Jonathan Edwards: Reformed Apologist -- By: Scott Oliphint

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 57:1 (Spring 1995)
Article: Jonathan Edwards: Reformed Apologist
Author: Scott Oliphint

Jonathan Edwards: Reformed Apologist

Scott Oliphint

O, how is the world darkened, clouded, distracted, and torn to pieces
by those dreadful enemies of mankind called words!

Though when Jonathan Edwards penned these words he was discussing morality, particularly of the Sabbath, his exclamation could just as easily be applied to the debates over his own words. Due to the sheer volume of Edwards’ publications as well as the depth of his insight, there seems to be no end to the potential debates with regard to the “real Edwards” on a given topic or position.2 Perhaps Jonathan Edwards’ many exegetes are the clearest example of the influence of one’s presuppositions on any interpretive endeavor.3

The title of this article displays, at least implicitly, its twofold purpose. First, I will be attempting faithfully to explicate Edwards with a view toward a Reformed apologetic. More specifically, I will look briefly at Edwards’ ontology and then a bit more specifically at his view of man, particularly as that view relates to the unregenerate. Secondly, in explicating such a view, I will be attempting to distinguish Edwards’ insights from a so-called “classical” approach to apologetics and further to incorporate his work into a presuppositional or transcendental framework of apologetics. I am not trying to ask

whether or not Edwards was a Van Tilian. Rather, in seeking to understand Edwards’ view of man, because he was a Reformed theologian, I will inevitably be asking if such a view is, in fact, Reformed, and therefore if it will incorporate itself into a Reformed apologetic. In so doing, I am well aware of the fact that interpreters of Edwards, as well as of Van Til, will see me missing the mark on one or both counts. I am convinced, however, that Edwards’ insights can offer stimulating applications to Reformed, Van Tilian apologetics and also that the symbiotic nature of the two positions will provide mutual health to both sides.

I. Introduction

In the book Classical Apologetics, the authors, at least one of whom is a renowned Edwardsean expert,4 have much to say about the disparity that exists between Van Til and so-called “classical” (read “Thomistic”) apologetics. One of their reasons for rejecting Van Til’s position is the latter’s supposed departure from the classic Reformed orthodoxy of Calvin and Edwards.5 Though these men approach their subject fro...

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