Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Gerald McDermott Rebuffs Alvin Plantinga

At lunch today I started to go through the newest issue of Books and Culture, but I didn't make it very far. I was captivated by a letter to the editor on page 3 by Gerald McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College in Virginia, who took issue with Alvin Plantinga's article, "Bait and Switch," in the January/February issue.

McDermott quotes Plantinga in the article as saying that Jonathan Edwards argued that God is the "only real cause of whatever happens," which implies that God is the real cause of all sin. McDermott goes on to explain that although Edwards believed that God upholds the whole of the created order in every moment (or, as McDermott says, in "every nanosecond"), this does not mean that humans are not held responsible for sin. Rather, because of our "natural necessity" and "moral necessity" (key terms in Edwards's Freedom of the Will) we have only ourselves to blame when we sin, even if God is in complete control of all that happens in the world. McDermott closes his letter by stating, "So is God, for Edwards, the 'only agent'--and therefore the only real cause--of the Holocaust, as Plantinga alleges? No and no."

If anything, McDermott's letter to the editor should be taken as a warning to even the brightest scholars who want to talk about Jonathan Edwards. With so many Edwards aficionados out there--and in a broad range of disciplines including history, biblical studies, theology, and sociology--one should be very careful in trying to articulate (particularly) Edwards's thought. Plantinga may still believe that he properly interpreted Edwards, but it would be difficult to remain firm on that conclusion when the coauthor of an 800-page tome entitled The Theology of Jonathan Edwards thinks that you have misunderstood "America's theologian."

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