Atlantic History Jonathan Edwards
by
Mark Valeri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0206

Introduction

A New England pastor and divine, Jonathan Edwards (b. 1703–d. 1758) was a celebrated religious thinker throughout the Atlantic world, well known from Boston to Glasgow. A Calvinist who helped to foster and defend the revivals known as the Great Awakening (1738–1742), he wrote about conversion, the knowledge of God in nature, moral sentiments, biblical history and eschatology, sacramental practices, and human moral competence. The variety of his writings, along with his use of Enlightenment scientific, philosophical, and moral teaching to defend evangelical Calvinism, has produced diverse interpretations. In his own lifetime, his defense of experimental Calvinism drew criticism from contemporaries of a rationalist bent. During the early 19th century, New England Calvinists and British Methodists highlighted his promotion of affective piety and missions. After the rise of Unitarianism and other forms of liberal Protestantism, many American interpreters dismissed him as a brilliant mystic sadly captivated by anachronistic theology. Interest in Edwards waned during the early 20th century (see Conforti 1995 for the history of interpretation, cited under Legacies). After the Second World War, however, the popularity of critical realism and Neo-Orthodox theology suggested a recovery of Edwards, exemplified by Miller 2005 (cited under Biography), as an astute philosopher and social critic. A burst of writings about Edwards’s ethical teachings, focused on beauty and virtue, followed. Influenced by the new social history, religious historians produced important studies of local affairs and his role as a pastor during the 1970s and 1980s. During the late 1980s and 1990s, a cadre of specialists reinvigorated the Yale edition of Edwards (Miller, et al. 1957–2008, cited under Primary Sources) and produced voluminous transcriptions of his manuscript writings. This accompanied a remarkable revival of interest in Edwards, shaped by recent philosophical and theological concerns and by the prominence of Protestant evangelicalism in American public life. This bibliography highlights these postwar developments. It does not include a discrete section on a central issue—Edwards and the Great Awakening—because nearly every book on the Awakening features Edwards and nearly every study of Edwards addresses his support for the revivals, e.g., Marsden 2003 (cited under Biography). Other important issues, such as Edwards as literary artist or his work on missions to Indians, are not given a separate heading. Yet essays on these and other topics are included in many of the anthologies noted here.

Introductory Studies and Overviews

Introductions to Edwards have typically focused on summaries of major theological themes in his writings. Byrd 2008 is a nontechnical yet accurate account of Edwards’s thought, while Smith 1992 presents a more philosophical discussion of discrete themes such as sin or virtue. Cherry 1990 misses much of the latest scholarship yet helpfully sets Edwards’s thought in larger historical context, including the revivals. McClymond and McDermott 2012 attempt an ambitious synthetic account that is more steadfastly theological, arguing for a theologically orthodox Edwards. Driven less by contemporary religious agendas are the three anthologies mentioned here. Lee 2005 presents essays on different theological topics, sometimes quite technical. McDermott 2009 contains introductory essays on themes with responses by European commentators. Stein 2007 offers essays that summarize the latest and best work on Edwards from the vantage of early American religious history, focusing on topics of social import such as revivals, missions, and preaching. Ward 1992 is the best study of the British and European contexts for the American revivals that engaged Edwards.

  • Byrd, James P. Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.

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    A simple, nontechnical introduction to Edwards that covers major themes in a responsible manner. Especially lucid summaries of Edwards on original sin and the nature of virtue.

  • Cherry, Conrad. The Theology of Jonathan Edwards: A Reappraisal. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

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    A well-rounded, accessible introduction that covers major themes from Edwards’s published writings. The “reappraisal” refers to Cherry’s attempt to present Edwards as a Calvinist theologian rather than, as the literature of the mid-20th-century held, a mystic and proto-Romantic. First published in 1974.

  • Lee, Sang Hyun, ed. The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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    Essays by intellectual historians and theologians who provide introductions to and critical commentary on the major theological themes in Edwards’s work. They range from general statements to studies of topics such as ontology, Trinity, providence, free will, grace, the church, typology, eschatology, and missions, with concluding essays on Edwards and the Puritans, and Edwards and American theology.

  • McClymond, Michael J., and Gerald R. McDermott. The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    An introduction to Edwards in the form of an extensive account of major theological themes and Edwards’s influence on subsequent theology, with an exhaustive bibliography in the citations. It stresses the idea of beauty as the key to understanding Edwards’s theological project.

  • McDermott, Gerald R., ed. Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America’s Theologian. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195373431.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Introduces Edwards to nonspecialists with essays by a variety of historians on broad topics such as the Bible, typology, and philosophical theology. Each essay is paired with a brief response or critique essay.

  • Smith, John E. Jonathan Edwards: Puritan, Preacher, Philosopher. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

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    Written by a philosopher of religion who helped with the renaissance of Edwards’s studies during the second half of the 20th century, it provides summaries of the intellectual background to and a discussion of Edwards’s major works on religious affections, the problem of human freedom, original sin, and redemption.

  • Stein, Stephen J., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Intended as a basic introduction, this anthology of essays approaches Edwards through three overarching categories: biography and religious context, the various roles Edwards played (preacher, revivalist, theologian, philosopher, biblical exegete, missionary), and legacy. Each essay offers a splendid overview of Edwards according to key topics.

  • Ward, W. R. The Protestant Evangelical Awakening. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511661075E-mail Citation »

    An influential study of the rise and spread of evangelical or revivalistic Protestantism across Europe, Britain, and America. It sets Edwards in Atlantic context by describing how his thought was related to previous developments such as Continental Pietism, Moravianism, and British efforts toward revival.

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