If Jonathan Edwards, then Unitarian Universalism?

I am not saying that Edward was (UU).   I am placing his own theological (and more likely philosophical) orientation within a framework that best explains the rise of (UU).  Thirdly, I am aware that Unitarian elements predated Edwards.

The Will and Universalism

Edwards, standing squarely in the Reformed tradition, says that nature determines will.   He is not saying that will is a faculty of nature–which is simply the teaching of the church.  He might believe that, but it isn’t his specific argument.  Edwards is arguing that one’s nature determines one’s will.  Technically, Edwards is arguing this with the case of man and not necessarily God.  However, if we are created in the image of God we have to affirm this of the divine nature (anyway, I think most Calvinist theologians would affirm this as well.  I remember reading as much in systematic textbooks).

If nature determines will (with respect to the divine nature), and God’s nature is necessary (which is true) and creation was an act of the will, then we must say that creation is determined.   The problems:

  1. We’ve come very close to an official Origenism.  It’s not theologically or culturally difficult to go from a necessary creation to an eternal creation.
  2. God’s nature is now determined by something else.

Unitarianism:  Arian Predestination

At this point the problem is not so much with Edwards in particular, but with the Reformed tradition in general.   While Richard Muller might say that Calvin’s predestinarianism is radically Christocentric, the truth is that the Reformed confessions emphatically are not.  My friend Bobby gives a very thorough “Torrancian” critique of the Reformed tradition on this point.

(Bobby has a number of good posts on this point, which should be consulted here:
Key Shaper of Classical Calvinism)

Bobby’s main post against Federal Theology is Torrance Objects to Federal Theology.  He writes,

The ultimate difficulty here that one could “trace the ultimate ground of belief back to eternal divine decrees behind the back of the Incarnation of God’s beloved Son, as in a federal concept of pre-destination, [and this] tended to foster a hidden Nestorian dualism between the divine and human natures in the on Person of Jesus Christ, and thus even to provide ground for a dangerous form of Arian and Socinian heresy in which the atoning work of Christ regarded as an organ of God’s activity was separated from the intrinsic nature and character of God as Love” (Scottish Theology, p. 133).

The point here, as Torrance notes elsewhere (it’s either lecture seven or lecture eight), is that strict federal and penal theology and the reasoning that informs them separates the Son from the Father in the life of God.  As other scholars will note, this is Arian Predestination.  In other words, according to the teaching God elects in “a secret counsel” apart from the Son.

Outside of Westminster, there is no Calvinism…

Which is what St. Cyprian would probably say if he were sitting on a North American Presbyterian study committee.  There are many varieties and interpretations of Calvin–indeed, many Calvinism(s).  Indeed, my friend at EvangelicalCalvinist–his work on T.F. Torrance–has completely destroyed the soteriological structure of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I commend him for it.

On the other hand, as the recent controversy on the Federal Vision demonstrated in Presbyterian circles, it really doesn’t matter what these Calvinisms say, and quite frankly it doesn’t even matter what Calvin said.  The only thing that matters is  The Westminster Confession of Faith.   Unfortunately, that is not good enough, since the original Confession is fairly theocratic–libertarians in California opted out for modifying it.   Therefore, the next conclusion:   the only thing that matters is how the Westminster Confession of Faith is interpreted by specific Reformed synods.

But what of those who are not part of a synodal Reformed body?  In large part they are free to do whatever they want.  Secondly, they have the advantage of  being allowed to jettison aspects of Westminster Federalism that are clearly faulty.   Their main drawback, though, is that independent churches usually don’t have a long shelf-life.   They are often birthed in schism and if they don’t schism later on, they usually dwindle over a generation or two.

Another more serious problem, though, is that neither group can seriously pretend to have the faith once delivered to all the saints for the simple reason if new truth and doctrine break out, then by definition it can’t be part of the faith once delivered to all the saints.

Canons and monkey-wrenches

The familiar Scripture norms the norm argument.

While it is more sophisticated and healthier than the chaos autonomy of the low-church evangelical, and it does slow the inherent mechanism for self-destruction and schism that is inherent in the evangelical mindset, it still comes up short.  If Scripture qualifies and subordinates human authorities and traditions, then it must qualify and determine the canon.  Yet this is the very thing that can’t be done.   You can’t know what is Scripture without presupposing a canon, yet a canon is a human tradition.

Do you see what is happening?  The Scripture is supposed to qualify and limit our traditions, but it is the canon–which is a human tradition–which qualifies and limits Scripture.

