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Book Review on Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience

Joshua Manning
English 321 - 5M
Dr. Alexander

Hatch, Nathan O., and Harry S. Stout, eds. Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.

Summary of the Scholars' Arguments

Chapter One: Introduction by Nathan O. Hatch and Harry. S. Stout

This chapter introduces us to a few of the writers and their essays. It credits Perry Miller with the recent surge in Edwardsian studies.

Chapter Two: "Jonathan Edwards and America" by Henry F. May

The central focus of May's essay is what Jonathan Edwards has meant to the different eras and genres of American scholars. He claims, "[W]e all look at Edwards from where we are, and . . . this will always be so" (21).

He begins by exploring the Edwards of his disciples. He shows their complete devotion to Edwards, going as far as to call him the "second Paul" (21) and saying, "[W]e almost fear to be called profane for lisping a word against the perfect balance of his character" (22).

During the Enlightenment, however, the attitude changed. According to May, Edwards was looked at as a cruel and despicable man. May explores the attitudes of many American personalities from John Adams ("Edwards . . . reasoning [is] high in pandemonium . . problematic" [22].) to Samuel Clemens (he called Edwards a "drunken lunatic" and his work a "resplendent intellect gone mad" [23]).

May then argues that during the early twentieth century, there was a patronization of Edwards. The attitude of the time considered Edwards a talented but tragic figure. Henry Bamford Parkes is quoted as saying Edwards lacked the wisdom to reject "the dark stream of Calvinism" (25) and "in spite of his patriotism he was not really an American" (Ibid.).

Next is the attitude of the war and Holocaust. Edwards is seen as a modern or postmodern intellectual by scholars such as Perry Miller. Following this is the neo-orthodox movement of the '30s, '40s, and '50s when scholars such as Reinhold Niebuhr sees Edwards "not as a precursor of modern existentialism, but a serious theologian in the tradition of Augustine and Calvin" (27). In the 1950s, there was a mass revival of religion that, claims May, countered the neo-orthodox movement and led to a reemphasis on Edwards as a critical revivalist. Finally, during the current revival of evangelical Protestantism, Edwards is seen as a serious and devoted student of the millennium.

Chapter Three: "Edwards, Franklin, and Cotton Mather: A Meditation on Character and Reputation" by Davis Levin

Levin compares Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather, and Benjamin Franklin in an attempt to bring appreciation to Edwards's individuality.

Levin begins by saying Edwards is seems detached from his work. Edwards is able to describe "phenomena in his soul or psyche without calling great attention to his personality" (35). Levin argues that Franklin and Mather tend to write "self-consciously, cannily, perhaps insincerely" (Ibid.) and that they have manipulative personalities.

He then claims Edwards shares many of the same traits (self-justification, admonition, false modesty, elaborate decorum, etc.) as Mather and questions how Edwards has escaped much of the foul attitude bestowed on Mather. He also believes all three men wrote about their own pride and ambition while trying to control them by tying them to virtue or public service.

He concludes by saying that they all strove "ingeniously, ambitiously, resolutely for the public good or the glory of God" and "shared values and qualities of character that marked them as fellow American Puritans" (47).

Chapter Four: "The Recovery of Jonathan Edwards" by Donald Weber

In this essay, Weber argues that Edwards is more than just a preacher, philosopher, theologian, ethicist, or religious psychologist. He is a figure in cultural history. He then explores the attempts of Samuel Hopkins, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., Oliver Wendell Holmes, and H. Richard Niebuhr to explain and interpret Edwards's ideas.

Chapter Five: "The Rationalist Foundation of Jonathan Edwards's Metaphysics" by Norman Fiering

Fiering starts his essay by exploring the philosophy of John Locke. He says Locke was very mistrustful of metaphysical speculation and actually wrote to show the limits of human understanding. He argues that Locke's "self-imposed intellectual asceticism" style of writing would leave most of today's readers unsatisfied (75).

