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kenmorefield

Jonathan Edwards

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Link to MovieGuide thread where there was some discussion of Edwards. Link to Behold the Atheist Nightmare where there is some (deleted) reference to Edwards quoted. 

I was going to post some stuff about Edwards in response to perusing the second thread, but then I saw through a search that I had said most all I wanted to say about the appropriation and stereotyping of Edwards already in the first:

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Okay, I know I'm going to sound like an a--hole here, but, as a long time admirer of Jonathan Edwards, I ask if we can please not lump him in with Cotton Mather or the "Puritans." 

It is a shame that most people only know Edwards for that one sermon, which is often misunderstood (imo). 

Edwards lived later than the American Puritans (he's really an Enlightenment figure), although he was definitely an inheritor of much of that culture. He was president of Princeton University, caring deeply about the life of the mind (and not sharing the anti-intellectualism of much American Puritanism). Also, as regards to the Native Americans, he was dismissed from his preaching position later in his life and served as a missionary to the Mohican tribe. I don't really have the time or inclination to go into Edwards's views of slavery, which were complex, but speaking as someone whose career it is to frequently teach the American Puritans, I find much to admire in Edwards's writings and biography, and I am grateful for having his example to guard against my own tendency to overgeneralize Christians of the past. 

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Since I already said that, I figured I'd circle back and maybe finally answer a question Christian asked me four years ago:

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I can't let Ken's post pass with a hearty THANK YOU! and, at the risk of thread digression, a follow-up question: What other Puritans do you teach, and which do you admire or not admire?

Generally speaking, I usually teach William Bradford, Thomas Morton (though he wasn't really a Puritan, I just teach him for the era to remind students that not everyone who lived in Puritan New England was a Puritan), John Winthrop, Michael Wigglesworth, Anne Bradstreet, and Mary Rowlandson.

I adore Bradstreet and confess to loving the piss and vinegar of Morton, though I acknowledge meeting him in real life would probably be a different kettle of fish. 

I have a hard time with Winthrop, mostly because of his treatment of Anne Hutchinson and his address before the general court. I used to despise Wigglesworth (because of the whole "easiest room in hell" thing for the unregenerate infants), but I've come to see even him as struggling to make accommodations for parts of what he was taught that he couldn't reconcile himself to, which isn't all that different than Edwards. I run hot and cold on Rowlandson. There are times where she strikes me as legalistic and petty, and she certainly symbolizes the racism towards Native Americans that is too often glossed over. Then again, I sometimes fancy I can hear Increase Mather bullying her into a corner and pushing her to confess sins she doesn't feel so as to absolve God. (Was it SDG who coined the whole thing about "God doesn't need your lie," or did he lift it from someone else?)  And as far as the racism, teaching in a military base and having a father who was a hostage has made me remember that she was herself tortured and that I should be careful in judging her attitudes too harshly. 

Regarding Edwards, I went away from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" long ago, and I prefer to teach the "Personal Narrative" particularly to illustrate Richard Foster's Six Christian Traditions and how Edwards illustrates a shift from a near totalizing focus on the Holiness tradition to a broader (but still imperfect) vision of Christianity that includes the Contemplative, Social Justice, and, yes, even Charismatic tradition. 

 

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