“A New and Great Business and a Dark Cloud”: Reflecting on the Death of Jonathan Edwards. By John T. Lowe.

On March 22, 1758, Jonathan Edwards took his final breaths. A little over a month prior, he was installed as President of the College of New Jersey (what is now Princeton).[1] His son-in-law, Aaron Burr, had died, leaving the position vacant. Reluctant take this “new and great business,” Edwards did so with wise counsel. There, in the town of Princeton, smallpox had been rampant in the surrounding areas. Always wanting to do what was best for his family, Edwards decided he and his family should receive inoculation—the new and risky way of combating the smallpox epidemic.[2] On February 23, William Shippen, a well-known physician from Philadelphia, agreed to adminiGravesster the inoculation and oversee their recovery. After a few days everything seemed to be fine. Esther and her children had begun recovering, but Edwards had contracted smallpox inside of his mouth and throat.[3] After weeks of a fever and starvation from being unable to swallow, Edwards knew his time had come to an end. His daughter Lucy who was caring for him recorded his last words:

Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now likely to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father, who will never fail you.[4]

There, in his short time, at Princeton, Edwards died in the afternoon on March 22, 1758.[5] As he expired, Shippen wrote his wife Sarah assuring her of his peaceful death. He wrote:

And never did any mortal man more fully and clearly evidence the sincerity of all his professions, by one continued, universal, calm, cheerful resignation, and patient submission to the divine will, through every stage of his disease, than he; no so much as one discontented expression, nor the least appearance of murmuring through the whole. And never did any person expire with more perfect freedom from pain;–not so much as distorted hair—but in the most proper sense of the words, he really fell asleep.[6]

Sarah, still on the frontier in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, received the news of her husband’s passing and shone herself equally pious and resolved. To their daughter Esther, Sarah wrote,

What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. Oh that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.[7]

While these words would have comforted her in the midst of losing her husband and father within the span of months, Esther never saw the letter. Sixteen days after Edwards died, Esther had been suffering from a fever unrelated to smallpox and also died. If that had not already been enough heart ache to the Edwards family, Sarah had traveled to get her grandchildren only to die from dysentery on October 2 in Philadelphia.[8] The Edwards family had been broken.

Marsden reminds us, Edwards had “spent his whole life preparing to die.”[9] Despite his many imperfections, he aspired to know God and for others to know the same “beauties” and “excellencies” that he discovered. Even in his final moments, Edwards was instructing to “submit cheerfully to the will of God” and to “seek a Father who will never fail.” What began as an “inward sweet sense” of new birth did not end with his death, but instead had bloomed full force. Shippen observing Edwards’ passing stated, “Death had certainly lost its sting.”[10]

FOOTNOTES

[1] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 491.

[2] Ibid., 493.

[3] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 493.

[4] Quoted in Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 494. The original manuscript is William Shippen to Sarah Edwards, March 22, 1758 held at Andover Newton Theological Seminary, transcribed by George Claghorn.

[5] Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 494.

[6] Quoted in Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 494. The original manuscript is William Shippen to Sarah Edwards, March 22, 1758 held at Andover Newton Theological Seminary, transcribed by George Claghorn.

[7] Sereno E. Dwight, Life of President Edwards. In The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol.1, ed. Edwards Hickman, xi-ccxxxiv, 1834. Reprint, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), clxxix.

[8] Whitney, Finding God in Solitude, 73.

[9] Ibid., 490.

[10] Quoted in Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 494. The original manuscript is William Shippen to Sarah Edwards, Ma.rch 22, 1758 held at Andover Newton Theological Seminary, transcribed by George Claghorn.

Author Interview: Brandon Crawford – Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement

EdwardsStudies is talking today with Brandon Crawford, the author of the new book Jonathan Edwards on the Atonement: Understanding the Legacy of America’s Greatest Theologian published by Wipf and Stock. Brandon, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am 33 years old, and I serve as a pastor in Marshall, Michigan. I hold an M.Div. and a Th.M. in Reformation and Post-Reformation Theology. My wife, Melanie, and I will celebrate our 11-year anniversary this June, and we have two children—Daniel and Sarah. I love reading, writing, stargazing, visiting sites of historical importance, and spending time with my family.Brandon Crawford

So, how did you get started studying Jonathan Edwards? 

