Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths

By Gerald R. McDermott | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

A Strange, New Edwards

Eighty years ago Karl Barth stunned Europe with his re-presentation of the "strange, new world" of the Bible.1 For two hundred and fifty years Jonathan Edwards has horrified readers with his description of a god who dangles sinners by a spider-thread over the flames of hell. Few have known that this most famous sermon in American history was rather uncharacteristic of Edwards, who was obsessed not by the wrath of the divine but by its beauty. Fewer still have known his declaration that those whom terror has driven to religion are probably unconverted.2 Most have assumed that for Edwards only Christians -- and perhaps only Calvinist Christians -- had religious truth.

They have assumed wrongly. This book is about a strange, new Edwards unfamiliar to generations of readers and scholars. It is the story of America's most frightening preacher who -- strangely -- was fascinated by other religions and religious others. It will startle those who know Edwards from their American literature surveys to learn that he believed there was true revelation from God in non-Christian religions. Those who have been schooled in the stereotypical Edwards will find it even more remarkable that he believed that some non-Christians worshiped, perhaps without knowing it, the true god.3 A son of the Enlightenment who adopted

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1
Karl Barth, "The Strange, New World within the Bible", in Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man, 28-50.
2
This is the clear implication of the eighth "negative" sign and second and third "positive" signs of true religious affections. See RA, 155-57, 240-53, 253-66.
3
An Humble Inquiry into the Rules of the Word of God, Concerning the Qualifications Requisite to a Complete Standing and Full Communion in the Visible Christian Church, in EccW, 300.

-3-

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