Sunday, April 29, 2012

Intro to steam-punk summer reading list

A friend recently asked on the Book of Face

"So, what if you were designing an 'Intro to Steam-punk reading list' for the summer? What would that be?"

I sent a quick note by parcel post to a colleague (the Ecclesiast) and specialist in the genre, and here is what he sent back par avion:

If you read the Wikipedia article on steampunk, you'll see all kinds of suggestions for the origins of steampunk in literature, both the 19th century stuff (H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) as well as the authors (K.W. Jeter and Tim Powers et al) who accomplished a resurgence in the genre. Honestly, I have read very little of these authors, though I'm fairly interested in reading Tim Power's Anubis Gate at some point.

This disclaimer isn't to say you shouldn't just read these earlier works, just that I haven't. If you really want to go to the roots of the genre, just use Wikipedia and its suggestions as your point of entry. Or this top 20 list.

If you don't trust Wikipedia, then read the new Steampunk Bible. That will introduce you to steampunk in basically every artistic medium. It's beautiful and fun to read. Ann and Jeff Vandermeer have also edited a couple of steampunk short story anthologies that are worth checking out.

After these two comprehensive suggestions, here are some more specific pointers:

Top on my list would be The Difference Engine by William Gibson. His Neuromancer novels (cyberpunk) are better than his steampunk novel, but it is perhaps THE novel that energized steampunk in literature. After reading it, then go back and read his cyperpunk novels.

Right up there with Gibson, I recommend anything by Neal Stephenson, but especially his Diamond Age (the most steampunky) and Anathem (not quite steampunk, but so alternative reality as to really function as steampunk, and perhaps in my top five novels of all time).

Also in the mix is China Miéville. Again, not straight-up steampunk, but still in the mix, especially Perdido Street Station and The City and The City.

For an evocation of sci-fi DIY culture that isn't strictly sci-fi but still great, try Cory Doctorow's Makers. Doctorow is a big advocate of steampunk, although not always writing directly in the genre.

Another great novelist in steampunk is Paolo Bagicalupi, the best novel to start with being his Windup Girl.

Lots of people love Cherie Priest's novels, especially Boneshaker, but I don't tend to read horror, and these tip a bit in this direction.
Also on my reading list for the summer is Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus

Listen to Abney Park while you read these novels, or The Decemberists. Read the graphic novel/comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And take a break at some point in time this summer and just watch the Sherlock Holmes movies, The Golden Compass, or Howl's Moving Castle. Someone even suggested to me recently that the Firefly television series was a kind of steampunk, and I wouldn't disagree. Check out any of these. You'll be good to go!

Oh, and one other thing. You could follow the blog:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Summer Reading 2012

Alan Jacobs, in his The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, encourages "reading at whim." To even list out a set of suggested reads for consideration as summer picks violates this rule. So, take these in the spirit they are offered, as part of the fun of being a reader in springtime, hoping and dreaming we might read everything we put on summer list. Hope springs eternal, right?

This summer, I do plan to read at whim. I'm especially hoping some really solid sci-fi will present itself. However, there are a few books I'm grinding through for my dissertation, a few others I'm reading for various book groups and studies in which I participate, and sundry others I just feel some responsibility to engage. So here it is, the Lutheran Confessions Summer 2012 Reading List.

10. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, James Vanderkam: I haven't read a concise update on scholarship around this amazing discovery, and this one looks to be the ticket. Vanderkam also happens to be an expert on Second Temple Judaism, a topic of increasing interest to me.

9. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival, Leonard Sweet: No one writes on contemporary church issues with as much panache as Sweet, and this meshes with some research I'm doing for chapter five of the dissertation.

8. On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church, Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson: I have read a lot and learned a lot from both of these authors. The two writing a book together is not to be missed.

7. Our three Nightbird Books novel picks: Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Chosen because, well, I wanted to read them with a book group this summer.

6. Faith Forming Faith, Paul Hoffman: The story of one congregation's implementation of the catechumenate for forming adults into the Christian faith. Following another Jacobs rule, that if you wish to read more in an area, swim upstream, I'm also reading a few books from the Liturgical Press on the catechumenate, beginning with Maxwell Johnson's The Rites of Christian Initiation.

5. How God Became King, N.T. Wright: Because at this point I always read the new N.T. Wright. It's a rule.

4. Pray the daily office through this free web resource from a Lutheran congregation in Hawaii. There are some great books out there on praying the daily office, especially a new series by Phyllis Tickle, but for this summer I'm just sticking with this handy interface free on-line.

3. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bagicalupi: This is in all likelihood my top steampunk re-read of the summer, perhaps also a few selections out of William Gibson's new collection of essays.

2. Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, Jon Scalzi: Like N.T. Wright, I read anything new by this, perhaps my favorite sci-fi writer continuing the legacy of Robert Heinlein. Comedy and space drama and much more, totally anticipating it!

