Monday, November 15, 2004

On George Marsden's Edwards

For those of you who read a textbook of early American literature while in high school, you might remember Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It was probably presented as a typical if well-written example of Puritan hellfire and brimstone preaching. That is probably all you learned about Edwards. Certainly it was all I learned.

But then you get somebody like George Marsden who comes along and argues that Edwards is as influential as Benjamin Franklin as a seminal figure in American cultural and literary history, and writes a stellar biography of him and publishes it on the 300th anniversary of his birth. Buy it. Read it. You will not be disappointed. Skip reading a book on Washington, Adams, or Jefferson this year and read about Edwards instead.

Edwards has experienced an incredible resurgence in recent years. Yale has been steadily publishing volumes of Edwards works, a labor of love, beautiful books with lots of archival and historical as well as theological material. Yours truly is working on A History of the Work of Redemption. I'm trying to figure out how to talk about Edwards use of language and history as a means of thinking about his theology of preaching. What I'm really trying to do is get over the fact that I can't get over the fact that he preached thirty sermons that all tie together and outline the whole history of redemption, from the creation, through the narrative of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through the life of Israel, including briefly the intertestamental period, then writing extensively on the life of Jesus, is death and resurrection, then continuing on with Acts, the early church during the Roman empire, the church during the medieval and late medieval eras, the Reformation, and then right on up to the very revivals and sundries of Christian life in North America, then right on out to the history we don't know yet but see prophesied (according to Edwards) in the book of Revelation. 30 sermons, 500 pages, all based on one Bible passage (I'll provide that in another post if anyone requests it).

As a preacher, I want to know how this kind of preaching is connected to a revival. I want to understand how he could even conceive of these as a sermon. Because though I find the book fascinating and well worth reading, I think it would just be knock-down boring to listen to, nor is it what I would call proclamation.

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