After this, he claims that though Edwards may have been influenced by the kind of style Locke uses to argue, many of Locke's ideas are very much different from Edwards's. He says, "[I]t is misleading to categorize Edwards as a Lockean, especially when this categorization implies - along the lines of the familiar but questionable dichotomy - that Edwards is allied with the English empiricists as opposed to the Continental rationalists" (75), and that many of Edwards's ideas can be "traced to intellectual principles and trends that long antedated Locke's Essay and in fact had essentially theological roots" (77). He believes that Edwards should not be labeled with Locke, but with Locke's rivals John Norris, Nicolas Malebranche, and Bishop Berkely. He points out that Edwards, along with these other men, meets the basic criteria for a philosopher of the genre of Continental metaphysics, and that Locke simply does not. These characteristics are as follows: "the denial that certain kinds of causal relations obtain (between matter and spirit, spirit and matter, or matter and matter); the attribution of considerable metaphysical importance to the problem of such relations; and the belief that the standard of knowledge is strict demonstration based upon intuition and deduction" (Ibid.).

Fiering then goes into detail about the five general principles, or attitudes, which tend to surface in Edwards's works. They are "the affirmation of total divine

sovereignty . . .; a belief in divine concurrence in events and in the continuous conservation and re-creation of the existing world; a commitment to teleology at the ultimate level of explanation . . . ; acceptance of the Neoplatonic typological system that posited [sic] divine archetypes and ectypal representations on earth; and the rejection of the Cartesian position that the essence of matter is extension" (78). He then explains that though none of these ideas are exclusively Edwards's, they are nowhere near Locke's.

He later asks the question of how Edwards ever began being compared to Locke at all. He decides that it has been incorrectly assumed that Edwards's immaterialism derived from "Locke's sensationalist epistemology" (88).

Chapter Six: "Jonathan Edwards's Pursuit of Reality" by Wilson H. Kimnach

Wilson Kimnach argues that Edwards's "great test of mind and character . . . was, from the start, concerned not so much with the truth of doctrine, as with its reality" (103). He claims Edwards wanted religion to be more than an idea, but an "experience" (Ibid.). Kimnach says what separates Edwards from other Puritan preachers is not in "the mere pious soul-searching . . . though that is there, nor the fevered ambition of the bright young man on the rise, though that is there too, but the manifold reaching and grasping after a multitude of diverse particular thoughts, impulses, and experiences that apparently represented so many potential openings into the complex edifice of life" (Ibid.). He argues that Edwards's purpose "was not merely to collect data on nature or to speculate endlessly upon theological abstrusities. Rather, Edwards early launched upon a series of imaginative speculations concerning the constitutions of natural world, with the idea of decisively ascertaining God's relation to his physical creation" (104).

Kimnach argues that "reality is a matter of relationship for Edwards: the higher the truth the greater the extent of relationships involved [sic]" (106). He shows how Edwards attempted to bridge the imaginative gap that separates the eternal world of spiritual reality from the Lockean world of sensation in which natural men live (113). He explains that Edwards goal was to bring people as close as possible to this reality. Kimnach says that Edwards's "entire effort as a preacher was thus to enlarge the scope of individual awareness" as "he strove to reestablish the authority of the Christian vision and to refresh the language of orthodoxy" (116).

Chapter Seven: "The Spirit and the Word: Jonathan Edwards and Scriptural Exegesis" by Stephen Stein

Stein begins by defining two different approaches to studying the Bible. He says there is a "critical" approach in which "the narrative, the reality, and the meaning [become] separable" (118). The other is the "precritical" approach which "rested on a 'strongly realistic' reading of the narratives as literally and historically reliable" (Ibid.).

After this, Stein divides Edwards works into four categories with four different audiences. The largest category is Edwards's personal commentary of the Bible which was written in private notebooks for his personal use. The next largest is Edwards's actual sermons, written for his congregations in New York, Northampton, Stockbridge, and elsewhere. The third is works of extensive biblical argumentation which had been published for his contemporaries in the theological world. The fourth and final group is Edwards's notes for future publications, also for his contemporaries. Stein argues that in these works, Edwards takes a precritical approach to biblical study, finding it "impossible to separate the acts of study, reflection, application, argumentation, and speculation" (122).

Stein then begins to praise Edwards saying, "Despite the quantity of his writings on the Bible, there is an amazing paucity of serious scholarship dealing with it" (123). He then goes on to explore Edwards's masterful skill in his biblical writings. Stein concludes by saying Edwards's "quest for a 'fuller understanding' pushed him to another spiritual level of meaning. In his own way he was beginning to separate the narrative, the reality, and the meaning . . . [, yet] defended mightily his liberal construction of typology" (128).

Chapter Eight: "History, Redemption, and the Millennium" by John F. Wilson

This paper deals less with Jonathan Edwards himself than with the ways his ideas and teachings have been put to use by those who have interpreted his work. Wilson follows these interpretations from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century.

