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Jonathan Edwards Center Blog

Book Review – Uche Anizor and Kyle C. Strobel. Reformed Dogmatics in Dialogue: The Theology of Karl Barth and Jonathan Edwards. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Uche Anizor and Kyle C. Strobel eds., Reformed Dogmatics in Dialogue: The Theology of Karl Barth and Jonathan Edwards. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2022. 344 pp. $29.99, paperback. Review by Marco Barone.

This work is helpful for at least two reasons. First, it can be considered as a combined introduction to the respective theologies of both Edwards and Barth (E&B from now on). Second, it highlights a few formal similarities, and surprisingly so, considering that Barth likely never read Edwards (162). The volume covers all the pillars of their theologies: God, Scripture, election, Christ, the Holy Spirit, creation, aesthetics, philosophy, humanity, sin, the atonement, moral theology, the church, and the last things.

An introduction by the editors opens the book. In it, Strobel and Anizor offer reasons to warrant their project to compare and contrast two thinkers such as E&B.

Chapter one, “God,” by Kyle Strobel is a clear exposition of Edwards’ and Barth’s respective view of God’s attributes. Chapter 2, “Scripture,” by Doug Sweeney and Kevin Vanhoozer,” unsurprisingly brings to light Barth’s view on scripture that many Reformed would find ambiguous.

In chapter 3, “Election,” Christina N. Larsen offers a fascinating compassion between our theologians’ respective view of election in Christ, though the reference to God’s alleged freedom of indifference in “the Reformed orthodox” is ambiguous (61), and the secondary the related secondary sources references are relevant but outdated (6-63). After discussing election in Christ, in chapter four, “Christ,” Darren Sumner ably outlines B&M’s commonalities on the doctrine of the person of Christ. Chapter 5, “Holy Spirit,” shows his expertise in this area. This chapter is related to the previous two chapters more than it might initially appear, since E&B taught profoundly pneumatological christologies. “Creation” is the title of the sixth chapter by Uche Anizor. It is a fascinating exposition of E&B’s respective views on the end for which God created the world, with important considerations on E&B’s doctrines of the covenant. The article seems to beg the question when the author says: “If Christ concretely reveals God’s electing love, we are not free to speculate about, for instance, a decree that consigns some to acceptance and others to rejection” (137). What if that very same revelation reveals also a doctrine of reprobation?

Chapter seven, “Aesthetic,” by Amy Plantinga Pauw sets forth E&B’s respective trinitarian and Christological doctrines of beauty, usefully mentioning also the explicit or implicit philosophical commitments of the two theologians and how they play harmoniously with their theologies. This chapter is the only chapter that mentions Barth’s years-long affair with Charlotte von Kirschbaum (158). Chapter 8, “Philosophy,” by Kenneth Oakes, is a good exposition of E&B’s respective philosophical underpinnings. It also contains significant remarks about E&B’s respective approaches to philosophy which can often be exaggerated, for example, by thinking that they see philosophy in a much darker light than they actually do.

The ninth chapter on “Humanity” is the second and last article by Strobel in this collection. Strobel expertly sets forth E&B’s efforts to use as the first ground for their theological anthropologies, both pre- and post-lapsarian, the man-God Jesus Christ rather than Adam. “Sin,” discussed in the tenth chapter by Marc Cortez and Daniel Houck, is, on the one hand, a clear presentation of E&B’s respective position, and, on the other hand, a further confirmation of Barth’s idiosyncrasy towards classical Reformed faith on the doctrine of sin, in this case, since “with Kant, Barth denies that Adam’s descendants inherited his sin or corrupted nature” (215). Adam J. Johnson’s “Atonement,” which constitutes chapter eleven, neatly highlights E&B’s respective doctrines of the atonement and their different ways of both appropriating and complementing Anselm; though the grandiose remark about Anselm doing to “the church a great disservice” by “forgoing a consideration of Christ’s resurrection within Cur Deus Homo” could have been easily omitted (since that was not the admitted focus of Anselm’s work). “Moral Theology,” the twelfth chapter by Kirk Nolan, is almost painful to read. The latter statement has nothing to do with the quality of Nolan’s article, which is within the same high standard of this collection. Rather, the uncomfortableness is dictated by the fact that, in spite of Barth’s many good points about ethics and the Christian life, even in a purely academic discussion the question cannot be avoided: “What is the most brilliant theology good for, if it is to be shipwrecked in one’s own house?”[1]

Chapter thirteen, “Church,” by Matt Jenson proposes an Edwardsean corrective of Barth’s famous tendency to dissolve the church’s agency into Christ’s agency. The last chapter is by Nathan Hitchcock, and it’s on the “Last Things,” thus closing the book with E&B’s respective doctrines of the visio Dei and related points.

This volume leaves some important questions unanswered. To be fair, these questions were not included in the stated purposes of the book. Nevertheless, considering both the nature of Christian theology and the nature of these very questions, they seem unavoidable.

