Edwards and Theo-Drama

Edwards scholar Harry Stout, in the introduction to Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742, makes this insightful comment (pages 5–6):

Edwards’ history incorporated philosophy, theology, and narrative into a synthetic whole. Earlier he had established the proposition that “heaven is a world of love,” a metaphysical state infused with the innermost being and character of the Trinity. So too, he proposed, earth was a world of pulsating divine energy, and hell a perversion of love that set in motion the cosmic supernatural conflict between God and Satan with earth as the prize. What if the story of all three — heaven, earth, and hell — were integrated into one narrative, superior to systematic theology for its drama and to earthbound historiography for its prophetic inspiration?

While Edwards was intrigued by the idea of a narrative history, this does not imply that he was uninterested in theology or even that he would not identify himself as a preacher or theologian if forced to choose. In fact, Edwards often referred to his work as “divinity,” and produced several treatises, most notably Original Sin, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, and The Nature of True Virtue, that take on the aspect of a systematic theology. It is rather to say that Edwards early on came to sense — especially in his sermons — that the most effective way to realize the theologian’s goal of knowledge of God was to abandon the synchronic methods of formal theology and “throw” the truths of “divinity” into the diachronic form of a history.

Enter: Edwards’ History of Redemption project.

One thought on “Edwards and Theo-Drama

  1. Have you read Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer? He gets at the same kind of thing.

    “… the point of narrative is not merely to assert “this happened, and then this happened.” Narratives make another kind of claim altogether: “look at the world like this.” Narratives do more than chronicle; they configure. Configuration is the act of grouping people and events together in a meaningful whole and is, as such, an act of the narrative imagination, a power of synoptic vision… like metaphors, narratives are irreducible to propositionalist paraphrase” (282).

    Cool stuff. Vanhoozer and Edwards are fantastic thinkers.

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