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George Marsden


Jonathan Edwards, American Augustine

To appreciate Edwards, Christians need to go beyond seeing him as an enigmatic genius, the white whale of American Studies.

Leaders and authors have in common the daunting question "Why spend time on this?" Do I really care about William James? Should I fear Virginia Woolf? Should I worry about the ozone layer? Should I spend my time on Karl Marx or Groucho Marx? John Barth or Karl Barth? William James or Henry James? Or are Frank and Jesse more cutting edge? I notice there is a new book on Jonathan Edwards. Should I be interested? Do we need another book on Edwards? Should I write one?

There is always a new book on Edwards. M. X. Lesser's remarkable annotated bibliography lists 38 books dealing with Edwards published from 1979 through 1993. That is in addition to more than 75 doctoral dissertations and hundreds of articles and reviews. To date, Yale University Press's ambitious editorial project, the Works of Jonathan Edwards, has published 17 impressive volumes with wonderfully comprehensive introductions. The recent and forthcoming volumes are making available writings of Edwards that few have seen before. In addition, the editors have issued A Jonathan Edwards Reader and The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. These readers would be good places to begin1—if one chooses to begin. Or perhaps even better is Michael McClymond's Encounters with God, an excellent and accessible introduction to Edwards's theological vision.

The sheer quantity of scholarly books on Edwards provides presumptive evidence that there is indeed something worth looking into. The contemporary academic revival of Ed wards was sparked at midcentury by America's greatest intellectual historian, Perry Miller, a self-proclaimed atheist. Ever since, the lineup of leading Edwards scholars has covered a spectrum from the strictly Reformed through nonbelievers. Many scholars have found themselves fascinated by Edwards because they are confronted with sheer genius. Many more have found in Edwards not only a human mind of bell-like clarity but also a glimpse of a vision of God that is overwhelming in its beauty.

Historians and literary ...

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