1. [This space intentionally left blank for whatever whimsically turns up on the shelf of an indie book store and catches my eye... or I might just watch Game of Thrones or Portlandia on DVD...]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Prim in Dystopia: On the Hunger Games

My essay and study guide on the Hunger Games now up at Immerse Journal: Thanks to the editors there for inviting me to adapt my earlier blog post on this for launch in their magazine. Fun project!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mid-Life Lesson #34: Church bells rock!

If you wonder for whom the bell tolls, well, it tolls for... we. Bells are communal. They ring for all of us. On the other hand, if you pause and ponder them, I bet you can remember a time it felt like the bells tolled especially for thee.

I grew up on a farm, so perhaps part of the mystique of church bells has to do with the quiet yet insistent intrusion the bells chime into the sonic ecology of the city or town in which they are rung. 

The only thing typically rung on farm yards was the dinner bell, or the barn telephone. So church bells were quite a step up from that.

My fascination with bells increased when I lived and traveled in Germany for three months back in 2002. I blogged about them while traveling there (forgive the grammar and typos, I had to blog quickly at little internet cafés and had limited access):
This past weekend was the equivalent of Thanksigiving in Germany. Literal translation would be the harvest thanks festival. Like many harvest festivals in churches in the states, they gather a lot of produce together and display it in front of the altar. In the case of the congregation I visited, they also brought in a fleet of cute kindergarten children to sing songs and do miniature skits. Normally, on any given Sunday, the church (I think most churches) has about 50 people in attendance, max, most of them older. This particular Sunday is the Easter or Christmas of Germany, with lots of adults coming to see their children, nieces, and nephews sing. It was so interesting to observe this, because at least a couple of times I've worked in congregations where it was the norm for half of the congregation to be children, but Ive never seen anything like this in Germany. What was weird, and I think this was true of my feelings as well as the pastors, was that by the end of hte service, you kind of yearn for the quiet and peace of the smaller service, and wonder why the children have to be so noisy all the time. Which goes to show how much the missionary impulse can be quelled by weaks of getting used to small numbers in the building.

After the service, attended a very nice one year celebration of the installation of new church bells. More on this to come, but the basics can be uttered now, because they are so interesting. Last year the whole congregation gathered to see the smelting and production of the new church bells, four in all. Then they gathered a few weeks later to see them lifted up and installed in the steeple. The largest of the bells weighs approximately 6000 pounds! The first bell is called the Dominican bell, the second is the prayer bell, the third is the cross bell, and the fourth is the baptism bell. Each is decorated with appropriate insignias and art. Gorgeous. These are the bells that ring every fifteen minutes in teh village, and for ten minutes prior to each worship service in teh church. Altogether, the bells cost $230,000 dollars, not including installation! But bells are an essential part of the architectural life of virtually any community in Germany, so...

We watched a video of last years celebration and installation, drank coffee and new wine, had a wonderful time.
Not long after returning to the U.S. from Germany, I went on a Dorothy Sayers binge and read all of her Peter Wimsey mysteries. One in particular, The Nine Tailors, includes in-depth description of the very complicated (and almost incomprehensible to the layperson) practice of "ringing the peals." If you would like a bit of exposure to this esoteric art, visit

Some churches I have served have digital or electronic bells. Although these are not as rich and gorgeous as the real thing, they are also considerably less expensive (see again the blog post above), and get the job done. They chime some great Christian hymnody out into the neighborhood. It's a treat for me if I happen to walk from our church over to the elementary school for lunch with my son at precisely the time the bells from our church begin to chime.

Finally, I had the pleasure of ringing bells often when serving as pastor at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church in Cambridge, Wisconsin. East Koshkonong was just around the corner from First East Koshkonong, and during the middle part of the last century, the klokkers of both churches would sit and have coffee together, and then walk/climb to their respective churches to ring the bells in a kind of unison to call people to worship. I love this story, because it represents the unity of the church even in the midst of its disunity. Two churches, divided by a theological battle in the 19th century, were still united by their klokkers having coffee in the church basement before corporate worship.


Evangelical Lutheran Worship
Guidelines for Ringing Church Bells

Church bells are used primarily to call people to worship and to announce the beginning of a service. The bells also ring out to express joy, to announce death, to invite people to pray, and to encourage the absent to join in the prayers of the church. Through the centuries, certain customs have developed regarding the use of church bells.

A single bell
A single bell may be rung: 
1. on the eve of all Sundays and principal festivals (seven times) to anticipate the celebration of the coming day

2. at early morning on all Sundays and principal festivals (seven times) to announce the arrival of the day

3. one-half hour before and one-quarter hour before each service (seven times) to call the faithful to worship

4. at the hour of each service (seven times, a pause, then three single notes) to announce the immediate beginning of worship

5. on weekdays (excluding principal festivals) at early morning, noon, and evening (three times, a pause, then seven times) to remind the community of the responsibility for daily prayer

6. at a marriage
a. when the marriage service begins (seven times) 
b. as the marriage party leaves the church

7. at death
a. at intervals of three to seven seconds to announce the death of a member of the congregation (the "passing" bell); in some traditions, the bell is tolled the number of years that the person lived
b. as the funeral cortege approaches the church and as the body is carried into the church
c. as the body is carried from the church

8. throughout the Lord's Prayer at all services (except in Holy Week) to invite those in the community to join in praying the Lord's Prayer

9. throughout the singing of the canticle of praise or the first sung alleluia in the Vigil of Easter to sound the church's joy at the resurrection

A peal
A peal usually consists of three bells—a small bell (the prayer bell, or the Our Father bell), a medium bell, and a large bell (the Domina, or the tolling bell). Sometimes a peal consists of five bells.

