George M. Marsden, Keynote Address, Yale & the International Jonathan Edwards Conference

, , Leave a comment

– It’s a pleasure to see
you all and to be here. This is a, actually a familiar room to me. I came to Yale, well, I. In 1963-5 I had a room
on the Quadrangle here. It was before the Vietnam draft, and so Divinity students
were not that plentiful. And they had extra rooms
for graduate students. So, I lived right here and
took many meals in this room, and remember, for instance, one person you could have a meal with was Kenneth Scott Latourette, Uncle Ken, as we called him so. There’s continuity with the 19th century here in this, in this place. What I’m going to say today is probably not new to many of you,
though it’s my take on what is familiar, and if you’re not so familiar with the North American scene, it may be valuable to see my insights over more than half a century,
my experience with Edwards. I first encountered the
brilliance of Edwards very near to here, about 100 yards in the Divinity School reading library reading room was a very
nice place to go to read. I was taking a course from Sydney Ahlstrom on religion in America
or theology in America, which is pretty much
the same thing for him. And I remember read, I was reading Douglas Elwood’s book,
“The Philosophical Theology “of Jonathan Edwards”
sitting in that room. And I remember him quoting at length, in fact I have the book,
and I can see where I marked the underlining and the X’s and so forth. And he was commenting on the
divine and supernatural light. And Elwood said, “The spiritual sense “is without any long chain of arguments. “The argument is but one, and the direct, “and the evidence direct. “It is overpowering and all-conquering.” Then, he quotes from Edwards’ sermons, “God is God and distinguished
chiefly by His divine beauty, “which is infinitely
diverse from other beauty.” And, Edwards, “The new
sense enables a mind “to rise above the sensuous “to appreciate the spiritual beauty.” I remember vividly that
it was a sunny day, and the light was pouring in the windows, windows, this kind of windows. And having those words
just had an impact on me seeing the beauty of the sunlight and that lesser beauty pointing
toward the higher beauty. And it’s not exactly
a mystical experience. It was something like an awakening, or, not a conversion experience, but in a sense of something
that I was already committed to taking on a new kind of life in a way it never had quite before. Perhaps it was something like what holiness people refer
to as a second blessing. Or it was a, of course experience, where you, you’ve known something, and then you, all of a sudden you see it with a greater clarity. Everything comes together,
and this, of course, is what, is what it’s all about. And it’s seeing the role
of beauty in religion, the experience of gaining a new sense that God is constantly communicating the triune love through Jesus Christ and that there’s a beauty
in that perfect love and that if we had the eyes to see it is an irresistible beauty. So, my first question as a historian is why hadn’t I heard about this before? In my first 24 years,
I was 24 at the time, I had grown up in the
Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which was a sufficiently
Reformed background. My father was a very
well-educated clergyman. Our house had books everywhere. There was no Jonathan Edwards book there. And, perhaps more tellingly, I had just graduated from Westminster
Theological Seminary, and Edwards was given due respect in the church history course, in
the colonial history course. There was some attention to Edwards’ work, but in the systematic theology courses, Edwards was hardly mentioned. The systematic theologian was John Murray, who came from the Wee
Free Church in Scotland, was thoroughly Reformed,
and almost Edwardsian in the intense, he was
a wonderful lecturer, in the intensity of his combining a sense of spirituality with, with Reformed doctrine. But the problem at Westminster was that all the original faculty had studied at Princeton
Theological Seminary, and they were very self-consciously in the tradition of Hodge and not in the tradition of New England. So, although Hodge, although Murray seldom referred to Hodge, it was still a requirement for the
systematic theology courses that we had to read the three volumes of the systematic theology and take a preliminary test on those three volumes, which Sydney Ahlstrom
thought was just bizarre (audience laughing) that people were still reading Hodge. So, Edwards was, was neglected there, and I had the opportunity. I went back to visit some
friends at Westminster after I had discovered him here. This is in the fall of 1963. And I asked Murray about Edwards, and he said, “Oh, yes, Edwards, superb.” You know, in his Scottish brogue. But Edwards didn’t really show up on, as someone that was an exemplar for the Reformed, aspiring
Reformed theologians at that time, and to
show that that was not, that was a sort of accidental neglect of Edwards and not a
principial neglect really. 40 some years later, just after I published the “Jonathan
Edwards: A Life” in 2003, Westminster Theological
Seminary invited me, gave me an honorary degree, which is not something I ordinarily get. And so, I said at the time, I think the reason why they wanted to give me a, an honorary degree was that
Sam Logan the president at that time was a great Edwards fan. And I think he wanted to get, really would like it to
have given the degree to Edwards, but I was the next. (audience laughing) The next best thing. Well, by that time, by 2003, I had sort of got away when
that biography came out. Edwards was becoming the hottest
thing in Reformed theology. The, at Westminster the best known person who had studied there, Tim Keller, was a great Edwards fan, and within a few years, there was the Time magazine article on the new Calvinism as
one of the 10 things, new things changing the world right now. And, of course, there
was Collin Hansen’s book “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” featuring the famous, “Jonathan
Edwards is my homeboy” on the cover.
