Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment (review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 42 (3):343-343 (2004)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of EnlightenmentJohn E. SmithAvihu Zakai. Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. Pp. xvii + 348. Cloth, $49.95.Edwards's History of Redemption is the focus of this study by Avihu Zakai—Professor of History at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The History is a series of thirty sermons Edwards preached on Isaiah 51:8 "... my righteousness shall be forever... my salvation from generation to generation." For him, it was a "new method in divinity... thrown into the form of a history"—a narrative showing God's sovereignty in redemption "from the fall of man to the end of the world."Zakai gives a comprehensive account of Edwards's view of history meant to highlight his struggle against modern beliefs threatening Christian faith (308; passim). The discussion is not limited to history, but includes most of Edwards's writing from 1720-1750 with emphasis on his opposition to the Enlightenment. Zakai cannot interpret so many works with the accuracy needed; he repeats old errors such as opposing the "head" and "heart" in the Affections and minimizing Edwards's respect for "common morality" in the ethical writings. Zakai is right in saying that Edwards insisted on God's authority over the world and history, but he puts it in such absolutistic terms that he often seems to abandon historical analysis in favor of exhortation.Zakai's best contribution is in his search for the general framework of God's redemption of the "engine" driving history (120ff.; 213ff.). He finds the answer in "seasons" of revival such as the Great Awakening. This is true, but Edwards notes other special events like the Reformation that "promoted the work of redemption" (Works, 9. 272), but are not revivals in the usual sense. For Edwards, special events are of many kinds and are identified by interpretation based on God's Providence. As Miller claimed, interpretation is essential; without it we may have a chronicle of events, but no history. Zakai seems to underestimate this point and the many problems it poses.The book strikes me as one more attempt—George Marsden's recent book, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, 2003), is another—to rescue Edwards from "profane" interpreters like Miller who saw that Edwards learned from the Enlightenment even though he challenged many of its ideas. In my view, Edwards can well take care of himself.John E. SmithYale UniversityCopyright © 2004 Journal of the History of Philosophy, Inc....

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