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America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards [Hardcover]

By Robert W. Jenson (Author)
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Item description for America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards by Robert W. Jenson...

A great deal has recently been written about Jonathan Edwards. Most of it, however, does not make central Edwards's own intention to speak truth about God and the human situation; his systematic theological intention is regarded merely as an historical phenomenon. In this book, Robert Jenson provides a different sort of interpretation, asking not only, "Why was Edwards great?" but also, "Was Edwards right?" As a student of the ideas of Newton and Locke, Jenson argues, Edwards was very much a figure of the Enlightenment; but unlike most other Americans, he was also a discerning critic of it, and was able to use Enlightenment thought in his theology without yielding to its mechanistic and individualistic tendencies. Alone among Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment, Edwards conceived an authentically Christian piety and a creative theology not in spite of Newton and Locke but by virtue of them. Jenson sees Edwards's understanding as a radical corrective to what commitment to the Enlightenment brought about in American life, religious and otherwise. Perhaps, Jenson proposes, recovery of Edwards's vision might make the mutual determination of American culture and American Christianity more fruitful than it has yet been.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   238
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.72" Width: 5.72" Height: 0.85"
Weight:   1.08 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 1997
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0195049411  
ISBN13  9780195049411  

Availability  64 units.
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More About Robert W. Jenson

Robert W. Jenson Robert W. Jenson is an American Lutheran systematic theologian and Professor Emeritus of Religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. Currently he is a professor of religion at the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Jenson attended Luther College and Luther Seminary. Between his years as a college student and a seminarian, he studied philosophy in Paris as a Fulbright scholar. At Luther Seminary Jenson was assistant to the famous Orthodox Lutheran theologian, Herman Preus. Preus infused with Jenson a strong belief in Orthodox Lutheran understanding of predestination. Against the majority of the staff at Luther Seminary at that time, who believed that God merely foreknew who would have faith and who not, Preus held that God had decreed the salvation of a definite number of the elect, without a decree of reprobation.

Later Jenson went to Heidelberg where he became familiar with the theology of Karl Barth, and, under the supervision of Peter Brunner, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Barth's doctrine of election. Jenson then began teaching at Luther College, where he continued to study Barth and also became increasingly interested in the philosophy of Hegel. The staff of the Religion Department at Luther College grew impatient with his teaching and charged him with teaching heresy. They threatened to resign if Jenson was not fired, but the college's president supported Jenson, and several professors subsequently left the college.

Throughout this period he became increasingly interested in ecumenical theology, and in the 1980s and 1990s his theology moved in a progressively Catholic and ecumenical direction. With Braaten he founded the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. The Centre publishes the journal Pro Ecclesia, and it has produced several books on ecumenical theology.

Robert W. Jenson currently resides in Princeton, in the state of New Jersey. Robert W. Jenson has an academic affiliation as follows - Princeton University.

Robert W. Jenson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching
  2. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church
  3. Systematic Theology
  4. Systematic Theology (Oxford Hardcover)

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Protestantism > Presbyterian
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History
7Books > Subjects > Science > General
8Books > Subjects > Science > Mathematics > Applied > Probability & Statistics

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Reviews - What do customers think about America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards?

Superior Technical Look at Edwards' Theological Writings  May 26, 2010
Robert W. Jenson, America's Theologian, A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York, Oxford University Press, 1988)

This book, by a conservative Lutheran theologian, appears to be part of a renewed interest in Jonathan Edwards in American religious thinking. One sign of the impetus behind that interest is that in the 22 years since the book was published, many of Edwards' works unavailable at the time, have become available to the general public through publication in the Yale University Press edition of Edwards notebooks.

Jensen confirms most of what I have read in two biographies of Edwards, and he confirms my reading of Edwards which places him squarely in the tradition which runs from Luther and Calvin to the neo-orthodox Protestant theology of John Barth and 20th century Lutherans such as Jensen himself. This is in place of seeing him as a precursor to modern popular evangelists with their `prosperity theology' typical of televangelists and Pentecostals (However, I suspect that many of that tribe will claim Edwards to be one of their own).

