Jonathan Edwards and the Metaphysics of Sin (Crisp)

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Puritanboard Clerk
by Oliver Crisp.

Crisp advances Edwardsian discussion and clarifies a number of key points that are often overlooked by some pietistic or literary readings of Edwards. He argues that Edwards (hereafter JE) doctrine of sin is internally coherent but sometimes externally inconsistent with some venues of Reformed theology. This isn't anything new since Dabney and Hodge said the same thing about JE.

Concerning the divine decrees Crisp argues that JE was a supralapsarian w/regard to the elect, but infralap w/regard to the reprobate. Crisp says this formulation won't do given Edwards use of ultimate and last ends. That's interesting, but I am not in a position to judge whether that is actually JE's view. I was always under the impression JE was an infralap of sorts.

Further complicating Edwards' doctrine of sin is his commitment to philosophical occasionalism, the view that God is the sole causal agent of creation at each moment (even leading to the extreme implication that God re-creates at each instant). While this helps JE on the imputation of Adam's sin, it does seem make God the direct author of evil. Older Reformed theology wisely made the distinction between proximate and ultimate causes, assigning to God the latter. W/regard to Edwards there is no distinction since they are one and the same.

We see his occasionalism again in his doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin. Far from being a legal fiction, on JE's account imputation is very real: Adam and his posterity share the exact same identity since they both constitute the same identity in the mind of God (I think Crisp calls this view "Perdurantism." Perry Miller actually gives a better reading of Edwards on this point, but they both come to the same conclusion). Can JE claim the doctrine of imputation, since there is nothing here to impute?

Crisp is not dismissive of JE's attempts, though. He notes how JE sought to work through the most difficult aspects of Reformed theology with the best philosophical tools available. While not always successful, he never opted for the easy, cliche answer.

My problem with the book, besides its price , is that Crisp never seems to really deal with the rhetorical tu quoque force of JE's counter-claim. True, that's technically a fallacy, but if the other side--Arminianism, or more specifically non-Calvinism--can't offer an argument to get out of the same boat, or even worse, sinks the ship, then who are they to accuse JE? Unless one is going to opt for an open theism route, it appears the critic of JE must explain why God created a world in which the majority will go to hell and there ain't a thing God can do about it. Not even vindicating God from the theodicy at hand, such a view ends up with an even weaker god! As Samuel Rutherford jested, such a god can "only dance as free will pipeth." The negation of JE's God, therefore, must explain why he limited his sovereignty in such a way that the majority of humanity suffers evil then rots in hell.

Notwithstanding, this is an important piece of scholarship.
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