The Integrative Biblical Philosophy Of Jonathan Edwards: Empiricism, God, Being, And Postmillennialism -- By: Michael D. Gibson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: The Integrative Biblical Philosophy Of Jonathan Edwards: Empiricism, God, Being, And Postmillennialism
Author: Michael D. Gibson


The Integrative Biblical Philosophy Of Jonathan Edwards:
Empiricism, God, Being, And Postmillennialism

Michael D. Gibson*

[*Michael D. Gibson is a student in the Advanced M.Div. program at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.]

I. Introduction

The great American theologian Jonathan Edwards, known most notably for his spirit quaking sermon” Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is also recognized as one of the most startlingly brilliant philosophical thinkers ever produced on the continent of North America.1 Unlike Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who believed that that which is philosophical is not Christian and that which is Christian is not philosophical,2 Edwards most definitely sees a perfect harmony between Christian theology, doctrine, and philosophy. Edwards, then, has become an important figure in synthesizing Enlightenment philosophy and Christian theology. As a philosophical theologian, Edwards bridges the theological- philosophical gap through creative appropriation of the philosophical developments of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, especially Lockean empiricism and Newtonian science, in his reaffirmation of the Augustinian-Calvinistic theological tradition of Puritan New England.

The philosophical thinking of Edwards revolves around the theological conceptions of God in the physical universe. Edwards seeks to provide a philosophical foundation for examining the theological structures of God, the universe, history, man, and nature. It is axiomatic in Edwards that God is the absolutely sovereign and eternally perfect ground of all existence and creativity. The created world is a network of divinely established laws (“dispositions” or “habits”) whose ultimate end is to know and to love God. History and nature are inherently dynamic and purposeful, but their own dynamic life becomes actual only as they actively participate in, and actively function as, the medium of God’s own life in time and space.3 What results from this recasting of Christian thought in the frame of philosophical understanding is a novel and dynamic perspective on God, the world, and history. Edwards’s dispositional ontology, which underlies

his conception of the being of God and his interaction in the created world, is the reflection of the originality and unity of his philosophical theology. The developmental thought of Edwards, streaming through the corpus of his writings, seeks a rational realization of a philosophical understanding of the Christian faith, and i...

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