The peal of all the bells (plenum) may be rung until the largest bell has rung seven times:
1. on the eve of all Sundays and principal festivals to anticipate the celebration of the coming day

2. at early morning on all Sundays and principal festivals to announce the arrival of the day

3. at a marriage
a. when the marriage service begins
b. as the marriage party leaves the church

4. throughout the singing of the canticle of praise or the first sung alleluia in the Vigil of Easter to sound the church's joy at the resurrection

Other customs and practices
 One-half hour before each service on all Sundays and principal festivals, the smallest bell may be rung (seven times). One-quarter hour before each service on all Sundays and principal festivals, the smallest and medium bells may be rung (seven times). 

At the hour of each service on all Sundays and principal festivals, the peal may be rung, then a pause, then the largest bell is rung three times. 

On weekdays (excluding principal festivals) at early morning, noon, and evening, the smallest bell may be rung (three times, a pause, then seven times) to remind the community of the responsibility for daily prayer. 

On Fridays (except Good Friday, when all the bells are silent) the largest bell may be tolled (seven times) at 3 p.m. to remind the community of the death of Christ. 

Throughout the Lord's Prayer at all services (except in Holy Week), the smallest bell may be rung to invite those in the community to join in praying the Lord's Prayer. 

The largest bell may be tolled to announce a death, as the funeral cortege approaches the church, as the body is carried into the church, and as the body is carried from the church. 

When bells are silent
All the bells are silent from the beginning of the Maundy Thursday liturgy until the canticle of praise or the first sung alleluia at the Vigil of Easter (or at the first service of Easter). This absence of bell ringing reminds the community of the passion and death of Christ and serves to heighten the joy at the resurrection.

From Sundays and Copyright 2012 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #38107.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mid-Life Lesson #35: There is a lot more to Jonathan Edwards than just the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Preaching the History of Redemption Accomplishes It:
A Study of Edwards’s and His History of the Work of Redemption


