Discarding Images in the 18th Century

Becoming Divine: Jonathan Edwards's Incarnational Spirituality within the Christian TraditionPostmodernism has demonstrated the power enculturation has over a person’s ability to examine the world impartially. Changing one’s view of the world—not just a single idea here or there, but a complete revamping of that mental map we use for understanding reality—does not come easily. When we write about “discarding images” on this blog, it is with this in mind. Images are those mental maps, frameworks, paradigms, or horizons that we humans use to make sense of things. We discard old images for new ones when the evidence for a new perspective is too strong to ignore.

But is this thinking solely the product of the contemporary mind?

While he is far from being a proto-postmodern thinker, the 18th-century theologian, Jonathan Edwards, does have something interesting to offer in this area. This week I am guest blogging at Peter Enns’s blog, Rethinking Biblical Christianity on a strand of thought that comes from Edwards’s thinking and which is based on my new book, Becoming Divine: Jonathan Edwards’s Incarnational Spirituality within the Christian Tradition.

My book is an historical examination of Edwards’s life and thought as it connects to the Christian tradition. Edwards was faced with the possibility that the theology he was raised with had problems. His search for better answers to life’s questions led him to see that there is always the possibility that a person could be wrong and never see it due to his or her current place in the world. “We find that those things that are received as principles in one age, and are never once questioned,” says Edwards, since “it comes into nobody’s thought that they possibly may not be true,” are “exploded in another age, as light increases.”

In my guest posts at Rethinking Biblical Christianity, I follow the historical and intellectual challenges that led Edwards to conclusions like these and how it could contribute to the discussion of religion and science today, particularly on the question of human origins. To be upfront, I’m not an Edwardsian. I personally don’t need a theological warrant for accepting, what is to me, a well-substantiated observation from nature. However, I recognize that Edwards is a thinker looked to for insight by many Evangelicals—one of the largest blocks of Christians who resist the idea of evolution, according to surveys—and I think that what Edwards has to say might be of interest for them. What he does with his beliefs is formulate an orthodox Christology that changes how one might read the Bible.

As I say in part 1: “I would be remiss if I did not bring to the attention of my Evangelical friends some interesting, and relevant, intellectual artifacts that could help change the current discourse between religion and science.” I will update this post with part 2 this Thursday. Read the full posts at Rethinking Biblical Christianity.


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