This book began with a startling discovery during my dissertation research in 1987 at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. While wandering in the vast labyrinth of Edwards's sermon and notebook manuscripts -- most of them unpublished and scrawled in a hand that can reduce a scholar to tears- I came upon hundreds of folio pages of Edwards's notes on non-Christian religions. Besides being astonished that this theologian, known for his celebration of Christian particularity, had shown interest in the particularities of other religions, I wondered what this could possibly mean. What was the purpose of these ruminations? How did these religions fit into his theology? What was he planning to do with these notes? They seemed to be building toward something, as if he was collecting data for future use. But for what? And were there other notebooks with similar materials? I copied what I could and began a search that carried me into an enormous trove of fascinating materials from the American colonies and several continents. I came to see that Edwards had joined a spirited discussion that was changing the way many Europeans would think about God, and that he was using this discussion to rethink both Enlightenment religion and his own Reformed tradition. This book tries to explain what I found.
A variation of chapter 11 appeared in the New England Quarterly in December 1999. I am grateful to the editors of the Quarterly for permission to use this material. Other versions of several chapters in this book have also been used for articles in Pro Ecclesia, American Presbyterians, and a chapter in Sang Hyun Lee and Allen C. Guelzo, eds., Edwards in Our Time: Jonathan Edwards and the Shaping of American Religion ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). I am grateful to the editors of these journals and to Eerdmans for permission to draw from these materials.