On our status
A companion to the Jonathan Edwards Center website
This final volume in The Works of Jonathan Edwards publishes for the first time Edwards’ “Catalogue,” a notebook he kept of books of interest, especially titles he hoped to acquire, and entries from his “Account Book,” a ledger in which he noted books loaned to family, parishioners, and fellow clergy. These two records, along with several shorter documents presented in the volume, illuminate Edwards’ own mental universe while also providing a remarkable window into the wider intellectual and print cultures of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic. An extensive critical introduction places Edwards’ book lists in the contexts that shaped his reading agenda, and the result is the most comprehensive treatment yet of his reading and of the fascinating peculiarities of his time and place.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share about ‘Interpreting the Harmony of Reality: Jonathan Edwards’ Theology of Revelation.’ I think my direction could be summed up by the questions ‘what did Edwards mean when he said that God “is a communicative Being,” and ‘what was the overarching project that unifies his work?’ It is most basically a treatment of JE’s thought on revelation, with Edwards’ characteristically radical counterpoint to the deistic critique of revelation functioning as something of an historical sub-plot. But I end up seeing all of Edwards’ theology from the perspective of revelation. My proposal is that Edwards’ unfinished ‘great works’ (all three of them) were all attempts to demonstrate the Trinitarian harmony that marks the several media of revelation. If God is ‘a communicative Being,’ if harmony is his signature attribute, and if all reality is a communication from God, then we should expect to find harmony in and between Scripture, nature, and history. I think that this is ultimately what JE was trying to show to us in all his work.
I have chapters on God’s Communicativeness, Nature and Science, the Necessity of Revelation (including a discussion of Edwards’ innovative relational/communicative argument), Scripture, History, and a concluding chapter that make my case for my theory on Edwards—something I think could be a useful tool, but I know there are other possibilities. One of my recurring themes is how Edwards has a multi-dimensional (having noetic, affectional and beatific elements) concept of revelation; something I think lots of commentators recognise implicitly. I really did not set out to pick fights with anyone, but given my topic I do interact with, for instance Bob Brown; I just think Edwards was more radically opposed to Enlightenment thought than his more nuanced interpretation might suggest. But my real foils are JE’s contemporary antagonists, not only the deists such as Toland, Tindal and Chubb, but also John Locke. One of the funnest things I got to do was to present evidence that Edwards was responding directly to Locke’s Essay in framing his arguments for the necessity of revelation.
As I think happens elsewhere, Edwards’ great fascination with heaven influences his thought on revelation in what I call the ‘redemptive-historical beatific vision’—a concept Ramsey picks up in the appendix to Vol. 8. God is communicating himself to us through the medium of redemptive history, and so even the saints in heaven study what transpires on earth. The advantage in heaven is that these things are interpreted to them by Jesus Christ (see the ‘True Saints’ funeral sermon for Brainerd in Vol. 25). It thus does not surprise me that Edwards carried on a sort of microcosmic approximation of this situation on earth, not only by the History of the Work of Redemption project but also by some little-known revival newsletters, and I think in some way by all his theology. I conclude with a challenge for the church today to take up Edwards’ unfinished project of interpreting all aspects of reality as God's communication of beautiful harmony.