Some works of the intellect fascinate as they simultaneously intimidate.  Jonathan Edwards’s A History of the Work of Redemption (hereafter referred to as HWR) is just such a work.  When I once asked a friend and close reader of Edwards to tell me something about this 30-sermon series, a work living somewhere on the horizon between a vast sermon and a treatise, the response was, “Well, it’s the whole thing, you know.”  Which is true, in a way; it is an attempt to tell the whole history of redemption from beginning to end, as God sees it.  So Edwards: “The work of Redemption is a work that God carries on from the fall of man to the end of the world”[i].  It is thus not surprising that another close reader of Edwards like Amy Plantinga Pauw could begin a talk on Edwards by stating, “Jonathan Edwards was a theologian of the grand narrative.”[ii] This very fact is what brings most readers of Edwards either to a state of profound respect or utter frustration.  Grand narratives are not the kind of thing you take for light reading on the beach, and most of us today are suspicious of (and let’s confess, intimidated by) anyone who claims to tell “the whole story.”
Edwards himself is responsible (at least in part) for fascinating and intimidating.  In his letter to the Princeton trustees, he famously remarked, “I have had on my mind and heart… a great work, which I call A History of the Work of Redemption, a body of divinity in an entire new method, being thrown into the form of a history, considering how the affair of Christian theology, as the whole of it, in each part, stands in reference to the great work of redemption by Jesus Christ; which I suppose is to be the grand design of all God’s designs, and the summum and ultimum of all the divine operations and decrees; particularly considering all parts in the grand scheme in their historical order.”  If this were not enough, his is a multi-tiered method, “carried on with regard to all three worlds, heaven, earth and hell: considering the connected, successive events and alterations, in each so far as the Scriptures give any light; introducing all parts of divinity in that order which is most scriptural and most natural: which is a method which appears to me the most beautiful and entertaining, wherein every divine doctrine, will appear to greatest advantage in the brightest light, in the most striking manner showing the admirable contexture and harmony of the whole.”[iii]
Edward’s grand design is a body of divinity that will in its very form most aptly show forth God’s grand design.  The work of redemption is to be “thrown into the form of a history”; and this history is the languaging forth of God’s greatest work.  We might say that history is for Edwards a language.  At the very least, history is for Edwards something that would provide the framework for his theology.  He was not alone in this[iv].  Nevertheless, Edwards thoroughly Trinitarian approach to history ensured that he understood it as “the language of God’s redemptive love… an extension of the intertrinitarian love… in essence the communication of God’s redemptive love in Christ.”[v]
But my fascination with Edwards work does not begin with his intentions.  Although it is tempting to imagine that we have been handed some proleptically experienced Ür-text, some Platonic pot that God has thrown and that Edwards is groping towards, the reality is that Edward’s HWR actually began as a series of sermons.  It is a whole history preached.  The only other indications of where this new method might have gone if Edwards would have lived longer is his letter to the Trustees, and his three notebooks on the HWR.  What we have to work with is an ever so slightly redacted sermon series.
But what a sermon series!  It is the ipseity of HWR that challenges me as reader and pastor.  It is the single and compelling idea: preach thirty sermons over a period of Sundays utilizing a single verse of Isaiah, and in those thirty sermons tell the whole history of the work of redemption.  Edwards’s apparent operative assumption is not simply that this history is worth writing down; it is actually worth speaking forth, to a living, breathing, and hopefully awake congregation.  Such an approach to preaching is at first breathtaking, then mind-boggling, and in the end virtually unimaginable.  Who does such things?  Yet the tendency and inclination underpinning such a sustained and major project is compelling, both in idea and reality.  Again, Pauw states the point clearly.  Although it is fashionable to be suspicious of grand narratives, “a pastoral narrative without some vision of God’s grand purposes for the whole of creation can leave Christians wallowing in the mundane parochialisms of their particular locations.”[vi]
Furthermore, it is now recognized that Edwards formulated his theology of history as a direct result of his profound experience during the “little revival”, and preached this sermon the year immediately preceding the “big revival”, or Great Awakening, that swept through Northampton and much of New England.  I do not want to make too much of this historical reality, or ascribe too much causality, eg. Edwards preached these sermons and they led to the Great Awakening; nevertheless, the interplay between the Awakenings, what Edwards called “pourings out of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy”, Edwards preaching, and his resulting theology of history as centered in repeated revivals, is worth our attention.  I can at the very least argue, together with Avihu Zakai, that Edwards wrote his history in light of and based on his experience of revival, and intended his writing to influence future revivals.  So Zakai:
His distinct redemptive mode of historical thought- the doctrine that the process of history depends exclusively on God’s redemptive activity in time and not on human power and autonomy – is necessary not only to the discussion of his sense of time and his vision of history as they appear in the HWR, but also to an understanding of the significance he conferred upon the Great Awakening of 1740-1743 within salvation history, and of his zeal in defending it against every adversary[vii].
Edwards’s conscious shift towards the historical in his work as preacher, as well as his intended body of divinity thrown in the form of a history, has challenged me to explore the inter-relationship between his homiletical method and his theology of history.  To preach the gospel is to tell the story of how we are part of a larger story, part of a redemptive history that includes Israel and the church, and a future that includes Christ, the resurrection, and the redemption of all things.  If we can readily say that for Edwards history is redemption and redemption is history, and this an outgrowth of Edwards’s essentially Trinitarian theology, then we can also with some confidence declare what Edwards, given his particular understanding of what the preached word is and what it accomplishes, hesitated to say, that preaching the history of redemption is itself accomplishing redemption.  What follows is an attempt to substantiate this claim.

