Glorious Damnation: Hell As An Essential Element In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards -- By: Bruce W. Davidson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:4 (Dec 2011)
Article: Glorious Damnation: Hell As An Essential Element In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards
Author: Bruce W. Davidson


Glorious Damnation: Hell As An Essential Element In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards

Bruce W. Davidson*

* Bruce Davidson resides at Hokusei Gakuen University, Nishi 2-chome, 3-1 Oyachi Atsubetsuku, Sapporo, Japan 004-8631.

I. Introduction

Great changes have transpired in the last half-century in the reputation of Jonathan Edwards. Among scholars in a variety of fields of study, his reputation has been substantially rehabilitated. Perhaps his reputation had hit its nadir in the late nineteenth century among literati such as Mark Twain and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who dismissed him as a demented hell-fire preacher and an eccentric theologian. The best that could be said of him was that he was an intellectual tragedy, a great mind wasted on theology and revivalism. He could have been so much more: a real philosopher or a scientist, for example, as we can glimpse from some of his writings. Of course, this view assumes a very low estimation of the value of theology, an assumption to which some of us would object.

Now the pendulum has swung very far in the other direction. There is an obvious tendency among scholars to downplay or ignore the theme of hell in Edwards’s writings. Even among scholars sympathetic to his Calvinistic views, one finds this outlook. Hell is often treated as a dispensable aspect of Edwards’s theology. However, this paper will hopefully establish its indispensability. Without hell, God’s glory would not be adequately manifested in all its dimensions. Just as the majesty of a huge waterfall appears in the thunderous destructive impact of its force on the rocks below, the grandeur of God appears as his wrath lands on his enemies in eternity. In this paper, I intend to argue that for Edwards the doctrine of hell is a very significant aspect of his thought, a key to help unlock other areas of his theology. Many have remarked on Edwards’s theocentric focus. It is in his view of hell that Edwards is most typically theocentric. He accords little place to human sentiment about it. He sees divine glory as everything and the vindication of divine concerns as overwhelmingly paramount. Expressing the views of many, Gura wrote that “[t]he essential Edwards . . . will not be found in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’”1 Here I intend to demonstrate the opposite.

It is a striking feature of Edwards that he totally lacks any inhibition in discoursing about hell. He exulted in many of the very things that modern

church people are loath to mention. Far from being embarrassed about the doctrine of hell, he believed it redounded to the glory of God, and he brought it...

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