Learning Is the Handmaid of the Lord: Jonathan Edwards, Reason, and the Life of the Mind

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Civil War Era Studies

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For most of the past century, historians have held up Jonathan Edwards as an exception to what has been variously described as American anti-intellectualism, evangelical boorishness, and Lockean individualism. Richard Hofstadter treated Edwards as “an intellectual largely out of rapport with his own congregation” who managed to be “the prominent exception” to what Hofstadter regarded as the dementia of the Great Awakening; Perry Miller developed his celebrated 1949 biography of Edwards around the theme of Edwards as a lonely intellectual standing against the materialism and blankheadedness of commercial culture; even Edwards’s admiring friend and disciple, Samuel Hopkins, liked to ring the changes on how much Edwards’s scholarly pursuits “which to some were too fatiguing to the mind, and wearing to the constitution, were to him but a natural play of genius.” But the figure of Edwards as the lonely intellectual, standing against a tide of unreason, has had particular poignancy for modern American religion, which has had to struggle against both the less-than-accommodating secularism of the modern university, which feels little hesitation in dismissing religious or theological dialogue as something akin to astrology, as well as the tendencies of their own community to substitute feelings for faith and experience for truth. And of course Mark Noll, the most unsparing of friendly critics of “the scandal of the evangelical mind,” finds in the figure of Edwards one of the chief evidences of that scandal, since the man who “was responsible for the most God-centered as well as the most intellectually subtle reasoning in all of American evangelical history” is now neglected by Protestant evangelicals and remains “virtually unknown among the hordes of evangelicals who are his religious descendants.” For Noll, and for many other intellectually ambitious co-religionists who have come to admire Edwards as what a religiously awakened mind ought to be, Jonathan Edwards is the road not taken in American evangelical life. [excerpt]


Original version is available from the publisher at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4975.2004.00079.x/abstract



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