Ignoring Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (via Wikimedia Commons)
Jonathan Edwards (via Wikimedia Commons)

I am taking a momentary pause from my writing retreat to think out loud about a question that has been bugging me. I am working on an invited chapter for a book Kyle Strobel is editing which seeks various takes on the theology of Jonathan Edwards. If memory serves, it is called The Ecumenical Edwards.

I would say what I am working on, but I have heard a few stories about scholars stealing each others’ ideas to be a bit shy about that sort of thing. It does not happen often, but it happens.

Besides, my thesis is incidental to this post because, so far, the hardest part of my argument to write has been the introduction. You see, I keep getting distracted by the realization that the only people who seem to be writing anything on connections between Edwards and Orthodoxy are Edwardsian scholars. I keep getting stuck on the feeling that we Orthodox just do not seem to care.

At least, I am guessing that we do not care about Edwards, because we tend to study what we find interesting. The fact that we have not spent much time working with the writings of Edwards, to me, indicates a lack of concern about him. (I am accusing myself here, too.) My question is: Why? Just because Edwards might not be important in the history of Orthodox thought does not mean he is not important, and I think it says something about our own damnable insularity if we ignore one of the most significant theologians these shores have ever seen.

Or am I being too critical? Jonathan Edwards is just one of many major protestant theologians we have mostly ignored. Perhaps there is some other reason why, for the most part, we have not really engaged any of them. What are your thoughts?

9 thoughts on “Ignoring Jonathan Edwards”

  1. Johnathan Edwards was a prolific preacher and and important figure in American protestantism. I like to encourage everyone who has read (or heard of) "Sinners…" to read his sermon, "Praise, The Chief Employment of Heaven." Very refreshing

  2. The only thing most of us know about Jonathan Edwards is from our HS literature books, reading his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an angry God." But if one reads what Edwards says about how this sermon came about, it's clear that this sermon was not typical of his approach. And he was not a shrivelled-up person against joy. His bride's wedding gown was very beautiful in bright colors. I admit I'm not so much interested in the particulars of his theology as in him as a person and dedicated Christian. I think that if I met him, I would really like him. And I do hope to meet him, God willing+

    1. It is also interesting that Arminians use to have very good arguments in response to folks like Edwards, but few remember them now. However, if you read 19th century Holiness material, you find that they were very adept at responding to these kinds of arguments. But like most Evangelicals, the importance of doctrine has been deemphasized, they have watered everything down to the lowest common denominator, and now many people are leaving these groups, and becoming staunch Calvinists.

    2. That's a really good point, Fr. John. And when you consider Calvinist "re-wiring" of Augustinian predestination (both of which I would view as heretical), Orthodoxy needs to be able to respond to this as the Holy Orthodox church is the solution to the yearning for both Freedom and Doctrine.

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