Before the Young, Restless,
EDWARDS’S APPEAL TO POST–WORLD WAR II
D. G. Hart
HAD JOSEPH A. Conforti written his thoughtful book Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture (1995) in 2010, he would have had to add at least a chapter and possibly reorganize his material. When Conforti wrote his study of the reception of Edwards’s thought and writings since the revolutionary era, the most visible effort to recover and maintain the legacy was Yale University Press’s critical edition of the Massachusetts pastor’s works. Indeed, the original director of the Yale project, Perry Miller, makes only a cameo appearance in Conforti’s epilogue as an example of midtwentiethcentury existentialist, American studies, and neo-orthodox invocations of Edwards, whose speculative and philosophically engaged Calvinist theology gave American academics an ample leash to appropriate the Massachusetts pastor for a culture that had plenty of reasons to fear a world without a sovereign who was divine. Of course, the tercentenary of Edwards’s birth in 2003 would change the editorial landscape.
But aside from the outpouring of books and dissertations inspired by the anniversary of Jonathan’s birth to Timothy and Esther on October 5, 1703, was the rise of a cohort of evangelicals dubbed by one of its members as “young, restless, and reformed.” Adolescents and young adults were flocking to inspirational conferences where, after singing rock ‘n’ roll inspired praise songs, they listened to middle-aged pastors and teachers speak about the transcendence and glory of God in ways inspired by Edwards and the Puritans more