An Outline of the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards Part I: The Argument from Being -- By: John H. Gerstner

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 133:529 (Jan 1976)
Article: An Outline of the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards Part I: The Argument from Being
Author: John H. Gerstner


An Outline of the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards
Part I: The Argument from Being

John H. Gerstner

[Professor of Church History, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 4–7, 1975.]

There has been considerable debate whether Jonathan Edwards was the last of the medievalists or the first of the modern American philosopher-theologians. The advocates of the former position point especially to his view of biblical authority, God and devils, heaven and hell. The latter are impressed with his development of avant-garde Newtonian and Lockean thought.

Both views are correct. Jonathan Edwards was a medievalist; he was also a Lockean idealist with Newtonian overtones. Vincent Tomas is quite right: Edwards “took orders” from the Bible as truly as and indeed more so than any scholastic of the Middle Ages.1 But Perry Miller cannot be faulted in noting that Edwards was not only ahead of his time but also ahead of our time as an artist, and was not only Lockean in his empirical approach but also that he even extended the Englishman’s ideas to homiletics so that in this technical sense Edwards was a “sensationalistic” preacher.2 On the other hand, Faust insists that even Edwards’ scientific studies were but a subtle form of grinding his theological axe,3 while Hornberger

opines that Edwards employed the most modern philosophical means to save science from materialism and points out the use of Newton’s theory of atoms in his argument against Arminianism.4 Elwood can see in Edwards a Neoplatonic panentheist,5 while Whittemore points out that the Neoplatonists were not panentheists and Edwards was simply a mystic.6

Each of these views is incorrect if considered mutually exclusive. The gratuitous assumption that a medievalist could not be a modernist is based on a misconception of medievalism or traditional Christian orthodoxy. It tacitly supposes that orthodox Christianity is fideistic. It also wrongly fancies that Lockean thought is “rationalistic” in such a sense as to exclude orthodox Christianity. Locke was, to be sure, the author of the Reasonableness of Christianity,7 but to make a rationalistic deist or...

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