A Thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Theology in the Australian College of Theology Melbourne December 2010
This thesis seeks to demonstrate the development of the ecclesiology of Edwards from the writings of his youth until his Stockbridge treatises, setting this within the context of Reformation and Puritan debates, and in response to his experience of the revivals during his Northampton ministry. My basic contention is that Edwards repristinates an ossified New England ecclesiology, by acknowledging the church’s dynamic relationship with the created order, history and the nations, and by advocating renewal in ecclesial life through revivals, itinerancy, Concerts of Prayer, missionary initiatives outside of the local congregation, and doctrinal clarification.
Edwards accommodates the Christendom model of ecclesiology to the new philosophical, political and social realities of the mid-eighteenth century British Atlantic world. He is prepared to relinquish an understanding of the church, in which the clergy primarily serves the wider community and the national interests of New England, but also distances himself from separatist ecclesiology, which draws strong lines of demarcation between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Christ. His ecclesiology can be aptly summarised as prophetic, in as far as the church makes identification with its social context, while yet providing an alternative millennial vision for human flourishing. He embeds a revivalist ecclesiology within a traditional ecclesiology of nurture and institutional order.
I maintain therefore that Edwards’s dismissal is not the result of reactionary attempts to reinstitute the prevailing conditions of an earlier vision of the church, nor can he be accused of reneging on progressive views of the church after the revivals have subsided. Edwards’s Gospel is
preached within a larger vision of transformed society and the glory of God, for whom the church is an orderly but not ordinary instrument to promote visible union between believers and Christ.
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