Winner of Brewer Prize, American Society of Church History; 2002 Francis Makemie Award of the Presbyterian Historical Society
This study proposes that Jonathan Edwards’s biblical interpretation is the key to understanding his broader engagement with critical thought, and it provides a unifying thread within his theological work. The vast but little-known biblical writings of Edwards (1703–1758) show him to have been thoroughly engaged with critical historical methods of interpretation. Critical thought was the rage of British society in the middle of the 17th century, particularly in relation to church-state issues. It had been considered a late 19th-century phenomenon in American religious history, but Robert E. Brown shows that its influence began much earlier. He traces the impact of this revolution in biblical interpretation to nearly every area of Edwards’s intellectual career—epistemology, historiography, natural theology, typology, natural science, comparative religion, constructive theology, and public discourse. This engagement resulted in a subtle but distinct transformation of Edwards’s understanding of the biblical narratives and their relation to the new scientific modes of inquiry, anticipating similar developments in 19th-century American religious thought.