“An Overview of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology”

Marsden, George

Lecture at Western Theological Seminary, 2007

Edwards was an exact contemporary of John Wesley and of Ben Franklin. He was born to Puritans–he was the only son among 11 daughters. He was always aware of Indians. They were everywhere in Massachusetts. JE lived at the intersection of British Protestant civilization, Canadian Catholic civilization, and various tribes of Indians, all competing for the same territory. Indian raids were an ever-present threat. But JE moved his family to be with Indians after he left Northampton, showing a profound dedication to them. Edwards’ theology is always God-centered. It starts and ends with God. God is a dynamic fountain of love inside the Trinity. Creation is just the overflowing of God’s radiating love, kind of the Big Bang of God’s love. And creation is ongoing. God is the subject of any theological sentence that’s any good. To JE the universe is essentially personal. It’s a universe of persons and their relationships. JE was thoroughly anti-deist (to Deists God is retired). He was opposed to any idea like this–that we live in a dead universe to which we add some religious ideas. To JE, the spiritual and the relational are the essence of the universe. Green trees, singing birds, red roses, trees clapping their hands, streams, beauteous light–all are emblems of God’s love and his delight in revealing himself. JE had an almost 6th sense, a spiritual sense of God’s presence in the universe. In a sermon entitled “A Divine and Supernatural Light” JE speaks of having a sense of God’s beauty, a sense of the harmony of God’s creation. Like a person who can’t hear beauty in Bach or see beauty in a landscape, we need to have our eyes and ears opened to the beauty of God’s love. Always parallel for JE–God’s love and God’s beauty. Beauty pulls us to itself, and yet we also act in embracing it. So God’s beauty fills the universe and if we just have a sense of it, we’ll see and hear, touch and taste it. Meanwhile, human happiness is not a definition or criterion of anything good. God’s tripersonal and redemptive love is the definition and criterion of anything significant. Recall C.S. Lewis’s idea of house pets and their happiness: they would like to roll in mud and then roll in our beds, but their supposed happiness in doing so is in no way a criterion or definition of a well-run household. Perhaps it is so with our view of how God wants to run the universe.