Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths

By Gerald R. McDermott | Go to book overview

2

EDWARDS S WAR AGAINST
ENLIGHTENMENT RELIGION

Deism was the religion of the Enlightenment. Of course it was not the only religion of the Enlightenment. Both Locke and Newton, for example, departed from orthodox Christology without discarding what deism rejected -- the inspiration of the Bible.1 But deism was the religion that took the Enlightenment presupposition of intellectual autonomy most seriously. And it was deism that most effectively transmitted Enlightenment religious sensibilities to later generations.

Jonathan Edwards recognized, perhaps more acutely than any other American thinker in the eighteenth century, that if Christian thinking seriously entertained the most elemental deist presumptions, the Reformed faith would collapse. To him deism epitomized the most pernicious philosophical and theological trends of his day. He also believed, rightly or wrongly, that it was actually tempting the minds of his colonial compatriots. As a result he dedicated his career to its destruction. In his philosophical treatises he set out to explode the arguments of the deists. In his theological works he sketched portraits of a religious beauty that would, he hoped, convince observers of the ugliness of the deist alternative.

Ironically, however, deism enjoyed a victory of sorts. By the very gravity of its allegations, it compelled Edwards to reconstruct Reformed theology in ways that would, he thought, respond to its challenges. In significant respects, deism set the agenda. Edwards replied to deist charges with sophistication and often turned deist arguments back against themselves, but usually it was deism not Reformed theology that chose the battleground and set the conditions for victory.

____________________
1
Both took an Arian view of Christ. Arius was an early fourth-century Alexandrian priest who taught that Jesus was more than just a man but less than fully God.

-34-

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Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction - A Strange, New Edwards 3
  • 1 - Deists and the Scandal of Particularity 17
  • 2 - Edwards S War Against Enlightenment Religion 34
  • II - Strategies of Response 53
  • 3 - Our Noblest Faculty 55
  • 4 - Signatures of Divine Majesty 71
  • 5 - Trickle-Down Revelation and Religious Entropy 87
  • 6 - Parables in All Nations Typology and the Religions 110
  • 7 - A Possibility of Reconciliation 130
  • III - Strategies Applied 147
  • 8 - Judaism 149
  • 9 - Islam 166
  • 10 - Greece and Rome 176
  • 11 - American Indians 194
  • 12 - The Chinese Philosophers 207
  • Conclusion - Confounding the Enfightemnent 217
  • Selected Bibliography 229
  • Index 241
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