I tell the full story in the preface of my book. In short, my interest in Jonathan Edwards was ignited during my freshmen year of college after reading John Piper’s book, Desiring God. While I wasn’t sure I liked the term “Christian Hedonism,” the overall message of Piper’s book really resonated with me. On the back cover there was an endorsement from J. I. Packer that said, “Jonathan Edwards, whose ghost walks through most of Piper’s pages, would be delighted with his disciple.” If Piper was getting his inspiration from Jonathan Edwards, I knew I needed to study Edwards too. I began with a couple biographies of Edwards, and then turned to his own writings. I began with his famous treatise, The End for which God Created the World, and went on from there. That was about 15 years ago. I have been a disciple of Edwards ever since.

Where are you doing ministry right now? 

I was ordained in August of 2010, and was installed as the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Marshall, Michigan, immediately thereafter. I have been at Grace ever since.

So give us the overall picture of your book. 

Jonathan Edwards had no true intellectual successors, but he did leave behind a group of admirers now known as the “Edwardeans” or “New Divinity” men. Without exception, these New Divinity men rejected the penal substitutionary view of Christ’s atonement in favor of a view that sees Christ’s death merely as a penal example. So the perennial question is, “To what extent did Jonathan Edwards influence the New Divinity toward this view?”One reason for the continuing debate on this question is the paucity of secondary literature examining Edwards’s doctrine of atonement on its own terms. This is where my book comes in. My aim was to provide a thorough presentation of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement as revealed in his collected works, with the goal of (1) filling that lacuna in our understanding of Edwards’s doctrinal perspective; (2) generating interest in this subject from other authors; (3) settling the question of Edwards’s influence on the New Divinity; and (3) stirring greater interest in the doctrine of atonement in general.The first three chapters of the book offer a brief history of the doctrine of atonement from the Apostolic Fathers to the Age of Enlightenment. The remaining four chapters explore Edwards’s own doctrinal perspective. A concluding chapter offers a few summary thoughts.

Do you think you turned over any stones that haven’t already been turned over by other scholars? 

Thanks to the good work of the scholars at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, most of Jonathan Edwards’s extant writings have been digitized, posted online, and made accessible with a searchable database. This allowed me to scan the massive Edwards corpus for statements on the atonement in a way that has never been possible before. As a result, I was able to offer a more complete survey of Edwards’s doctrine of atonement than anyone before me. I trust that the greater level of information has also led to a greater level of insight.

What drew you to the theme of atonement? 

The gospel is the heart of the Christian faith, and the atonement is the heart of the gospel. No doctrine is more worthy of our reflection, affection, and careful application than this one.

Okay, so what, if anything, does Jonathan Edwards contribute that is unique to our understanding of the biblical doctrine of the Atonement among Reformed theologians? 

Unique to Jonathan Edwards is the way he brings together the concepts of penal substitution and penal example into a single, coherent system. Very briefly, he taught that Adam’s sin involved a twofold offense: he violated God’s law, and he dishonored God himself. As a result, Christ’s atonement necessarily involved a twofold work: he bore sin’s penalty in the sinner’s place, and he publicly vindicated God’s honor through his life and death. The symmetry of his doctrine of atonement is quite stunning. Most Reformed writers tend to emphasize the former at the expense of the latter.

What biblical texts or primary sources does Edwards draw upon in his construct of the Atonement? 

Edwards relies on two sources in constructing his doctrine of atonement: Reason and Revelation. His sermons on Psalm 40:6-8, Isaiah 53, Luke 22:44, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 5:25-27, Hebrews 9:12-14, and Revelation 5:12, along with his works History of the Work of Redemption and Justification by Faith Alone, all contain rich material on Christ’s atonement.

What original sources of his (sermons, treatises etc.) did you primarily consult in his massive corpus? 

