A lot of people like reading Jonathan Edwards. But maybe that’s not enough for you. Maybe you want to wear Jonathan Edwards.
Jonathan Edwards comes on a tee shirt, thanks to Missional Wear, an Orlando, Florida company that boasts “the largest selection in Reformed lifestyle products anywhere!”
That’s an advertizing claim that seems like it’s probably true.
Missional Wear is certainly the only company selling Jonathan Edwards tee shirts in all sizes and more than a dozen colors for about $20.
Edwards’s face does not appear to be as the most popular for Reformed lifestyle products, however.
The most popular is the 19th century British Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. The company offers multiple versions of his face, including several that show him smoking a cigar and one that has a stylized representation of Spurgeon’s beard, with a quote from Spurgeon about beards.
There are also shirts and hoodies with other faces from the Reformed canon, including Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox and Puritans such as John Owen, John Bunyan and Richard Baxter. The company also offers shirts with the faces of some 20th-century theologians, including B.B. Warfield, Cornelius Van Til, and Francis Schaeffer.
If an obscure face is too obscure, Missional Wear also offers a shirt with the word “Calvinism” on the front in a font that evokes the Coca-Cola brand.
Ten years ago, Christianity Today noted a resurgence in Calvinism in America, a “comeback” that was “shaking up the church.” To some it seemed this “New Calvinism” offered a more serious, more theological alternative to popular evangelical culture.
New Calvinists didn’t all embrace the term “New Calvinist,” or even “Calvinist,” but they did articulate a self-conception of rugged seriousness. They allied themselves against “the atheological, consumer-driven nature of the modern evangelical machine,” as the director of the Southern Baptist LifeWays Research once put it.
But there was still enough consumerism for Reformed lifestyle products. If you want, you can even get a shirt with Jonathan Edwards’s face on it.
Prof. Jan Stievermann, director of the Jonathan Edwards Center Germany, is going to be co-teaching a seminar with an eminent Jonathan Edwards scholar, Prof. Douglas A. Sweeney, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The class will be called The New England Tradition in American Reformed Theology. It will take place over four intensive days at the Ökumenisches Institut at Heidelberg University, May 29 and 30, and June 6 and 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The course description:
This compact seminar offers an outstanding opportunity for all students interested in the history of Reformed theology more generally and the specific development of Protestantism in the New World. Our focus will be on New England Calvinism, one of the most interesting and powerful traditions to emerge in early America, which also had a lasting influence on both liberal and evangelical Protestantism in the U.S. today. While providing a broad survey of the New England tradition between c. 1650 and 1850, the course will also allow students to discuss in depth the writings of key theologians with our distinguished guest scholar, Prof. Douglas A. Sweeney.
Over the course of this seminar we will cover the development of the New England tradition from Puritanism and early evangelicalism (represented most prominently by Edwards), to the major divisions of the early nineteenth century between popular revivalism (Charles Finney), Edwardsean Calvinism, and liberal Protestantism (Horace Bushnell). In following these historical developments we will look at the central theological debates within this tradition that concerned, among other things, the doctrines of predestination and original sin, the role of human agency in redemption, the nature of conversion, and the significance of affections in religion.
To register, e-mail Stievermann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prof. Sebastian Rehnman, of the philosophy department of Norway’s University of Stavanger, will be speaking on Jonathan Edwards and Idealism in Heidelberg on Oct. 29, at 8 p.m.
Rehnman has previously written on Edward’s philosophy, including questions of the Divine Attributes, “the task of making explicit what is implicit in the notion of God acquired from or supposed by arguments for the existence of God,” and an Edwardsian theodicy. This is part of an ongoing project he is working on, a monograph titled Edwards on God. He has also writtenextensively on the Puritan John Owen, and on a range of Reformed thinkers, including Francis Turretin, Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga.
The talk will be held at then Seminarraum des Ökumenischen Instituts, in Heidelberg, at Plankengasse 3. All are welcome to attend.
Thinking about Jonathan Edwards in his own time is difficult enough. Grasping Edwards as a theological figure today presents its own sets of unique problems.
Understanding how Edwards figures on the contemporary landscape requires a lot of a kind of back-and-forth cultural translation: allowing but then also critiquing (but then also still allowing) reconstructions, appropriations, and reanimaitons, as one attends to how 16th century theology is made relevant and applicable in 21st century theology. It’s one part reception history, one part history of ideas, one part discourse analysis. And the added complication: one has to do history, but then also set it aside, too, as the figure of Edwards at work in contemporary theological thinking is decidedly ahistorical.
Wilson, a pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and one of the founders of New Saint Andrews, is a Reformed thinker who was described himself as ” advanc[ing] what you might call a Chestertonian Calvinism.”
From that position, Wilson argues with Edwards on some points (in particular having to do with Edwards connections to present-day evangelicalism) and praises Edwards and feels himself challenged by Edwards on other points (“This was a man absolutely marinated in scripture“).
Especially of interest to those trying to figure out Edwards present shape or form in theological thought is the last video, where Wilson connects Edwards’ thought with the theology of C.S. Lewis and John Piper, specificall with the theology Piper has promoted, Christian Hedonism.
As Wilson explains it, all three of these men, despite their very different times and contexts and varieties of Christianity, “emphasize … teach, point out, admit” that:
“Everybody chooses that which they believe to be good, and that which they believe to be good for them. Now there’s a way of doing it selfishly. The difference between good and evil is determined by what you call ‘good,’ not whether you pursue good.”
This is one of the main ideas of Edwards — as it’s used and understood and talked about in certain circles of contemporary American Christianity. In Edwards, one can find these ideas even in his very oldest extant sermon, circa 1720 or 1721, where he argued for a necessary link between Godliness and hapiness, starting from exactly this foundational psychological idea that all people seek happiness.
The first words of Edwards first sermon:
“Reasonable beings, while they act as such, naturally choose those things which they are convinced are best for them, and will certainly do those things which they know they had better do than leave undone. (And, indeed, who in the world could imagine that there were such unreasonable creatures in the world, as that at the very same time that they themselves know a thing to be much to their advantage, yet will not choose or do it?)”
For Wilson, as well as Piper and a circle of Reformed Christians in American today, this insight serves as a starting point for understanding and explaining Calvinism. This is a key way in which Edwards “lives,” theologically, right now.
Curiously, there’s another near-contemporary figure who starts from this same place and has this same “disciplined understanding of what makes human beings tick,” as Wilson describes it, but who ends up somewhere very, very different: Ayn Rand. She called it the virtue of selfishness.
Where Wilson says “Everybody chooses that which they believe to be good, and that which they believe to be good for them. Now there’s a way of doing it selfishly. The difference between good and evil is determined by what you call ‘good,’ not whether you pursue good,” Rand agrees, “Man has no choice about his capacity to feel that something is good for him or evil, but what he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on his standard of value.”
For her, though, starting with this idea that people do bad things only because they’re confused and think those things are good things, and if they truly understood what was good they would want that instead, ends not in the imperative, “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” but rather: Be selfish. Or, as her fictional spokesman John Galt declares, “I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
The ideas are not the same, of course. The trick is articulating why. Which is the history of ideas part of the back-and-forth cultural translation of the tricky business of trying to understand Edwards in our time.