Category Archives: Th.M. Program
An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Biblical Scholar.
Is there a Doctor in the House? An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar by Ben Witherington (Zondervan, 2011)
What does it take to be a biblical scholar, teacher, or serious student of the Bible? Ben Witherington addresses this question in his latest book, Is there a Doctor in the House? An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar. He answers the question by sharing part of his own story of how he became one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, publishing nearly 40 books to date. The reader is invited in, as Witherington opens his heart; even sharing his own poetic reflections to express the sounds of his soul. The book is a very easy read; even accessible to the budding bible student in high school.
He addresses a topic which one will undoubtedly face as a Christian. Is critical thinking at odds with biblical faith? Many Christians choose ignorance; however, he shows us that “critical thinking is not only not at odds with biblical faith, it is required.” Throughout the book the motto of Anselm resounds, “Faith seeking understanding.” Not that one understands in order to believe, but that one value reason to help understand what is believed.
For the M.Div. and Th.M. student there stands great practical advice: how to choose a school for your PhD; how to get a job; the importance of singular focus; counting the costs and not just financially; tidbits on the art of rhetoric; importance of reading classical literature; importance of Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, English, French, and German languages; why one should avoid ad hominem argumentation; the fact that only 10% of biblical scholars end up teaching in their dissertation area; and an amazing ego-shattering “illustrated guide to a PhD.”
One will find that there are certain aspects of this book which are perhaps dated, even though it was published in the year 2011. For instance, Witherington is opposed to Kindle usage, doesn’t allow students to use computers during lecture, still types with 2 fingers, and speaks about a typewriter ball, which most everyone under 30 years old has never have heard of. These dated aspects do not detract from the flow of the book; they are more humorous than anything.
The main disappointment I had in this book was the breadth of target audience. The title makes one think that it is intended for M.Div. and Th.M. students; however, the book is actually intended for lay persons, students, and biblical scholars, which is a very broad audience. Graduate students already pursuing biblical studies do not need entire chapters devoted to biblical context, the importance of original languages, OT/NT, Ancient Near East history, etc. Much of the book was an exhortation to study and read everything possible if it has anything to do with the Bible.
Because the book is an easy read I would recommend it to anyone who is considering a vocation in biblical scholarship. It will either scare away or encourage one into the world of biblical scholarship, as the mental, spiritual, physical, and economic costs associated can be quite intimidating. It will only take a few hours to read; don’t bother taking detailed notes as this book is not intended for study. Rather, it is simply the tale of a biblical scholar. And as said before, one must read this book simply to see the “illustrated guide to a PhD,” it is the sort of illustration which one will remember and use throughout the rest of one’s life.
[Many thanks to Zondervan for generously providing us with a review copy of Is there a Doctor in the House? An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar.]
Lunch with Greg Beale!
Earlier today, the Th.M. students at Western Seminary had the chance to eat lunch with Dr. Greg Beale from Westminster Seminary. And, we had a fabulous time talking about Peter Enns‘ book Inspiration and Incarnation and how the discussion around that book developed at both Wheaton and Westminster (yes, the very first question anyone asked was what Beale thought about that whole situation), inerrancy and how you interpret Genesis 1-2, New Testament theology, the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and interesting/exciting areas of study for new biblical studies scholars. All that in just over an hour. It was fascinating.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly because every now and then I like to rub in how great our Th.M. program is by pointing out the cool things that we do. I realize that this may frustrate those of you who are not a part of this amazing program. And, I’m okay with that.
If any of the Th.M. students who were at the lunch happen to see this post, I’d be curious to know what you found most interesting in the conversation. So, let us know what you thought.
To Write Better Papers, Kill Unnecessary Clutter
Pack rats fascinate me. I know people who have two or three storage units to house all their stuff. And that’s not counting garages, spare bedrooms, attics, and all their other nooks and crannies. They tell me that they’re holding onto everything “just in case.” You never know when that electronic potato peeler might come in handy. But, of course, when they really do need to find something, it’s almost impossible. They’ve got some good stuff, but it’s hidden in all the clutter.
Writers are amazing pack rats. (Students are too.) We’ve accumulated so many important sentences, paragraphs, footnotes, and research. We just don’t want to let go.
So, we end up with papers and books that feel like they’ve been stuffed full with all the accumulated debris an academic pack rat can find. There’s probably some good stuff in there. But who can tell? Who can find it?
