Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History

Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment

Avihu Zakai
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History
    Book Description:

    Avihu Zakai analyzes Jonathan Edwards's redemptive mode of historical thought in the context of the Enlightenment. As theologian and philosopher, Edwards has long been a towering figure in American intellectual history. Nevertheless, and despite Edwards's intense engagement with the nature of time and the meaning of history, there has been no serious attempt to explore his philosophy of history. Offering the first such exploration, Zakai considers Edwards's historical thought as a reaction, in part, to the varieties of Enlightenment historical narratives and their growing disregard for theistic considerations.

    Zakai analyzes the ideological origins of Edwards's insistence that the process of history depends solely on God's redemptive activity in time as manifested in a series of revivals throughout history, reading this doctrine as an answer to the threat posed to the Christian theological teleology of history by the early modern emergence of a secular conception of history and the modern legitimation of historical time. In response to the Enlightenment refashioning of secular, historical time and its growing emphasis on human agency, Edwards strove to re-establish God's preeminence within the order of time. Against the de-Christianization of history and removal of divine power from the historical process, he sought to re-enthrone God as the author and lord of history--and thus to re-enchant the historical world.

    Placing Edwards's historical thought in its broadest context, this book will be welcomed by those who study early modern history, American history, or religious culture and experience in America.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2560-8
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Introduction The American Augustine
    (pp. 1-26)

    The premise of this study is that a careful examination of the content and form of Jonathan Edwards’s philosophy of history is warranted and in some respects long overdue. Edwards’s reputation rests above all on the insights he advanced in his many theological and philosophical writings. In contrast to this extensive corpus of works, on only one occasion did he seriously undertake the writing of a full-scale historical narrative, entitledA History of theWork of Redemption—a series of thirty sermons preached before his Northampton congregation during the spring and summer of 1739.¹ This work constituted the fullest and most...

    • One A Short Intellectual Biography
      (pp. 29-48)

      Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) was perhaps the outstanding American theologian and certainly the ablest American philosopher to write before the great period of Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914), William James (1842–1910), Josiah Royce (1855–1916), John Dewey (1859–1952), and George Santayana (1863–1952). Judged over two centuries, Edwards stands out as one of America’s great original minds, “one of the very few whose depiction of reality has known enduring attraction.”¹ He is considered as the “foundation stone in the history of American philosophy”;² and the unique theology and philosophy he formulated “entitled him to the rank of the...

    • Two Young Man Edwards: Religious Conversion and Theologia Gloriae
      (pp. 51-82)

      Jonathan Edwards's theological and philosophical views matured slowly and gradually over time, but underlying the development of his intellectual world and universe of thought a single tremendous spiritual experience may be found. During the summer of 1721, when he was seventeen years old and studying toward his M.A. degree at Yale College, a religious conversion shook the entire life of young man Edwards and radically reshaped his whole experience and existence. Then, as Edwards described his existential and spiritual condition after the event of conversion, the “appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a...

  8. SPACE
    • Three Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning: Edwards and the Reenchantment of the World
      (pp. 85-128)

      Edwards was one of America’s great original minds, “one of those pure artists through whom the deepest urgencies of their ages and their country became articulated.” He “was infinitely more than a theologian.”¹ This is evident in Edwards’s philosophical enterprise, which has led scholars to consider him the “foundation stone in the history of American philosophy.”² The reference here is especially to the long series of scientific and philosophical writings³ composed during the 1720s, where he attempted to define the essential nature of reality, or the dimension of the physical, material world. During that period, as he wrote in 1725,...

  9. TIME
    • Four The Ideological Origins of Edwards’s Philosophy of History
      (pp. 131-181)

      When the “little revival” of 1734–35 occurred in Northampton, it took the whole community by great surprise. Edwards was indeed convinced that the “surprising work of God” was the testimony of a “remarkable pouring out of the Spirit of God” and “a very extraordinary dispensation of Providence,” yet he was much confused, to say the least, about this whole affair. As he frankly noted in June 1735: “I forbear to make reflections, or to guess what God is about to do with this remarkable manifestation of His Spirit.”¹ One of the main reasons for this hesitation was that in...

    • Five God’s Great Design in History: The Formation of Edwards’s Redemptive Mode of Historical Thought
      (pp. 182-220)

      Some time ago Quentin Skinner warned intellectual historians against some common “mythologies” that have long pervaded and seriously undermined the field of the history of ideas. Prominent among these is the “mythology of coherence”—the search for a precise and coherent system of thought in the writings of certain classical authors, and the strong inclination to portray their works as a well-defined intellectual enterprise from beginning to end. This approach, however, is indifferent to the ideological modifications in the universe of thought of such a writer and does not acknowledge the changing historical context within which it was formulated. Skinner...

    • Six Edwards’s Philosophy of History: The History of the Work of Redemption
      (pp. 221-271)

      The first publication in 1774 of Edwards’s series of sermons on theHistory of the Work of Redemptionwas contemptuously reviewed within a year in theMonthly Review(1775). The writer called it “a long, laboured, dull, confused rhapsody”; it is “pious nonsense” out of the pen of a “poor departed enthusiast.”¹ Almost 200 years later, Perry Miller, who had an important part in reviving the study of Edwards’s work, called theHistory of theWork of Redemption“a pioneer work in American historiography,” granted that “history is what the mind must perceive in a fashion dictated by the mind itself...

    • Seven “Chariots of Salvation”: The Apocalypse and Eschatology of the Great Awakening
      (pp. 272-304)

      A few philosophers of history can boast that the views they develop in their private studies are actually materialized in history during their lifetime, and that the passage of time has testified to their historical prognosis. Edwards is among them, for in his interpretation of history he foresaw the Great Awakening of 1740–43. Believing God to be the sole author and Lord of history, and maintaining that divine activity is not blind to the process of history or alienated from the fate of the human beings within it, he argued that God works continuously throughout history to advance his...

  10. ETHICS
    • Eight Edwards and the Enlightenment Debate on Moral Philosophy
      (pp. 307-324)

      Edwards’s life of the mind may be characterized as a long and consistent struggle against the rise of new modes of thought in early modern history that threatened traditional Christian belief: during the 1720s, he developed his natural theology, attempting to define the essential nature of reality against the mechanical, scientific philosophy of nature; during the 1730s, he constructed a general ecclesiastical history in response to the Enlightenment narratives of history; the premises of such an evangelical historiography, based on revival and awakening as the main means of divine agency in time, he immediately applied to the Great Awakening. And...

  11. Epilogue Edwards and American Protestant Tradition
    (pp. 325-336)

    Much has been written on the adaptability and replication of English norms of thought and behavior in American colonial societies, the strong mimetic impulse found among colonial elites, and the Anglicization of colonial America and the rise of Anglo-American commercialism and consumer society.¹ Less attention, however, has been given to colonialoppositionto intellectual developments and ideological transformations taking place in European centers of learning and scholarship during the eighteenth century. Yet voices of resistance to and rejection of British and European modes of thought had been raised in colonial British America before the time of the American Revolution (1763...

  12. Index
    (pp. 337-348)