Beyond the Celestial Horizon: Distinct Anthropologies in Edwards and Owen’s Heavenly-Mindedness

The well-known adage that Christians are “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” suggests that those who focus too much on spiritual matters tend to neglect their earthly responsibilities. Jonathan Edwards and John Owen disagree with this sentiment, holding that heavenly-mindedness is absolutely necessary to be of any earthly good. As Edwardsean scholar Doug Sweeney rightly acknowledges, for Edwards heavenly-mindedness is not a way to escape the world, but a path to more deeply engage with it in a manner that reflects the goodness and beauty of God (Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, 184). Similarly, John Owen understands the practical importance of being spiritually inclined, writing that the one who fixes “his heart and affections on that which is above, is in the best condition to enjoy the things of this life, to manage them for God, and to be useful to others.” (Grace and Duty, 74) Both Reformed thinkers emphasize the practical importance of meditating on heavenly things. Scholars note that both Edwards and Owen’s eternal perspectives recognize the importance of union with Christ, the transformative power of the Gospel, and the need for disciplined spiritual practices in the Christian life. This paper will argue that the two thinkers part ways in their distinct anthropologies in relation to their perspective on heavenly-mindedness. Extending beyond the scholarship of McDermott, Sweeney, and Minkema on Edwards’s view of heavenly-mindedness and the broader examinations by Packer and McClymond of these two Reformed thinkers, this paper will more directly compare how the diverse anthropologies of Edwards and Owen shape their perspectives in unique ways, concluding that Edwards’s more experiential approach that emphasizes a personal encounter with God that leads to a radical transformation of the heart and life sets him apart from John Owen’s more cognitive approach, which stresses the importance of having correct theological knowledge and engaging the mind to understand and apply biblical truth. Owen’s anthropology places more emphasis on the mind and the will as the primary means of experiencing God and eternal realities. In contrast, Edwards understands heavenly-mindedness as not primarily an intellectual exercise of understanding spiritual realities, but as a genuine experience of the heart that has the power to transform persons and communities.

3 thoughts on “Beyond the Celestial Horizon: Distinct Anthropologies in Edwards and Owen’s Heavenly-Mindedness”

  1. Yes, please!
    I almost submitted a proposal on this very theme, but in connection with some 19th century writers. I’ll be presenting a paper on 19th century heavenly-mindedness at another conference this summer, so selfishly, I’m eager to learn from Karin’s work.

    Well crafted proposal.


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