(audience laughing) So, my question is, what happened? Really, within just one generation, to move Edwards from
being mostly neglected even in the most Reformed circles, very strictly Reformed circles, to becoming not only a, a
prominent Reformed figure but an international figure and a figure who is revered both in
theological scholarship and in scholarship more generally. Well, to answer that
question, what happened, I think we have to look
at two primary stories that overlap with each other. One story is that of
the Reformed community’s embrace of Edwards, and the other story is mainline academic
and mainline Protestant prior appreciation of Edwards and promotion of Edwards’ scholarship, a story that centers overwhelmingly in what has been going on here in what is now the
Jonathan Edwards Center. But let me first start with the question of why Edwards was neglected
in the Reformed theological, much of the Reformed
theological community. I’m pretty sure my
experience at Westminster wasn’t so unusual that
Edwards was just not on the Reformed radar very much. The one big exception was John Gerstner, who had studied at
Westminister in the late ’30s. Gerstner was very loyal to the United Presbyterian
Church of North America. He taught at Xenia Seminary, and in the 1940s he took a PhD at the Harvard Divinity School. And it’s not exactly
clear when he developed his interest in Edwards, but he did. And by the 1950s, he was doing research here in the Edwards’ papers. I think he met Tom Shaffer and was invited to be an editor in the
Works of Edwards Project. In 1959 he published a little book called “Steps to Salvation” showing that Edwards was thoroughly Reformed in his view of the steps to salvation. I never heard of that book at the time, but eventually Gerstner
became a very prominent promoter of Edwards in
conservative, reformed circles, particularly those that were connected with the United, with his
United Presbyterian connections. His greatest influence probably was through his connection with
the Ligonier Ministries’ R.C. Sproul, and that
put Edwards on the map in that little sub, in that sub-section. It’s a considerable sub-section
of the Reformed community. Now, I say that, in the
middle of the century, Gerstner illustrates the
problem, in my view of things, and this is why I think that is so. Gerstner’s Edwards was
the orthodox Edwards who was consistent with Turretin, and therefore with Hodge
and the Princetonians. So, in 1955 he was
speaking in Grand Rapids, where the Dutch were very suspicious of Americans in general,
and Princeton was okay. But they had Princeton
suspicions of Edwards, and Gerstner said,
“However, that the mantle “of Edwards fell not on the Taylors, “Bushnells, Parkes, Beechers, or Gladdens, “but on the Alexanders, the Hodges, “the Pattons, and the Warfields.” So that, that’s the continuity Gerstner was trying to establish. And on another occasion, he emphasized Edwards as a champion of inerrancy, which would be a very important point in bringing Edwards to, for instance, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where Gerstner sometimes
taught as a visiting, a visiting professor. And the culmination of his work on Edwards had that Princetonian tone to it. The title of his big three-volume work is “The Rational Biblical
Theology of Jonathan Edwards.” So, although I think Gerstner’s Edwards played a
role in the recovery of Edwards in the Reformed community, it wasn’t a sufficient sort of role. And the reason for that is that the Edwards being recovered was not so much the brilliant innovator, but rather the brilliant defender, rational defender of Reformed orthodoxy. That because Edwards, like Turretin, then Edwards was a lot like Hodge. And so, the, it wasn’t innovative brilliance that attracted people to Edwards, but it was his usefulness
as an apologetic figure. Another early Reformed contribution that was considerable came from the Banner of Truth Trust in
Great Britain in Iain Murray. That organization was founded in 1957 and had a large influence in inspiring study of the Puritans and
Edwards in particular. And in 1987, Iain Murray gave us a well researched and thoroughly sympathetic account of Edwards’ life in “Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.” The Banner of Truth’s Edwards emphasized both his orthodoxy and his piety and the combination of orthodoxy and piety and that Edwards was a sort
of culminating exemplar of what’s wonderful about
the Puritan tradition, the intensity of the Puritan tradition. And that did provide some, some more enthusiasm
for Edwards for the neo, among Neo-Puritans sorts
of Reformed people. Well, I’ll come back
to the Reformed story, but before I do, I want to look at the other story. And that is the prior recovery of Edwards, of a very different sort of Edwards, and the Edwards revival that became by the
2nd half of the 20th century centered here at Yale, and that is the mainline Protestant Neo-orthodox and mainline academic
discovery of Edwards. These developments are familiar, I think, to many of you so I’ll only
mention the highlights, but I think it is worth remarking that the baseline from the
very early 20th century was that Edwards’ reputation
