Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America's Theologian

Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America's Theologian

Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America's Theologian

Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America's Theologian

Synopsis

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) is widely recognized as America's greatest religious mind. A torrent of books, articles, and dissertations on Edwards have been released since 1949, the year that Perry Miller published the intellectual biography that launched the modern explosion of Edwards studies.This collection offers an introduction to Edwards's life and thought, pitched at the level of the educated general reader. Each chapter serves as a general introduction to one of Edwards's major topics, including revival, the Bible, beauty, literature, philosophy, typology, and even world religions.Each is written by a leading expert on Edwards's work. The book will serve as an ideal first encounter with the thought of "America's theologian."

Excerpt

Gerald R. McDermott

At one point toward the middle of my time in grad school, I was rummaging around for a dissertation topic. I had been planning, tentatively, to write about the intersection of religion and politics (which scholars then called “civil religion”) in the antebellum period (the period before the Civil War). As I searched through the writings of pastors and theologians and other intellectuals during the period, I was struck by a common theme that seemed to pop up everywhere. Nearly everyone seemed to refer to “the great President Edwards” (he had been president of the College of New Jersey—the later Princeton), and many of the theologians insisted they were simply carrying on what President Edwards had started. Even when they weren’t!

In other words, if you were a pastor or theologian back then and wanted to gain a hearing, you had to claim the mantle of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) to be considered legitimate. This wasn’t true of everyone, or of every school of theology, but it was surprising to see that even those who clearly rejected important parts of Edwards’s thinking, such as Charles Finney, nevertheless felt compelled to claim connections to Edwards and his theology.

So I decided that if I was to understand antebellum America, I would have to go back almost a century, to the mid-eighteenth century, to learn what this towering figure had to say. I imagined I could spend a week or two there, get control of Edwardsian basics, and then return to more interesting things in the nineteenth century.

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