The sermons and treatises mentioned previously were very helpful. Additionally, I found quite a bit of information on the atonement in his Miscellanies, Controversies Notebook, Notes on Scripture, and other sermons.

Finally, do you have any books on JE to recommend to our readers? 

I would recommend my book, of course! But beyond that, readers looking for a good devotional biography on Edwards should consult Iain Murray’s classic work Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Those interested in a substantive critical biography should read George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Those who want to start reading the works of Edwards himself should begin with his sermons. They are generally easy to understand, and they are very helpful. Many of them are available online through The Jonathan Edwards Center. After spending some time in his sermons, interested readers could move on to his more taxing works like The End for Which God Created the World and Religious Affections.

 

Video Book Review: Meet the Puritans (Beeke & Pederson)

Today, EdwardsStudies.com is having a look at the excellent volume entitled Meet the Puritans by Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson. This is a wonderful compendium that introduces Edwardseans and other interested readers to the lives and the writings of the great Puritans of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Free Book Giveaway! Volume One “Freedom of the Will” ($125 value).

This month EdwardsStudies.com is giving away Volume One of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, a $125 value. All you have to do is tweet a link to any article on this webpage (EdwardsStudies.com) to your followers on Twitter to enter. Be sure to tag us here at @EdwardsStudies so we know you are interested! Winners will be chose on March 1st, 2017. Watch this video for more info…

Spring 2017: Updates from Ken Minkema

EdwardsStudies.com has a few updates for our readers in the ever-advancing world of Jonathan Edwards-related research and study. Here you go!

1. Study Edwards this Summer at Yale. 

First, the Edwards summer course at Yale has now been announced. It will be entitled, “Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: Free Will and Conversion.” The dates will be June 12-16; from 9:00 – 11:30am. The speakers will be Paul Helm, Ken Minkema, and Adrian Neele. Paul Helm is the special guest instructor; King’s College, London, Emeritus, a renowned expert on Reformed theology and Jonathan Edwards.

To get you excited about Paul Helm as the featured speaker, here is a list of his publications.

yale_harkness_tower

Per Ken Minkema, what follows is the course description:

Jonathan Edwards’ relationship with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century is traditionally viewed as conflicted, condemning many of its aspects and viewing them as antithetical to Christianity. Yet, he embraced many Enlightenment figures and ideas. As part of the ongoing general reassessment of the Enlightenment that stresses the religious nature of the movement, this course, through primary readings by Edwards and contemporary writers and through interpretive literature, will look at Edwards’ thought on a key Enlightenment topic: the nature of the human self, particularly the nature of the will. We will look at how Edwards’ context, the specific challenges he faced, shaped the solutions at which he arrived. Along the way we will consider the debate over whether Edwards, in his formulation of the will, departed from or stayed within Reformed orthodox strictures.

Check out summerstudy.yale.edu for more info.
2. The JE Encyclopedia is Headed to Print! 

Secondly, per Ken Minkema, “The final draft of the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia was submitted to Eerdmans at the end of last year and is currently in production. Preliminary estimates say our newborn will weigh in at 700 pages.” This is excellent news, as well as a very healthy birth-girth! Our opinion is that this will instantly become a classic in the field of Jonathan Edwards studies, and will likely be THE must have work about Edwards for the year 2017. As soon as it becomes available, EdwardsStudies.com will get our hands on a copy to do a full video and written review.

For more information on the Edwards encyclopedia, see our archived interview with Ken Minkema last April. In that interview, Minkema described the JE Encyclopedia as the definitive “go-to source for quick information on a given idea, writing, person, place, or event in Edwards’s life, along with a few sources with which a reader can follow up to further explore.”

