Sang Hyun Lee (Editor), The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 21. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. xii + 566 pp.
The book offers a comprehensive survey of Jonathan Edwards’ religious literary output accompanied by useful notes and insightful critical commentary. Describing Edwards as ‘the greatest American philosopher’ in its introduction, the book goes on to support that claim through rigorous synthesis and assimilation of Edwards’ output. The book goes on to talk about some of the neglected facets to Edwards’ theological oeuvre. By adopting such an approach, the book critically re-appropriates his theology to the postmodern sensibility. For example, dimensions of Edwards’ output that garner attention include the influences of John Calvin, Francois Turretin and Petrus van Maastricht on the former. Also, the book explores Edwards’ Augustinianism in the backdrop of early Enlightenment thought. This is an interesting analytic angle, for the tone and style of the Sinners sermon goes against the grain of rationalism which is the essence of the Enlightenment. The endeavor of the compilers of this anthology is to offer scholarly perspectives that are different to the preceding works by Robert E. Brown and Gerald R. McDermott. The focus of the collection seems to be its juxtaposition of Christian dogma and the Enlightenment ethos.
What the book also manages to showcase Edwards’ theology as more refined than is what is commonly believed. For all the negative publicity the fundamentalist streak in the sermon garners, Edwards understood God in surprisingly contemporary terms. For example, he sought to “comprehend the divine largely in terms of a relationship of love and of beauty that draws humanity to God.” (Lee 221) His conception of beauty, though, is a bit more conservative, in that, he measured it in terms of “proportion, symmetry, contrast, comparison, and by relations, an experience of beauty which he illustrated by discussing the harmonious and pleasurable music of a choir, natural phenomena such as color, and the relationships among the human senses.” (Lee 221)
Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. New York: Random House, 2006. 416 pp.
This collection of key religious texts and speeches in the short history of American Christianity is similar to the compilation by Sang Hyun Lee. This book is a kind of secular liberal version of Jerry Falwell’s Listen America (1980), filled throughout with quotes from ‘The Founders’. But where it fails is the inadequacy to fulfill this goal. For example, the quotes are usually torn off from their contexts and are mostly incomplete. Of all the Founders covered by Meacham, Jonathan Edwards is just one figure. Almost all of the tired liberal secular litany against Christianity is to be found in the book:
“the “ferocity of evangelizing Christians” (p. 4); the “strangling” of religion by “extremism” (p. 5); a colonial America of “ambitious clergy” (p. 6); the “criminal” treatment of Native Americans by white settlers committed to converting them to Christianity (p. 45); the close-minded, bigoted, witch-burning, devil-obsessed Puritans (p. 46-54)-who persecuted women (especially that “devoted Puritan” Anne Hutchinson); the “African spiritual holocaust” by Christian slave traders and ministers (p. 45).” (Meacham)