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Jonathan Edwards on the Freedom of the Will

Why did I choose to follow Jesus? Did God reach out and cause me to want to follow Jesus? Or, did I weigh the various options and choose to follow Jesus as one choice among many?

Why did I pick up my coffee cup and drink just now? Did something cause me to drink? Or, was it a relatively arbitrary expression of my own free choice?

Is there a difference between these two scenarios?

According to Paul Helm, Jonathan Edward viewed both of these from basically the same perspective. And, in the process, he departed from earlier Reformed theologians in significant ways.

As I’m getting prepared for my seminar on Jonathan Edwards this summer, I’m going to blog occasionally on any interesting resources that I’ve run across. Today, I read Paul Helm’s post on “Jonathan Edwards and the Freedom of the Will.” According to Helm, Edwards’ understanding of free will was driven by the “all-encompassing metaphysical principle” that nothing happens without a cause. So, if I make a choice, that choice must have a cause. And, for Edwards, the cause in that case would be my desires. I chose X because I wanted X. And, this same basic framework holds no matter if we’re talking about choosing God or choosing coffee.

For Edwards, operating in a world increasingly influenced by the emerging natural science, and by the empiricist philosophy of John Locke, human action is the result of one sort of cause, a ’volition’, which is in turn the outcome of certain beliefs and desires. Such causal links, of different kinds, necessarily pervade the entire creation. Edwards’s stress is on this all-encompassing metaphysical principle.

All events must have causes.

Helm argues that this is a very different argument from that offered by earlier Reformed theologians. Looking specifically at Calvin, Helm contends that earlier theologians in the Reformed tradition focused more narrowly on “the loss of moral and spiritual freedom as a result of the Fall.” This isn’t because Calvin disagreed with Edwards (which would be hard to do, since Edwards wasn’t alive at the time), but because the nature of the free will debate was different in Calvin’s day. They weren’t concerned with the broader issue of whether every particular event must have a cause, but on the narrower question of whether the human person is free to choose God.

The difference between Edwards and Calvin, according to Helm’s argument, is really the scientific/philosophical context that Edwards operated in. With the rise of modern science and the philosophical turn that took place with John Locke, the issue of causation took a much more prominent place in discussions of free will. So, it’s not that Edwards and Calvin necessarily disagreed on the free will. Helm actually argues that one can find “ clear evidence for what later came to be called a compatibilistic outlook” in Calvin’s theology. But, it does mean that they addressed the issue from very different cultural contexts, and that we need to understand these historical/cultural differences if we are really to appreciate what they were saying.

For more resources on the subject of free will see:

Contemplating Classical Compatabilism and Where Desires Come FromContemplating Classical Compatabilism and Where Desires Come From

Is it time to run ads?

No, I’m not “selling out” to “the man.” (Actually, I suppose that since I have a good job and live in the suburbs with my family of four, I’ve probably already sold out to the man. But, that’s a question for another post.) But, I do have a good reason for thinking that it might be worth running ads on the blog. More on that in a second.

You’ve all seen what it looks like – the sidebar with several small ads. (I wouldn’t go with the three-column visual monstrosity you see on some sites.) And, the ads would all be related (hopefully) to Christian life and ministry. So, I’m not thinking about using some generic ad service that would push ads that have nothing to do with what the blog is all about.

Now, I realize that these ads don’t bring in very much money. So, you might be wondering, “If we’re not talking about very much money, and if the ads take up space on the blog, why bother?” Good question. (Of course it is or you wouldn’t be wondering about it.)

Th.M. scholarships.

It wouldn’t take much advertising revenue every month to subsidize a small scholarship for the Th.M. program. We have a few Th.M. scholarships and I’ll be posting an announcement soon about a very generous scholarship for Th.M. students headed toward teaching. What I would love to have is even a small Th.M. scholarship dedicated toward students focusing in pastoral theology and preparing for local church ministry. (A big scholarship would be better, but I’m willing to take baby steps.)

So, here are my questions for today. Would it bother you if we included ads on the blog? Or, if any of you have some experience with this, Is running ads on a blog worth it? I don’t really know the logistics of blogvertising (I don’t know if that’s a word, but I like it). So, I’ll take any input I can get.

[This is part of a series reflecting on the future of the blog. Earlier questions were Is It Time for a New Name? and Is It Time for a New Look?]

ProBlogger on how preparing sermons is like writing blog posts

Darren Rowse, founder of ProBlogger and former minister, explains why he thinks preparing sermons is like writing blog posts. Along the way, he explains his process for preparing posts/sermons and offers some thoughts for improving your own process.


HT Christian Writing Today

Free audiobook – Adopted for Life

This month’s free audiobook from is Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches. According to Fred Sanders this is “the most important book” in the recent revival of evangelical interest in adoption.  So, if you’re into audiobooks, this one should be worth checking out.