had hit a sort of low in the mainstream academia. I’d like to quote the statement from the 1920s from Henry Bamford Parkes saying that, “If Edwards
had thought more deeply, “he might have been one
of the greatest figures “in the history of American thought.” (audience laughing) Alright, and Ola Winslow in her 1940 biography was much
more sympathetic to Edwards, but then she says that, “We have to regret “that Edwards spoke through
an outworn, dogmatic system “that needed to be discarded.” This non-creative Edwards, who was locked into a theological tradition, was in a way the mainstream equivalent
of those later conservative and Reformed who recommended Edwards because he was like Turretin and Hodge. Though mainline evaluations
of Edwards were, however, were clearly
changing by mid-century, and, of course, Barry
Miller had the huge impact, particularly through his 1949 intellectual biography in which Edwards
was just the opposite. He was all creativity, and for Miller, Edwards was not only, not only was he not stuck in the past, he was
the first modern American. He was transcending his tradition. And so, he was a great artist, and Reformed theology just happened to be the medium for, for his art. But, although Miller did a great deal for putting Edwards on the
mainstream intellectual map, in order to recover a usable Edwards, I think there needed to be
the mainstream, mainline Protestant, what I would call a Neo-orthodox recovery of Edwards. And that was already underway by the time that Miller was writing. In 1932, A.C. McGifford published a sympathetic biography of Edwards. Same year, Joseph Haroutunian’s “Piety vs. Moralism: The
Passing of New England Theology” told the story of the decline of from the epical, the epic theological heights that Edwards had reached. So, that signaled a wider Neo-orthodox looking
at Edwards and finding very wonderful things in him. H. Richard Niebuhr here at Yale was one of the most prominent
people promoting Edwards. Niebuhr wasn’t particularly interested in the specifics of
Edwards’ Reformed theology or his biblicism, but rather he celebrated the essential of what he
saw as the higher essence of Edwards’ theology in recognizing the absolute sovereignty of God as the premise for
understanding all reality. So, in the mid-19th century,
mid-whatever century, (audience laughing) back then, in the mid-20th century, the centuries just come and go. (audience laughing) This combination of Neo-orthodox and other mainline Protestant interests and enthusiastic, put an
enthusiastic imprint out for, on Edwards, and that combined with Barry Miller’s endorsement of him, put Edwards back in the center of American, certainly American’s theological and also
philosophical traditions. And that combination led to the organizing of the Works of Edwards
Project in the 1950s that brought together
mostly Neo-orthodox scholars and some historians of
American Christianity who were, for instance,
some of Ahlstrom’s students who were admirers of
Edwards and of his theology. And, of course, Yale was the ideal place for that all to happen,
both because of the location with the Beinecke
and the Edwards papers here. And Yale Divinity School, itself, was one of the great centers
for American Neo-orthodoxy. By the time I came on the scene, this was opening new
dimensions of Edwards study. The Works of Edwards Project was underway, and a couple of volumes had come out. And he was beginning to be
seen by some as representing more broadly than just
the Reformed tradition, the Augustinian tradition. And I think that came
through in Haroutunian, who sees the New England tradition as not being able to keep up with Edwards, and also it shows up in Elwood’s book that I mentioned published
in about 1960 or so, for which Haroutunian
wrote the introduction. And then, a whole series of books began recovering what I see as the essence of the really brilliant
Augustinian Edwards. Roland Delattre’s “Beauty and Sensibility “in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards” came out in 1968, and then there was a lot of other works culminating, I think, one could say, in Robert
Jenson’s 1988 volume on Edwards titled somewhat optimistically as “America’s Theologian:
A Recommendation.” And it’s a very compelling
recommendation of Edwards, even though Edwards turns out to be a good bit like Karl Barth when
he finally get done with it. (audience laughing) But I think the Neo-orthodox
recovery of Edwards was an essential component
in the Reformed enthusiasm for Edwards that was generated by the end of the 20th century and
into the 21st century. And the Reformed, I guess
I think I can fairly say unlike the Neo-orthodox, actually had a substantial church constituency to work with. Not large as such thing as scope but substantial people who read books. And so, the Neo-orthodox rediscovery helped them, I think, move beyond seeing Edwards just as a
very smart Puritan apology, apologist for Reformed
