The biblical-experimental foundations of Jonathan Edwards' theology of religious experience, 1720--1723

Karin Spiecker Stetina, Marquette University


This study examines the fundamental importance that Scripture and personal faith had in the development of Jonathan Edwards' theology. The significance of the Word and his spiritual encounters has often been obscured by his innovative use of secular thought and Reformed theology in his public writings. Edwards had a unique ability to use intellectual tools in his public writings to express true religion as he experienced and knew it. Focusing on his earliest sermons and his personal writings, which stand prior to his study of Locke and his use of the technical term the "sense of the heart," this work demonstrates the formative impact his biblically grounded religious experiences had on his theology of religious experience. In looking at Edwards' background, personal religious experience, and early sermons, this work presents a detailed account of the emergence and expression of his early understanding of religious experience. True religion, Edwards discovered, consists of the knowledge of God's glory, love, and grace made manifest by Jesus Christ and supernaturally imparted to the soul of mankind. The new nature of the soul, established by the Holy Spirit and the Word, transforms the heart, mind, and actions of the Christian after the righteousness of Christ. Holiness in the life of the Christian is evidence of the new nature transforming the soul to the image of God. The core idea of the new nature of the soul, which later evolved into the concept of the "sense of the heart," emerges in Edwards' early sermons in the New York period as a product of his study of Scripture and own religious experience. Religious experience is a significant motif which is operative in his whole theological system. This work understands religious experience, according to Edwards' use, as the saving influence of God's divine grace upon the whole person. The redemptive work of Christ mediated through the Scripture and Holy Spirit results in a deeper knowledge of God and the world that affects both the mind and the heart. This construct integrates rational and experiential religion in an experimental theology.

Recommended Citation

Stetina, Karin Spiecker, "The biblical-experimental foundations of Jonathan Edwards' theology of religious experience, 1720--1723" (2003). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3116858.