Posts tagged with: jonathan edwards

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 5, 2007

Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, has a new blog, Mouw’s Musings, and has taken notice of Sam Gregg’s recent Acton Commentary, “Self Interest, Rightly Understood.”

Giving Gregg credit for making “an important point” with which he largely agrees, Mouw goes on to say: “At the same time this also seems to me to be true. People who are not motivated by an intentional desire to promote the common good often do not in fact promote the common good. And people who do aim to promote the common good often do succeed in doing so.”

Thus, because of this second reality, Mouw concludes that there is “a need for discernment on the part of Christians in evaluating various hard-line economic philosophies.” With that point, I heartily agree.

It seems to me, however, that in some ways the point that Mouw engages, that “as individuals pursue profit” there are all sorts of unintended positive consequences, is a rather small claim that does not itself deny Mouw’s second observation. Gregg himself, in fact, writes in the immediately following line, “None of this means that commercial society does not afford opportunities for people to act altruistically.”

It is a valid point for both Mouw and Gregg to make that there is a higher good than pursuit of mere self-interest and one that is consonant with the Christian tradition. That being said, Gregg is concerned making both a more limited and more pointed claim: the good resulting from the secondary virtue of self-interest is still good, and it is even good that is essential for common flourishing.

There shouldn’t be anything controversial about such a claim, especially since it has been held by so many Christian theologians, not least of which is Jonathan Edwards, who distinguished between primary and secondary virtue.

In his treatise on True Virtue, Edwards writes that self-love “is far from being useless in the world” and “exceeding necessary to society, besides its directly and greatly seeking the good of one.” He even says that self-love can be manifest as a sort of “‘negative’ moral goodness,” or “the negation or absence of true moral evil.”

Being that Edwards is concerned to explore the nature of true virtue, rather than this “negative moral goodness,” he doesn’t spend a lot of time examining the implications and social effects of self-love, and that is entirely understandable.

On that score, Edwards’ concern is more like Mouw’s in that he is seeking to describe the highest good. By comparison with Christian benevolence, the virtuous character of secondary or civil good doesn’t match up. Thus, concludes Edwards, “no affection limited to any private system, not dependent on, nor subordinate to Being in general can be of the nature of true virtue.”

But Gregg’s task is different and more limited than either Mouw’s or Edwards’ concern. Gregg is looking primarily at the civic good that self-interest promotes. And its important to realize that neither claim is necessarily inconsistent with the other.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, January 5, 2007

It has been said that when Jonathan Edwards would roam about the countryside on his horse, he would record his observations and thoughts on little scraps of paper and pin them to his coat. When he returned home, his wife would help him unpin the notes and he would arrange them on his desk and use them as a basis for recording his thoughts in more permanent form.

This story has been viewed by some scholars as apocryphal, although Paul Elmer More repeats the image:

It must have been one of the memorable sights of the world to have seen him returning on horseback from a solitary ride into the forest, while there fluttered about him, pinned to his coat, the strips of paper on which he had scribbled the results of his meditations.

But whatever the source of his recorded observations, it can’t be doubted that his meditations found their way into his Miscellanies, a set of writings on various topics worked on throughout his lifetime.

In the writing of these Miscellanies, we can view Edwards as a proto-blogger of sorts, and if we can stretch the image a bit more, we can see the Miscellanies as an early form of hypertext. At least, the topical and occasional nature of the Miscellanies render them well-suited for the tools of a digital age, where tags and hyperlinks can quickly and easily connect writings previously separated by time and page.

The hypertextualization of Edwards’ Miscellanies is, in fact, what The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has accomplished. As part of the project to digitize Edwards’ entire corpus, the beta phase of the first installment of texts has been made public and is free to access during a trial period.

All 1373 Miscellanies are now text searchable and linked by topic. Now, for instance, you can scan through all eight of the Miscellanies (and another sermon), written over the course of a decade, that treat of the subject of “self love” with a few clicks of a mouse button.

And so, with the work of the Jonathan Edwards Center, we now have access to the works of Jonathan Edwards, the O.B. (Original Blogger). Hey, if Jonathan Edwards can be my “homeboy,” then we can certainly indulge one or two other anachronisms.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

‘Tis the season for making resolutions. Today’s Zondervan>To The Point newsletter focuses on a variety of Christian resolutions, and includes a link to a piece from Leadership Journal on Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions (related blog piece here).

One of my favorites: “Resolved, To be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.”

Here’s a good place to start doing that.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, October 20, 2006

Two quick items:

First, in unrelated projects, the works of Jonathan Edwards (HT: Reformation21) and Charles Darwin (HT: Slashdot) are set to be digitized and accessible online. Looks like the Darwin set is complete, and the Edwards works are in public beta, with only the Miscellanies and sermons available as yet.

And second, I’m headed to the exhibit, “From Abraham to Jesus,” tonight, called “the largest touring exhibit of sacred text, biblical art, and artifacts in history.” The tour opens in Grand Rapids and continues in Columbus and Nashville.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 6, 2006

This article by Mary D. Gaebler, visiting assistant professor of theological ethics at Gustavus Adolphus College, “Eros in Benedict and Luther,” from the Journal of Lutheran Ethics argues, “Lutherans, insofar as they derive their theology from Luther, should welcome Pope Benedict’s Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Luther, I think, would find this latest word from the Vatican surprisingly congenial.” (HT: Mirror of Justice)

One of Gaebler’s main goals is refuting the interpretation of Luther characterized by the work of Anders Nygren, which radically dichotomizes the concepts of agape and eros. She asks whether Luther “categorically” rejects “the kind of self-love that Benedict points to in his use of the term eros? There is much in Luther’s work to suggest that he does not. My own reading points to a more Catholic Luther on this matter of eros, particularly in his mature work.”

The crux of the argument is whether, as Benedict states, “Fundamentally ‘love’ is a single reality, but with different dimensions. At different times one or [an]other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions [eros and agape] are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.”

Whereas Nygren argues that Luther finds no legitimate place for erotic love, Gaebler says that in Luther’s later and mature theology (during and after the 1520s), “Here we see the very interesting conflation between caring for others on the one hand, and preserving one’s own life on the other. No longer does the earlier “either/or” duality define the character of an action. No longer a matter of either self or neighbor, now both neighbor and self are addressed in God’s command to protect life.”

The strict and radical opposition and separation of agape and eros and the characterization of the former as divine and the latter as merely sinful is simply untenable. You can find great evidence for erotic elements of divine love, I think, in the covenant language of the Old Testament and the corresponding concept of chesed, or covenant-love. The Puritans certainly place a lot of emphasis on this and biblical wedding imagery.

In conclusion, I’d like to pass along this bit from Jonathan Edwards that seems to agree with both Luther and Benedict on this point (contra Nygren). It is taken from his Miscellanies (no. 301) and is titled “Man’s Nature, Self-Love, and Sin”: (more…)