The Influence of the Most Venerable and Learned Jonathan Edwards

My goal is to be a teacher. I want to teach in the context of the church more than the academy, but for the church in any context. I have, alas, no pastoral vocation. My desire is to get a better grasp of the material and discipline of church history.

One of the things Christians in my circles need is greater exposure to Christians who are not like them–a sympathetic view of the differences while demonstrating the underlying commonalities. In Reformed circles every single last everything any puritan ever wrote is being published and purchased and even read. Yes, read, and by not a few. That’s because somebody has shown them there is profit there and has taught them how to understand these crusty and difficult people as human beings and fellow Christians. My belief is that we would benefit, not from departing from that, but adding to it a similar–not as obsessive, perhaps–interest in other periods of history.

I find the early church intriguing because of the influence of classical thought. I’m fascinated by figures like Justin Martyr, Clement and Origen, Augustine and Ambrose, Jerome and Gregory Nazianzen because of the way they took classical learning and used it for Christian purposes, they way they wrestled with it also, ambivalent. I want to study what happened, how it shaped Christianity, how they discriminated in what they took, what they did and did not understand about what they were doing.

I’m also intrigued by the pagan reaction with Porphyry, Iamblichus and Julian the Apostate, because it represents something similar, if inverted: pagan antiquity adopting Christian ideals in spite of itself. What was in the air in the centuries of the great prophets of ancient Israel that also stirred up the great philosophers of antiquity and started something that would meet in the church, of all places, those first five hundred years?

I’d be interested in studying the remains of pagan antiquity surviving in a Christian context. Texts like Beowulf, where the two elements come together fascinate me, but as much as I enjoy literature, I want to study church history so I can be more involved directly in the work of the church. I find the world of the Sagas interesting for the same reason.

Any period of church history is interesting, of course, but one has to specialize. I’ve studied early American Fundamentalism (Bryan, Sunday and Machen), I’ve studied Edwards. I’ve done a lot of reading on medieval mysticism and a little Quietism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Besides that I’ve done extensive reading in Augustine and the early church. I’ve done work on Bernard of Clairvaux as well and some Aquinas. I want to go on consolidating my grasp on the whole, but with a careful study of the details. I admire historians like Henry Chadwick and Christopher Dawson for that: they have digested the details, but deal wonderfully with the broader view. I would like to, on the scale of my lesser talents, work similarly: digest the details and make connections, working my tenuous spider web of understood history into different corners, but hoping to spin a web dense enough in the early church corner so that I can be a proper spider.


2 thoughts on “The Influence of the Most Venerable and Learned Jonathan Edwards

  1. My ambitions are more modest but our interests coincide here.

    Interesting reflections of the sort you are talking about can be found on the blog of the painstaking Fr. Kimel. He covers ancient and modern theologians with dogged regard, examining their differences, commonalities and sources. I found him when I was looking for a more humane way to think about sectarianism and historical theology.

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