There really is only one person who can be called “America’s theologian,” Jonathan Edwards. The problems are many: his writings are incredibly dense, they are demanding intellectually, they are infused with a life of thinking so they are intense, and they are expensive to buy in the Yale edition. Hence, most of us buy older editions, in paperback, and enjoy him nonetheless.
And frankly many don’t have the time to read Edwards directly and so rely on others to tell them and form their ideas of Edwards and his theology. One can’t go wrong reading George Marsden’s magnificent biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, which I read almost a decade back. But where next?
Well, I’d like to suggest a place: with Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott’s monumental achievement, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford, 2011). Almost 800 pages, 45 chapters — that’s long but the prose is splendidly clear, their passions for Edwards are obvious, and they see Edwards from a life time of teaching and writing on Edwards. What we have here is Edwards for all of us by the best of us!
I can’t possible review the whole thing, nor would I be the person to do that since I’m not skilled in reading enough of Edwards firsthand. But a sketch of what McClymond and McDermott (gotta love those “Mc’s”) do for Edwards in their Introduction is an indicator of how they approach Edwards with a wide-angle lens that sees the whole. They see five major themes, like five sections of an orchestra (an analogy they use to good effect), that have separable sounds but which must be seen as harmonious in order to see the contribution each makes to the symphony who is Jonathan Edwards. Here are the five constituent elements of Edwards’ theology:
1. Trinitarian communication, as found especially in these works: Discourse on the Trinity and the End of Creation.
2. Creaturely participation: End of Creation, Treatise on Grace.
3. Necessitarian dispositionalism: Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and Original Sin.
4. Theocentric Voluntarism: Original Sin, Miscellanies
5. Harmonious Constitutionalism: Justification by Faith Alone, and the Miscellanies