So, today’s advice is: kill the clutter.
Cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. It is comprehensible when I write: “The man sat on the grass,” because it is clear and does not detain one’s attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: “The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully.” The brain can’t grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously. ~Anton Chekhov (HT AdviceToWriters)
This works in non-fiction writing as well. Unnecessary modifiers deaden prose; they numb the reader and make it difficult to figure out what you’re saying. Of course, adjectives usually aren’t the problem in academic writing. Even simple adverbs are too prosaic for us. We prefer to use entire clauses to muddy our writing.
Here’s an exercise for you.
- Take any paragraph from the last paper you wrote.
- Identify the main idea of the paragraph. (If it doesn’t have one, pick a different paragraph and remember that paragraphs should have a purpose.)
- See how much you can eliminate and still have the paragraph communicate that main idea. Make it a game. See how short you can make it and still deliver the purpose. This is the core of your paragraph and it’s what your reader needs to know. Anything that you add to this core has the potential to muddy the waters and make your reader miss the point of the paragraph.
- Go back to the original paragraph and look at the extra words/clauses one at a time. Ask yourself whether they really contribute anything. If you left them out, would the reader really miss anything important? If not, leave them out. If they’re not helping, they’re hurting. There is no middle ground here.
Now, I’m no minimalist. Brevity can be bad. Short sentences get boring. Variety is good. This is choppy.
So, feel free to mix things up a bit. Just make sure than when you do, you have a reason for doing so.
It’s the beginning of another school year, so it’s time to clean house. Set your pack rat ways behind you and commit to using your language carefully, your words wisely, your prose purposefully. (How many adverbs should I cross out from that sentence?)
Kill the unnecessary clutter.
[This post is part of our Tips for the Th.M. series, offering suggestions on how to survive and thrive in a postgraduate program.]
What I think of group projects
I’ve always reserved a special place in my heart for group projects. It’s the same place that I reserve for pickles, cats, people who talk on their cell phone in quiet places, laptops with no battery life, small talk, and anything that needs to be described as “avant-garde.”
It’s a dark place.
Why is that? According to many educational experts, group projects are excellent teaching tools that help students learn in community and develop the skills they’ll need in the “real” world. According to most students, group projects are special form of hell created by sadistic professors who probably also pluck the wings off butterflies in their spare time.
Obviously there’s a disconnect somewhere.
What’s the problem? Working together and learning in community sounds great. But, in my experience, group projects look better on paper than they work in reality.
So, help me out here. What has your experience been? Have your group project experiences been like mine, or have you been a part of a few that actually worked well and were good learning experiences? If so, What makes for a good group project? (I can’t believe I just used the words “good,” “group,” and “project” in the same sentence. That has to violate some fundamental rule of English grammar.) Why did it work and what made it different from other, less effective, group projects?
I’m always trying to be careful not to allow my personality and preferences to limit my teaching techniques. Everyone should learn just like me. But, sadly, they don’t. So, I should be open to the possibility that some students might benefit from a teaching tool or methodology that has never held much value for me personally. If group projects have been good learning experiences for you, let me know. I may need to reconsider my long-standing resistance to such assignments.
How to destroy your own research paper in one simple step
Some words should never find their way into research papers. Wikipedia is pretty high on that last. So is anything that is not technically a word (e.g. IMHO). Fortunately, though I’ve heard from others who’ve experienced the terror of encountering these in papers, I have not yet experienced it myself. That’s a good thing. (Note to my students: for your sake, please keep it that way.) But, there are some other student favorites that I’d like to see disappear forever.
“So, I would like to try to explore the possibility of….”
This sentence and its ilk taint the beginnings of far too many otherwise good papers. Using a sentence like this to describe your paper is like building a solid table and then ripping one of its legs off. It may still be standing, but no one will want to use it. With one sentence, you’ve cut the legs out from under your own research paper.
1. Explore (investigate, consider, etc.): Really? You’re handing in a 20-page research paper and the only thing you’ve done is “explore” something? I’m going to assume that you didn’t actually find anything interesting, otherwise you would tell me. Right? You wouldn’t keep that a secret, would you? Because if I thought that you found something cool and were just keeping it from me, I’d be pretty upset. And that wouldn’t be good. So, as your reader, I only have to options here: (1) you didn’t find anything interesting and I shouldn’t bother reading your paper; (2) you found something interesting that you’re hiding from me, and I should be angry with you. Neither option ends well for you.
So, I’d suggest that you go ahead and tell me what you found. If Indiana Jones goes on an expedition and finds some ancient and extremely valuable treasure. He doesn’t come back and tell people that he just explored for a while. He tells them what he found! So, start with that. And, by the way, not finding something is still a discovery. If you went looking for X and didn’t find it, that’s worth reporting. If nothing else, you’ve demonstrated that it’s not there.
2. Try to (attempt to, seek to, etc.): This just makes it worse. With “explore” you’re telling me that you just wandered around for a while exploring without actually finding anything. Now you’re telling me that you’re not even sure you accomplished that! You didn’t explore, you just tried to. Was it hard? Did you encounter monsters along the way that made it difficult for you to complete your expedition? Whatever the obstacles were, I appreciate that you put further the effort. But, your paper would make much more compelling reading if you gave me some reason to believe, especially here at the beginning, that you may have actually succeeded. Otherwise, I think I’ll just stop here.
3. Possibility: This just keeps getting better. Now we’re not even sure that this thing you’re going to try to explore even exists. And, what’s worse, I’m reading this after you’ve supposedly tried to explore it. So, all I can conclude is that even though you’ve already tried to explore it, you’re still not sure whether it exists. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do with my time that read about somebody who tried to explore some non-existent thing.
So, with one sentence, you’ve completely undermined my confidence in your argument. And, you’ve done it by making it exceptionally clear that you don’t have any confidence in your own argument.
Nonetheless, I find sentences like this in papers all the time. Why is that? Why are so many students eager to destroy their own papers at the very beginning?
1. Fear: Students use language like this as a shield they can hide behind. If I say, “I am going to argue that X is true or not true,” I’ve backed myself into a corner and I’d better make my argument. But, if I just say that I’m going to “explore” something, I’ve left an open door for escape. I haven’t really committed to anything, so there’s nothing to worry about. Fear is a powerful motivator for creating weak beginnings.
2. Beginning with the beginning: This introduction reads like the student wrote it first and then never came back to revise it later. I can understand how you might think at the beginning of the journey that you’ll just be exploring some issue. That makes sense. You don’t know yet how things will end. So, if you want to sketch an introduction from that perspective at the beginning to clarify in your own mind what your purposes are, fine. But that’s not the end of the story. When your paper is done, you should have something more interesting to report. And, since I’m obviously reading the paper after it’s all done, why not go ahead and tell me what that is? Revise your introduction!
3. No argument: Of course, it’s entirely possible that the problem is with the paper, not the introduction. Maybe you don’t have anything more interesting to report. If your paper just wanders around and “explores” or “summarizes” a lot of information, there’s not much your introduction can do to jazz that up. Unfortunately, if this is your problem, you’ve got some work to do. Simply re-writing your introduction won’t be enough.
4. A “student” mentality: I think this lies at the heart of the problem for many. Growing up, we’re told that the student’s job is to learn. So, we create papers from the perspective of the learner, writing tentatively and cautiously rather than confidently and authoritatively. That may be fine earlier in our academic careers (though I’d question that as well), but not in graduate or postgraduate research papers. If you haven’t already, it’s time to give yourself permission to be a teacher. You’ve done the research. You’ve (hopefully) constructed an argument and drawn a conclusion. Now, you’re the teacher. Inform me.
Let the words of the master guide you here:
Do or do not. There is no try.
Yoda was a very wise man…person…goblin…thing.
[This post is part of our Tips for the Th.M. series, offering suggestions on how to survive and thrive in a postgraduate program.]
The student’s most neglected resource
One of the most difficult things for me as a father is watching one of my daughters struggle with something that doesn’t need to be that difficult. One of my girls got a present the other day, and, after I’d removed the bullet-proof packaging they put on toys these days, I sat back and let her figure out how to make it work.
She’s ten. And, she’s quite smart. She can do this.
Or, she would have been able to except for one small problem. She wouldn’t read the directions. I know she had the directions because I handed them to her. Twice. But it didn’t help. She’d take a quick look, read a line or two at the most, and then try again. It didn’t take long for her to get pretty frustrated.
I wasn’t far behind.
Few things are more frustrating than watching somebody struggle with something that could be so much easier if only they’d use what’s right in front of them.
You’d think that college and grad students would be smarter than my fifth grader. But time and again I see students struggle because they won’t use what’s right in front of them. And, there’s one resource in particular that students constantly neglect. Every school has at least one. But it’s like students don’t even know they exist. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve decided that their classes are just too easy. So, they need to make things harder.
That’s like deciding to scale a cliff without any ropes. Sure, it’s more challenging. But it’s also a good way to get yourself killed.
So, what is that most neglected resource? The librarian.
Now, before all you digital natives begin to scoff and explain how outdated libraries and librarians are in this modern world, hear me out.
If you had asked me a few years ago what a librarian did, I think I would have mumbled something about keeping track of books, maintaining silence, and keeping me from drinking coffee while I studied (which, by the way, is why I stopped using libraries). I’ve learned better since then.
At the very least, a good librarian can do two things that every student desperately needs. First, the librarian knows the best ways to find information. That information may be stored in the library’s physical books, its digital archives, or just out there on the internet. Regardless, it’s still information. And, information is only useful if you can find it. That’s what a librarian has been trained to do. I’m continually surprised by students who are frustrated that they can’t find enough good resources on their topic, but they haven’t bothered to consult a librarian. That’s like the guy who’s angry that he can’t find the pickles in a grocery store, but hasn’t bothered to ask someone who actually works there.
Second, a good librarian knows how to assess the quality of your information and its sources. Do a Google search on something. Anything. How many hits did your search return? I’m guessing it was more than three. Now what are you going to do? How do you know if any of them are any good? Like most students, you’ll probably just stick with the ones that came up first. After all, they’re on top so they must be good. Um, no. You’ll need to do better than that. And, for that, you’ll sometimes need help.
Good, reliable information. That’s what the student needs. And, that’s what the librarian is all about. Seems like a match made in heaven. If only they’d meet more often.
Sadly, that’s not how it often works out. According to a recent study, “when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy.” As “digital natives,” they use Google frequently, but they don’t know how to use it effectively. And, even when they find information, they don’t know how to assess it. Today’s students desperately need good librarians, but they don’t know it.
Be smarter than a fifth grader. If you want to be a good researcher, especially at the beginning of your journey, get to know your librarians. Ask them questions. Take their advice. Bring them cookies. It will pay off in the end.
A postgrad survival guide
Quite a few of you are either current, former, or even future postgrad students (Th.M. or Ph.D.). For those of you who have been down at least part of that road, what do wish wish would have been included in a “postgrad survival guide” that someone just handed to you before you started your program?
I was looking back over the posts that I’ve written in the last year in my Tips for the Th.M. series, and I ran across quite a few others that revolved around the idea of how to succeed/survive in a postgrad program. So, I’ve started to wonder if it would be worth supplementing those with some other posts on the subject and eventually compiling a free resource on how to survive your ThM/PhD program.
I’d love to hear what you think. What would you add/delete? Would something like this be useful?
Here’s what I have based on what I’ve already written, grouped into a few logical categories.
Part 1: Introductory Issues
- Are you sure that you want a postgraduate program?
- Is academic Bible/theology a waste of time?
- Should pastors pursue postgraduate work?
- How to choose a postgraduate program.
- How do you apply to a postgraduate program?
Part 2: Surviving Your Classes
- How to succeed in a postgrad seminar
- How to read well
Part 3: Surviving the Research Process
- Why you should use journal articles
- How to use journal articles well
- The danger of over-research-itis
- Using Google Scholar in research
Part 4: Surviving the Writing Process
- Constructing strong arguments
- The importance of clear and concise writing
- Writing research proposals
- Understanding the research proposal process
- Finding good thesis/dissertation topics
- Picking a thesis/dissertation topic
- How to tackle something the size of a thesis/dissertation
- How to use quotations
- Common errors in research writing
- How to take criticism
Part 5: Surviving Your Oral Examination
- Answering concisely
- Saying “I don’t know”
- Summarizing your research
Part 6: Surviving after You Graduate
- Writing the perfect resume
- Advice on applying for a teaching position
- What to do when you don’t get a teaching position
Check Your Brain at the Door: Faith and Intellectual Freedom
Am I free? Not legally (I’m not in jail) or metaphysically (who knows if I have “free will”?) but intellectually. Do I have intellectual freedom? After all, I teach at a school with belief commitments. To get my job, I had to sign our Faculty Teaching Position. And, if I ever changed my mind on a core aspect of that document, my job would probably be in jeopardy. In that kind of situation, can I have any kind of real intellectual freedom? Or, am I really just kidding myself by thinking that I’m an academic.
If you live in a confessional world, do you need to leave your brain at the door?
There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether Roman Catholics have less intellectual freedom than other Christians because of the strongly confessional nature of the Catholic tradition. Michael Patton began the firestorm, and quite a few have chimed in since then. I don’t want to rehearse the whole debate, so check out Brian LePort’s summary for his comments and links to other good posts.
Most of the discussion so far has focused on whether Patton is right about Roman Catholicism. (Hint: The answer is ‘no’.) But, somewhat lost in all of this is his argument that true scholarship and confessional commitment are antithetical to one another. His comments on Catholicism are based on his Cartesian commitment to skepticism as methodologically necessary for real academic work. If you’re not willing to doubt every idea/belief, open to the possibility that you might be wrong, then you’re not really an academic.
If he’s right, then, any school with confessional commitments only has limited intellectual freedom (at best). And, based on that argument, the faculty at Western Seminary don’t really have academic freedom. We throw it away when we sign the Faculty Teaching Position. Our job status is connected to at least some of their beliefs. Change those beliefs, and we’re in trouble. So, we’re not really academics. We’re just defending the status quo.
Granted, faculty can always leave and try to find a job at another school. So, we haven’t killed intellectual freedom entirely. We’ve just cut off both its legs. It can still move around, but only by painfully dragging its bloody torso somewhere else.
As someone who teaches at such a school, I think there are some critical things wrong with this (common) argument. Brian LePort explains his reservations (and appreciations) in Five Thoughts on Objectivity, Open-Mindedness, and Scholarship. You should definitely check it out. But, let me add three additional concerns about this argument that I think we need to keep in mind.
1. It over-emphasizes the individual. This is the Enlightenment at its finest. Presuppositions and traditions are the enemy of intellectual progress. They must be challenged and questioned at every turn so that I, as the ultimate human authority in my life, can be confident that I am coming to know things as they actually are and not just how they have been presented to me. You never get the sense that intellectual activity is a communal activity in this approach. Instead, you’re left with the picture of the academic locked away in his/her office or lab, seeking Truth through the power of unimpaired reason. Given Patton’s clear commitments to doing theology in community, that seems like an odd stance.
2. It devalues institutions. This one is connected to the last, but the argument seems to betray a subtle anti-institutionalism. This view of academics makes the professor an independent contractor with no real connection or loyalty to particular institutions. The individual sticks around as long as he/she is satisfied with the institution’s position. And, if you change your mind and can no longer affirm those commitments? No worries, there’s always another one around the block. It’s church shopping at the academic level. (I may comment on this more later. This kind of subtle anti-institutionalism is rampant in evangelicalism.)
3. It neglects the importance of presuppositions. Many people make this mistake. Most recognize that we all have our presuppositions. They’re a necessary evil that we have constantly guard against. And, there is some truth to that. But, people often fail to recognize that presuppositional frameworks have value as well. No scientist is going to waste their time investigating whether the world is flat. They’ll assume that question is settled. It’s part of their presuppositional framework. And this allows them to use their time investigating other issues. The same is true in theology. For me, the deity of Christ is a “settled” issue. Not settled in the sense that everyone agrees, and not even settled in that I think I understand everything about what that means (who does?), but settled in that I think that it’s true and not really open to question. Does that make me less free? I don’t think so. If anything, I think it frees me up to pursue other issues. Recognizing that some doors should stay closed, grants me the freedom to go through others. Being “open” to everything leads to bondage, not freedom. So, it’s not just a matter of acknowledging our presuppositions, but embracing them as necessary for real intellectual freedom.
Do I have intellectual freedom? Absolutely. I have the kind of intellectual freedom that comes from knowing who I am as a part of an ecclesial community with a clear sense of its history, identity, and purpose. And, I have the kind of intellectual freedom that comes from a community that raises hard questions and explores new ideas together, supporting each other as we strive toward faithful Christian living in a broken world. And, I have the kind of intellectual freedom that comes from seeing some things as “settled” so that I’m free to spend my time on other issues.
Granted, I don’t have the kind of intellectual freedom that’s willing to throw off all of that in favor of an individualistic pursuit of rational autonomy. But that’s okay. I’m not interested in that kind of freedom anyway.
Edwards’ Trinitarian Redemption
[This is a guest post by Andrew Finch. Andrew is a new Th.M. student at Western Seminary and is participating in this summer’s Th.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]
This post is another part of the on-going series of posts on Jonathan Edwards and his writings. I chose to read the book, Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writing, which was edited by Paul Helm. This book included three of Edwards writings specifically on the Trinity. First, just a quick plug for the book, Helm does an amazing job of connecting these writings with the more major/well-known writings by Edwards and shows how these writings flow and connect with the other major themes in his bigger writings. This was worth the price of the book itself especially as I will be writing my paper on Edwards’ Trinitarian theology.
I found it very interesting in my readings of Edwards as a whole that there was not an explicit Trinitarian theology presented in them. But after reading, Treatise on Grace, Observations Concerning the Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, and An Essay on the Trinity I realize that much of Edwards’ Trinitarian thought is in his writings just not explicitly. It is hard to understand his use of terms like: love, idea, unity, and beauty, without seeing them in a Trinitarian perspective. Thus, his Trinitarian thought weaves its way into much of his other thought life and treatises but we would not know it if that is all we read. I believe that this also plays a part in Edwards being characterized by his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon. There are many other facets that make up who Edwards is just as Sinners is only one view of who God is to Edwards (see for instance his sermon Heaven is a World of Love, which gives a picture more of God as love).
Edward’s explicit Trinitarian writings are very interesting because he doesn’t seem to take sides on the plurality vs. unity. Today, scholars find it hard to approve of both, arguing that there is only one or the other in the Trinity. But Edwards seems to affirm both. In all three of the writings mentioned above he portrays the Son as the Wisdom and the Spirit as Love of the one God. And by doing this emphasizes their unity. But also in these same writings he reveals the Trinity as a family of Persons thus revealing plurality.
Flowing from this seems to be Edwards’ basis of an Augustinian model of the Trinity. The terms Edwards used for the Son as the Idea, Image, Word, and Wisdom of God brought to my mind the same terms that Augustine used to define the Son. The same goes for the Spirit where both define the Spirit as the divine Love or Joy. His social model of the Trinity with the focus on love and communion brought to my mind what I studied about the Cappadocians, especially Gregory of Nyssa. It seems as though he was borrowing from the thought of Gregory especially when he said in his essay on the Trinity, “…the society and family of three.” I believe seeing these two connections with Edwards’ Trinitarian thought are keys to interpreting his understanding of these themes throughout the rest of his writings.
These writings presented in this book reveal the close connection between Edwards’ understanding of grace and the connection it has to the Trinity and redemption in general. First as was said above most of the things said in these writings are ideas that are stated elsewhere in Edwards’ writings but are given more discussion here specifically. The idea that each person in the Trinity plays a part in redemption is explained more fully. He says in An Essay on the Trinity, “Glory belongs to the Father and the Son that they so greatly loved the world: to the Father that He so loved that He gave His only begotten Son: to the Son that He so loved the world as to give up Himself. But there is equal glory due to the Holy Ghost, for He is that love of the Father and the Son to the world.” Edwards goes on to say in his Treatise on Grace, speaking of the dependence of believers on each person of the Trinity for redemption. “The Father approves and provides the redeemer, and Himself accepts the price of the good purchased and bestows that God. The Son is the redeemer, and the price that is offered for the purchased good. And the Holy Ghost is the good purchased; for the sacred Scriptures seems to intimate that the Holy Spirit is the sum of all that Christ purchased for man (Ga. 3:13-14).” For me personally I have never thought of the doctrine of the redemption in these terms and I love the way Edwards expressed it. Seeing the Holy Ghost’s involvement in redemption was very interesting especially when seen how Edwards characterizes the Holy Spirit as grace that is given to the believer. He concludes his Treatise by saying, “I suppose there is no other principle of grace in the soul than the very Holy Ghost dwelling in the soul and acting there as a vital principle.” I very much appreciated the importance Edwards placed on the Holy Spirit’s role in redemption and in the life of the believer. It seems as of late that the focus on the Spirit’s work in people’s lives is not as important as it once was and I think Edwards has a lot to say on this to bring the Holy Spirit back to the forefront of our minds.
One question I have concerning his Trinitarian thought especially as it pertains to the Son is his overuse of type-antitype. I know that during his day typology was very frequent in all the writings and sermons but he seemed to use it excessively to the point where he was pushing the bounds of seeing Christ in the Old Testament. I know we discussed this a little in class but I am wondering what others thought of his use of typology in his writings (not just the ones listed above)?
God Created the World for Himself
[This is a guest post by Ron Kimmel. Ron is a new Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a pastor at Bethany Church in Canby, OR. Ron is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]
Why did God create? That’s the question Jonathan Edwards wrestles with in The End for which God Created the World. In the process, he makes an important distinction between the proximate means of creation and the Ultimate End of creation. It’s a distinction that drives him toward an interesting conclusion.
Edwards deals quite extensively with the end for God is presumed (based upon human reasoning) to have created, and surprisingly JE does not cast these ends (consequences of creation) in a negative light. Instead, he looks on them as ‘means’ that God would use to communicate his Ultimate End. And, although he appreciates the value of the means, he warns strongly against equating them with the End itself.
It may be reasonable to argue that God created in order that He might show His love to creation, display His power, establish fellowship, or that it was a natural outflow of is character and nature. JE argues that it is quite a bewildered notion that God should have ever created for the purpose of receiving anything from His creation. He also argues that God did not create because it is merely in His nature and character to do so, even though that nature and character does exist within God.
JE argues that God is His own Ultimate End in creation. He delights in His own perfections and His delight can only be found in Himself. God makes His own perfections His end. In other words, God created out of the love for His own perfection, and creation is a witness to His own greatness. He created so that He might see His own virtues on display in what He had made. It begins and ends with Him. All other ‘means’ are merely consequences of creating.
Though God has created for Himself and He is His own Ultimate End, the concept of God being benevolent toward His creation cannot be a completely separate matter. JE argues that God’s goodness toward His creation is a way of gratifying His own desire and ‘general inclination.’ Set in this mode, God’s acts toward His creation (means) are directly related to God bringing Himself glory. Therefore, these are not seen as separate acts, but rather as coinciding and implied one within the other.
JE argues that this is at least partly because God does not see in past, present and future tenses, but rather He views all at once. Thus, JE links John 17:21 & 23 with the idea that’ redeemed’ are being brought home to God and are being swallowed up in Him so that there is no differentiation between the redeemed and God. This is not to suggest that the redeemed become God but that they are so united with Him that they become one. Thus, God’s benevolent acts toward creation are always linked to his acting on behalf of his own glory.
This has significant implications for life and ministry, particularly in JE’s view of communion. The concept of the redeemed being one with God would lead to all sorts of personal internal struggle toward those who participated in communion but could not give a testimony as to the nature of the conversion. If the redeemed really are expressions of God’s most holy perfections then pretending to reflect those perfections without having actualized the light would certainly lead to one’s condemnation and cast a dark shadow over the church.
Nonetheless, I think JE struggled mightily to find an appropriate balance between these two elements in this dissertation. He wrestled between God’s gracious treatment of creation and His eternal purpose of creation. The tension seems to have become a ‘both and’ type of agreement, but he places the horse before the cart in that God created for His own delight and all else is consequence.
One disturbing thing almost from the outset of reading JE’s work was that of the wrath of God. Where is it? Who’s under it? He talks little about this here and he limits the “consequences” largely to good things that God does toward man. Wrath is spoken of sparingly. While leaving the reader somewhat in want, he points to God being glorified in judging the wicked: glorified, in that He judges the wicked for the sake of the redeemed, creating in the redeemed a greater dependence upon Him and trust in His mercies that would lead to strengthening the union between God and His chosen. His point being that your neighbor is damned so you will glorify God. Though one may feel misery over the damned, it is not for misery itself that one is to delight because misery is a consequence of creation that should find its final realization in giving glory to God. Why? Because man is not to be concerned with his own feelings or emotions and recognize that God is just.
While the premise is excellent in that God’s wrath leads to His glorification, the struggle comes in accepting that God’s wrath is a consequence of creation. Wrath has its beginning and ending with God. Meaning, wrath has always existed in God. It was not just done for the sake of the redeemed but has always existed in God’s virtues and characteristic perfections.
As seems to be the case with JE’s works, this is a humbling and challenging study by a great mind and philosopher of his day. To witness his personal struggles and journey toward putting into words what he believed to the most accurate descriptions of why God would bother with man leaves one questioning the pettiness of his own daily considerations. To have such a great challenge in this day and age of materialism and selfishness is to be found worth its weight in gold if one will pause long enough from his blog post to be mentored by those who have gone before. Thank you JE for pushing your readers on toward glorifying Him.
[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]