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Imaginary Ideas of Christ:

A Scottish-American Debate


John K. LaShell


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This is my PhD dissertation done under Dr. Samuel T. Logan, Jr. at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1985. It examines the controversy over mental images of Christ that erupted during the Great Awakening of the 1740s. The study explores mental idolatry and the appropriate use of vivid images in preaching—both essential topics for today. Key figures in the study include Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Erskine, and James Robe. Although the opening chapters are suitable for a general audience, the bulk of the book is written at a more academic level.


Table of Contents



Chapter 1  Visions in New England

Foretaste of Things to Come        

Fulfillment with a Vengeance      

The Extent of the Flood      

Reaction and Response      

Chapter 2  The Scottish Connection

The Lamentable State of the Church

New England Speaks—Scotland Replies 

Clamor in the Kirk     

Divisions in God’s Flock      

Chapter 3  Jonathan Edwards and the Vision of God   

To See or Not to See 

How a Man Sees       

Perry Miller’s Thesis                                          

Edwards and Locke                                           

Imagination, or Internal Sight                          

Preliminary Answers                                         

What the Christian Sees    

Antecedents to Edwards’ “New Sense”              

The Nature of Edwards’ “New Sense”                

The Content of Edwards’ “New Sense”              

Seeing God in the World

Edwards’ Idealism and the Trinity                     

Typology: The Sensible and the Spiritual World  

Beauty and God in the World                            

Retrospect and Prospect     

Chapter 4  Mental Images: A Scottish Bombshell        

The Shape of the Controversy     

Slander among the Saints                                

Substantive Issues                                           

Theological Arguments       

Claims and Accusations                                    

Robe’s Arguments                                            

Erskine’s Arguments                                        

Theological Sources                                          

Philosophical Arguments    

Erskine contra Locke                                        

The Independence of the Faculties                    

Erskine’s Epistemology                                     

Philosophical Sources                                        

Win, Lose, or Draw   

The Body of Christ                                            

The Body of the Christian                                 

The Testimony of Creation                                

Chapter 5 A Final Confrontation

Images and Thought 



Images and Idols      






Images and Preaching        

The Puritan Ideal                                              

Affectionate Application                                    

Crucial Questions                                             


Results of the Study 

Psychology and Conversion                               


Mental Idolatry                                                 


Relevance of the Study      


About the Author