Edwards’s Philosophy of History

Avihu Zakai has provided the most readable and helpful recent work on Edwards’s philosophy of history.  Zakai recognizes, as do many Edwards scholars, that Edwards was so mightily engaged in rightly forming his theological project that his thought was constantly developing.  There were nevertheless certain trajectories that remain constant over the course of his work.  His philosophy of history is one such developing trajectory.  “During his long search to understand the nature and meaning of divine agency in the order of history, he came to the conclusion that revivals, being ‘special seasons of mercy’ or grace, constitute a unique dimension of sacred time, or epochs of time, kairos, in history” [viii].  Edwards first experienced a personal revival as a young adult, and later concluded that revival is a central moment in sacred time, and this a considered observation of events in his local congregation as well as events within the broader history of God’s redemptive work.  
Edwards’s philosophy of history develops hand-in-hand with his homiletical strategy.  Sermons were the touchstone of Edwards thought.  Wilson Kimnach observes, “After theology, Edwards thought most about expression; what language is, how it operates on the mind, and how its resources might be variously exploited”[ix].  Edwards begins with what he inherits, the Puritan format of doctrine-improvements-applications.  Edwards continues to use this method and process, but the HWR shows how Edwards’s developing trajectory results in a sermon that takes the form of a treatise.  “The sermon form [became] so flexible that the sermon was dissolving under the pressure of long, long thoughts”[x].  The sermon becomes a sustained treatise, and this form of expression becomes the vehicle whereby Edwards could preach the history of the work of redemption and just so accomplish it.  John F. Wilson aptly remarks that Edwards’ “preaching of his ‘history’ was part exposition of the work of Redemption, [and] part production of its story”[xi]. 
So how does Edwards understand history itself as a book to be read as the basis for preaching a history of the work of redemption?  Edwards in his half-filled notebook entitled “Types” (Andover Collection), developed a theory of “vertical types,” which were “the divine idiom”, history and nature as books in which types can be read.[xii]   Typological readings of Scripture have basis within the Christian tradition dating as far back as the church Fathers, and Edwards’ contemporaries, especially more conservative preachers, read Scripture typologically.  Edwards found a paradigm for a typological reading of Scripture in Scripture itself, especially Hebrews 9.  He found “texts of Scripture that seem to justify our supposing the Old Testament state of things was a typical state of things and that, not only the canons of the law were typical, but that their history and state and constitution of the nation, and their state and circumstances, were typical.  It was, as it were, a typical world (“Types”; Andover Collection). 
Where Edwards takes things one step farther is in developing his “vertical typology”, a typology that finds not only types linking Old to New Testament, but also types linking the “true” (that which is ideal and eternal) and the “real” world (the subjectively experienced world we know).  Edwards’s development of a “vertical typology” emerges not only out of the precedent Edwards observes in Scripture itself, but also out of his engagement with the new science, and finally his consistently Trinitarian thought.  As Amy Plantinga Pauw notes, “th[e] image of the Son as the communication of divine wisdom funded Edwards’s theology of preaching.  It is also the basis for his pervasive use of typology” [xiii].  The HWR is replete with typological reflections, and these are themselves part of the language of history, how it speaks, and this in no way different than the Son as speech.  Although this sounds somewhat more Platonic than Christian, it was actually Edwards’s substantial engagement with Newton’s vision of a single cosmos.  Edwards himself had no illusions that this search for a “vertical typology” would be palatable to everyone.
I expect, by very ridicule and contempt, to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it.  I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe-heaven, earth, air, and seas- and the divine compilations and history of the Holy Scriptures be full of images of divine things- as full as a language is of words- and that the multitude of these things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by those things; but that there is reason for persons to be learning more and more of this language, and see more of that which is declared in it, to the end of the world without discerning all.[xiv]
While Edwards diligently develops this robust philosophy of history, Edwards also addresses the emerging Enlightenment understanding of history.  I have already shown that for Edwards, nature is a typical world, and history is typical time.  Because Edwards never gave up trying to unveil the external evidence of Christianity in both space and time, it is not surprising that Edwards challenged the Enlightenment’s secular understanding of history.  “Whereas for the Enlightenment mind salvation has nothing to do with time and history, for Edwards the contrary was the case- there is no possible explanation of history without God’s work of redemption” [xv].  This is Edwards the Puritan seriously and profoundly involved as an apologist, speaking the language of the Enlightenment and reading those leading it while developing completely different conclusions based on the witness of Scripture and the church.  Edwards steadfastly seeks to bring together salvation and history, the order of grace and the order of time, and in this way make history equivalent to God’s plan for salvation and redemption[xvi].

History and the Self
            Edwards’s philosophy of history, constructed over against the Enlightenment disassociation of redemption and history, but also broader and less individualistic than the Puritan approach, distinguishes itself as particularly well suited for establishing a relationship between history and the self.  This is so precisely because Edwards understands revival as integral to God’s work in history, and so makes history personal. 
“For Edwards history is based upon a close and essential association between personal experience and historical events; God’s redemptive activity in religious revival affects the whole condition of human beings.  Hence the personal sphere is informed by God’s saving and redemptive grace.  Individual existence again acquires a central role in history.  Edwards thus overcomes the sense of alienation from history, and brings about… reconciliation between God and humanity.  Throughout his sermons on the HWR, Edwards thus passionately pleaded with his audiences to assume their historical responsibility by taking an active part in understanding and advancing the sacred cause of revival and redemption”[xvii]
            Unlike other histories, Edwards deals only obliquely with the biography of key leaders, politicians, generals, and kings.  Nor does he chart the rise and fall of political and social institutions.  Instead, Edwards writes of the ebb and flow of religious revivals.  For example, in sermon 9, Edwards notes that the decline of the “Jewish church” was made use of by God as preparation for Christ’s coming.  “This gradual decline tended to prepare the way for Christ’s coming… it tended to make the glory of God’s power in the great effects of Christ’s redemption the more conspicuous”[xviii].  Edwards continues to chart this rise and fall of revivals, in chapter 11 making similar comment on the dispersion of the Jews, in chapters 20 and 21 noting the special pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost.  For Edwards, these outpourings of the Spirit are to be celebrated, but Christians themselves should expect to experience a suffering spirit (chapter 22), and that before any work of God begins they should expect “a very dark time with respect to the interests of religion in the world”[xix]. 
            This turn towards the personal is first of all to be commended, because it connects the lived history of a people to the specific life of a community, and subsequently to individual members of it.  Furthermore, this approach resonates with the preaching task itself, for every sermon is always an address to a community of individuals.  It is, furthermore, a source of consolation.  A grand historical narrative preached as something that ultimately concerns each individual charts a way out of the disorder and chaos that is a big part of people’s anxiety about their lives.  To know that even the dark and suffering periods are part of God’s total work of redemption is a source of hope if not always of comfort.
            At the same time, there are weaknesses here.  When the work of redemption is preached primarily as something that restores human nature, and the self, rather than social and political systems, something is left out.  Revivals then can turn the way of hyper-spiritualism, and can disregard the clear witness of Scripture that God’s work of redemption includes social reform, political reform, and the redemption of all things, unto creation itself.  The grand narrative, even preached to the individual conscience, can end up disenfranchising those who suffer under the social and political systems God is working to redeem as the total work of redemption.  The Trinitarian dimension of Edwards’ thought may themselves provide the resources for addressing these concerns.  It is to this issue that I now turn.

