Back from Yale

Sorry for having not posted anything for a bit. I have been busy with my PhD thesis. As I said before, this is now the main focus of my time for the next while. Friday I was at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School to meet with my advisor, Dr. Adriaan C. Neele who is overseeing my dissertation. Things are progressing along nicely. I hope to finish it in the next couple of months. Then I will be turning my attention to discerning what God wants me doing next. Could be a new pastorate, could be teaching, maybe a bit of both, or something else altogether. But for now, the thesis is my primary focus.

What is it on you ask? Well Jonathan Edwards of course! =) If you are interested, below is a short summary of what I am doing…complete with academic lingo.

Living to God by Christ
The Practical and Relational Theology of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1757) defined theology as “the doctrine of living to God by Christ.” This definition reveals that he understood theology to be at its heart, both practical and relational: it is practical in that it is about living; it is relational in that it is done in relationship to God and Christ.

Post-Reformation studies clearly show that Edwards’ articulation of the nature and purpose of theology was well within the mainstream of the post-Reformation orthodox. The purpose of theology to Edwards and to the post-Reformation orthodox trajectory which he followed, was to articulate the knowledge of how to live a godly life. The nature of theology was a marriage of two types of knowledge: speculative knowledge which is comprised of the correct understanding of the ideas in Scripture; and practical knowledge which is comprised of the proper spiritual affections for those ideas. It was both theoretical and practical; but the theoretical knowledge was for the purpose of practical. Theology is something you live, not merely something you know.

After Edwards however, Protestant thinking concerning the nature and purpose of theology shifted significantly, essentially abandoning the trajectory of the post-Reformation orthodox which saw it as a theoretical-practical doctrine. Today, theology is generally defined as “the knowledge of God.” The nature of theology is seen as being primarily speculative in nature, and its purpose is to understand God and the Scriptures. This shift has taken the practical nature of theology from being the heart of it, and retrofitted it as a sub-topic of theology proper.

This shift is of two interests to this study. First, from a more general historical-theological perspective, it raises the question: why has this shift from understanding theology as “the doctrine of living to God by Christ” to “the knowledge of God” occurred, and what have been its effects? And second, from a specifically Edwardsean studies perspective: what affect has this shift had on how Edwards is currently understood and presented? While both these questions are important to this thesis, primacy is given to the latter.

Since the interest of theological inquiry today is primarily focused on systematical loci, these have been the primary lenses through which Edwards has been studied and interpreted. Essentially, Edwardsean studies have focused on exploring the speculative and rational aspects of his theology while largely ignoring the practical and relational parts that the speculative was designed to serve.

The assertion of this research is that a lack of acknowledgement and appreciation for the difference between Edwards’ view of the purpose and nature of theology with that of the current day has led to significant questions regarding recent scholarship on Edwards and his continuing influence. The root of this concern being the near complete absence of discussion about the practical and relational aspects of his theology, which has resulted in a more isogetical presentation of his theology than an exegetical one.

This research therefore aims to:

  1. Give a comprehensive presentation of Edwards’ understanding of the nature and purpose of theology, and to demonstrate the centrality of the practical and relational components of it in his thought.

This is done first by comparing and contrasting Edwards’ understanding of theology within the context of his contemporaries in colonial New England. This will show: 1). That Edwards was an active participant in an ongoing conversation on the subject. 2). That Edwards’ own ideas were well within established orthodox norms. 3). It allows us to see how theology was commonly understood to be “living to God” as opposed to “knowledge of God.” 4). Shows us where Edwards fits into this conversation.

Second, by an unpacking of Edwards’ understanding of the purpose and nature of theology. A thorough exploration of Edwards’ corpus reveals that Edwards had a well thought out and articulated understanding of what theology (or using his word, “divinity”) was and what it wasn’t; as well as what it was for and what it was not for. Edwards saw divinity as a theoretical-practical doctrine where the theoretical (while foundational and necessary) was subservient to the practical. To use an analogy, the theoretical part of theology is like a body while the practical part is like the soul and spirit that gives the body life. The two parts of theology, speculative and practical, are organically connected and related to one another, but for Edwards the practical was clearly the heart of it.

  1. To further show the importance of it by showing its import in how this emphasis on the practical and relational nature of theology guided him personally in his family and in his ministry as a pastor.

The central place that his practical and relational theology held is seen in:

1). His personal life. A survey of Edwards’ own pursuit of living to God through Christ, exploring the high expectations he placed on himself as he attempted to practice what he preached; as well as his own personal struggles in living up to his own expectations. Edwards’ Resolutions, Diary, and Personal Narrative create a clear picture of Edwards’ personal habits and spiritual disciplines, while his ordination sermons provide insight into his personal philosophy of ministry.

2). His family life. Edwards attempted to create and cultivate an environment in which practical knowledge was modeled and encouraged in his home as a husband to Sarah and as a father to his eleven children. Edwards believed that modeling and imparting his love for God, his passion for the Scriptures, and his resolve to pursue personal holiness needed to happen in the home if it was going to happen in the congregation. This section explores the practices and traditions that Edwards implemented in his family to promote his family’s pursuit of practical knowledge. This study of Edwards’ home life and practice shows that he had great success in this area.

3). In his pastoral ministry. This section looks at how Edwards taught, promoted, and cultivated the fruits of a practical and relational theology as a pastor. His sermons were the primary means he used to do so. This is shown by the importance he placed on having an extensive application section in them. In addition to sermons we will survey other means he employed in to spiritually mentor individuals and the high priority and stress he gave to practical knowledge in doing so.

  1. In the form of a conclusion and prospect, to offer some thoughts on how Edwards’ thoughts on the nature and purpose of theology are relevant to the current discussion today.

And there you have it. So far I am at 180 pages, and am about 70% done. I still aim to be around when I can, but there will be runs like this past week where I am not on WordPress for a while.

And yes, that is the desk in my home study.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s