Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scottish Common Sense Realism & Jonathan Edwards

In Dr. John Gerstner's view the absence of a distinct philosophy, like for example Scottish Common Sense Realism of Old Princeton, is a fatal flaw in dispensationalism and points to the debate on fundamentals and inerrancy to support this idea.  Let's assume Scottish Common Sense Realism arrived at Princeton in 1768 with it's fresh President John Witherspoon who had just arrived with 300 books from Scottland. Jonathan Edwards preceded the Scottish Common Sense school and died in 1758, so how should we see the relationship between this school and Jonathan Edwards?
As Joseph DiLuzio writes (helpfull):
"By the end of John Witherspoon’s first year as president of Princeton University (then, the College of New Jersey) in 1769, a small group of tutors, including the late president’s son – Jonathan Edwards Jr. – had resigned their positions at the college. Their leave had been amicable in spite of their philosophical differences with the new president. Though tolerant of the tutors’ idealism, Witherspoon had arrived in the colonies promoting Scottish realism and that brand of moral philosophy advocated by Francis Hutcheson and argued against by his predecessor at Princeton, Jonathan Edwards."
Has John Gerstner or any other Johnathan Edwards expert thought this through? This question came to my mind when reading about Sang Hyun Lee's book "The philosophical theology of John Edwards" throug Don Schweitzer who writes:
"Lee showed how Edwards' dispositional ontology enabled him to coherently affirm both. By conceiving God's nature and created reality in terms of a dispositional ontology Edwards was able to describe God as fully actual in the immanent Trinity and radically transcendent to creation, yet also as internally related to it in a positive way, so that creation and redemption bring a relative but still real increase to God's being."
Scottish Common Sense Realism is a school of philosophy that originated in the ideas of Scottish philosophers Thomas Reid, Adam Ferguson and Dugald Stewwart during the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment. We know how Cornelis van Til struggled to reconcile his interpretation of Abraham Kuyper's "common grace"  and "antithesis" with the school of Scottish Common Sense Realism at Princeton. At the same time we read about Peter Enns and G.C. Berkouwer's criticism of inerrancy and fundamentalism.

Klaas Schilder took apart Abraham Kuyper's theory of "common grace", while people like Dooyeweerd and to some extent van Til built their philosophy on top of it. He didn't do this to be arrogant, rude or unkind to his teachers and colleagues in Kampen and Amsterdam, but because he recognized the weakness of Kuyper's "common grace" construction in the face of the writings of Karl Barth. His dissertation Zum Begriffsgeschichte des Paradoxons and his commentary on the Heidelberger Catechism is focused on this central issue. A philosophical debate that boiled over into a schism at the end of the second world war. A schism that provided him the context to write the characteristic sermon "The Year of Destruction in the Light of the Year of Jubilee" in the year of Dutch liberation (1945).
Johnathan Edwards' "philosophical theology" or "dispositional ontology" as briefly described by Don Schweitzer sounds very similar to what Klaas Schilder proposes in this dissertation. In addition twentieth century discussions of Edwards's and Schilder's covenant theology evolves around similar tensions.

Jonathan Edwards and Klaas Schilder could well be two sipping hurricanes that could potentially threaten the bastions of scottish common sense realism, common grace, vanTilism, Reformatorische Wijsbegeerte and Barth's dialectics. Research on similarities in philosophic and dogmatic positions of Jonathan Edwards and Klaas Schilder is the new fronteer.

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