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.

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3 comments on “If Jonathan Edwards, then Unitarian Universalism?

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    Thanks for all the links, Jacob!

  2. I just stumbled upon your blog. Good discussions!

    When you say “God’s nature is now determined by something else” (listed as one of the problems), what exactly do you mean?

    I’m not sure I follow you here. If a Christian teaches that God’s nature (viewed as something like a mysterious trinitarian, eternal love) is the reason *why* he created, determines *what* he creates (no details of this creation excluded), and determines the *telos* of this creation (and any subordinate telos as a part of this teleological hierarchy), what exactly about this implies or necessitates that God’s nature (herein viewed as the cause of all created things and their ultimate purpose) is determined by something else? Every Reformed theologian I have ever read or heard has always spoken of whatever decrees are eternal as decrees that flow from all three persons of the Trinity

    Am I missing something?

    T h e o • p h i l o g u e

    • Chetnik1945 says:

      Granted there was some difficulty in the way I phrased it. If I remember the original issue correctly, I am rebutting the Edwardian thesis that Nature determines will. I maintain that this is incorrect when applied to God. For if we say that God’s nature determines his will, and add the Augustinian thesis that God’s nature and attributes (including will) are identical, it’s hard to avoid seeing creation as necessary and/or eternal.

      That is what I was trying to get at. I don’t have a problem with Reformed folk saying that God’s trinitarian love is the reason he creates, and even seeing his nature as “love” (though that is rarely fleshed out). I have a problem with them identifying nature and will, leading to an eternal creation.

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