“Violent Motions Of Carnal Affections”: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, And Distinguishing The Work Of The Spirit From Enthusiasm -- By: Ryan J. Martin

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 15:0 (NA 2010)
Article: “Violent Motions Of Carnal Affections”: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, And Distinguishing The Work Of The Spirit From Enthusiasm
Author: Ryan J. Martin


“Violent Motions Of Carnal Affections”: Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, And Distinguishing The Work Of The Spirit From Enthusiasm

Ryan J. Martin1

Evangelical pastors today may very well find the descriptor “enthusiastic” a compliment, but this has not always been the case. As recently as a few centuries ago, few insults could be leveled against ministers greater than the charge of “enthusiasm.” Enthusiasts were the religious “crazies”; sects from Montanists to Anabaptists were branded such. And yet this extreme charge was leveled against America’s most famous bewigged theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), for his involvement in the “Great Awakening.”2 The Great Awakening saw many unusual occurrences, and Edwards’s staid but unwavering defense of the “work” makes him justly considered a moderate supporter of it. As New England saw many strange outbreaks among the awakened, how did Edwards offer support for the Awakening while distancing himself from its more radical aspects? This paper will explore how Edwards defined enthusiasm, responded to the charge of enthusiasm, and admonished those whom he considered enthusiasts. To test the historical precedent of his views, they will be set against those of the English Puritan John Owen (1616-1683), who had his own enthusiasts to deal with. This paper will demonstrate that while Edwards showed some differences with older Puritan perspectives on the “baggage” that accompanied enthusiasts, these differences are the exception; his views largely echo his Reformed forebears.

John Owen And The Enthusiasm Of The Quakers

In 17th-century England, the Quakers led by George Fox (1624-1691) most often earned the charge “enthusiast.”3 Quakers or “Friends” espoused that God spoke directly to each individual through what they called an “inner light.” This inner light led to a rejection of higher education, the necessity of the Scriptures, ordinances, and even the Trinity. Their prophetic bent resulted in several excesses, including “going naked as a sign.”4 When Owen confronted enthusiasts, he had the Quakers in mind.

Enthusiasm And The Word Of God

Since enthusiasm was most often connected with the work of the Spirit, this study will major on Owen’s definition and response to enthusiasm in Pneumatologia, supplemented with other writings, including Communion with the Triune God and A Defense of Scripture.

Pneumatologia

Upon commencing his Pneum...

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