Gerald McDermott on Jonathan Edwards
The latest issue of Credo Magazine focuses on The Impassibility of God. The following is an excerpt from our interview with Gerald McDermott. In the interview, we asked Dr. McDermott 10 questions on topics such as Jonathan Edwards, orthodox anglicanism, and cancer.
McDermott (PhD, University of Iowa) is the Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. He is the author, co-author or editor of many books, including A Trinitarian Theology of Religions (with Harold Netland), Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land, Cancer: A Medical and Spiritual Guide for Patients and their Families. His Theology of Jonathan Edwards (coauthored with Michael McClymond) won Christianity Today’s 2013 award for Top Book in Theology/Ethics.
Below are the questions we asked McDermott relating to Jonathan Edwards.
Having written half a dozen books on Jonathan Edwards, what first drew you to him and his theology? Why has Edwards had such an impact on your thinking?
I was drawn to his beautiful mind. More specifically, when I read his Religious Affections in the Yale edition, I felt my chest was being sawn open and my heart ripped apart. I was determined to dive into this phenomenally spiritually-sensitive mind who, I was later to conclude, was one of the five greatest theologians in the history of the Church.
Something else I saw early on was Edwards’s aesthetics. Patrick Sherry concluded in his Spirit and Beauty: A History of Theological Aesthetics that for Edwards beauty was more central to his vision of God than for anyone else in Christian history, even Augustine and Balthasar. Edwards’s theology of God’s beauty has hooked me ever since.
How has the Edwardsean way of seeing the world influenced the role of nature in your life? Did you find yourself outside more when you first encountered Edwards’ Images of Divine Things?
In Everyday Glory: The Revelation of God in All Reality, I attempt to sketch Edward’s typological view of reality in a way he might have done if he had been around in this 21st century. This is why my chapters include nature in so many ways—animals, nature itself, modern science’s discoveries, and even sex.
To answer your question, absolutely. Ever since I read his Images notebook and exclaimed “GaGa,” I have wondered what this leaf says, what that sunset bespeaks, what the waterfall and dog and bird are saying to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Nature has become for me so much richer and deeper and more beautiful.
In Everyday Glory, you seek to recapture a Christian view of all reality by positing that general revelation gives us resemblances of the Triune God. What should be the Christian way of seeing reality?
Well, the short answer is, Read this book! It takes a book and not a paragraph. The paragraph will inevitably distort. Reality is infinitely complex, and to see it properly is delicate and subtle and complex. Yet these are complexities that the uneducated who know God see intuitively. So . . . it’s a big question. But another short answer is that we should see reality the way the biblical authors saw it, as the beautiful outworking of the Trinitarian God as he works in and through not just his intelligent but also his inanimate creation. And we should realize, as the best theologians in the Great Tradition have, that all the world is full of types. As Ephrem of Syria put it, “In every place, Christ’s symbol is there, and wherever you read, you will find his types. For in him all creatures were created, and he traced his symbols on his property.”
Other than Jonathan Edwards, what theologians have you learned from the most?
Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, and Joseph Ratzinger. But others too, as I have explained in my book The Great Theologians.