Chapter Nine: "The Puritans and Edwards" by Harry S. Stout

Harry S. Stout begins his essay by comparing the arguments of historians such as Vernon Parrington and Perry Miller. Parrington, Stout argues, lumped the Puritans and Edwards together as "one continuos and repressive 'anachronism' retarding America's progress to enlightened liberalism" (142). Miller fell on the opposite end of the spectrum. He believed that "Edwards was so far ahead of his time that our own is barely catching up" (Ibid.).

Stout shows Miller's theory of there being two branches of Puritans - the "rationalists," who emphasized "corporate morality and God's outward covenant with New England" (143), and the "evangelicals," who rejected this "federal theology" and "focused their preaching solely on personal salvation and the life to come" (Ibid.). Miller argues that Edwards falls into the group of evangelicals. Stout then claims Miller is wrong in this assumption. He explains that Edwards was, in fact, "every bit the federal theologian that his Puritan predecessors were" (Ibid.). He also argues that these evangelicals also "generally accepted the federal logic and applied it to their own New England in times of great national trial and stress" (Ibid.). Several sermons by Edwards which were written during times of war and other national and local crises are analyzed to prove this thesis.

He concludes by saying this Puritan attitude ("If we obey God, we shall be blessed; if we disobey God, we shall be cursed.") still exists today. He says, "Edwards helped perpetuate that quintessentially Puritan notion of a righteous city set upon a hill for all the world to see. That notion apparently has yet to run its course. In this sense, we continue to inhabit a world formed largely by the Puritans and Edwards" (157).

Chapter Ten: "'A Flood of Errors': Chauncy and Edwards in the Great Awakening" by Amy Schrager Lang

Here Lang explores the differences in the Puritanism of Charles Chauncy and that of Jonathan Edwards. She argues Chauncy believed "Edwards suffered from a dangerous tendency toward moderation" (160). She explains Chauncy argued salvation to come from a righteous lifestyle, whereas Edwards was convinced salvation was dependent on a condition of the heart.

Chapter Eleven: "Piety and Moralism: Edwards and the New Divinity" by William Breitenbach

Breitenbach argues that it has been wrongly assumed that there were two types of Puritans during Edwards's day - the Arminians and the Antinomians. He describes the Arminians as the legalistic, dogmatic sect of the Puritans. They believed in very rigid steps one must take to achieve salvation. The Antinomians, on the other hand, followed the "Grace Alone" doctrine. The Arminians argued for free-will, while the Antinomians claimed God predestined a person's life. Breitenbach then explains that neither of these schools of thought wear able to "comprehend the aims and achievements of the Edwardian school of theologians" (178). He claims there was actually a third and more dominant theological tradition in New England - a moderate combination of the two. He says, "It is wrong to see Edwards as sweeping aside a compromised federal theology in order to restore a severe, uncorrupted, theocentric Calvinism. Rather he and his followers occupied the familiar middle ground, defending it against the extremes of the Antinomianism and Arminiansim" (179).

Chapter Twelve: "Calvinism and Consciousness from Edwards to Beecher" by James Hoops

James Hoops explores the possibility that Edwards is not as great a thinker as many claim him to be. He argues that Edwards not only "seem[s] naive as to the conflicting impulses and tangled motivations of human beings" (206), but that Edwards sounds simplistic when measured against the standards of both earlier and later eras.

Hoopes then compares Edwards and Locke, arguing that Edwards was an "opponent of Lockean empiricism, which he believed to be a threat to traditional religion at many points" (209).

The author then begins to explain Edwards's metaphysics and other theological doctrines such as Original Sin and Freedom of Will. After this he discusses the disciples of Edwards, such as Samuel Hopkins and Nathaniel Emmons, who, as he argues, "unwittingly played into enemy hands by accepting the Lockean notion of the soul" (215).

Chapter Thirteen: "Jonathan Edwards as a Figure in Literary History" by David Laurence

David Laurence contemplates Edwards's place in American literary history. He argues this task is made even more difficult when one realizes there are "multiple Edwardses" (226) to deal with, along with the many different scholarly audiences to whom Edwards writes. The personalities of Edwards are, in Laurences opinion, the Christian rationalist, the thoroughly precritical biblical scholar, the evangelical preacher of sermons, and the religious psychologist of the Faithful Narrative and the Religious Affections. He believes there is a "printed Edwards" and a "manuscript Edwards"; a "wholly representative of Puritanism in New England" and a "unique original" (226). He argues, "The proper name designates not a unified oeuvre but a heterogeneous collection of jottings, notebooks, sermons, and treatises - a tangled diversity about which we come to feel less than confident that it all springs from a single, self-identical center" (226). He states Edwards is a "massive feature in the intellectual and cultural terrain, yet one that has long since ceased to be active or have any obvious role in the literary history" (227).