One theme of Edwards' theology which Jensen covers even better than other authors is the extent to which Edwards both used and expanded on the psychology of John Locke and the physics of Isaac Newton. Edwards was entranced with the beauty of the natural world, and saw the beauty of God's hand in all of creation. In that regard, his sense of `religious experience' was far, far broader than the field surveyed by William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience. This carried Edwards on to speculations about the natural world which were sometimes truly amazing in their precociousness. In thinking about `atoms', long before the birth of John Dalton, the founder of modern thinking about atomic theory, Edwards imagined that the forces which hold together the `stuff' of irreducible atomic particles was the action of God. This alone is not remarkable, until we read that he combined this notion with the sense that the gravity was a variety of the same force of God, which is precisely part of the agenda for coming up with a unified theory of the four principle forces of the universe, gravity, electromagnetic force, strong atomic interaction, and weak atomic interaction.

One of Edwards more important contributions to theology was his analysis of thought and action. The separation of these two notions is, in Christian thought, at least as old as Augustine. Strict separation of these two notions is the source of many problems. How, for example, is our knowledge that something is good relate to our willingness to do that thing. Edwards addresses that problem largely by approaching them as not two distinctly different modes of life.

Jensen spends a fair amount of time discussing Edwards relation to modern American Protestantism, which fellow Lutheran, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as `Protestantism without the Reformation'. It was exactly this tendency which Edwards attacked in his writings as various flavors of Arminianism. This was not strictly the doctrine propounded by Jacobus Arminius, but any deviation from strict Calvinism which believed that humans could contribute nothing to their own salvation. One of the earliest exponents of this doctrine was in the writings of Edwards' contemporary, Boston's Charles Chauncy. The modern incarnation of the Arminian tendency is faith as therapy. In Edwards' time, it was also behind the kind of Enlightenment rebellion against religious authority which lead to Edwards being dismissed from his post as pastor to the church in Northampton. It was an attitude which turned its back on fidelity to the gospel's radically upsetting promises and endorsed bourgeois satisfaction. The American ideal replaces the justice of God with the liberal ideal of justice as fairness. We expect that God will be `fair'.

The more `American' side of Edwards thought is his belief , consistent with the objectives of the founding Puritans, that the parusia was coming in America, and that the awakenings of 1735 and 1741 were the first signs of the prophesied second coming. To this end, in The Nature of True Virtue (1755), Edwards imagined a sense of virtue, and a resulting polity which was inconsistent with Hobbes' social contract, where accommodation of other people's needs stopped at the national boundaries. Edwards imagined virtues based on a `general beauty, as it is in itself'. In other words, `True virtue...consists in benevolence to being in general.' This makes me rethink, for example, my sense that the ideal Christian polity is consistent with Hobbes' Leviathan. At the very least, this means that Edwards' ideal polity was inconsistent with the American sense of manifest destiny, which survived theologically to the Civil War, and politically, until the Spanish-American War, with echoes persisting up through the 1960s and the Civil Rights movement.

But Edwards' focus was not on an earthly polity. He was intent on anticipating the parousia. It is here where Edwards may seem so out of place and dated. Although there are contemporary theologians, such as Mark David Powell, who convincingly speak of expecting Christ's second coming, this is simply not something mentioned in weekly messages from the pulpit. As convincing as Edwards' speculations were about the physics of the small, his thoughts about the physics of the cosmic seemed virtually pre-Copernican. Even if on accepted the heliocentric solar system, you could still sustain a sense of a great sphere of the universe, a conception which is simply impossible, in any real sense, today, with our knowledge of the virtually infinitely deep reaches of space. Edwards does seem to be aware of the great, albeit limited speed of light, and, pre-Einstein, one can forgive him for believing that after the second coming, we will be able to see from one end of the universe to the other, with no limit, based on the supernatural light of Christ. Edwards' pessimistic analysis of virtue seems to be that without the parousia, the possibility of a world polity is impossible, given their `various...inclinations natural to men, which depend on particular laws of nature, determining their minds to certain affections.'

Jensen's writing is not crystal clear, but in the absence of a more recent book, based on new scholarship, it may be the best summary of Edwards theology we have. It is a very nice complement to George Marsden's biography.


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