3. New V&R Books.

Reminding our readers that the JEC (Jonathan Edwards Study Center at Yale University) has a special deal with Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht in Germany to bring to press a series of new directions in Edwards’ studies. Here is a quick glance at what has already come to print. According to Minkema, the following describes what’s next on the printing press with the JEC/V&R partnership…

The next installment in the “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies” from Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht is Charles Phillips’ Edwards Amasa Park: The Last Edwardsean. Charlie is the National Program Officer with the Maclellan Foundation of Chattanooga, Tenn. An excerpt from his description of the book reads: “Park drew creatively on the intellectual resources at hand to re-cast his inherited orthodox Calvinism in the new conditions of the nineteenth century. The New Rhetoric and common-sense epistemology from the Scottish Enlightenment, methodological principles from the German mediating theologians, the fresh affective sensibilities of his audience as dictated by the bracing stream of Romanticism from England —all were used by Park to create a broadly relevant orthodox synthesis in the innovative spirit of Jonathan Edwards and his theological successors.”

4. Northampton Church Records

Next, our readers might be interested to know that the Northampton Church Records have been scanned and are on line via the “New England’s Hidden Histories” project at the Congregational Library, Boston. Readers can go to congregationallibrary.org and follow the links. Minkema told me that this is the church’s first book, started by Eleazar Mather in 1654, and contains entries by Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards, and John Hooker.

5. Forthcoming Works

Finally, Ken Minkema along with Kyle Strobel, and Adriaan Neele are together working on an Edwards volume for the Classics of Western Spirituality series (published by Paulist Press). This series already contains other works by timeless writers such as Julian of Norwich,  Saint John of the Cross, John and Charles Wesley and many others. The series generally focuses on the great writers in the genres of prayer, piety, and mysticism. This new volume on Edwards will contain some classic texts illustrating Edwards’ piety as well as some “previously unpublished documents.” Can’t wait to see what those might be!

The History of the Work of Redemption: Synopsis

The History of the Work of Redemption (published posthumously in 1773; now Volume IX of the Yale Works), is Jonathan Edwards’ attempt to retell the entire story of human history from the divine perspective of God’s sovereign plan. It is a meta-narrative that intends to cast the unfolding drama of redemptive history as a coherent, divinely driven unity, expressly controlled and compelled by God’s glorious determination. As such, it is unabashedly a theocentric retelling of human history, and a direct counterattack to the prevailing, contemporary Enlightenment view that mankind is driving its own history, propelled by the twin oars of human virtue and innovation.

p1030309

Originally a sermon series preached in 1739, Edwards had great plans for his History. Before his untimely death, Edwards had planned to convert this sermon series, existing now only as a compilation of sermon manuscripts, into a comprehensive theology that would be classified in today’s rubric as “biblical theology.” His desire was so great to complete this work, that it almost prevented him from accepting the position of President of Princeton College (then, the College of New Jersey). Complimentary to other printed theologies available in his day that approached doctrine more systematically, such as Calvin’s Institutes, and Watson’s Body of Divinity, Edwards was hoping to create an authoritative, chronological work. Here, he would progress from creation through the fall, developing the themes of the major covenants, culminating in the coming of Messiah, and then driving victoriously towards the consummation of all things in the eternal age.

Jonathan Edwards Jr, his son, described the blueprint of the Puritan divine’s would-be magnum opus as follows:

“A body of divinity, in a new method, and in the form of a history; in which he was first to show, how the most remarkable events, in all ages from the fall to the present times, recorded in sacred and profane history, were adapted to promote the work of redemption; and then to trace, by the light of scripture prophecy, how the same work should be yet further carried on even to the end of the world.”

As a sermon series, Edwards preached some thirty messages on the text “For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool, but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations” (Isaiah 51:8). His thesis which he carries on throughout the entire 1739 preaching series was “The work of redemption is a work that God carries on from the fall of man to the end of the world.” Typically, he describes this work as a “grand design,” always emphasizing that God is the driving and determining cause of all things. Interestingly, Edwards does not begin in earnest with creation (but might have if he had completed his full project) but rather starts the second sermon in earnest with the Fall, after a brief overview of his goals in the first message.

Edwards then divides biblical history into three primary epochs: [1] the Fall of man to the incarnation of Christ, [2] from Christ’s incarnation until his resurrection (His humiliation), [3] from thence to the end of the world.

