“The Supreme Harmony of All”: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards

Amy Plantinga Pauw Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids June 13, 2002
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The theology of the eighteenth-century Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards was explicitly Trinitarian. Reflections on the Trinity permeate all his writings, including his private notebooks as well as his public works. Prior to this work by Pauw, a professor of doctrinal theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, there has been no book-length treatment of Edwards’s Trinitarianism. Broadly researched and carefully written, Pauw’s excellent work fills a significant gap.

“The Trinity was for Edwards ‘the supreme harmony of all,’ and in his trinitarian thought the various facets of his life and genius—his philosophical explorations, his vital interest in discerning true religious affections, his critical appropriation of the Reformed tradition, and the affective, mystical element in his faith—moved toward harmonious resolution” (p. 3). Pauw demonstrates that Edwards’s working notebooks show an early interest in the doctrine of the Trinity and that he returned to the subject often throughout his ministerial career. Although the Enlightenment onslaught against the Trinity in New England occurred after his death, Edwards anticipated many of those objections in his response to attacks by Deists on the reasonableness of the doctrine.

Pauw argues convincingly that Edwards’s Trinitarian theology makes a contribution to contemporary theological discussion of the doctrine, perhaps as a model for a way of balancing the unity and the diversity in the Godhead. She explains that “one of the most striking features of Edwards’s trinitarianism is his refusal to take sides in the debate between theologians who emphatically affirm a social plurality in the Godhead and those who in various ways put greater stress on the unity of the Godhead” (p. 10). Edwards defends and explains both a psychological model of the Trinity, in which the Son and Spirit are portrayed as the wisdom and love of the one God, and a social model, which emphasizes family and society relationships between the persons in the Godhead.  Edwards, she says, “was willing to live with the theological tension between these two models for the Trinity because he found them each indispensable for telling the story of God’s great work of redemption through Christ” (p. 11).

As Pauw clearly shows in an early section of the book, Edwards’s Trinitarian theology grew out of his reading of the Scriptures. His typological hermeneutic was particularly correlative with Trinitariansm. Whether those types were found in Scripture, history, or nature, Edwards consistently identified the Trinitarian significance of divine revelation. Later chapters examine the Trinity in covenant theology and in the major themes of Edwards’s theology. The author concludes with a brief discussion of the role Edwards’s Trinitarianism might play in contemporary conversations about the significance of the Trinity. This chapter in particular leaves the reader begging for more, which is probably intentional on Pauw’s part, with the hope that other scholars will continue to investigate the links between this eighteenth-century Trinitarian theology and contemporary discussions of the topic.

As a glimpse into the theology of one of America’s greatest thinkers, Pauw’s work is valuable and highly recommended. Since this is the only book-length treatment of the central Christian doctrine in the life and thought of this great thinker, it is important reading not only for scholars of Edwards but for all students of the history of theology.

—Glenn R. Kreider

April 1, 2004
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2004 vol. 161 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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