The Full Brightness And Diffused Beams Of Glory: Jonathan Edwards’s Concept Of Beauty And Its Relevance For Apologetics -- By: David Vanbrugge

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:1 (Jan 2014)
Article: The Full Brightness And Diffused Beams Of Glory: Jonathan Edwards’s Concept Of Beauty And Its Relevance For Apologetics
Author: David Vanbrugge


The Full Brightness And Diffused Beams Of Glory: Jonathan Edwards’s Concept Of Beauty And Its Relevance For Apologetics

David Vanbrugge

Beauty is often assumed to be a subjective, personal, and cultural phenomenon. In some peoples’ minds, the word beauty is primarily attached to parlors and contests and sleep. However, through periods of church history, beauty was primarily a theological and ethical concept.1 In order to properly understand why beauty should matter to church members and pastors, it is necessary to learn from other pastors who were concerned with the concept.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the last Puritan, was fascinated with the idea and implications of beauty.2 This has stirred up much discussion. Some authors, such as Perry Miller and Michael McClymond, consider Edwards’s conception of beauty to be Neo-Platonic and overly influenced by John Locke.3 Norman Fiering argues that Edwards’s aesthetic was influenced particularly by Lord Shaftesbury.4 Roland Delattre contends that it was doctrinal and scriptural, though it might best be described as both philosophical and theological at once.5

Nevertheless, the practical applications of Edwards’s concept of beauty seem to have been neglected by conservative Protestant scholars. In recent scholarship, Edwards’s concept of beauty has been related to his understanding of the psychology of religious experience.6 But as this paper will make evident, Edwards’s language concerning beauty, and particularly how he places it in relation to God as well as nature, also brings out practical implications for pastors and Christian apologists.

The Language Of Beauty

When defining and describing complex theological ideas, the language involved is rarely clear or simple. This is particularly true of Edwards’s language concerning beauty. However, a careful consideration of Edwards’s own descriptions and distinctions makes his concept of beauty somewhat easier to understand.

To begin, it is necessary to realize that Edwards, following acceptable practice within philosophical and Puritan writing, equated beauty with other words, including excellency and virtue. On one hand, excellency to Edwards is a broader term encompassing beauty, holiness, and greatness.7 On the other hand, beauty can also be use...

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