Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment

By Schweitzer, Don | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment


Schweitzer, Don, Anglican Theological Review


Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment. By Avihu Zakai. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2003. xvii + 348 pp. $49.95 (cloth).

In this book, Avihu Zakai, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, analyzes and assesses Jonathan Edwards's understanding of history in relation to competing Enlightenment views and preceding theological views, such as those of Augustine and Edwards's more immediate Protestant forebears. Zakai argues that Edwards's key theological convictions concerning the sovereignty of God arose out of his conversion experience (p. 81). Edward's theology, which imdergirded his preaching and pastoral work, developed as a reasoned apologetic defending these convictions against the challenge of anthropocentric forms of thought characteristic of the Enlightenment. Edwards's understanding of history was also influenced by the revival in Northampton in 1734-1735 and the tradition he inherited of reading Scripture as a blueprint for history. In seeking to understand God's active presence in history and the "little revival," Edwards came to see God's redemptive work advancing in history through successive effusions of the Holy Spirit. This led him to conceive history not as a story of human progress from ignorance to secular enlightenment, but rather as the progressive unfolding of God's redemptive work in the face of multiple forms of sin and evil. This understanding undergirded his critical defense of the Great Awakening in the face of attacks from the religious establishment.

Zakai has produced an important and multifaceted study. It shows that while Edwards repudiated the anthropocentricism of the Enlightenments main currents, he accepted the notion of the possibility of progress, but insisted that progress be measured in terms of the advance of the work of redemption (pp. 233-234). This differentiates Edwards's view of history from Augustine's (p. 161). Like Augustine, Edwards stressed the human need for conversion to God and that the work of redemption could not be completed in history. But unlike Augustine, Edwards affirmed that redemption is not from history, but rather advances through it. …

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