Period One Edwards subdivides, primarily along the lines of the historical covenants; Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. He includes the captivity in Babylon. “Types of Christ,” or ways that Christ is forefigured in the Old Testament are replete throughout. He labors to show the revealing and fulfilling of Biblical prophecy, especially as it portends to Christ as the Messiah. Towards the close of the first triad, Edwards includes a section on “improvement” (or application) as all Puritan sermons would. It is notable, however, that the application sections are lighter than most Edwardsean sermons.

In Period Two, Edwards primarily focuses on themes related to the atonement, or the “purchase” (his term) of redemption fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Edwards believed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be central to the Biblical drama of history. The Old Testament had anticipated His coming; the New Testament sought to apply His life, death, and resurrection to believers’ souls and lives. Without any doubt, Edwards viewed the Christ Event (as one of my professors winsomely used to call it) as the pin that holds all of history together as a cohesive unity. No event, no matter how small, fails to point in some way to the centrality of Christ and His cross.

In the third Triad, Period Three, Edwards not only fills out the other major portions of the New Testament drama, i.e. the Ascension of Christ and the work of the Apostles, but he also takes the work beyond the Apostolic Age, and into post-biblical history, incorporating other major events into one sweeping narrative. Thus, he appends the destruction of the Empire of Rome, the rise and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, and exalts the work of the Protestant Reformers. He views these events as the continuing story of redemption, not at all separated from the events recounted authoritatively in Scripture. As a post-millennialist, Edwards anticipated great success in the Gospel mission of the church. As a revivalist, Edwards continually shows his fascination – even absorption – with those times in which true religion is greatly fanned into flame. Of course, Edwards believed himself to be living in such a time, and from our contemporay position of retrospective, we must agree.

Throughout, there are strong motifs of spiritual warfare. However this “warfare” is not the trite, egocentric prayers for daily victory over petty sins that many believers engage in today; but rather the large-scale, cosmic conflict between God’s gloriously advancing army versus Satan’s feeble, but indefatigable resistance. The inevitable smashing of the Devil’s terrorist troops – more like guerrilla warfare than a fairly contested battlefield conflict – is a foregone conclusion, but must be played out in real-time.

As Edwards concludes the sermon series – remember: the final work was never completed as he envisioned it to be – he closes with improvements on the authority of Scripture, and warnings against apostasy and false religion (read: Roman Catholicism and “Mahomatism,” the latter already being perceived as an existential threat to Christendom). He ends with a glorious section on the joys of Heaven for those who repent and believe in the beautiful work of redemption purchased through Christ’s blood.

We are left to wonder what might have happened had Edwards finished his work and lived longer into his presidency at Princeton. Students of Reformed theology in particular and evangelicalism in general might have well become the heirs to one of the most significant works yet written in the young American Colonies. However it was not to be. If Edwards would be consistent with the premise of his own extant drafts in sermonic form, he would be compelled to admit that it was not part of God’s “grand design” for the book to ever be completed as he hoped.

Interview with Daniel Gullotta and John T. Lowe; Editors of the Forthcoming “Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment”

EdwardsStudies is talking today with Daniel Gullotta and John T. Lowe, editors of the new collaborative project, Edwards and the Dark Side of the Enlightenment, which is now collecting chapter proposals for a future book with V&R. 

This is a pretty cool gig. How did you guys land this job as the editors for this project?

JTL: The credit goes to Daniel. While we had both tossed around the idea of putting a writing project together, it was him who proposed the idea to the directors at the Edwards Center at Yale, Ken Minkema and Harry Stout, for this to be part of the “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards” series. Daniel and I wrote a proposal together, gained the support from the series editors, and from Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, and have hit the ground running since then.

1978581_10154808184010512_2172072111721151838_o

The title kind of sounds like a Star Wars thing. Is this a Jedi vs. Sith concept, and if so, were you inspired by the new movie Rogue One? 

JTL: Somewhat. Daniel and I are both Star Wars fans. While this volume is to focus on broad aspects of Edwards and the Enlightenment, we want it to touch areas where scholarship has either been previously assumed or unexplored entirely. Most of the time we only hear about one side of Edwards. Sometimes readers forget there were “dark” aspects of his life and context. For example, he was pro-slavery, he had to deal with ideas of witchcraft, and his world was full of violence.