The “theogneustos” argument against sola scriptura

James White’s most popular argument against (mainly) Catholic arguments for tradition (and positively:  Protestant arguments for sola scriptura) is that 2 Tim. 3:16-17 says that “the scriptures” are “God-breathed” (theogneustos).  It does not say that tradition is “god-breathed;” ergo, Scripture is superior to Tradition.

Several problems with this argument:

  1. It is a rather bald example of the argument from silence fallacy.
  2. If the argument stands, it proves too much and refutes the Protestant case.   “Theogneustos” only qualifies the Scriptures that Timothy knew from childhood, which is the Old Testament scriptures. Therefore, if the argument stands the Protestant must abandon the New Testament canon as uninspired.    If the Protestant says that the NT is also “theogneustos,” he is assuming what he is trying to prove.
  3. Interestingly, this is another example  of oppositions in Western culture:  Scripture against Tradition (the NIV translation is probably the best and most crass example).

Audio on St Athanasius

I am an auditory learner.  I used to spend hundreds of hours on the road traveling.  I had several hundred mp3s on my iPod of just theology and history lectures alone.  So when I first became interested in Orthodoxy and the Church Fathers, I immediately looked up audio lectures on the Saints.   I was dismayed by the dearth of material.  There were a few via Ancient Faith Radio, but even then it was only snippets. Some Reformed seminaries did have substantial audio on these topics, but it was done from a perspective which didn’t understand even the basic points of Patristic theology (as they would likely grudgingly admit).

Fr Raphael Johnson has produced a lot of good talks on many Orthodox saints, to which I will link here. St Athanasius of Alexandria. Towards the end Fr Raphael makes the interesting suggestion that Arius’ god parallels the false god of Freemasonry.  Both are architects but not fully God in the Triune sense.   He should have fleshed it out a bit more but it is an interesting thesis:  both Arianism and Freemasonry can from Egypt.   It would be interesting to tie this in with Pyramidial and Obelisk Religion and the Perennial Philosophy.   Another interesting idea is that the British isles became Arian roughly the same time they became Masonic.

Honky Tonks or Incense?

The first book I ever read on Ancient Orthodoxy was by the Evangelical theologian Daniel Clendennin, titled Eastern Orthdoxy: A (something) perspective.  When I first read it (Summer 2008) I didn’t know enough about Orthodoxy to judge it, save to say I was pleased he didn’t go all “TR” and bash Orthodoxy (and by extension, associate it with Communist Russia).

It’s a very decent introduction to Orthodoxy, all things (faults included) considered.   Clendenin chooses several loci, or distinctives of Orthodoxy, and explains them to a largely unfamiliar Western audience.  He discussed apophatic theology, icons, theosis, and something else, which I can’t remember at the moment.

Surprisingly, he made a good case for an Orthodox understanding of each topic (keep in mind this is a moderate Calvinist evangelical who would otherwise trash Orthodoxy).    Looking back on it, I think a lot of his chapters could be improved, but all things considered, he did a fair job.

His only complaints about Orthodox are these:

  • According to him, Orthodoxy has some good points on theosis, but fails to take into account Scripture’s teaching on the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s work.  My thoughts:  if by substitutionary he means “vicarious,” then we have no problem:  for all traditions teach some aspect of a vicarious atonement.  Holy Isaiah clearly teaches the Servant took the place of Israel.  If by “substitutionary” he means “penal atonement,” then one must demur for reasons listed elsewhere.
  • He cautions the Orthodox on the Iconoclastic controversy on the lines that the tradition was not as clear on iconodulism as the Orthodox claim.  Well, granted it wasn’t a “slam dunk” case, but the practice of Icons goes back at least to the 2nd century, as iconophobes like Eusebius grudgingly admit.
  • He is upset that the Moscow Patriarch (Blessed) Alexie II likened Evangelical worship services to being in a honky tonk bar.   I don’t know why Clendenin is upset.  While “honky tonk” connotes country music and rural culture, it is for that reason that the Moscow Patriarchate is mistaken.  Most Evangelicals do not even long for honky tonk culture (which connotes the positive values of small town USA and agrarian life).  Nay, rather most Evangelicals seek to model their liturgies after a Britney Spears concert (and before you criticize me of taking pot shots or being unfair, I did a lot of hours in collegiate baptist ministry–I can assure you that’s exactly how evangelicals modeled their liturgy, to the degree they even thought of liturgy. If you don’t believe me, just walk into a Rick Warren clone church).


I have nostalgic reasons for liking this book.  This book dovetailed with my sudden interest in Russia and Orthodoxy.  Granted, the book has flaws, but it does remind one of C. S. Lewis’s dictum in Surprised by Joy:  “God is a rather unscrupulous character.  He often leaves dangerous books innocently lying around.  Who knows what will happen when one reads such a book?”