In a previous post on Edwards’s understanding of God’s purpose in creating, I should have made clearer that the views I was summarizing were those of Sang Hyun Lee ( The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards ) and not necessarily those of Jonathan Edwards. Lee’s views are not, shall we say, universally accepted among Edwards scholars.

Among other things, Strobel ( Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark Studies In Systematic Theology) ) highlights one detail. Lee argues that Edwards believes that God enlarges His being through creation. But when Edwards speaks of the “nature” of God, he is not necessarily talking about essence or being. Edwards writes in a letter answering a question about his Religious Affections that

“The word ‘nature’ is not used only to signify the essence of a thing, but is used very variously . . . . That property which is natural to anyone and is eminently his character, I think, is, without abuse of language or going cross to the common use of it, called his proper nature, though [it] is not just the same with his essence. Thus we say concerning an exceeding goodnatured man, that ingenuity is his very nature.” When he says that God has a disposition of nature toward creating, he is talking about God’s will to create, a willing consistent with but not necessary to His being God.

On the other hand, Strobel himself says that Edwards has an idea of “unexercised attributes” that “remain stagnant” (79) or “dormant” (81) prior to creation, attributes which are “extrinsic to God” (Strobel) or “relative” (Edwards). Oliver Crisp objects that “if God is pure act he cannot have unrealized attributes” (quoted in Strobel, 80), and argues Edwards errs here. Strobel responds that only “relational” attributes are unrealized, and these are not attributes “constitutive of God’s pure act, simplicity or immutability. God’s pure act is simply the procession of understanding and will as self-knowledge/beholding and love.” And, as Strobel has previously argued, these processions are the Son and Spirit. Father, Son and Spirit are essentially God, and nothing else is.

Strobel’s may be an accurate summary of Edwards, but I’m not sure it answers the substance of Crisp’s objection. For Edwards, as Strobel says, there are attributes “extrinsic” to God and “do not obtain essentially in God” (14), but that seems to undermine (or at least qualify) Edwards’s repeated affirmations of simplicity.

Besides, what are these relational attributes that are dormant until awakened by the fiat of creation? Strobel gives “eternality” as an example of a relational attribute (14), but it is hard to see how this attribute is in any way actualized by creation. Eternality seems rather a “mode” of God’s knowledge/beholding and love/will; it answers the question, What sort of self-knowledge does God have? Answer: Eternal. Edwards says, for instance, that “God’s infinity is not so properly a distinct kind of good in God, but only expresses the degree of the good that is in him. So God’s eternity is not a distinct good; but is the duration of good” (quoted in Strobel, 60). Those are hardly dormant attributes before creation. And I don’t find it felicitous to call them “extrinsic”: Would God’s self-knowledge be divine self-knowledge if it weren’t eternal and infinite? Edwards doesn’t find sense in saying “God is His eternity,” but he appears to affirm that “God is His eternal self-knowledge.” He wouldn’t be willing to delete the adjective.

I don’t know if my arguments are against Edwards or Strobel. And in any case I don’t I have no competence to resolve this debate; I only report on it, and in this reporter’s view the debate is still open.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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