One of these unanswered questions is: at least broadly speaking, what does it mean to be Reformed? And, in the light of the answer to that first question, the second question is: can we consider Barth as a Reformed theologian? The problem already appeared in the introduction:

On the one hand, he [Barth] expressed formal continuity with the tradition in terms of sources and language (from Scripture, confessions, old Reformed writers), as well as the pedagogical organization of his work. On the other hand, he diverged materially from the Reformed Orthodox tradition on a number of points. (5)

The editors continue by listing Barth’s disagreements with the broader Reformed tradition: the doctrine of Scripture and revelation, election, natural and supernatural revelation, covenant theology, the attributes of God, and eschatology (6). In spite of those qualifications, the book does not explicitly answer the former question, and it seems to simply assume a positive answer to the latter.

But perhaps the third question is the most important one: to what degree, and how, one can judge a theologian by separating the theology from the person? It is quite uncontroversial that, according to Scripture, life and doctrine cannot be so surgically split apart, and that can be held without giving up to any legalism and without compromising in the slightest the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Shao Kai Tseng, a fair and insightful Barthian scholar, says what follow:

[Barth’s] ontological simul was used as a justification for the ethical contradictions in his personal life…Of course, by no means am I bringing up this point as an ad hominem attack to discredit Barth’s theology…What I am suggesting here is merely that Barth’s Christocentric ontology does not seem to have offered him sufficient motivation for the mortification of sin. His ontological simul can easily leave room for excuses to remain in sin…His Christocentric ontology, as it stands before further amendment, offers little credo ut intelligam help in making sense of the biblical command, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; Lev. 11:45)…It [Barthian theology] does not adequately encourage the quest for godliness and mortification of sin.2

Of course, these sorts of ethical requirements apply to all theologians, including Edwards and his sins. But one cannot fail to at least wonder whether the comparison is fair towards Edwards, in the light of the nature and contexts of their respective falls, and whether such comparison doesn’t run the risk of falling into an antinomian argument to excuse persistent sin rather than to contribute to a balanced measure.

Now that these reservations have been mentioned, and though the present reviewer inevitably finds some articles more readable than others because of the clinging influence of his own interests, the academic judgment of this book is a positive one. Strobel and Anizor need to be commended for gathering, with the help of the other authors, chapters that are overall consistent in quality, and that cooperate well together in making the reading smooth and the whole harmonious (which is not always necessarily the case with collections of articles). Reformed Dogmatics in Dialogue is a good addition to the literature that will benefit readers and scholars interested in systematic theology, constructive dogmatics, and historical theology.

1 Anna Katharina Sartorius Barth (Karl’s mother) as quoted in Christiane Tietz, “Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum,” Theology Today 2017 Vol. 74 (2), 107.

2 Shao Kai Tseng, Karl Barth, Great Thinkers: Critical Studies of Minds That Shapes Us series (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2021), 143-143.

Book Review – Miklos Veto. The Thought of Jonathan Edwards. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Miklos Veto, The Thought of Jonathan Edwards (The Jonathan Edwards CLassic Studies Series). Translated by Philip Choinière-Schield. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021. 520 pp. $ 55.00 paperback. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Miklos Veto (Budapest, 1936 – Paris, 2020) was a prolific Roman Catholic philosopher and Holocaust survivor. His publications include many topics and figures of the history of philosophy (especially, but not exclusively, German idealism), philosophy of religion, and Christian metaphysics. The Thought of Jonathan Edwards is the fruit of one of the author’s many interests.

The volume consists of an Introduction, eight chapters, a conclusion, and two appendixes (plus some research tools). Veto thinks that there are three major “spheres” or “simultaneously co-existing realism of reflection” (1) that connect Edwards’ vast corpus: being and grace (chapter 1), the will (chapters 2 to 4), and knowledge (chapter 5 to 8).

In chapter 1 (being and grace) Veto discusses Edwards’ view on “the realm of being,” more specifically, “the mutual relations between God and creature, the difference and identity of infinite being with finite being, and the question of the divine foundation of Creation” (2). From a metaphysical point of view, Veto believes that “the foundation of knowing also falls within this realm” of being and grace. However, that fall of mankind into sin in Adam resulted in that “an unbroken passage from being to knowing is rendered impracticable by the will or, more specifically, by the fact that the created will is fallen right from the beginning” (2). Therefore, it is necessary, Veto says, to extensively study the nature of man’s will before dedicating our attention to epistemology proper.

In chapters 2 to 4 (the will,) Veto expounds on Edwards’ view of “the fallen will and the various forms that its subjugation to evil assumes” (2). Sin, it has to be remembered, has not only ethical consequences but also ontological ones: “The effect of the fall is felt even within the realm of being, where it provides an opportunity, so to speak, to characterize creative goodness as redemptive grace” (2)

Chapters 5 to 8 (knowledge) add that the fall also had epistemological effects on mankind: “The third realm of Edwards’s thought, initially appears in a form or rather at a level determined by the Fall, functioning within the world of sin” (2). It is when, and only when, God in Christ is included in the discussion that knowledge “assumes in its regenerate form, having attained an intuitive and complete grasp of reality, the primary beauty that constitutes the essence and brilliance of God and divine things” (2).

Veto’s intent is to offer a comprehensive intermediate-advanced exposition of Edwards’ philosophical theology. I emphasize “philosophical theology” because of one of Veto’s underlying assumptions and adamant convictions that is at play throughout the entire work.

