Recent Books on Jonathan Edwards
As many of you know, October 5th, 2003, marked the 300th anniversary of Jonathan Edwards, my favorite dead person! Numerous conferences, countless journal articles, lectureships, and books were scheduled to coincide with this event. Below is a listing of some of the more significant publications in 2003-04.
A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, edited by John Piper & Justin Taylor (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004).
I especially excited about this volume, which is in large measure the fruit of a conference honoring the legacy of Edwards held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in October of 2003. I was privileged to be among those who spoke at this conference where 2,500 gathered to worship the God of Edwards and to think deeply about the God-intoxicated and God-entranced worldview that he embraced. My message at the conference was entitled, 'Joy's Eternal Increase: Jonathan Edwards on the Beauty of Heaven. However, it is not found in this volume because I chose to include it in my book, 'One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God (Christian Focus). My contribution to this volume is an analysis of Edwards on freedom of the will, with particular emphasis on his refutation of libertarian freedom. I also address the problem that Edwards' view poses for addressing the existence of evil. There are three other essays in this volume that were not part of the Minneapolis conference. Stephen Nichols of Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School contributes a chapter on the life of Edwards, Mark Talbot of Wheaton College writes a lengthy essay on Edwards' treatise, Religious Affections, and Paul Helm, emeritus professor from the University of London writes on Original Sin. Perhaps I am prejudiced, but I believe this is the best collection of essays released in 2003.
Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George Marsden (New Haven: Yale University Press). This was not only the most publicized contribution to Edwardsean scholarship but also provides us with a definitive biographical study. Although Marsden insists this is not an intellectual biography, it surpasses Iain Murray's otherwise fine work in tracing the development of multiple themes in Edwards' theology. Murray's work is certainly a helpful treatment of Edwards on revival and religious affections, but Marsden addresses a wide range of Edwardsean concepts, including freedom of the will, original sin, his dissertation on the end for which God created the world, and the nature of true virtue, issues on which Murray said virtually nothing. Marsden excels in unpacking the social, historical, and religious background of Edwards' day and brings alive the demands and harsh realities of what it was to be a pastor in 18th century colonial America. One cannot help but appreciate the depth of commitment of Edwards to his pastoral calling upon reading Marsden's description of the rigors and threats that he faced on a daily basis. Marsden is unparalleled among Edwardsean biographies, if for no other reason than it interacts with the vast amount of literature on the subject that has been produced in the time since Murray was published. Highly recommended!
An Absolute Sort of Certainty: The Holy Spirit and the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards, by Stephen J. Nichols (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed). In this revision of his doctoral dissertation, Nichols provides us with one of the best treatments of Edwards' epistemological and apologetic convictions. Do not be misled by the title, however. It is not a study of Edwardsean pneumatology, which to my knowledge has never been written. It is rather a study of the role of the Spirit in human knowing, and in particular the Spirit's work in imparting to the regenerate soul the 'new sense of the heart for which Edwards is justly famous. Nichols focuses on Edwards' theology of the Spirit as it relates to the assurance one has that Scripture is truly the Word of God. If you are looking for a competent explanation of how Edwards understood how we understand, this is the place to begin.
The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and the Evangelical Tradition, edited by D. G. Hart, Sean Michael Lucas, and Stephen J. Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic). This volume of collected essays found its origin in a conference on Edwards held in October 2001 with the theme, 'Jonathan Edwards and the Future of Evangelicalism. My contribution to this book was not part of the original conference. I address the subject of divine foreknowledge under the heading, 'Open Theism in the Hands of an Angry Puritan: Jonathan Edwards on Divine Foreknowledge. I try to accomplish two things in this essay. First, I explain Edwards' doctrine of divine foreknowledge, its biblical basis and importance in the Reformed system of the theology. Second, I take up the issue of open theism, so prevalent in evangelical circles today, and argue that Edwards would have regarded this theological innovation as falling outside the parameters of orthodoxy. One other essay in particular is worth noting. If you are just beginning your study of Edwards and don't know what to read, I recommend Sean Lucas's chapter entitled, 'Jonathan Edwards between Church and Academy: A Bibliographic Essay, in which he provides a helpful survey of the best and most recent scholarship on the Puritan sage.
Jonathan Edwards at Home and Abroad: Historical Memories, Cultural Movements, Global Horizons, edited by David W. Kling and Douglas A. Sweeney (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press). I have only perused this collection of essays but I'm sufficiently impressed to recommend it to you. The book is the fruit of an international conference on Edwards held in March of 2000 in Miami, Florida. The chapters address a wide range of topics that I haven't seen before in books of its kind. The focus is on the legacy and impact of Edwards globally as well as his contribution to ministry to children, the 18th century understanding of gender, race, 19th century fiction, and, of all things, American pop culture. The volume is beautifully produced and priced appropriately!
Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian, edited by Paul Helm and Oliver D. Crisp (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate). This is an excellent book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even when I found myself in disagreement with its conclusions. Its essays focus almost exclusively on the philosophy and theology of Edwards, so if you are looking for biographical insights you may be disappointed. There are two essays on Edwards' doctrine of hell (both of which take issue with various aspects of his approach), an insightful (though wrong-headed) analysis of his doctrine of the will, an excellent treatment by Paul Helm of Edwards' concept of personal identity, a competent treatment of his 'occasionalism, and other essays on The Nature of True Virtue, his doctrine of the Trinity, his view of non-Christian religions, and an intriguing analysis of salvation as divinization in Edwards and Gregory Palamas. Undoubtedly, though, the most controversial piece is Stephen Holmes attempt (a failed one, in my opinion) to refute the famous work by Sang Lee on dispositional ontology in Edwards. This latter essay is surely to provoke considerable response among Edwardsean scholars, Lee no doubt among them.
Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment, by Avihu Zakai (Princeton: Princeton University Press). This is an excellent treatment of Edwards' relation and response to the Enlightenment. According to Zakai, 'Edwards contended that the entire historical process is inextricable from God's redemptive activity, and vice versa. Rather than conceiving history as the direct result of human action, and hence as a manifestation of immanent human progress, as Enlightenment historians believed, Edwards constructed it from the perspective of God and the manifestations of his redemptive activity in creation in the form of revivals and awakenings (xv). In other words, revivals and awakenings were, to Edwards, God's primary means for advancing the kingdom in history and making his glory known. Zakai provides us with the most extensive analysis yet of Edwards' treatise, A History of the Work of Redemption. The book is written in a repetitive style that could have been avoided with more careful editing. But it is still an excellent work well worth your time.