Laurence then poses the question of what exactly American literature is and explores deeply Edwards's place in it.

Chapter Fourteen: "Jonathan Edwards and American Philosophy" by Bruce Kuklick

Bruce Kuklick explores Edwards's place in American philosophy. He believes Edwards to be the "foundation stone in the history of American philosophy" and "the rock on which [this] philosophy has been built" (246).

The essay first looks at the conventional view of American philosophy, pointing out its weaknesses. Kuklick argues that America's philosophy has lacked consistency. He says this is best reflected in "reading lists and syllabi for undergraduate courses" (247). He complains America's philosophy lacks the "consistence of studies of German idealism, British empiricism, Greek naturalism or other . . . philosophical traditions" (248).

He also complains of the lack of continuity in American philosophy. He says it "fails to link all its parts," not clarifying "the ambiguous and complicated relation between religion and politics in the late eighteenth century" (248).

Kuklick then explores Edwards's ideas and teachings as they evolve "from Calvinism to liberalism in Trinitarianism" (251) until they finally give way to the philosophy we now have today.

He believes Edwards achievements should survive even longer for future generations to enjoy. Though they may not, as he argues, have the same function and meaning today as in centuries past, he argues "[a] brick can serve as a cornerstone in any number of buildings" (258).

Chapter Fifteen: "Jonathan Edwards and Nineteenth Century Theology" by Mark A. Noll

Mark Noll explores the legacy of Edwards in the nineteenth century. He looks at revivalist Charles Finney and scholars such as Nathaniel Taylor and Edwards Amasa Park as they separately claim and fight for the right to wear Edwards's mantel. He then spends some time looking at several scholars and holy men who reject Edwards's ideas such as Charles Chauncy and Henry Tappan.

Analysis of the Works Value

What did I learn that I didn't already know?

This book taught me many things. One of the major things I realized is the many differences of opinions on Edwards. It seems as if no two authors agreed. Yes, many thought him to be a great man and even greater thinker, but what that exactly meant varied greatly. Some authors argued the scholarly world should devote more energy to Edwards; others seemed to be saying there are more important writers to study. One quote in particular stands out in my mind. In chapter seven, Stephen Stein said, "Despite the quantity of his writings on the Bible, there is an amazing paucity of serious scholarship dealing with it" (123). I had to actually stop reading and think about the implications of this statement. It seems to me that Stein may have inadvertently offended many Christian readers. It's almost as if he is making the assumption that it is very difficult to get scholarly work when dealing with biblical material. This assumption is very ignorant when one considers all the scholarly writings coming out of Christian backgrounds such as the writings of William Bradford and, of course, Paradise Lost.

I also learned of the interesting "battle" between the Arminians and the Antinomians which is explained earlier in this paper. The amazing thing is that this battle still exists today. There is a general opinion in many Christian sects that some denominations concentrate too much on traditions and sacraments while others develop the "John 3:16 syndrome, ("For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." NIV) believing all one must do is simply believe that Christ is the Son of God to attain forgiveness. (I personally believe this whole issue can be resolved when one follows the words of Jesus in Mark 12 when He proclaims that the greatest commandment is to love God with all one's heart, soul, mind, and strength. I believe that if one truly does this, then repentance and a moral lifestyle is sure to follow.)

What did I learn that I needed to know?

One of the most important things I learned from this dealt with Edwards's metaphysics. Several authors mentioned it, but none dug very deeply into it except Norman Fiering's "The Rationalist Foundations of Jonathan Edwards's Metaphysics." Metaphysics not being a word I dealt with very much while growing up, I turned to a dictionary to discover what this word actually meant. I discovered that it is the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of being and knowledge and the essential nature of reality. This knowledge then helped me to understand a huge chunk of what these scholars were talking. In short, Edwards believed that God did not just create the universe and sit back and watch, but He sustains the universe and is continually recreating it. Edwards used this theory to justify many of his doctrines such as original sin.