There are innumerable examples of the interpenetration of philosophy and theology in the Treatises and Miscellanies, in the Sermons and Discourses … Philosophy and religion cannot be separated, read and understood in isolation from one another. Someone interested in his dogmatics or analysis of religious experience can scarcely separate the philosophy from his theological developments. Conversely, how can we understand his philosophical issues if we skip over their theological context? Philosophy and religion are definitely different paths to the truth and may well target different intentional objects. The work of Jonathan Edwards attests to the fact that these two discourses are inseparable. (408)

This point is important to single out, over against any attempt to expound and judge Edwards’ philosophy out of the context of his theology, which, by the very nature of Edwards’ thought, is inevitably going to be myopic and incomplete.

Relatedly, Veto’s work is not only comprehensive in scope, but also masterful in execution. Veto demonstrates a great knowledge of Edwards’ numerous writings, he brings together Edwards’ theological and philosophical themes into an intelligible whole, and directs those themes in a way that shows the harmony, consistency, and beauty of Edwards’ God-centered philosophy. It is far from easy to produce (even using many pages) a comprehensive exposition of that vast and overwhelming intellectual cathedral which is Edwards’ theocentric philosophical mind. Veto has offered just that. Away from the tradition of analytic philosophy, which too often fixates on dissecting parts, prepositions, statements without considering the broader contexts and in isolation from the whole, this Hungarian-born French Idealist philosopher has shown a depth of sympathetic understanding of Edwards’s views which is not too often seen.

Another characteristic of this book which deserves mention is that Veto often compares, contrasts, and integrates Edwards with some of the major figures of western philosophy (Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Leibniz, Malebranche, Kant, only to name some of the most well known). This is not to be underestimated, because this will help give Edwards the place which he rightfully deserves among the greatest minds of Western thought.

I have, of course, disagreements (for instance, 162, 164, 185, 195-197, 328), but even those hardly decrease the helpfulness of this volume. The editors and the translator (and, of course, Veto himself) need to be thanked for offering this gem to the English speaking world. I strongly recommend it.

Book Review – Matthew Everhard, Holy Living: Jonathan Edwards’s Seventy Resolutions for Living the Christian Life. [Review by Brandon Crawford]

Matthew Everhard, Holy Living: Jonathan Edwards’s Seventy Resolutions for Living the Christian Life. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2021. 163pp. $16.95 paperback. [Review by Brandon Crawford]

The year 2022 marks three hundred years since Jonathan Edwards began writing his seventy “Resolutions.” To commemorate this anniversary, Matthew Everhard has written a book which takes readers on a theological and devotional walk through this famous document.

The first chapter offers a brief biography of Edwards. Here, Everhard indulges in a bit of hagiography. On the first page alone he lauds his subject as “America’s first incomparable intellect,” “a polymath,” “the American Colonies’ most gifted individual,” and more. He also repeats the common misconception that Edwards spent his time in Stockbridge “re-preach[ing] some of his simpler sermons and focus[ing] instead on writing some of the major treatises.” Otherwise, it is a good biography.

The main body of the book consists of three chapters, which correspond to the three main groupings of Resolutions that Everhard has identified. He labels them “Existential Resolutions,” “Ethical Resolutions,” and “Eschatological Resolutions.” Readers may find the categorization of each resolution somewhat arbitrary. For example, under the category “Eschatological Resolutions,” Everhard includes such resolutions as #5: “Resolved, never to lose a moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can”; and #67: “Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.”

As he works through each resolution, Everhard very skillfully correlates them with entries in Edwards’s Diary and other extant writings to provide a good picture of the historical context behind each entry. The result is an Edwards that appears not so different from the rest of us. As Everhard says in his first chapter summary, “[Edwards] argued with his parents, doubted his own conversion, struggled with indwelling sin, and through it all sought refuge in Christ” (p. 61). As Everhard weaves in his own illustrations and applications throughout the book, he also seeks to make Edwards’s “Resolutions” profitable for contemporary readers’ sanctification.

The concluding chapter seeks to answer the questions, “Why did Edwards stop using the Resolutions?” and, “Why did he apparently cease examining himself so excruciatingly in his Diary by those Resolutions he had already written?” (p. 148). In answer to the first question, Everhard speculates that Edwards simply viewed his “Resolutions” as complete.

Everhard offers a series of answers to the second question. One answer is that Edwards became too busy with outward duties to continue spending much time on introspection. During the second half of the 1720s he became a pastor under his grandfather, he got married, and he became a father. At the same time, Everhard believes there were also deeper reasons. In his Diary, Edwards indicates that all his introspection was proving more discouraging than he had anticipated. This may have caused him to give up on the project. Also, it appears that he came to believe that his “Resolutions” involved “too great a dependence on my own strength; which . . . proved a great damage to me” (v. 157). In other words, this method of spiritual growth increasingly seemed at odds with a life in dependence on the Spirit.

In sum, I believe this book is a worthwhile contribution to the field of Edwards Studies. Readers will find the scholarship good, the tone pastoral, and the content readable.



