Thursday, April 21, 2011

Religious Affections and the Law

One of the striking features of Religious Affections is that Edwards ties affections to law-keeping but fails to carry this thought to its conclusion.

In favor of his thesis that True Religion, in great part, consists in holy affections, he cites Deut 10.12, 6.4 - 5, and many other passages that show that it is our duty to have right affections towards God. In this way, Edwards is echoing Augustine, who taught that God's justification of us is accompanied by the implanting of divine love, charity, so that we desire to fulfill the Law. (cf. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 4). For both men, a true work of God will result in love.

So this raises an important question: Does Edwards cross the Law/Gospel line? Is he, in effect, telling his readers to become law-keepers in order to validate the genuineness of their faith?

No -- but he's not as clear as he might be.

Religious Affections is a polemical theological treatise. Much like Thoughts on the Revival (which contains many of the same arguments), Edwards' aims are (a) to defend the legitimacy of religious affections in principle, and (b) to criticize pernicious practices that have arisen when people have placed undue weight on affections.1

In short, Edwards aims to be a friend to the good and a critic of the bad. His intended audience includes those who view outward expressions of affection of any sort to be works of Satan. Against them, Edwards emphasizes the necessity of the fruits of the Spirit (love, hope, patience) as a legitimate and necessary part of true religion.

But it would have been far clearer, I think, if Edwards had explored more thoroughly the connection between affections and Law. What happens if a Christian has but a meager love for God? What if his affections are weak? Does this mean he has sinned, perhaps having hardness of heart? Or does it mean that he needs to be strengthened in his faith? Would it not be fair to say that a meager love for God is failing to keep the Law to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength?

And in that case, we have well-worn theology concerning Christians who fail to keep the Law (cf. WCoF 17, 18, 19).

Indeed, Edwards' failure to put things in terms of law-keeping meant that he had to roll his own objections to legalism. The Puritans struggled mightily with legalism in the form of demanding dramatic conversion experiences from each other (cf. Tennant's Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry). In Thoughts on the Revival, Edwards takes great pains to criticize those who condemn others as "unconverted" on the basis of their lack of outward affections. Based on these criticisms, I think we can clear Edwards of the charge of placing his readers under the law.

But, if he had more clearly thought about religious affections as a species of keeping the Law, this would have been unnecessary and even obvious.

Next Post: Religious Affections and Evangelicalism -->

1. Helm views RA as a political treatise, aimed at defending the revivalists. It's an intriguing take, but the difficulty is that Edwards thinks of himself as laying down doctrine while defending the revivalists. And it's a strange "defense" that, like Thoughts on the Revival, sharply criticizes those whom he is defending. If Edwards is playing the politician, he is particularly inept at it. Perhaps it might be better to say that Edwards sees himself located on one side (the revivalists), but concerned to be both a friend to the good while opposing the bad.

No comments: