Oliver D. Crisp

in Jonathan Edwards on God and Creation

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199755295
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979486 | DOI:

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Chapter 7 offers a detailed consideration of Edwardsian Neoplatonism, first considered in chapter 2. With some of the main structures of Edwards's doctrine of God explained, this chapter considers how Edwards can hold to the idea that God is a free, simple pure act that exists per se, while holding that creation is a necessary output of God's nature. The chapter argues that when taken in the round his view is clearly a version of Christian Neoplatonism that implies panentheism. However, this raises important questions about the coherence of Edwards's understanding of the relationship between God and the world. A metaphysically simple entity cannot “contain” the many irreducible distinctions and differences in the creation. Such a view would mean Edwards was committed to a simple God who is also partitioned into that aspect or “part” that “contains” the creation, and that aspect or “part” that does not. But this is intolerable. A charitable reading of Edwards requires looking for an alternative interpretation of his theology proper. The chapter argues that Edwards's position is like that of several other traditional, classical theologians who maintain that God is metaphysically simple and that the creation is like an emanation from God—a shadow cast by God not identical to God. The world is, in one sense, “in” God as a set of divine ideas. But in another sense, it is “emanated” or “communicated” by God ad extra. There is a good “fit” between Edwards's intellectual influences, his other metaphysical commitments, and Neoplatonism. Also, his thought (taken as a whole, and allowing for certain infelicities of expression in his sprawling body of work) seems to make sense broadly speaking, if we think of Edwardsian Neoplatonism in this way. This does not resolve certain residual problems in Edwards's metaphysics, such as how to make sense of a doctrine of divine ideas if God is simple. But it does mean his Neoplatonic views are less objectionable than they might at first appear.

Keywords: Neoplatonism; panentheism; pantheism; emanation; communication; creation; necessary action; Plotinus; William Wainwright; Robert Whittemore

Chapter.  11186 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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