Book Review – John Carrick, Jonathan Edwards and the Immediacy of God. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

John Carrick, Jonathan Edwards and the Immediacy of God. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020. 172 pages. $ 22.00, paperback. [Reviewed by Dr. Marco Barone]

This book has two goals. First, to demonstrate that “the concept of divine immediacy is Ariadne’s thread that runs throughout … Edwards’ thought” (136). Second, to demonstrate that that very same concept of divine immediacy is “the Achilles’ heel of his [Edwards’s] entire philosophical-theological system (136).

The author is successful in reaching the first goal. Carrick demonstrates how the immediacy of God’s presence and action is a constant that connects any theological or philosophical topic discussed by Edwards, either explicitly or implicitly.

Chapter 1, “God and the Creation,” is a helpful summary of Edwards’s God-infused view of reality. Carrick rightly notices that most, if not all, of Edwards’s philosophy was either directly or indirectly set against deism. While the deists wanted to conceive of a God distant from and disinterested in creation, Edwards powerfully argued for a God whose continual creative and sustaining power is necessary for the being and existence of all things.

Chapter 2, “The Will,” contains helpful considerations about the relationship between Edwards’s idealist and occasionalist view of God-creation and Edwards’s doctrine of the will; in fact, Carrick points out that, just like the deists wanted to relegate God outside of the cosmos, in a similar way Edwards believes that also the broad group of “Arminian” theologians, perhaps inadvertently, exiled God from man’s inner life.

Chapter 3 is, perhaps, the most interesting chapter of the book. Carrick shows how Edwards’s opposition to “Mr. Stoddard’s way” and to the “Halfway Covenant” find their ultimate origin in Edwards’s doctrine of the immediacy of God. Edwards’s desire to preserve “exclusiveness, purity, internalization, and immediacy” (105) in religion contrasted with Stoddardism and the Halfway Covenant which, according to Carrick, Edwards saw as leading to “inclusiveness, worldliness, externalization, and distance” (105) in religious matters.

In good continuity with chapter 3, in chapter 4, “Spiritual Experience,” Carrick expounds on Edwards’s view of religious experience. Also here, we find Edwards developing a “theology of the immediate influence of the Spirit” (133), which Edwards opposes to the “anti-immediacy” of both deists and Arminians. However, Carrick reminds us that Edwards was no “enthusiast.” Quite the opposite, he opposed the “ultra-immediacy” of Anabaptists and Quakers in favor of a via media between anti-immediacy and ultra-immediacy.

The Conclusion offers an overview of the author’s findings.

Regarding the second goal, one may detect some problems. Carrick argues that Edwards’s view of the relation between God and creation dissolves the creature-Creature distinction (39-45, claim x) makes God the author of sin (60-62, claim y). Quoting John Locke, Carrick goes so far in claiming that Edwards’s view of continuous creation can be described as “the ungrounded fancies of a man’s own brain” (135).

The problem is not that arguments for these claims cannot be given. They can, and they have, but the book does not seem to offer a complete case in that direction. Especially in the first two chapters and in the conclusion, Carrick detects problems and difficulties with Edwards’s position, which are reasonable and understandable concerns. However, a philosophy’s prima facie problems do not necessarily prove positive claims about said philosophy. Though the book raises lawful concerns and offers indications, these by themselves do not constitute a developed argument for either x or y. For example, Edwards’s doctrine of continuous creation (23-27) and his occasionalism (33-38) do not by themselves necessarily entail x and y. However, this seems to be the conclusion made in the book, supported simply by, firstly, the unusual nature of those teachings, and, secondly, because Edwards’s language and concepts at times differ from the classical ones. X and y, however, need a much larger positive development in order to be proved. On the basis of Edwards’s own works and of some secondary literature (e.g., Bombaro, 207-232; S. Mark Hamilton), a strong case could be made according to which x and y are mistaken. Relatedly, y is a charge from which all sorts of Christian theisms need to defend themselves, not simply Edwards. What follows is about George Berkeley, but it can be discerningly applied to Edwards as well.

In the Three Dialogues, Berkeley again treats the problem of evil, but this time the subject is moral evil rather than natural evil. With regard to immoral actions performed by human beings he notes first that “the imputation of guilt is the same, whether a person commits such an action with or without an instrument,” where in this context the “instrument” on the matterist’s account is understood to be material substance. In this way, Berkeley argues that his immaterialism is, for good or ill, on equal footing with realism when it comes to the problem of moral evil. If given his principles, the benevolence of God must be denied because of the presence of moral evil in the world, then the same follows for the philosopher who assumes the principles of matterism. Interposing material substance between God and human misconduct provides no buffer against divine responsibility. Just as a murderer is equally culpable for his act whether he uses a gun or his fist, God is culpable (if culpable at all) for natural evil whether or not he created the world using corporeal substance. Thus, Berkeley’s intention here is simply to show that any theodicy that works here for the matterist works equally well for the immaterialist. There is no difference between them on this issue … Anyone within this [Christian] tradition, including those of the matterist stripe, must grapple with the thorny problem of reconciling divine determinism, human responsibility, and the goodness of God … Berkeley’s immaterialist metaphysics does not subject him to any more formidable problem of evil than that which confronts certain other matterists. For both the task of forging a satisfactory theodicy in light of the sovereignty of God is equally onerous.” (James S. Spiegel, “The Theological Orthodoxy of Berkeley’s Immaterialism,” in Idealism and Christian Theology, 15-16).