15232216_10102259139603304_2830052018383301875_n

Alright, so remind us what the Enlightenment was, how long it lasted, and why it is significant to Jonathan Edwards. 

JTL: In short, and by broad definition, the Enlightenment took place during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was period where areas of science, medicine, philosophy, politics, and others underwent drastic changes. Some say it marked the beginning of modernity in the Western world. The Enlightenment needs to be understood with Edwards because it was part of his context. While Edwards was trained in a medieval tradition, his thought is the expression of both his Puritan heritage and Enlightenment influence. He is the synthesis of both the old and new worlds, and influential to the development of evangelical and American identity.

What is it like studying with Ken Minkema?

DG: Studying with Dr. Minkema (or Ken as he insists being called) has been a great experience. So far I have had the opportunity to study Jonathan Edwards, American Puritans, early modern witchcraft, and the Christian colonization of the Americans under him. He is a great teacher and a fantastic scholar. He is also very personable. When we aren’t talking about Edwards, the conversation usually turns to Bob Dylan. He and the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale are both treasures. As a student, he is the type of scholar-teacher I want to emulate in my own career.

Where did you originally get the idea for this work, that is, to focus on Edwards and the Enlightenment?

DG: I got the idea for this volume from a seminar I took at Yale on the Enlightenment with Dr. Sophia Rosenfield. One of the challenges we kept facing and one of the questions were kept asking was: what is the legacy of the Enlightenment? Typically scholarship has viewed the Enlightenment as a part of the triumphal progress of humanism, reason, democracy, science, etc. But after engaging texts by Foucault (Discipline and Punish) and Sala-Molins (Dark Side of the Light), just to name two, this narrative was not so easily upheld. We have Enlightenment thinkers being complicit in the Atlantic slave trade, we have others thinking of new ways to control the populous, and others appealing to authoritarianism as the better means to govern. What got me thinking about Edwards and the “dark side” of the Enlightenment was his role in Indian missions and his ownership of slaves. It is clear that Edwards believes converting and ‘civilizing’ the Native Americans are one in the same. It was uncomfortable truths like this that got me thinking about the most uncomfortable elements of Edwards’s life, theology, and legacy. Sometimes, Edwards scholars are too romantic in their approach to Edwards and push things they don’t like to the side. We didn’t want to do that with this volume. Not that this book is an indictment of Edwards, rather, it will be designed to help scholars and students further contextual Edwards and situate Edwards within the Enlightenment. This includes the Enlightenment’s dark side.

John, tell us a little bit about your interest in JE. How did you get started? 

JTL: I was first exposed to Edwards during college—it was more of a hobby. It wasn’t until graduate school when I became a serious reader of Edwards. After reading Andrew Fuller (a later Edwardsean), I noticed he relied heavily on Edwards’ writings. Chris Chun’s The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the Theology of Andrew Fuller connected my two interests and I was hooked.

And Daniel, how did you originally get interested in studying JE?

DG: Being an Australian and a former Anglican, I had never heard of Jonathan Edwards. If I recall correctly, I first encountered Edwards in Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces of all places. But when I began to study American religious history, I learned about Edwards and his role in the First Great Awakening. Coming to Yale, it was in Dr. Stout and Dr. Kinkema’s “Jonathan Edwards and the American Puritans” class that I really got bitten by the Edwards bug. I could not believe how much had been written on him! Over the summer break, I took a summer course on “Edwards and the Bible,” where I met John, and it was amazing to see how many people Edwards still brings together. Studying with Skip (Dr. Stout) and Ken (Dr. Minkema) makes it easy to see why people become Edwards junkies. He unavoidable in American religious history and once you start really engaging with his life and thought, he is hard to escape!

If we were interviewing Edwards today, do you think he would have described the Enlightenment as a positive development? 