Another argument that was frequently made and is important to all students of American literature is the claim that Edwards and Locke should not be considered to be of the same mind-set. I have heard it argued that much of Edwards philosophy falls in line with Locke's humanistic theory that the mind is a blank canvas. The contrast of opinions can be shown by digging no further than Edwards's original sin doctrine, which states that Adam's sin of disobedience to God is a generational curse which plagues man even today, pulling us down and giving us intuitively evil desires to continue in the rebellion against God.

How effective did the scholar present the material?

The effectiveness varied with each author. Some authors had very clear cut arguments which were thoroughly entertaining and extremely interesting. I would read other essays for pages and still not completely be sure what the essay was supposed to be dealing with.

How did the author enhance the presentation?

The authors all seemed to follow the basic essay format. Many of them used various sources, and their main theses were well supported with significant, scholarly quotes.

Did the author include any illustrations, graphs, chronologies, appendices?

This book included none of the above mentioned teaching devices. The format was strictly a collection of essays dealing with Rev. Edwards.

Annotated Bibliography

Brown, Robert E. "Edwards, Locke, and the Bible." Journal of Religion 79.3 (1999): 361-74

Brown explores exactly what the influence of Locke on Edwards is. He finds that though many ideas are not the same, the mode of thinking is. He says, "Edwards's appropriation of Locke's thought and the intellectual tradition from which it stems provides important evidence of the specific impact of critical thought on colonial American biblical interpretation" (361). He says that Edwards "set out to thwart the implications of Locke's empiricism" (366) by "presenting a philosophical argument . . . based on Locke's empiricism itself" (Ibid.) He argues that "Edwards was heavily Lockean in his epistemology and psychology," (Ibid.) and yet the "treatment of the sources of the materials of knowledge [by Locke] [was] inadequate in the area of man's knowledge of God" (Ibid.).

Gilpin, W. Clark. "'Inward, Sweet Delight in God': Solitude in the Career of Jonathan Edwards." Journal of Religion 82.4 (2000): 523-391.

Gilpin looks at the spiritual discipline of solitude as it is incorporated in the life of Jonathan Edwards. He argues that the "theology of solitude" (524) transformed Edwards and his vision of the world. He shows how "solitary spiritual disciplines, such as reading and walking, interact with visionary images of solitude in nature so as mutually to reinforce one another" (Ibid.) and "provide the religious context for Edwards's intellectual project as a theologian" (Ibid.).

Hall, Richard A. Spurgeon. "The Religious Ethics of Edward Bellamy and Jonathan Edwards." Utopian Studies. 8.2 (1997): 13-27.

Hall explores the idea that Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan preacher of hell-fire and brimstone, was possibly an influence on the Transcendental humanist Edward Bellamy. He argues that there is a "striking thematic continuity between them," (15) the theme of "philosophical individualism" or "altruistic egoism" Ibid.). He says, "Though they both hold the individual person to be inviolable, the individualism they espouse is far from being incompatible with the public interest" (Ibid.) He says the similarities in their ideas give them a "fundamental spiritual kinship" (25).

Vaughn, William. "Orality, Divinity, Sublimity: Jonathan Edwards and the Ethics of Incorporation." College Literature 28.1 (2001): 127-42.

Vaughn traces Edwards's thoughts through Personal Narrative, Religious Affections, and The Nature of True Virtue. He argues that "among these three texts, one can see Edwards working out phenomenology of the sublime, by turns as subjective account, then as theoretical model, and finally as an ethic of responsibility" (129). He also compares Edwards to antinomianists such as Anne Hutchinson and Ralph Waldo Emerson because "[a]ny faith premised on an unmediated relationship to God necessarily sows the seeds of some kind of individualism" (128).

Wilson, Stephen A. "The Possibility of a Habituation Model of Moral Development in Jonathan Edwards's Conception of the Will's Freedom." Journal of Religion 81.1 2001): 49-61.

Wilson begins his essay with a contrast of the ancient philosopher Aristotle and the thirteenth century theologist Thomas Aquanis. He then introduces as a "'fresh face' into the arena" to "force issues central to the 'second wave' of virtue ethics through the recalcitrance of Aristotle and Aquanis scholarship" (49). He says Edwards has a "destabilizing role" (Ibid.) in this argument. He then begins to explain how "Edwards's metaphysics of freedom might play itself out in the practical realm" (50). He then goes on to argue how "this account is substantial enough to support a habitual model of moral development akin to Aristotle's" (Ibid.). He concludes by discussing the advantages of including Edwards in the "second wave" of virtue ethics.