"Gracious affection" and "true virtue" in the experimental theologies of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley

Richard Bruce Steele, Marquette University

Abstract

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and John Wesley (1703-1791) were exact contemporaries and the leaders of simultaneous and mutually influential religious movements: the First Great Awakening in America and the Methodist Revival in Great Britain, respectively. Doctrinally, they differed substantially. But there were close affinities between their "experimental theologies," that is, their interpretations of religious emotion ("gracious affection") and moral character ("true virtue"). This dissertation traces the historical and literary connections between Wesley and Edwards, and compares their views on Christian experience and practice. Chapter One locates the eighteenth century evangelical revivals within the intellectual context of the Anglo-American Enlightenment, and delineates the thesis and method of the dissertation. Chapter Two traces the voluntarist tradition of moral and religious psychology to which Edwards and Wesley were heir, from St. Paul, through St. Augustine and John Calvin, to the English Puritan, William Ames, and shows that they all taught that persons are accountable for their inward affections as well as their outward behavior. Chapter Three reviews the modest amount of extant comparative literature on Edwards and Wesley and establishes the need for the present study. Chapter Four demonstrates the biographical parallels and historical connections between them, showing the reciprocal influence they exerted on each other's careers and ideas. Chapter Five offers a redaction-critical analysis of Wesley's five abridgments of Edwards' revival treatises, and shows how Edwards' concept of "progressive sanctification" helped to shape Wesley's characteristic idea of "Christian perfection." Chapter Six further clarifies the differences and similarities between Edwards the Calvinist and Wesley the Arminian on doctrinal, ethical, and pastoral matters by comparing their respective criticisms of three representative Anglo-American Enlightenment thinkers, John Taylor, Lord Kames, and Francis Hutcheson. Chapter Seven summarizes and synthesizes the findings of previous chapters, and suggests several ways that eighteenth century "experimental theology" might fruitfully contribute to contemporary discussions of religious emotion and moral virtue.

Recommended Citation

Richard Bruce Steele, ""Gracious affection" and "true virtue" in the experimental theologies of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley" (January 1, 1990). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9101425.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9101425

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