orthodoxy and inerrancy. And for that to happen, the Reformed needed theologians with a broader vision who pointed to the dynamics of the larger Augustinian tradition which Edwards and Reformed theology was a part. Now, I’m projecting as you can tell in part from my own take on Edwards, but there were other much more influential counterparts for this. I think one of the most important was probably Richard Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In 1979 he published his really classic book, I think, “The Dynamics of the Spiritual Life.” And it was written at the
height of the inerrancy controversies among evangelicals were so wonderfully, but rather than that, it’s an alternative of
wonderfully ecumenical theology, of seeing what we can learn from traditions that differ from ours. The first chapter is entitled Jonathan Edwards and the Jesus Movement, and it provides a, aframework for seeing Edwards as a way to promote evangelical theology. One person influenced there by Lovelace at Gordon-Conwell was Tim Keller before he went to, studied at Westminster. He studied there, and he writes this. He says, “I took several courses “with Richard Lovelace at
Gordon-Conwell Seminary, “including the first course
Dynamics of Spiritual Life “in the fall of 1972 that
eventually became Lovelace’s book. “Along with that course, I also took “a course he did on
evangelical awakenings, “a history of revivals. “To say that these courses
were seminal in my thinking “and way of doing ministry is
a pretty big understatement. “Anyone who knows my
ministry and reads this book “will say, so that’s where
Keller gets his stuff.” And so, I think a generation
who, of evangelicals, who read Lovelace or were in touch with Gordon-Conwell, were
similarly influenced. And Gordon-Conwell
continues to be a center for study and a sort of evangelical
Reformed and Revivalist. Meanwhile, John Piper, on
the other side of the country at another evangelical seminary at Fuller, was picking up the same sorts of ideas. Sometime around 1970 he was studying with his favorite professor,
Daniel Fuller, Dan Fuller, and Dan Fuller was upset that a student had accused him, Fuller, of being too rationalistic. And Fuller responded, and
this is Piper quoting, I said, said that, “Fuller responded “that Jonathan Edwards could move easily “from lucid, complex, logical arguments “into a devotional style that would “warm your grandmother’s heart.” (audience chuckling) And then Piper writes, “That’s
all, that was all I needed. “I was off to the library to
find this hidden treasure.” Piper speaks as though he discovered pretty much on his own the dynamics of joy in Edwards as comes out in God, as God in view of all things out of one of his books. The Edwards he discovered was in any case not only the defender
of Reformed orthodoxy but rather much more the Edwards whose theology invoked the grandeur that you could find in the Neo-orthodox appreciation of him but remaining in a very strictly Reformed and biblicist, even inerrantist, kind of context. I find it reveal, and I’ll
just take these two examples. There are other examples I
suppose that I don’t know. Rick Warren was mentioned as someone who is a great Edwards fan. I find it revealing in the case of both Keller and Piper that they both will cite up front both Edwards and C.S. Lewis in saying what their biggest
influences on them are. I happen to recently get the opportunity to do a little book on C.S. Lewis, and I was struck by that commonality, that even though Lewis was
a theological minimalist and Edwards a theological maximalist, nonetheless they both worked from the Augustinian tradition. And for both there’s an idealism where beauty is at the center of things. And the American evangelical
appropriation of Lewis as one of their patron saints comes about the same time in the later
decades of the 20th century as this, not quite as large, appropriation of Edwards in certain Reformed circles. And I think what’s going on is in part a response to
the anti-intellectualism and the shallowness of a
lot of evangelical theology, and they’re finding in both these figures, here’s something that’s
much more substantial in relating us to the
mainstream Christian tradition. I also like to think that we historians had something to do with the rediscovery of Edwards in the evangelical world. I think Mark Noll, for instance, played an immeasurable role in his 1994 Jeremiad “The Scandal of
the Evangelical Mind.” He presents Edwards as an example of what the evangelical mind could be and then laments Edwards had
no intellectual successors. And in a number of his other works, Edwards plays a similar role, particularly in “America’s God: “From Jonathan Edwards
to Abraham Lincoln.” By 1984, thanks to Noll and Nathan Hatch, who by the way were classmates
of John Piper at Wheaton. Wheaton was on the map
of Edwards scholarship. They, the Institute for the
Study of American Evangelicalism in 1984 had a conference there bringing in many mainline
kinds of scholars and eventually skips out. And Hatch published the resulting volume “Jonathan Edwards and
the American Experience.” Hatch signed on to be an editor of one of the sermon
volumes in the Edwards, Works of Edwards publication. And that’s just one example of the convergence of mainline and Reformed contributions to Edwards studies that was beginning to develop, particularly in the
Works of Edwards project. John Gerstner, much to his chagrin, was dropped from the project partly because of problems of translating Edwards but also, I think, for
