What is a Person? Three Essential Criteria for Jonathan Edwards’s Doctrine of Personhood -- By: Obbie Tyler Todd

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 61:1 (Mar 2018)
Article: What is a Person? Three Essential Criteria for Jonathan Edwards’s Doctrine of Personhood
Author: Obbie Tyler Todd


What is a Person? Three Essential Criteria for Jonathan Edwards’s Doctrine of Personhood

Obbie Tyler Todd

Abstract: Jonathan Edward’s Trinitarianism and soteriology were bridged by his doctrine of personhood. In defining personhood, Edwards operated under three essential theological criteria. Edwardsean personhood was relational, reflexive, and redemptive. It is the aim of this article to elucidate Edwards’s Trinitarianism by unpacking these three axioms of personhood and how they influenced his particular view of redemption and the Christian life.

Key words: person, personhood, Trinity, reflexive, relational, redemptive, self

In recent years within evangelical scholarship, “America’s theologian” Jonathan Edwards has been the subject of criticism concerning his view of divine and human personhood.1 Oliver Crisp, for example, has labeled Edwards a panentheist due to his view that God is “in effect, Being in general.”2 Edwards’s doctrine of “emanation” and “reemanation” in The End for which God Created the World (1765) has prompted some to place him in the Neo-Platonist camp.3 Conversely, another has called his view of material creation a “failure” due to an alleged exaltation of rational humanity.4 These criticisms have only been compounded by Edwards’s subscription (though not exclusively) to an Augustinian psychological model of the Trinity that upheld the Holy Spirit as personified divine love. To many it seems that Edwards’s metaphysical theology often obscured the line between Creator and creature, person and property. In order to better understand his views on such doctrines as the Trinity, creation, morality, and conversion, Edwards’s doctrine of personhood deserves examination. This paper will contend that the doctrine of personhood provides a theological bridge between Edwards’s Trinitarianism and his soteriology, his idealism and his “dispositional ontology.”5 In order to demonstrate

this bridge, Edwardsean personhood will be minimally defined as (1) relational, (2) reflexive, (3) and redemptive. Each of these three basic criteria will be explored in detail.

In his “Miscellanies,” Jonathan Edwards provocatively claimed, “I am not afraid to say twenty things about the Trinity which the Scripture never said.”6 For Edwards, this included at...

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