Douglas A. Sweeney and Oliver D. Crisp
DESPITE THIRTY YEARS of scholarship on Jonathan Edwards’s vast legacy, represented ably in the volume now before you, many continue to assume that his work proved largely feckless till American evangelicals conscripted it for service in the culture wars of the late twentieth century. Even magisterial histories of American Christianity, such as the recent one by Gary Wills, a scholar and media spokesman for religious literati, claim with confidence that in spite of Edwards’s vaunted reputation “he had no great impact on American religious practice or thought”—let alone the practice and thought of people in other parts of the world.1 But as this book has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt, such assumptions cannot last. That impact has been great, both in America and beyond. It has been rural and cosmopolitan, religious, social, and cultural, American, British, broadly Western, and non-Western too. In short, Edwards has become one of the few Protestant leaders who have changed the world forever—through his ministry, his writings, and the labors of his followers.
The contributors to this volume disagree among themselves about how best to interpret the nature, value, and history of Edwards’s legacy. But all agree on this: it has been larger, far more global, and more enduring than we knew—or than we even know today. Edwardsian Calvinism did not decline but flourished in the decades of the early nineteenth century, spreading quickly to Britain and Europe through a network that we might well call the Christian republic of letters,2 and to other parts of the world by means of the modern missions movement (which Edwards himself helped to inspire).3 Indeed, Edwards may well be America’s most popular serious theologian even now.