The Four Faces Of Self-Love In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards -- By: Bruce W. Davidson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 51:1 (Mar 2008)
Article: The Four Faces Of Self-Love In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards
Author: Bruce W. Davidson

The Four Faces Of Self-Love In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards

Bruce W. Davidson*

* Bruce Davidson is professor at Hokusei Gakuen University, Nishi 2-chome, 3–1, Atsubetsu-ku, Oyachi, Sapporo, Japan 004–0042.

Psychology has become a prevailing interest for many people. Japan is no exception. Catering to the current trend, our university has two distinct psychology departments, to one of which I belong. The Christian world also is often swept up in this trend, to such an extent that psychology sometimes eclipses theology. David Wells chronicles and analyzes this situation in his insightful work No Place for Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?’, where he remarks that in the U.S. “evangelicalism has become simply one more expression of the self-movement.”1 He describes the modern attitude as a kind of “self-piety” that replaces a faith oriented around God. Self is the new focus and organizing principle for faith.2 Wells’s book, published in 1993, was also prophetic in that it diagnosed the Zeitgeist that would later give birth to very popular religious books and movements oriented toward self-fulfillment, the most prominent being The Purpose-Driven Life, which leads the reader on a journey of self-discovery involving God.3

The ethical reflection of eighteenth-century theology and philosophy addresses this issue. The nature and ethical status of self-love were probably investigated more profoundly then than at any other time in history. As Fiering puts it, the subject “had been so thoroughly analyzed … [that] almost nothing more could be said about it.”4 Among the many insightful ethical writers of that era, perhaps none was more penetrating than the American theologian Jonathan Edwards. In his thought psychology was always subservient to theology. Yet paradoxically, his whole life was marked by meditation on the inner self.5 Beginning from an ethical system that was

radically theocentric, Edwards nonetheless made many critical observations on the nature and merits of self-regard. On the basis of that analysis he drew out practical implications for evaluating religious experience and moral virtue. His analyses shed new light on the sanguine views of the humanists of that day, challenging their conclusions about innate human goodness. Fiering sums up Edwards’s contribution to the ethical discussion: “He greatly devaluated the currency of...

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