Some essential entries from the secondary literature have not been considered, which perhaps would have been a way to help navigate these difficult issues of philosophical theology.

However, the reader should not be put off. Although the book’s second goal has not been reached, the first goal has and it does not need the second goal in order to stand. One of Edwards’s many fascinating features is that one can detect some treads which run across the entirety of his theological and philosophical corpus, and show how Edwards’s system is explained and clarified by that tread. For example: God as a communicative being (Schweitzer), Trinity and participation in the divine (Strobel and Tan), dispositional theocentrism (Bombaro), and others. Carrick has offered some useful analyses regarding the omnipresence of the doctrine of God’s immediacy in Edwards’s thought. Especially Edwards’s ecclesiology is rarely considered in this light, and Carrick offers some important reading keys to better understand Edwards’s ecclesiastical writings and to better place them in his theocentric view of all things. These reasons make the book an informative reading which encourages further discussion.

Book Review – Michael Patrick Preciado. A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Book Review – Michael Patrick Preciado. A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Michael Patrick Preciado, A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019. 316 pages. $ 27.00 USD [Reviewed by Dr. Marco Barone]

Even if late, a review of Preciado’s book could not be missing from the Jonathan Edwards Center Blog. The reasons will become clear as I briefly outline the content of this volume.

Chapters 1 and 2 are expositions of the theory of guidance control by Martin Fisher and Mark Ravizza. The appendix contains a defense against objections, and it also suggests some possible developments and corrections to Fischer’s and Ravizza’s theory. Although the author says that the reader who is not interested in guidance control can skip these chapters (page xvii), these three chapters are necessary in order to fully appreciate the first of the three stated purposes of the book.

To establish compatibility between guidance control and reformed theology on the issue of freedom and moral responsibility … by establishing that reformed theology denies the sourcehood condition and alternative possibilities conditions, by establishing that rational spontaneity is a primitive form of reasons-responsive theory and by establishing that reformed theology and guidance control have a similar subjectivist condition. (page xv-xvi)

The second and third purposes of the volume are more directly related to reformed theology in general and to Jonathan Edwards in particular.

The second purpose of this book is to elucidate the reformed orthodox view of freedom and moral responsibility. I will accomplish this by stating the reformed orthodox view in their own terms as well as in the terms of contemporary analytic philosophy. This will allow reformed theologians and philosophers to see what the reformed view amounts to in light of current debates in contemporary philosophy.

The third purpose of this book is to show that there is basic continuity between the reformed orthodox and Jonathan Edwards with regard to freedom and moral responsibility It will be argued that there are some differences, however, they hold substantially the same position. This conclusion rebuts Richard Muller’s contention that there was a parting of ways between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. (page xvi)

These last two goals are achieved in chapters 3 to 5, and, according to the present reviewer, successfully so. Chapter 3 argues that the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP) is not necessary in order to maintain a genuine reformed sense of “could have done otherwise. Then, Preciado offers a refutation of the “Libertarian Calvinism” of Oliver Crisp who, similarly to John Girardeau, argues that some sections of the Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism affirm or can be used to allow the possibility of libertarian free will and PAP. The chapter continues with a critical examination of the Utrecht School. Preciado shows that in the Reformed Orthodox, where the Utrecht School sees synchronic contingency, we only find support for indifference in the divided sense (with clear rebuttals of indifference in the compound sense).

In chapter 4, the author argues that the reformed view of free will and moral responsibility is a type of compatibilism. The careful distinctions and qualifications of this chapter reveal how excessive fear of decontextualizations can stray into an unnecessary fear of applying recent philosophical terms to past works, even when the concepts signified by those terms are present in said works. The chapter further elucidates how reformed theology meets the requirements that allow us to consider it compatible with guidance control.

Chapter 5 contains an exposition and defense of Edwards’ orthodoxy on free will and necessity. Preciado shows that Edwards denied the sourcehood, rejected PAP, and supported a type of reasons-responsive theory and a type of subjectivist condition. These and other findings lead the author to state what follows.

This makes his [Edwards’s] thinking about free will and moral responsibility substantially continuous with guidance control and the reformed orthodox. They are all some sort of reasons-responsive compatibilists. In this way, there has been no parting of the ways between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. (page 215)

Lastly, chapter 5 refutes Muller’s claims regarding Edwards’s departure from the teachings of the Reformed orthodox. To be sure, Preciado mentions the differences between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. Nevertheless, “Muller failed to present evidence that there has been a parting of the ways. Though Edwards used different language and categories, he covered the same ground and gave substantially the same answers as the reformed orthodox” (page 215). Additionally, Preciado helpfully notices that, even if we granted the multiple potencies that Muller posits, this does not prove parting of the ways. Furthermore, the alleged multiple potencies would be substantially similar to Edwards’s notion of natural ability, which, together with other elements of his position, and contrary to Muller’s claim), allow for a genuine sense in which an agent “could have done otherwise.”

