Book Reviews

Jonathan Edwards’s Theology

A Reinterpretation

Kyle C. Strobel New York 2014-05-08

Strobel is assistant professor of spiritual theology and formation at Talbot School of Theology. In this book, based on his doctoral dissertation, he argues that Edwards’s primary motivation was theological, not philosophical, scientific, or artistic. He explains, “As a true theologian of the highest order, then, Edwards wandered into the desert of theological discourse, searching for the only fountain that would offer him eternal sustenance. The fountain that Edwards found, the spring that nourishes his thought, is the triune God of glory. What propelled Edwards was a desire to speak meaningfully about the God who confronted him as the beautiful one who took on flesh for the sake of the beloved” (p. 2). According to Strobel, Edwards’s work is “a deeply spiritual theology driven by the identity of a God who transcends creaturely time and order as the true alpha and omega of all created things. We find in Edwards’s thought a pastor at work, wielding the highest of thoughts for the greatest purpose—addressing the reconciling work of God to a people who are lost” (p. 3).

Strobel explains the structure of his work by offering four key points: “First, Edwards’s theology begins with God, in his eternal life as Trinity, as the ontological principle which grounds his systematic task” (p. 4). Edwards’s theological task begins with the triune God; it is theo-centric. “Second, Edwards begins ‘from eternity’ and then ‘descends’ to address God’s work in time, or, in other words, God’s economic movement to create and sustain” (ibid.). Edwards’s theology is rooted in a transcendent God who condescends to create and care for the world; His creation is an emanation of Himself. “Third, this work in time is the work of redemption, directing the ‘revolutions in the world’ and guiding it toward resurrection, judgment and consummation” (ibid.). There is a goal and purpose in God’s plan of redemption; Edwards’s theology is eschatological. “Fourth and finally, Edwards’s theology is a theology of redemptive history, grounded in and formed by the God who is redeeming, or more specifically, the God who redeems in, through, and as Christ” (ibid.). The work of creation and redemption is the work of God the Son; Edwards’s theology is Christological. In short, Edwards’s reading of all revelation, whether Scripture, history, nature, science, or the arts is Christological because it is in Christ that the Trinity accomplishes redemption.

According to Strobel, “Jonathan Edwards’s theology is fundamentally trinitarian” (ibid.). It proceeds “in terms of the beatific vision. The Father gazes upon the Son and the Son upon the Father, not in a detached fashion but with delight (the Spirit’s spiration). In other words, the ‘happiness’ of the Father and Son is the Spirit, and the vision of God, shared by Father and Son, is, in Edwards’s phrase, ‘happifying’ ” (ibid.). Later, Strobel summarizes Edwards’s view of God this way: “The personhood that exists in the Trinity, on his view, exists as each member interpenetrates the other and is truly of the other. Edwards’s God is the personal God known through revelation, a God whose understanding took on flesh and whose will is cast abroad into the hearts of believers. Edwards, then, is not trying to rationally deduce a doctrine of God but is developing a way to talk about a God who, while one, still exists triunally as persons in beatific-delight” (p. 41). The goal of God’s work of redemption is “religious affection . . .  the result of true knowledge of God. Since all spiritual knowledge of God takes on a beatific form, because it is a knowledge of this God of personal beatific-delight, affection is the necessary result. . . . The image of God in creatures takes on this dynamic quality, finding its perfection in eternity, where there is a perpetual beholding and perpetual love” (p. 227–28).

Strobel has provided an excellent summary introduction to Edwards’s theology. His work engages the literature critically and carefully. He writes clearly and candidly. His research is comprehensive and complete. Strobel interacts with his dialogue partners with respect and honor. His work is highly recommended for Edwardsean scholars, but also for pastors and students who desire to understand this important eighteenth-century American pastor-theologian.

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Glenn R. Kreider
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider identifies his motivations as his passion for the triune God and his desire to help others respond to divine revelation in spirit and truth. Prior to coming to DTS he directed Christian education and pastored a church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Dr. Kreider’s research interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, and our eschatological hope. He is married to Janice and they have two children. Dr. Kreider enjoys his adorable black lab named Chloe, two pugs, bold coffee, and good music.
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