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.

I wish NT Wright would drop the Calvinist line

I don’t know what NT Wright seems to gain by insisting he is a Calvinist.   I know a lot of Federal Vision guys also take this stand.  True, NT Wright denies our works earn righteousness, and he wants to maintain a primary commitment to Scripture (I have problems with the directions he takes it, but I can go with that for now), but that doesn’t equal Calvinism.   Calvinism is dialectically construed and won’t survive the cumulative hammer blows from post-postmodern epistemology, current theological moves, and new players in the conversation (see David Bentley Hart).   Wright’s strengths will always be limited by staying with a label whose adherents despise him.   He can be far stronger elsewhere.

Anyway, he’s denied a few key tenets of Reformed theology:

  1. He rejects individual election (and more specifically, he rejects that Romans 9 speaks at all about individual election).
  2. While his view of justification isn’t Roman, it “un-narrates” the Reformed view.  I hope to outline that argument later.
  3. His reading of Scripture and narratival approach deconstruct the “WCF-or-death!” approach.  After you read his exegesis (which is like hearing a dozen anthems at once), and then you read the Confession’s use of Scripture and method of argument, you feel let down.

There still has yet to be serious reflection on whether the ecclesial view of justification negates the traditional Reformed view.  I want to say it does, but I have yet to see the hard evidence.

Calvin the Antiochean?

It’s helpful in debate to really show what terms mean, and not necessarily what they imply.  In current theological debates, Calvinist = Nestoriarn, Lutheran = Manichean, and neo-Chalcedonian = monophysite.  Obviously, the latter is wrong and adherents to the former two would deny such associations.  At this point in the debate men try to show how said system necessarily implies.   It’s a valid form of argument, if not a stronger form.

Reading Lars Thunberg’s Microcosm and Mediator:  The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor he notes, per the communicatio idiomatum, that the neo-Chalcedonians (and hence, Orthodox) held to a divine interpenetration of the two natures of Christ.  He writes,

According to his [Nestorius modification of the idea, the communicatio idiomatum may only be applied to the person of the union, Christ.  But in relation to the divine logos and to the human nature as such, its application is forbidden (Thunberg, 22).

Does this sound familiar?

VII. Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself;[37] yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.[38]

Of course, as Thunberg notes, there is an irresponsible way to phrase the communicatio, as the Calvinist scholastics frequently charged the Lutherans.  Maximus, however, qualified and improved the formulation of the idea, maintaining the former truth, but removing absurdities from sloppy formulations.  Maximus opted for perichoresis, a divine permeation of the human nature (if Milbank is to be believed, Maximus also allowed for a human imprint on the divine nature as well–bringing us back to the original communicatio.  Milbank references Louth’s book on St Maximus but doesn’t elucidate the point in any detail).

What do the original quotes prove?  Perhaps nothing much, but they do show the Antiochene presuppositions of later Westminster Christology.