Jeffrey C. Waddington
The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia, edited by Harry S. Stout. Foreword by George M. Marsden. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017, 647 pages, $60.00.
The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia has been anticipated by many Edwards scholars and aficionados as well as interested intelligent laypersons. It is a handsomely designed volume with an interesting back story that I will be happy to share with readers. This Encyclopedia may be among the first of its kind—an Edwards scholarly community-sourced production. A few years back the project was announced on the website of the Jonathan Edwards Center (JEC) of Yale University website and a selection of relevant topics was posted. Members of the Edwards republic of letters were then encouraged to contact the JEC if they were interested in authoring entrees for the volume. The articles were vetted by the accomplished editorial staff connected with the JEC and the Yale University critical letterpress and online editions of the Works of Jonathan Edwards. In its published form, there are over 400 entrees in the Encyclopedia written by over 175 contributors. Perusing the names and institutions reflected in the list of contributors one will find names familiar to students of Edwards like Oliver Crisp, Sang Hyun Lee, and Kyle Strobel, as well as lesser known scholars. In fact, one of the impressive and encouraging facets of this volume is the evidence it offers of a thriving Edwards scholarship. In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I am one of the lesser known (not to say unknown) contributors to this tome and I am personal friends or an acquaintance with many others. No serious scholarship is a solitary effort. Having said all this I should say, as the editors do say, that this is not an exhaustive work. As a dedicated student of Cornelius Van Til as well as of Jonathan Edwards, I readily concede that no human project can be exhaustive of any facet of God’s world. Only God himself has that kind of breadth and depth of knowledge. Nevertheless, this is as thorough a one-stop shopping experience of Edwards research as one can find.
The topics in the Encyclopedia cover a broad range of Edwardsean concerns. Of course, we have the expected theological topics such as union with Christ and justification, regeneration, and sanctification. Uniquely Edwardsean subjects include the sense of the heart, speculative and spiritual understanding/knowledge, and the nature of true virtue. Philosophical entrees focus on such topics as occasionalism and idealism and aspects of what now would be considered natural science. There are entrees on particular works of Edwards, as we might expect, such as “Original Sin,” “Freedom of the Will,” and the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”
There are a plethora of articles on thinkers who influenced Edwards, including John Locke, Peter van Mastricht, Nicholas Malebranche, John Calvin, and Francis Turretin. Edwards’s relation to Puritanism is discussed as are individuals who could be said to be influenced by or have interacted with the ideas of Edwards. Charles Finney, arguably stands in the latter category. Finney’s connection to Edwards is real, but complex, and he himself fell under the influence of the New England theology movement rightly rejected by our Old School ancestors. I question whether Edwards would have recognized his so-called disciples among the proponents of the New Divinity. There are also entrees on historical events like Queen Anne’s War and the Great Awakening, movements like Quakerism, and religions such as Islam.
As with any book written by fallen, even if restored, human authors, this volume undoubtedly possesses entrees that will be less than pleasing. Perhaps some of these will be the result of skewed perspective. Others will be problematic because they raise issues of complexity and concern in Edwards’s thought (his idealism/immaterialism comes to mind). Some problems arise because theological topics are handled by non-Reformed believing Christian scholars or by liberal scholars or even by non-Christian scholars. This is not to say that none of these scholars can contribute to the learned discussion about Edwards. It is simply to recognize that not all scholars read Edwards for spiritual or spiritually uplifting intellectual edification. Many scholars read Edwards with various self-conscious or unself-conscious axes to grind, such as Marxist or feminist lenses, to give but two (sometimes combined) examples. It is ironic that the theologian who stressed the distinction between speculative and spiritual understanding has been, and is currently, the subject of non-Christian scholarship.
Having said all this, I highly recommend The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia. You are not likely to find a better single source volume that covers so many of the issues related to Edwards. I envision this book providing the impetus for further Edwards research. That is a good thing. Even better would be that the Triune God of Edwards would be introduced to readers who might not otherwise come to learn of him.
Jeffrey C. Waddington, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is stated supply at Knox OPC in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, adjunct professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and stated clerk of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. Ordained Servant Online, March 2018.