One minor criticism of the book regards the author’s invitation “to mine the resources of contemporary analytic philosophy on the issue of free will and moral responsibility” because “there is a wealth of material that could aid reformed theologians and philosophers in articulating a rigorous view of a reformed doctrine of free will and moral responsibility” (page 218, see also xv-xvi). Nevertheless, the invitation needs to be qualified further. Much of today’s analytic philosophy is characterized by logical experiments conducted in separation from other grounding considerations of ontology, theological anthropology, ethics, and exegesis. Both the Reformed orthodox and Edwards did not separate these subjects from their reasoning, and they always philosophized within the context of their Reformed anthropology and ethics. In this regard, Muller’s warnings are appropriate (see Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 44, 50).

Preciado has done a great service to the Reformed philosophical and theological community. Besides clearing the Reformed Orthodox’s and Edwards’s respective positions from some important misreadings, this book also offers a good model of sound philosophy that is both respectful of historical, intellectual, and textual contexts and able to abide to constructively contrast and compare terminology and concepts of past and present. Preciado has also helped to clear the way from recent interpretations of freedom and contingency (namely, synchronic contingency and multiple residual potencies) which are often presented as the only options to preserve a genuine notion of contingency and of “could have done otherwise.” These last considerations are, of course, also true for Preciado’s treatment of Edwards. This book makes a good addition to Helm’s and others works on the nature of Edwards’s doctrine of freedom and necessity and its continuity (and difference) with the Reformed orthodox.

Book Review — Todd, Obbie Tyler. The Moral Governmental Theory of Atonement: Re-envisioning Penal Substitution. Re-Envisioning Reformed Dogmatics [Review by Brandon Crawford]

Todd, Obbie Tyler. The Moral Governmental Theory of Atonement: Re-envisioning Penal Substitution. Re-Envisioning Reformed Dogmatics. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021. 213 pp. $27.00 USD [Review by Brandon Crawford].

Obbie Todd’s recent book offers a systematic theology of the moral governmental theory of atonement as it was articulated by the New Divinity. The first part places the theory in its intellectual context. Todd begins with Jonathan Edwards, explaining how some of the familiar themes in the Edwards corpus likely influenced the New Divinity thinkers—particularly Edwards’s distinction between “natural” and “moral” human ability. Todd does a particularly admirable job of explaining both (1) why the governmental theory found its birth in America and (2) why it was such a short-lived phenomenon. The New Divinity ministered in a transitional age as the thirteen American colonies were becoming the United States. Conversations about justice, sovereignty, the principles of good government, etc., were front and center. The moral governmental theory of atonement harnessed these concepts and applied them to the cross of Christ. This contributed to the theory’s particular appeal to late-eighteenth century Americans, but it also explains why the theory did not last. As the conversation in America took a new direction in the late-nineteenth century, this way of describing the atonement was no longer compelling.

The second part of the book covers the five “core principles” of the moral governmental theory: glory, goodness, sovereign grace, public justice, and faith. As he develops these themes, Todd argues that the New Divinity’s theory does qualify as a form of “penal substitution,” though it does re-envision the concept as well. As Todd explains, the theory states that  “Christ suffered the equivalent of damnation in order to maintain the honor of the law, to vindicate the Moral Governor, and to achieve the most good for his moral universe. Christ did not endure the actual penalty of the law, but suffered extralegally, non-savingly, and non-transferrably as a substitute for punishments in order to satisfy public (general) and rectoral justice and to open the door for sinners to be pardoned of their sins upon faith by a good and just Ruler” (7).

The third part brings the New Divinity doctrine into conversation with other Reformed thinkers to better demonstrate how it compares and contrasts with the traditional Reformed doctrine of atonement. I found his summary of Warfield’s, Hodge’s Crisp’s, Sweeney and Guelzo’s assessments of the moral governmental theory and its relationship to the Reformed tradition very enlightening, but I found it curious that he chose to bring John Piper into the conversation when Piper has thus far chosen not to speak to this issue. More curious still was Todd’s decision to describe the New Divinity as “Christian Hedonists” early in the book (p.65).

These critiques aside, readers will find Todd a reliable guide as they seek to understand how the New Divinity’s doctrine of atonement developed, how it was distinct from the traditional Reformed orthodox view, and why it did not endure. Readers may also appreciate his pastoral tone throughout the work. Todd is a pastor, and he communicates like a pastor, sprinkling his work with analogies, alliterations, and applications for the present. In doing so, he has produced a work that can edify scholars and students alike.

Book Review — Paul Helm, Reforming Free Will: A Conversation on the History of Reformed Views [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Paul Helm, Reforming Free Will: A Conversation on the History of Reformed Views (Reformed Exegetical Doctrinal Studies series). Mentor, 2020. 264 pp. $ 19.99 [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Reforming Free will finally offers in one place the main movements and arguments of Paul Helm’s thought on free will, compatibilism, necessity, contingency, and related issues within the context of the thought of the Reformed Scholastics and Jonathan Edwards.