Flotsam and jetsam (2/1)

Why were so many churches “requiring” a pastor to be married? Jesus wasn’t. Paul wasn’t. Almost all pastors were single until the time of the Reformation. Is it wise to “require” that our Evangelical pastors be married? Is it biblical?

We must teach [Baptist] views in order to be consistent in holding them. Because of these we stand apart from other Christians. We have no right thus to stand apart unless the matters of difference have real importance; and if they are really important, we certainly ought to teach them.

Any number of political and social factors underpins the current unrest in Egypt—and as always, economics figures in. The upheaval has shined a light on two serious problems facing the country: Most jobs pay too little, and most food costs too much.

Is it time for a new look?

No, I’m not referring to myself. If I was, the answer would be pretty simple. I’ve been overdue for a new look since…well, since high school probably. So, you can keep your comments about how I look to yourself.

My question is about the look/design of the blog. Yesterday, I began reflecting on the future of this blog by asking, “Is it time for a new name?” Thanks for all the great feedback. I haven’t made any decisions yet, but you’ve given me plenty to think about.

Today’s question has to do with the look and feel of the blog. Since the header is the first thing you see, let’s begin there. There’s a bit of a story behind our current header. It all started with the fact that the generic image for this header had a bridge in it. When I thought it was time to have our own header, I put out a call for suggestions and commented that any header with a bridge needed to have a troll in it. After a lengthy and fun discussion (see here, here, and here), we had a new header (graciously designed by Nick Norelli) complete with its own allegorical explanation. That header has served us well for a while, but I’d like to know what you all think. Is it time for something new?

I’m also thinking about changing the basic theme/design of the blog. We’ve been using the same theme since the blog started and I’d like to switch to something a little more flexible. If you have any thoughts on the overall look and feel of the blog’s theme, I’d appreciate hearing them.

January 2011 Biblioblog rankings – thanks to whoever voted for us!

The January 2011 Biblioblog Top 50 is out, and congratulations to Near Emmaus for making it all the way up to #3! They’re all doing a great job over there, so the move up the rankings is well deserved. (We didn’t do too badly either.)

For the second month, we also have a list of the Top 10 Biblioblogs. Unlike the Top 50, which is determined by internet traffic, the Top 10 list is based on  people just casting votes for the blogs they like best. It’s completely random and unscientific, but still fun. And, apparently someone voted for us, since we’re ranked there for the first time at #10. I don’t know how many people voted overall, so it could be that we received two votes and that was enough to grab the #10 slot. If so, thanks to both of you!

Writing tip of the day – get past the “magic” of writing

In my own experience, nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends. To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know—someone quite ordinary in many respects—can really do it.

…………………………………………………………………~John Gardner


A roundup of links on Egypt

I was going to include some links about what’s going on in Egypt in today’s Flotsam and Jetsam, but there were too many. So, here are some of the more interesting resources I’ve come across recently.

To start things off, here’s a video of a Saudi girl explaining what she thinks Mubarak should do.



Some other interesting resources.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/31)

HT Kevin DeYoung

Like major league baseball, a successful academic career is a very good gig. Do we really owe every 22-year-old who is admitted to a Ph.D. program the right to that career solely on the basis of getting into a Ph.D. program? Or is it enough to give them a chance to succeed, knowing full well that not all of them will? Personally, I’d rather give more people a chance, in large part because I don’t think we know which 22-year-olds are going to make the best academics.

  • A WSJ article with the provocative title “Why Rich Parents Don’t Matter” discusses a recent study looking into the impact of socio-economic status on a child’s mental development.

These results capture the stunning developmental inequalities that set in almost immediately, so that even the mental ability of 2-year-olds can be profoundly affected by the socio-economic status of their parents. As a result, their genetic potential is held back.

Merton (1915-1968) is one of the most significant religious writers of the twentieth century and a lasting influence on untold numbers of Christians (and non-Christians) from every tradition and culture. For those of us in the Bluegrass state, he also holds the distinction of being perhaps the most significant religious figure to reside in Kentucky, being a monk at Our Lady of Gesthemeni monastery near Bardstown for twenty-seven years. He is buried there today.

When it comes to a crucifixion no one would argue for beauty in an aesthetic sense. The form of a broken, bled-out human being certainly isn’t pleasing to the eye. And this lack of beauty is most true particularly in a crucifixion where the death sentence is piggy-backed onto a miscarriage of justice. But here, in the gospel account, is kingdom subversion. In one of the most brutal acts of physical horror and treachery on a cosmic scale, God weaves together the elements of beauty.

The movement got started with basic, biblical teaching about the gospel and holistic mission. It picked up speed with a network of projects and organizations committed to orphan care. And to this theological observer, it looks like it may have the momentum to reinvigorate evangelical systematic theology.