theological incompatibility. But in the meantime, the
Works of Edwards Project came to be headed by two people with strongly Reformed
backgrounds, Skip Stout, who by the way, when he was a student at Calvin was
something of a bad boy. (audience laughing) Which may be no surprise. And Ken Minkema, who studied, I think who studied with Skip at Connecticut. – And with you at Calvin. – And with me at Calvin. Yeah, I didn’t say that. Yeah, that they both
studied with me at Calvin, and then they were
connected to each other. 1986, Skip came here and eventually became the Distinguished Jonathan Edwards Professor. And Ken came here and
became the Par Excellence Decipherer of Edwards, and together they eventually transformed
the Works of Edwards Project into the Jonathan Edwards Center in 2003. And that project then brought
in many younger scholars who worked on the Edwards Project and went on to other Edwards work. And I was one beneficiary of that. Skip recruited me to do the big biography of Edwards. He came to me and said,
“We need someone to do the, “you know, the 300 anniversary thing, “and I don’t wanna do it.” (audience laughing) So, I agreed, and that was
a wonderful opportunity. I was, you know hoping, I mean, I wanted to work on Edwards in any case. And then, I was a
beneficiary of Ken’s work ’cause I was one of the early people to have much of the new
work electronically. It was on computer disk,
but I could search sermons and find some things that
hadn’t been found out before. And so, the I was one beneficiary of
a much larger development here in what became the
Jonathan Edwards Center and became the source for what you might say is, Adrian Neely actually said to me, “The democratization of
Jonathan Edwards study.” That once it’s online digitally, it becomes available to everyone and can become available
throughout the world. So, it’s an amazing story that in 1963, when I first discovered Edwards, Edwards was hardly unknown
in most church communities. By today, here we are with representatives of Edwards from quite a few countries around the world, and it’s at least a substantial kind of development. I think the sheer availability of Edwards’ writings and some writings that had not been available before is one explanation for that, but it’s not, certainly
not sufficient explanation. I think the sufficient explanation has to do with recognizing the luminous quality in Edwards’ thought, and that is a product of accumulated studies on Edwards and theological studies of
Edwards that you can find really brilliant insights into Edwards unto almost every aspect
of his work by now. So, I’m generalizing again I’ll
say from my own experience, but I think the Edwards that comes through is people simply discover
this is a brilliant theologian that we can really sink
our tooth, teeth into. And there’s much more to be found than has been found even already. And so, he, his being
Reformed is important to most of the people that discover him, and it makes the Reformed
theology a wonderful lens to see sort of the essence of the Augustinian, the
Augustinian tradition and the beauty of the Trinitarian love that God invites us all into. So, even though the
Works of Edwards Project started as another publication project for the
works of a great American, like the Benjamin Franklin
Project that was mentioned, it’s turned into an amazingly
much more than that. And I think that is due to both the work of the people
here and the internationally compelling, and maybe I should
say universally compelling, vision of Edwards
himself, that once people discover it, they can get hooked on it. So, I’m thankful for all
that the Center has done and all the people that it’s inspired, and I’m very grateful to have played a small supporting role in that. Thank you. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much, George, for that stimulating whirlwind tour of Edwards scholarships from the 19th century to the present. I was reminded in listening to you just how far we’ve traveled
in the Edwardsian studies really in the last 40 years or so and proud to have played
a small role myself in creating the Jonathan Edwards Center. There’s one component to
the Jonathan Edwards Center that was not mentioned that I would like to single out now, and that’s the support that we’ve enjoyed from
Yale Divinity School and Dean Sterling. For a long while, we had embarrassingly rich support from foundations, but they changed their direction and orientation. And that kind of went away,
and we really faced a crisis. And into that crisis the
Divinity School stepped in. Greg in particular,
though I think it probably even began earlier with Harry Attridge, who’s sitting over there to my left. And I don’t know where we would be today without that support, both programmatic, office space, and funding. But I wanna thank George
for a tremendous lecture, and I even, and I wanna
thank him even more for his scholarship because he
understated it a little bit. That had a huge amount to
do with this Rennaissance that he’s described, and you got to see some of the fruits of it here. So, thank you, George.


Leave a Reply