Friday, January 23, 2009

Jonathan Edwards, Gerald McDermott, Tibor Fabiny

So, I've been reading along in my Understanding Jonathan Edwards. It's an adventerous book, and I thought I would share a few notes at this point.

McDermott is a brilliant and generous theologian. Although this is the first time I've read him, I'm very pleased that he makes his own substantial contribution to the collection: a meaty introduction ("How to Understand the American Theologian") and conclusion ("Edwards's Relevance Today"), a topical article on "Edwards on the World Religions," and a response article to Tibor Fabiny's article, "Edwards and Biblical Typology."

The collection itself is pluralistic and generous: 8 topics by a diversity of Edwards scholars, and "each chapter is followed by a response from a European scholar not previously familiar with Edwards" (9) - except of course for McDermott's own response to Fabiny.

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Fabiny makes some interesting connection between Edwards and Shakespeare, Luther, and the Metaphysical poets. I'd like to read something longer by Fabiny, but from what I see here he seems to give short shrift to the typology practiced during the patristic period and the middle ages. For example, he says that "The Fathers, however, did not clearly distinguish their typological method from the allegorism commonly used by the Greeks and their Hellenistic civilization" (97). Here, I would expect a citation from a patristics scholar to give some weight to what otherwise is a commonly held truism. The two modern scholars of typology cited are Goppelt from 1939 and Gerhard von Rad from 1952. I wonder what perspective contemporary Origen scholarship could provide for seeing the context of Edwards. Or what affinities there are between Augustine and Edwards. Or what about Henri de Lubac's Medieval Exegesis?

My point here is not so much to fault Fabiny for focusing on the Reformation and the 17th Century, but to suggest that Edwards may be more in the patristic and medieval tradition than one might expect a Reformed theologian to be. In fact, McDermott stresses a continuity between the Fathers and the Reformers: "Edwards, like the Fathers and Reformers, refused to separate letter and spirit" (111).

[1/24/09 correction: in the chapter preceding Fabiny's, Douglas Sweeney offers a careful and detailed history of typology, including both Origen and Augustine.]

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This book is definitely launching me deeper into my appreciation for Edwards, and soon I will begin to read some more of Edwards's own writings. I also find it interesting that McDermott focuses on Edwards's views on justification as forming "a bridge between the two traditions" (210). For my part, I see many connections between Edwards's theology and Catholic tradition, and justification is just not as interesting to me as certain other areas (in no particular order):

  • morality and natural law
  • typology
  • the analogy of being with Being
  • the Trinity as a Communion of Persons
  • creation as the unfolding of God's love
  • discernment of spirits
  • the transcendentals: beauty, truth, and goodness
  • the reasonableness of faith, that is, knowledge through testimony

I should say also, that the more I read of and about Edwards, the more interested I am in reading what Msgr. Luigi Giussani wrote about Edwards in his study, American Protestantism. But since the English translation is not ready yet, I will have to watch and wait.
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