Trinity, History, and Preaching

            Two late 20th century theological revivals, Trinitarian theology, and the study of Edwards as “America’s Theologian” have, not surprisingly, been brought together in a number of recent works.  Robert Jenson utilizes Edwards as a significant resource in his constructive work as a theologian, and looks to him as an example of a theologian who “did not merely maintain trinitarianism, [but] renewed it”[xx].  Certainly Jenson is an early example of a theologian who sees Edwards’ thought as profoundly Trinitarian, the Trinity of God being “the Supreme Harmony of All”, and as such, a doctrine that could stand up and breathe in the midst of what others considered to be the very intellectual movement that would be the demise of quaint triune understands of God- the Enlightenment.
Amy Plantinga Pauw, in a book bearing this title, The Supreme Harmony of All, expands on Jenson’s earlier observations, and so helps us see how Edwards’ Trinitarian theology shaped his understanding of Scripture, covenant, redemption, and Divine Excellency; indeed, he even utilized it as a means of dealing with pastoral perplexities.  This last category becomes the basis for William J. Danaher’s fascinating work on the Trinitarian ethics of Jonathan Edwards.  Whereas Pauw and Jenson look to the explicitly Trinitarian works and miscellanies of Edwards, Danaher undertakes a somewhat revisionist task (more re-visioned than revised), and reads a variety of pivotal but less expressly Trinitarian works of Edwards (Religious Affections, The Freedom of the Will, etc.) in light of Edwards’ basic trinitarianism[xxi].
Edwards’ two primary analogies for thinking the Trinity, the psychological and the social, help us understand in exactly what way preaching history and the history of redemption accomplishes that history[xxii].  These analogies or “images” of the Godhead are for Edwards “complementary linguistic idioms for narrating a basic soteriological story line”[xxiii].  We have already arrived at a place where we can observe the complexity inherent in Edwards’ project, where typologies and a distinct philosophy of history become themselves a crash course in a new grammar.  Edwards’s “grammatical” understanding of Christian speech about God is truer to the character of language and language acquisition than traditionalist views.  The goal of learning a language is not to be able to repeat correct paradigms, but to speak “beautifully” in a multitude of particular, often unforeseen situations.[xxiv]  The multi-lingualism inherent in speaking at least two analogies of the Trinity prepares a preacher for such a task.  
The two analogies offer the opportunity to speak bilingually of God.  The social trinity analogy helps us speak of the incarnation as that event within the life of God that incorporates humanity into God through history itself.  For Edwards, this historical incorporation takes place first of all and most obviously in Christ, by his coming into history.  It is further accomplished through special pourings out of the Spirit at seasons of mercy[xxv]  The Spirit works through history for the redemption of the world.  Various analogies present themselves to speak of this.  For example, if God is an eternal society, then it seems to be “God’s design to admit the church into the divine family as his son’s wife”[xxvi].  This is one way of expressing the social aspect of the Trinity.  Another speaks like this:
“God having from eternity from his infinite goodness designed to communicate himself to creatures, to unite himself to a created nature, and to become one of the creatures, and to gather together in one all elect creatures in that creature he assumed into a personal union with himself, and to manifest to them and maintain intercourse with them through him”[xxvii]
Either by way of marriage, or by personal union with God in Christ, the Spirit effects this union into the history God already has and is as the divine persons, Father and Son, and the things they share together in the Spirit.
            A logical extension of the social analogy is a sacramentalizing of the world, especially those events in the world that speak this newly acquired language.  If history is the means by which God from eternity seeks a personal union with his creatures, then the world is sacramental.  So we can say, preaching history is the liturgical form of recapitulating history.  To preach the history of the work of redemption is certainly not (indeed cannot be) the only way by which the work of redemption is accomplished, but for Edwards and many other Puritans of his time (not to mention most Christian communities before and since) the preaching of the Word is certainly one central way.  Sermons were central to the revival phenomenon.  They were the event, prepared carefully by the pastor prior to worship, that prepared the hearers for conversion.  It is not a small leap to argue that the sermon did not simply lead to the opportunity for redemption, but in its divine effects accomplished and accomplishes redemption[xxviii].
            If the social analogy is a beautiful melody that helps us sing the society that is the Trinity, then the psychological analogy is the basso continua[xxix].  God’s sociality communicates something to us, but it is the psychological analogy that teaches us what it is that God communicates.  For Edwards, God is excellent, beautiful, full of infinite happiness, perfect, and seeks to communicate these attributes, in himself, to creatures.  God’s knowledge of Godself as these things is communicated to the church by way of the Trinity itself:
The psychological image of the Son as God’s Word still retained an important role in Edwards’s theology of preaching and revelation.  All saving human knowledge of God attained through Scripture, prophecy, and preaching depends ultimately on the Son, who is the internal act of God’s own self-knowledge.  Through the external repetition of God’s disposition to self-knowledge, the saving knowledge conveyed to the saints is not a bare “notional” knowledge of things of religion: it is truly “Christ’s being in the creature in the name, idea or knowledge of God’s being in them” (Pauw, 124)
This is the Trinitarian work of redemption, which would remain impersonal and abstract if not for the fact that God were also a social Trinity, including a flesh and blood Son that lived fully divine, fully human.  Here Christ is God’s idea of himself.  This is a beautiful way of speaking of God.  But Edwards also speaks of Christ as the one who takes central stage in the great history of the work of redemption (chapters 14 through 19 of the HWR, one-sixth of the total sermon, including chapter 17, a chapter that speaks directly the non-believer and lukewarm, and offers comfort to the afflicted).  If Christ is God’s idea of himself, then the social analogy lets us see what a radical idea this reality was then and continues to be for us now.
            Finally, if God is accomplishing a great work of redemption that centers in Christ and is enlivened by the Spirit, but begins at the creation and continues until the eschaton, then the total history of this redemption is itself a language worth learning.  This being the case, we now come to see why it is that Edwards, a richly Trinitarian thinker with a profound commitment to the work of homiletics, would design and construct a “body of divinity” “thrown into the form of a history.” 