The Introduction and Chapter 1 contain some background and clarifications aimed at preparing the reader to better understand the rest of the book. Chapter 2 and 3 absolve Martin Luther and John Calvin respectively from the allegation of being “necessitarians,” that is (among other things) from the claim that their respective thoughts do not leave room for genuine contingency. Chapter 4 starts entering more directly into the current debate between Antonie Vos, the editors of Reformed Thought on Freedom (Baker Academic, 2010), Richard A. Muller, and Helm himself. Chapter 5, perhaps one of the most important parts of the book, shows the significant similarities between Edwards’ and Francis Turretin’s on the issues of freedom and necessity. Chapter 6 attempts to show how for the Reformed Scholastics the relationship between the understanding and the will has a causal nature, and not simply logical. Chapter 7 contains an exposition of several Reformed Scholastics who according to Helm present positions quite in harmony with compatibilism. Finally, the Conclusion offers based on the proceeding material some hints for further research on these issues.

One of the main strengths of Reforming Free Will is that it provides the reader with further evidence to show the mistaken and textually ungrounded nature of some readings of Edwards which has been offered in the relatively recent literature (on this regard, the book focuses primarily on Richard A. Muller’s accounts of Edwards’ thought). Helm’s book also helps to understand that when it comes to the issue of the soul and its faculties, the discussion cannot limit itself to the logical sphere (which seems to be the limit of the discussion of the editors of Reformed Thought on Freedom), but it also needs to consider the dynamics and narrative of both theological anthropology and soteriology. In this latter regard, Reforming Free Will is a good companion volume to Helm’s Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards (Reformation Heritage Books, 2018) as the two works aptly complement each other.

On a negative note, the book would have benefited from a more thorough editorial work (typos and stylistic inconsistencies are not infrequent), as well as some additional revision of the critical apparatus (a few relevant bibliographical entries are missing). The syntax is also somewhat difficult, and surprisingly so, in the light of the author’s previous publications. That said, and as it transpires from the previous paragraphs of this review, there is much to be thankful for this book, and one can hope that there will be further contributions from Helm on these topics.


Book Review – Free Will: Jonathan Edwards’ Psychological, Ethical, and Theological Philosophy in his Freedom of the Will. [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Peter B. Jung, ed. Free Will: Jonathan Edwards’ Psychological, Ethical, and Theological Philosophy in his Freedom of the Will. Resource Publications, 2019. 424 pp. $49.00 [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

This book is an annotated version of Jonathan Edwards’s famous Freedom of the Will, first published in 1754. The volume also contains 5 appendixes: two letters by Edwards, one by John Erskine, Thomas Reid’s notes on Freedom of the Will, and Edwards’s proposal for printing his work on free will.

Jung’s introduction is faithful to the full title of this edition. In fact, Jung offers a good account of Edwards’s psychological, ethical, philosophical, and theological thought as contained in Freedom of the Will, without ignoring the historical context and the rest of Edwards’s works. Additionally, the editor offers a helpful overview of the relevant Edwardsean scholarship and a justification for the editorial work done to Edwards’s text.

In addition to footnotes aimed at clarifying both the content and the history behind Edwards’s book, Jung has divided each chapter into titled paragraphs. This will help the reader (especially the beginner) not only to understand better Edwards’s ideas but also to take the necessary breaks while reading Edwards’s often challenging, long, and demanding arguments.

Although Jung has done good editorial work, one minor criticism I have is that there are several typesetting errors (i.e., page 5). The helpful critical apparatus would have benefited here and there from some more academic oversight for accuracy’s sake (i.e., see the arguable claim at page 208, note 7, according to which the doctrine of double predestination was “refuted” by Arminius).
Personal experience should not excessively influence a critical review. Nevertheless, I cannot avoid mentioning that while examining Jung’s edition I could not help but think about my twenty-five year old self trying to read with understanding Edwards’s work, an attempt that, even though successful, required much effort.

Although Paul Ramsey’s critical edition of Edwards’s Freedom of the Will is now a classic, Jung’s edition can be very helpful to the reader who is not too acquainted with Edwards’s thought and who would like to read Edwards’s Freedom of the Will for the first time. The book will also benefit scholars such as the present reviewer who will at times find themselves in need of a refresher of Edwards’s arguments found in his work on free will.

Marco Barone, PhD

Jonathan Edwards and the Long Eighteenth Century: A Summary of Recent Edwards Scholarship By Dr. David Rathel, Gateway Seminary

The 2020 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society featured a special session devoted to the life and work of Jonathan Edwards. Organized by the Evangelicalism in the Long Eighteenth Century consultation team, the session featured four paper presentations devoted to the New England divine. A group of scholars serving in North America participated in the proceedings, including Brandon Crawford, a staff member at Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest.

Presenting a paper entitled, “’The most pleasing color:’ Jonathan Edwards on the Typology of Green,” Dr. Michael Haykin addressed Edwards’ fondness for typology. Haykin serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary and as Director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at Southern. Edwards believed in a universe charged with divine grandeur, and he found theological significance in even the most seemingly mundane objects. Haykin mined Edwards corpus to reveal that for Edwards, the color green possessed special typological significance. It represented joyful resurrection and rebirth, akin to the emergence of vegetation every Spring. It also expressed divine grace; the rainbow depicted in Rev 4:3 as surrounding the divine throne displayed the color emerald. With this paper, Haykin provided a creative and exciting survey of Edwards’ biblical and ontological typology.

