I was fascinated to read today’s guest post on Peter Enns’ blog Jonathan Edwards, The Holy Spirit, and Evolution: Part 1, by Brandon G. Withrow. In fact this Part 1 is not at all about evolution, so I am waiting to read about that in subsequent parts. But it was interesting to read about what Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century hero of today’s conservative evangelicals, had to say about the Holy Spirit, and especially of his role in the Incarnation, i.e. the coming of Jesus Christ as both God and man. It is not at all what I would have expected from a strict Calvinist. The first part is not so controversial, perhaps:
The Spirit, according to Edwards, unites the human nature of Christ to the divine nature and actively maintains the integrity of both, all the while not becoming an addition of a divine being to the person of Christ.
In doing this, the Spirit can ensure that the limitations of the human mind of Christ are maintained, otherwise, if the divine attributes were allowed to mix or rewrite the human nature, he would lose his genuine humanity, since the finite cannot contain the infinite.
Well, that certainly makes sense, and offers a good explanation of why the incarnate Jesus did not appear to be omniscient. It also accords with what I wrote here a few years ago in a post Jesus is Our Fully Human Example, that Jesus had some supernatural knowledge and could perform miracles not because he was divine but because the Holy Spirit was working through him.
The main point I was making in that post is that if this was true of Jesus, it is also true today of us Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit. And Jonathan Edwards seems to have made the same connection, and taken it somewhat further than I did, as Withrow writes with a quote from Edwards:
As the Spirit unites Christ’s humanity to the divine, so also the Spirit unites the human Christian (like Edwards) to God through Christ.
All…communion of the creatures with God or with one another in God, seems to be by the Holy Ghost. ’Tis by this that believers have communion with Christ, and I suppose ’tis by this that the man Christ Jesus has communion with the eternal Logos. The Spirit of God is the bond of perfectness by which God, Jesus Christ, and the church are united together (WJE 13:529).
Christ’s human nature is united to his divine nature thanks to the Spirit’s work. Likewise, the same Spirit unites Christians to the divine.
The implication of this seems to be that, for Edwards, the union between Christians and the divine through the Holy Spirit is of the same nature as the union between Jesus Christ and the divine. This opens up the question of the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son of God. If, as the New Testament clearly teaches, every Christian is a son or daughter of God and partakes of the divine nature, was Jesus really unique, or was he just the firstborn of many brothers and sisters? At first sight, both answers can be found in the New Testament, and in different strands of Christian theology. But the doctrine of the Trinity seems threatened by any idea that the second Person, God the Son, was not unique – or is every Christian an incarnation of the one second Person?
I am not familiar enough with the theology of Jonathan Edwards to know how far he took the implications of the teaching which Withrow describes here. Very likely Withrow explains it further in his book Becoming Divine: Jonathan Edwards’s Incarnational Spirituality Within the Christian Tradition (affiliate link – see also this description), which I have not read. But it seems clear that Edwards by no means followed what has become the traditional evangelical line on such matters, with a rigid distinction between the divine as well as human Son of God and his human and utterly sinful people. And I would suggest that Edwards was the more correct here.