offered any discourse of this nature, but so many had been offered with so little apparent effect that I thought with myself, I know not what to say further.”
1. It seems the greatest theologian of his time was incapable of conveying to members of his own congregation a sense of the reality of spiritual things; he could not cure them of the “strange madness” in which they had “seen all these things yet remain unawakened.” While Edwards’ thought is indeed holistic, integrating rationality into his conception of spirituality, his own pastoral experience proves that communicating this unified vision to others was – and no doubt still is – no easy matter. The question thus arises as to how conversion fits into his larger conception of the relation between spirituality and rationality, and at the heart of this question lies the notion of beauty. Indeed, while “reasonableness” is a constant locus of authority throughout the sermons, it is equally clear that rational understanding alone is inadequate as a sign of saving grace: “no degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of true piety,” Edwards wrote in 1746.
2. It is in fact a “sense of divine beauty” which constitutes “the actual change made in the soul, in true conversion.”
3. So how should the preacher go about cultivating such a capacity to perceive the beauty of divine things? This paper proposes to examine these questions through a study of Edwards’ sermons in their historical context, paying particular attention to the actual effect they had on his listeners.