Edwards, language, and preaching

            Edwards worked out his theology at two desks, the large self-modified wooden one in his office[xxx], and the pulpit.  Much of this was published, but an even more substantial body of material, the Miscellanies, remained semi-public until many years after his death.  The sermons were always public, in the sense that they were preached.  In both of these places, the desk and the pulpit, Edwards committed himself towards ever more fully explicating the faith.  The miscellanies were his “shop”, and his sermons, developing as they were over the course of his ministry, were the stage. 
            At one level, if we are looking for an explicit theology of history and a finely developed working out of preached history as it shapes the contemporary lives of hearers, the HWR disappoints.  There is very little that is explicitly theological in this sermon series, nor is there much that is explicitly practical.  Instead, it consists largely of “historical narratives designed to introduce the Northamptonites to a sense of how they should understand their own history in the perspective of biblical and world history”[xxxi].   These sermons contain very little direct instruction.  Nor do the sermons by and large preach preparation and admonish in the way many Puritan sermons of the time do.  Rather, Edwards preaches the HWR with his typological view always in mind, and so the sermon series goes on illustrating one dispensation of history after another, chronologically. 
            The great benefit of this sermon series is that it refuses to leave faith at the level of personal experience.  In a time when the revival phenomenon had recently swept around the country, Edwards could have resorted to sermons designed to excite the emotions and lead to further unusual outpourings of the Spirit.  Many of his contemporaries did exactly that.  Instead, Edwards preaches about revival as the great, central repeated work over the course of history by which the Spirit has worked an outpouring of God’s mercy on the world.  Edwards speaks the hearers into a story (this a Trinitarian observation, not a narrative one), and in this avoids blatant hyper-spiritualism and individualism.  Instead, “Edwards constantly urged his parishioners toward grand perspective to help them overcome the pettiness and self-absorption that went with their low horizons, which hardly reached to the next town”[xxxii]  By encompassing Scripture history, “secular” history from the end of Acts until contemporary life in Northampton, and continuing on to the great consummation of all things envisioned in John’s Apocalypse, Edwards preaches a grand history that selects from resources that include lived history, Scripture, tradition, nature, and even prophecy.  The work of redemption in this scheme is at least global, and at times cosmic, in scope.
            Furthermore, this grand narrative is apologetic and authentic.  As we have mentioned, it takes issue with the Enlightenment secularization of history, and does so by sacralizing and uniting all of history.  Like the rest of Edwards’ more apologetic corpus, it takes up contemporary issues of philosophy, psychology, and the like, and recasts them in the only context where the preacher could finally hold sway in any event- the pulpit.  Finally, Edwards’ HWR is apologetic because it is beautiful.  The grand sweep is awe-inspiring.  Even if contemporaries were unable to attend the entire sermon series preached over so many weeks, those in attendance certainly knew something tremendous was happening.  Even if the Northamptonites missed the import of this series, others did not. 
It may not be too much to suggest that Edwards’ history was as influential as any other single book in fixing the cultural parameters of nineteenth-century American Protestant culture.  It securely anchored American experience in a cosmic setting, locating it by means of reference to sacred Scripture and investing it with preeminent significance for concluding the drama of Christian redemption.  It legitimated the social experiment that was the new American culture[xxxiii].
            From John Wilson we learn that the very work that attempts an apologetic for a Christian conception of history is the same work that has a much more colored history of influence on the American social experiment.  It can and does sound like the triumphalism critics of the “grand narrative” are so suspicious of.  But, though this may have been an outcome of the widespread reading and distribution of Edwards’ work, it likely was not his intention.  For Edwards, because New England (and so also America) was the most blessed, it was also the most guilty.  In this way, the triumphalism is no more triumphalistic than the Trinitarian work of redemption as it relates to the house of Israel, to the early Christians, or to the early church.  Rise before the fall and all that.  We can understand Edwards intending in this sermon the prophetic affliction of the comfortable more than justification of triumphalism, just because redemption is a work accomplished by God.  We are in sin, and it is only by great pourings out of the Spirit that we participate in the divine life through revivals, etc.
            There are certainly weaknesses here.  Because Edwards’ understanding of history is so focused on revivals, he fails in his preaching to address social and political systems.  Even if Edwards breaks Northampton out of its provincialism, the self-absorption that would often and still does paralyze congregations, he still leaves them imagining a narrative that is mostly about a collective conversion of individuals, rather than the individual conversion of institutions or social entities.  But this is not necessarily surprising.  Public preaching is usually in the end address to individuals.  Even the earliest preaching we have (from the book of Acts) although it preaches about collective sin, still seeks the individual conversion of hearers. 
            Not only that, but the final end and drift of all Edwards’ work in this sermon is this- to work out in a history a theology that takes seriously the redemption of the world as the working out of the relationships inherent in the Trinity.  Revivals and individual conversion are part of something much larger, a  whole history of redemption that is the result of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Trinity and history preach, and when preached, participate.