JTL: I’m always hesitant to suggest Edwards would have done “this” or “that.” But I think he would have seen the Enlightenment as a positive movement. Although he would have undoubtedly seen something like Unitarianism as appalling, Edwards wouldn’t have viewed reason in of itself as something “bad.” Modern views of the Enlightenment see faith and reason pitted against one another, but for Edwards, everything existed in one realm and he probably would have seen the oncoming areas of knowledge as revelation and as aids to explain experience.

Same question Daniel, do you think Edwards would have thought of the Enlightenment as a good thing, or a great challenge to the Puritan/Colonial status quo?

DG: The Enlightenment was not a monolithic movement (if you can even call it a movement), but there were certain things about it Edwards championed. More knowledge about the world meant more knowledge about God and his providence, better education meant more people could read and understand the Bible, and more rationalism could further damage the ‘superstitious’ beliefs associated with popery. Yet there were things Edwards would have been horrified about, particularly how key Enlightenment thinkers began to embrace deism and atheism. Something like Thomas Jefferson’s Bible would have enraged him. And because the Enlightenment is often credited for being integral to the ‘age of revolutions,’ a question John and I love discussing is whether or not Edwards would have supported the American Revolution. Because the Enlightenment was not a single thing, we should not expect Edwards to have a single response.

What kinds of chapters are you hoping to receive for publication in this new book? Tell us about the range of suggested topics you released.

JTL: A few of the suggested topics are: political economy and the expansion of trade and/or capitalism; language, epistemology and the organization of knowledge; human rights, and thinking about war and peace; slavery and the question of racism; the place of women in the home and in the church; international relations; the social hierarchy; hysteria, superstition, and pseudo-science; poverty and the marginal of society; anthropocentrism and ecological dominance; Native Americans and colonialism; British imperialism; etc. Topics unnamed here are welcomed as well. These areas are not new to historians, or theologians, but we hope to this project brings new ideas once Edwards is in the mix.

How many contributors are you expecting in this collaboration, and what kind of backgrounds (education, experience) do you expect possible writers to bring to the table? 

JTL: We are expecting a dozen or so contributors with a wide range of backgrounds. We’re hoping to see more new names and fresh ideas brought to this effort. This isn’t geared to a specific audience, but to all readers of Jonathan Edwards. We’d like a variety of scholars to participate—fresh academics to seasoned researchers. To that end, graduate students as well as experienced Edwards scholars are encouraged to make submissions.

You are working on some stuff related to Edwards and witchcraft. Give us a teaser of what you are developing.

DG: The main element of my research is similar to that of Owen Davies and Paul Kléber Monod in which I argue that the Enlightenment and the dawning of the eighteenth century did not end belief in witches and witchcraft. For a long time, scholarship has been dominated by the model championed by Keith Thomas’s Magic and the Decline of Religion, in which it was believed magical thinking and witchcraft belief died out because of modern rationalism. But there is plenty of evidence to challenge this. People (mostly women) throughout the American colonies in the eighteenth century were still being accused of witchcraft and sometimes, they were even still executed. Yale College own both Glanvill’s Saducismus triumphatus and Hutchinson’s A Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft. To be sure, belief in witchcraft and understandings in how witches operated had changed, but they had not vanished. Edwards was, I argue, a part of this changing landscape and is a good model to see how some of these changing beliefs took place. While Edwards was not a philosopher on witchcraft or a witch hunter in any sense, he did believe in witches and witchcraft, as evidenced by his writings.

Any shout-outs or book recommendations for our readers? 

JTL: Book recommendations?! I might have too many. But if I had to narrow it down, I’m really looking forward to reading A Collection of Essays on Jonathan Edwards. I had a few friends contribute to that project and excited to dig in. Thomas Kidd’s American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths. While this isn’t a book on Edwards—but has a chapter of his dealings with the Great Awakening—it’s about Edwards’ world. The world in which he lived and thought. Also, Douglas Winiarski’s book coming out this year Darkness Falls on the Land of the Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England. I got to see the proofs last week. It looks fantastic.

Thanks so much for chiming in! Will you keep us updated on the project? 

JTL: Absolutely. Daniel and I will be sure to give updates as it moves along. Thanks for having me.