Jonathan Edwards and the Bible

By McDermott, Gerald R. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Jonathan Edwards and the Bible


McDermott, Gerald R., The Catholic Historical Review


Jonathan Edwards and the Bible. By Robert E. Brown. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2002. Pp. xxi, 292. $35.00.)

Jonathan Edwards's star has been rising among scholars. Recognized widely as America's greatest theologian, he is also cited as America's premier philosopher before the turn of the twentieth century. His Religious Affections (1746) is arguably the most discriminating treatise on spiritual discernment in Christian thought; Perry Miller called it the greatest work of religious psychology ever penned on American soil. Readers of this journal may be interested to know that a recent monograph by Anri Morimoto argues that Edwards's soteriology has more in common with Thomas Aquinas than with Martin Luther (Jonathan Edwards and the Catholic Vision of Salvation, Penn State University Press). Not to mention his influence on such diverse fields as aesthetics, literary theory, history of religions, and of course homiletics.

Amazingly, among the scores of books and hundreds of articles that have appeared in the last century, next to nothing has been done on Edwards's use of the Bible-despite the fact that the Bible was as central to Edwards's vision and literary production as it was to Augustine's or Luther's. Robert Brown's book now helps fill this strange lacuna. But contrary to what the title suggests, this is not about the impact of the Bible on Edwards's thought or spiritual life; nor is it concerned with his use of Scripture in his sermons or even theology. Instead it focuses on Edwards's encounter with nascent biblical criticism, and the result of that encounter for Edwards's understanding of both Scripture and the history of salvation.

Brown explains that the deists sought to discredit the Bible by using early historical criticism to insist that true knowledge is a priori and infallible, as in mathematics. Edwards's response was twofold. First, he charged that the deist definition of rationality was too narrow, excluding the experiential and the spiritual. He claimed that Scripture conveys to the mind not only information but also its beauty, which can be seen only by the spiritually enlightened. Second, he argued that the full truth of Christian faith is known only through historical accounts in the biblical drama of salvation. This understanding then becomes the key to discerning God's activity outside the Bible-hence an eighteenth-century version of what we have lately called narrative theology. …

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