Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jonathan Edwards and Religious Affections

Paul Helm has recently written several articles on Edwards' A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. His conclusion is that Edwards vastly oversimplifies true religion, offering a confused definition of both affections and religion. Helm views Edwards' confusion as significantly influential on subsequent evangelicalism, giving theological cover to conversionism. Sean Lucas has joined the fray, along with our Californian Pennsylvanian Delawarian Michiganian correspondent.

In the space below, I would like to offer two arguments in support of Helm's thesis and one against. In the end, Religious Affections is a confused document because it does not address the role of faith (!) in religion, and because it does not thoroughly address the connection between affections and the Law in the Christian life. The reader of Religious Affections walks away unsure of whether one is saved by having the right affections, or one is shown to be saved by having the right affections. Likewise, a reader who experiences little in the way of high emotions is unsure of whether this is a problem, and if so, what the solution might be.

But RA provides little cover for modern evangelicalism and emotionalism. Instead, it is a useful pivot point for those coming out of evangelicalism. For though Edwards affirms the role of affections in religion, in the end he directs the reader away from subjective assessments of affections, and towards affections grounded in the objective work of God, communicated by God-ordained means of grace.

The interested reader is encouraged at this point to leave this post and read Edwards:

A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections
Justification by Faith Alone

and then Helm:

Part I
Part II
Part III

Next Post: Religious Affections and Faith -->

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