Dr. Doug Sweeney, Dean and Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, presented a paper that considered miracles in the thought of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards. Mather and Edwards possessed a great interest in the miraculous. Mather recorded a list of miraculous occurrences that he claimed took place in the New England of his day. Edwards wrote of a divine hand guiding human history and bestowing extraordinary and dramatic outpourings of grace. Both men gave attention to the miracles associated with Jesus’ earthly ministry. Crucially, Mather and Edwards offered their reflections on miracles during a period marked by growing skepticism toward supernatural claims. Sweeney ably demonstrated that neither Mather nor Edwards uncritically accepted some of the philosophical assumptions of their day. They did not envision a project in which they subjected claims about the miraculous to the standards of reason and science popular during their time. Rather than offering an evidentiary argument for Christianity’s veracity based on miraculous events, they sought to reclaim an older, enchanted view of the world. For Mather and Edwards, miracles are supernatural occurrences that ultimately point to the great work of spiritual regeneration and resurrection in the human soul.

Brandon Crawford, a current Ph.D. student at Puritan Reformed Seminary and a staff member at Jonathan Edwards Center-Midwest, presented a historical survey of the Stockbridge mission. Edwards’ biographers tend to minimize Stockbridge’s significance, at times presenting the location as a rural locality in which Edwards could rest, preach sermons, and compose his treatise on the will. Crawford convincingly argued that Stockbridge served as a strategic location in New England’s political and religious life. Documenting the history of Stockbridge before Edwards’ arrival, Crawford explored the great lengths to which the Massachusetts governor and Puritan leaders went to fashion Stockbridge as a praying town for Indians. Rather than a mere backwater local, Stockbridge operated as a Puritan embassy, representing the governing authorities and the Puritan religious establishment. Stockbridge’s importance means that contemporary studies of Edwards should attend to it more than they have.

Dr. David Rathel, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Gateway Seminary, presented a paper that considered how the Baptist minister Andrew Fuller appropriated Edwards’ religious epistemology. Entitled “Religion Beyond a Bare Faith: Understanding the Religious Epistemology of Jonathan Edwards Through the Writings of Andrew Fuller,” Rathel contended that Fuller was a nuanced early reader of Edwards. Fuller recognized Edwards’ use of early modern writers such as John Locke. Fuller also apprehended that Edwards’ repurposed and deployed Lockean concepts to suit his religious aims. Fuller imbibed Edwards’ approach in his debate against Sandemanianism, a religious tradition that argued for a mere mental assent to Christian truth claims. In Edwards, Fuller found a warm-hearted piety that critically engaged with the philosophical currents of its day.

After the presentations, all four speakers addressed audience questions. The conversation was profitable, despite the limitations imposed by meeting over Zoon rather than in person. The Evangelicalism in the Long Eighteenth Century consultation will continue to provide sessions focused on significant 18-century figures at future ETS events.

Book Review – Jonathan Edwards within the Enlightenment: Controversy, Experience, & Thought

Book Review

By Brandon Crawford

John T. Lowe and Daniel N. Gullotta, eds. Jonathan Edwards within the Enlightenment: Controversy, Experience, & Thought. New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Series, Vol. 7. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020. 337 pp. $106.00

This latest volume in V&R’s New Directions in Edwards Studies series explores Edwards’s complex relationship with the Enlightenment. The book’s sixteen chapters are broken into five categories: Historiography, Controversies, Society, Experience, and Theology. Most of the chapters are written by new scholars in the field. In several instances, this work represents an author’s first academic publication.

The chapters are consistently excellent. They are well-researched and well-written. They also provide a valuable preview of emerging Edwards scholarship. The renaissance in Edwards studies began with examinations of his philosophical and theological writings. Then, attention moved into Edwards’s sermons and exegetical writings. Among today’s emerging Edwards scholars, it seems that interest is now moving into Edwards’s thought on social and cultural issues. Here we find chapters addressing Edwards’s thoughts on slavery, race, gender, children, witches, war, and more.

If the book has a key term, it is “transitional” or “transitional figure.” In nearly every chapter, the author concludes that Edwards exhibited patterns of thought characteristic of both Reformed scholasticism and Modernity. For example, Edwards defended the right of a clergyman to hold slaves, but he opposed the international slave trade; he believed that children are inherently depraved, but also extolled their potential; he was a staunch defender of the existing social hierarchy, but also made significant contributions to the rise of populism; he believed in the reality of hell, but he defended the justice of hell with Enlightenment principles.

The book also suggests that some of Edwards’s social views may have changed over time. For example, before moving to Stockbridge Edwards could not seem to identify any redeeming qualities in the Native Americans; however, after spending some time in Stockbridge, his views moderated as he found evidence of biblical wisdom in some of their native beliefs and practices.

Given the nature of this volume, there will be times when readers would like to learn more about a particular topic, but will be denied the opportunity—a single chapter is rarely enough space to do justice to a groundbreaking topic. Hopefully, these chapters will serve as catalysts for book-length treatments of some of these topics. Some chapters also have an inordinate number of typographical errors. One wishes that the copyeditors had been more thorough. These issues aside, this is a groundbreaking volume that demands attention from all serious students of Jonathan Edwards.