Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 24:0 (NA 2019)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous


Book Reviews

Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards, by Ryan J. Martin. London: T&T Clark, 2019. xiv + 304 pp. $122.00.

Ryan Martin is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Granite Falls, MN. He recently completed his PhD at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN. This volume is substantially his doctoral dissertation. In the interest of full disclosure, I had the pleasure of facilitating a doctoral seminar in which Ryan was enrolled, so I have a vested interest in his academic success.

The purpose of the volume under review is to trace the anthropological category of affections diachronically through church history and specifically to place Jonathan Edwards’s understanding of affections within this historical stream. Martin also aspires (successfully, I believe) to supply a corrective to misunderstandings of Edwards’s views which are current in modern evangelical discussion, where appeals are sometimes speciously made to justify Charismatic and other enthusiastic elements in modern worship.

I first became interested in this topic a few years ago when I read Thomas Dixon’s stimulating tome, From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge University Press, 2003). Dixon’s burden was to demonstrate that the modern psychological concept of emotions is of recent vintage, an amalgam of older notions such as affections, appetites, and passions, with an emphasis on the latter two. As such, emotions is at best an imprecise synonym for the three older categories, but most inadequate for the affections. As such, to read older discourses on affections as discussions of emotions begets not only confusion, but also conclusions that much different from the original intentions. I was delighted to see Martin reference Dixon on the very first page, and also to see him identify several implications of Dixon’s work for the Christian community.

The first three chapters of the book (a little more than a third of the material) expand a single field of Dixon’s cross-disciplinary research, viz., the field of Christian theology. The burden here is to distinguish between appetites, affections, and passions in the whole history of the Church until Edwards—no small feat in view of the many languages in which these concepts are represented. The definitions that emerge are, of course, not perfectly univocal; still, much consensus materializes. If I may summarize Martin’s findings, I would say the following:

  • By appetites are meant those psychosomatic impulses directed toward the satiation of finite creatures’ needs and desires (e.g., hunger, thirst, the need to rep...
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