[i] Jonathan Edward, A History of the Work of Redemption (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 116.
[ii] Paper given at the Library of Congress, 2003; currently a quote only from private correspondence, may not be used without permission from author
[iii] Jonathan Edwards, Letters and Personal Writings (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 727-728
[iv] p. 487, other writers also thought history was the battlefield on which modernity would be fought
[v] George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 488.
[vi] Amy Plantinga Pauw, The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 8.
[vii] Avihu Zakai, Jonathan Edwards’s Philosophy of History:  The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment  (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 2.
[viii] Ibid., 13
[ix] Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1720-1723: Works, Volume 10, edited by Wilson H. Kimnach (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), editor’s introduction, xiii.
[x] Ibid., 108
[xi] Ibid., 33
[xii] Not to over-simplify the philosophical point at work here, but independent proofs do not need to be made as to why both nature and history can be read typologically.  Since history is simply nature in time, both can be read, if indeed they are books, as one book through which God communicates.  They are together a “divine idiom.”
[xiii] Pauw, Supreme, 13
[xiv] Jonathan Edwards, Typological Writings (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 152.
[xv] Zakai, Phil. Hist.,150; elsewhere Zakai says, “Whereas for the Enlightenment mind salvation has nothing to do with time and history, for Edwards the contrary was the case- there is no possible explanation of history without God’s work of redemption” (150)
[xvi] Ibid., 146
[xvii] Ibid., 155
[xviii] HWR, 231
[xix] HWR, 457
[xx] Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 91.
[xxi] In fact, Danaher fills a lacunae noticed by Pauw in her earlier work.  “His apocalyptic and millenarian speculations, his dispositional metaphysics, his polemics on the freedom of the will… his revivalism, his ardent interest in hell torments- must ‘be looked upon as appendages to this great work [the work of redemption] or things which…. subserve that grand design” (Pauw, 185)
[xxii] The social analogy emphasizes the Trinity as a society, a communion grounded in love.  Edwards’ weakness here is a concentration on the love between Father and Son, with little attention to the work of the Holy Spirit within the society that is the Trinity.  The psychological analogy emphasizes the relation between the persons of the Trinity by referring to such concepts as understanding, word, and idea, as well as will, holiness, and beauty.  One example will suffice: “The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea.  The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breated forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself” (Pauw, 48). 
[xxiii] Ibid., 11
[xxiv] See Pauw for a variety of explications of this.
[xxv] Edwards’s customary and beautiful way of stating this.
[xxvi] William J. Danaher Jr., The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards  (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 2004), 85.
[xxvii] Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: 501-832 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 389 (no. 744)
[xxviii] In fact, this sacramental understanding of preaching adheres more closely to Edwards’ fundamental insight, that redemption is imputed and not attained by seeking it.  The preached word participates in the Trinitarian work of redemption.
[xxix] Pauw, Supreme, 185.
[xxx] See picture, Marsden, 448.
[xxxi] Marsden, 194.
[xxxii] Marsden, 194.
[xxxiii] Wilson, 82.