Jonathan Edwards' Philosophy of History: The Re-Enchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment

Jonathan Edwards' Philosophy of History: The Re-Enchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment

Jonathan Edwards' Philosophy of History: The Re-Enchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment

Jonathan Edwards' Philosophy of History: The Re-Enchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment

Synopsis

Avihu Zakai analyzes Jonathan Edwards's redemptive mode of historical thought in the context of the Enlightenment. As theologian and philosopher, Edwards has long been a towering figure in American intellectual history. Nevertheless, and despite Edwards's intense engagement with the nature of time and the meaning of history, there has been no serious attempt to explore his philosophy of history. Offering the first such exploration, Zakai considers Edwards's historical thought as a reaction, in part, to the varieties of Enlightenment historical narratives and their growing disregard for theistic considerations. Zakai analyzes the ideological origins of Edwards's insistence that the process of history depends solely on God's redemptive activity in time as manifested in a series of revivals throughout history, reading this doctrine as an answer to the threat posed to the Christian theological teleology of history by the early modern emergence of a secular conception of history and the modern legitimation of historical time. In response to the Enlightenment refashioning of secular, historical time and its growing emphasis on human agency, Edwards strove to re-establish God's preeminence within the order of time. Against the de-Christianization of history and removal of divine power from the historical process, he sought to re-enthrone God as the author and lord of history--and thus to re-enchant the historical world. Placing Edwards's historical thought in its broadest context, this book will be welcomed by those who study early modern history, American history, or religious culture and experience in America.

Excerpt

Recent years have seen a flow of fresh and stimulating scholarly works devoted to the thought, influence, and relevance of Jonathan Edwards, whom Perry Miller called 'the greatest philosopher-theologian yet to grace the American scene.' Edwards is now widely recognized as America's most important theologian, and he is no less celebrated as a prominent philosopher, ethicist, and moralist. Given such prominence in the life of the mind in America, it is not surprising that many studies have attempted to assess Edwards's impact on his own time, his influence on later generations, and the legacy he bequeathed to Protestant religious culture in America. Edwards's theology and philosophy are still a matter of great scholarly interest today, and recent studies have dealt with almost every aspect of his thought. Strangely enough, however, so far there has been no serious attempt to explore Edwards's philosophy of history and to analyze the content and form of his distinct mode of historical thought.

The present study examines Edwards's sense of time and vision of history. It analyzes the development of Edwards's historical consciousness and the ideological context of his philosophy of salvation history. This dimension in Edwards's intellectual life demands serious attention. Without it much of his philosophy and theology would be unintelligible, and the significance he accorded to his actions, as well as the ultimate secred historical meaning he attached to his own time, as evidenced by his decisive role in initiating, advancing, and promoting the Great Awakening, would remain uncomprehended. Edwards was the American Augustine, not least because like the church father he formulated a singular philosophy of history that exercised great influence on subsequent Christian generations and greatly conditioned their historical consciousness. in Edwards's case, his evangelical historiography had an abiding importance for American Protestant culture. His History of the Work of Redemption was the most popular manual of Calvinist theology in the nineteenth century. One of the main reasons for the great success of this work was that Edwards placed revival at the center of salvation history, habituating American Protestants to see religious awakening as the essence of providential history and the main manifestation of divine agency in worldly time. This evangelical theodicy of history signified that the heart of history is the revival, through which the Spirit of God consistently advances the work of redemption. So defined, these awakenings are the exclusive domain of God's will and power, and hence beyond the reach of human . . .

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